Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Care & Feeding of the INFJ

INFJ: The Counselor

So, for context, let me first say that when I asked a close friend for help writing this who is also an INFJ (as I am), she (half)-jokingly said, "Just write: you wouldn't understand" and leave it at that. (!!)

The INFJ is the enigma of the 16 types; it's the rarest (estimated at about 1% of the population) and certainly the most difficult to pin down descriptively, but I'll do my best. 

If you are partnered with an INFJ, is important for you to understand that they are incredibly empathetic and sensitive, and that this is both a blessing and a curse. They do best with partners who are strong, steady, balanced, and healthy, because there is always a risk of the INFJ taking on negative emotions from their partners by virtue of this almost-pathological empathy. Too, the INFJ can get overwhelmed about the woes of the world. Without getting too new agey, the best way to explain it is that the INFJ is profoundly connected and responsive to the energy around them. They feel everything more deeply than most people do and are affected on a cellular level by the pain and suffering of others. It is not unusual for the INFJ to be moved to tears over the plights of strangers. They need a partner who sees and values this quality, because it is foundational to who they are at their core; anyone who isn't able to appreciate it or who finds it irksome will be experienced as rejecting the INFJ outright. 

The INFJ is freakishly intuitive. This is probably the other most important thing to know, because ultimately it accounts for their "superpower", which looks a lot like psychic ability but is really just hyper-intuition. Get ready for the INFJ to basically read your mind all the time, tell you your business before you even know it, and routinely predict events that will come to pass. 

This is largely an unconscious process, but the partner of an INFJ will probably realize at some point that at all times, the INFJ is reading the environment around them. They are taking the emotional temperature of everyone in the room, assessing body language, watching interactions, eavesdropping, sorting data, analyzing, questioning, filing new information, rejecting old information, looking for patterns. Constantly vigilant of everything and endlessly receiving data. (This sounds like a lot of work, but for INFJ it is effortless and reflexive; it's just what their brains do.) 

This can be off-putting to people who misinterpret it as a judging function. It is not. Despite the "J" in the name, INFJ is decidedly not a judging type. They get the "J" because what gets extraverted (shown to the world) is a decision-making function, extraverted feeling. But they are actually a classic prospecting type, with some vast majority of their energy going towards (neutral) information-gathering. As such, yes, they technically are analyzing you, but it's not intentional, and ultimately it stems from a deep desire to understand you (and everyone/everything else). 

They have enormous stores of information in their internal files, much of which they aren't conscious of, and can pull out details they didn't even know they observed, mostly about "vibes" and "impressions" (more so than they'll recall verbatim conversations or sensory details). INFJs can, with uncanny accuracy, "just know" things. This is their greatest strength and what can make them so interesting to partner with. 

All of this is to say, it is true that INFJs have the busiest brains out there, but they should not be misinterpreted as simple over-thinkers. Very little of this energy is wasted. While there is a certain amount of navel-gazing in any of the NF types, when an INFJ is at their best (i.e., not in the grips of some emotionally-stunting funk) they are more often than not pondering large, complex, abstract ideas and trying to grapple with philosophical or moral dilemmas (rather than just stewing about how they personally feel about stuff, although of course the more neurotic INFJs will do quite a lot of this too). Basically, if you peered inside their brains at any given moment, you'd be astounded at the amount of activity going on all the time. 

There is a certain wisdom to the INFJ that people respond to favorably, like, "this person seems to know what they're talking about." You can take your INFJ to a dinner party, so long as it's a relatively small group, and trust that they will connect with people and probably end up with several new friends or business contacts. People generally like INFJs, even if they aren't quite sure what to make of them or even find them awkward at first, or slow to warm up.

Anyway, that clarity of vision and depth is a quality they very much value in themselves, and as such they will be deeply hurt by an offhanded comment such as "you think too much" or "you're so serious". (Advice: don't ever say any of that to an INFJ). 

What makes those type of comments sting so much is that the one thing INFJs want more than anything is to be understood fully, and they genuinely try to make themselves known to the people they care about. But they get frustrated and hurt when most people still just don't get them. And any of the aforementioned comments reflect a lack of a) understanding and b) appreciation for the unique perspective of the INFJ. 

So, with that in mind, the single greatest gift you can give your INFJ is to make a sincere, concerted effort to "get" them, without applying judgments of your own to their ways of being. For example, to suggest that the INFJ "thinks too much" is to deeply insult the thing that is at the core of who they are. They are bewilderingly deep and complex, that's true, with an endless stream of new ideas and concepts floating around in their heads, but there is nothing they can do about it. It's like telling an INFP to stop having so many feelings, or the ENFP to stop brainstorming. It's just who they are. Yes, the INFJ thinks a lot, about everything. Yes, that can be tiresome at times. But the qualifier of "too much" is always going to hurt their feelings, and make them feel unappreciated, and therefore should be avoided. 

As for the "so serious" misperception, while the INFJ admittedly can get stuck (or even intentionally revel, because in all honesty, there are few things INFJs loves more than to get deep) in non-stop heavy thinking/conversing, they actually can be quite light-hearted when in the right company. They love clever wordplay and are not easily offended; they tend to enjoy the company of people who push the envelope and are somewhat outrageous with their humor. So, you should make a concerted effort to make your INFJ laugh, because they sometimes need to be reminded that life isn't so heavy. There is a genuinely playful, incisively witty aspect to the INFJ personality that often gets overlooked if it isn't encouraged, or if they are in a relationship where humor isn't fundamental. Encourage the INFJ to write more, as well, because they tend to be rather masterful with the written word, and often are very funny in writing. 

That said, few things are more likely to wilt an INFJ's spirit than being around someone who either totally doesn't get their sense of humor, or doesn't find them funny. People who do get their humor, and who encourage and draw it out, will get endless delight and occasional outright shock out of engaging in witty banter with the INFJ. 

The way their brain works is not easily explained. It mostly uses patterns and symbols, which simply don't translate to the layperson very well, so much of the time INFJs don't bother trying to explain their innermost thoughts. So they need a partner who is deeply curious, because if their partner doesn't challenge them to try, the INFJ can end up feeling extremely isolated in relationships, especially if they are doing a lot of listening and understanding for you. The best thing you can do for your INFJ partner is to encourage them to tell you about their internal world, even if it's convoluted and you don't really get it. That's when it can be very useful to ask clarifying questions; this shows them you're really listening and demonstrates that you really want to understand them in a deep way. Dream with them. Argue with them. Have original ideas they haven't thought of yet. If connecting deeply over ideas is something you value, you're in the right place with an INFJ. 

When it comes to communicating with the INFJ on an emotional level, one specific way to show you care is to just let them talk. They are external processors, so they often don't know how they feel until they say it out loud and have it reflected back to them by someone else. While they are quite good at understanding other people's problems, they are surprisingly underdeveloped in the area of understanding their own feelings. This is why the INFJ, while relatively private about deeply personal things, may have a whole slew of trusted advisors (which also may contribute to them being miscast as quiet extraverts) when it comes to trying to sort out even a relatively simple personal issue. 

With people the INFJ cares about, they are particularly good at listening, understanding, and offering practical advice that is free of judgment. They love to be of service in this way, largely because it makes them feel useful, so don't be too proud to ask them for their insight. They want to support you in this way; refusing to allow them to can actually be very hurtful and make them feel rejected or undervalued. 

The INFJ is extremely transparent (to a fault) and so for better or worse, especially once you've been with them for a while, you will generally be able to tell how they feel. You will usually know when they are mad at you, or when you have hurt their feelings, and usually they can articulate why something made them feel a particular way, so let them talk it out (yes, even if you both know it isn't rational). Sometimes just expressing it helps them to realize that it wasn't that big of a deal to begin with. Don't tell them they're "too sensitive". 

Typically, an INFJ is pretty even-tempered and reasonable, if somewhat prone to defensiveness, and while also perhaps quick to get their feelings hurt, they are also usually quick to forgive once it gets sorted out. (Read: once you've taken responsibility for and recognized how you were hurtful. Just saying "I'm sorry" is generally not sufficient; they want to know that you really understand why it hurt their feelings). 

THAT SAID, it would behoove you to address the thing they are upset about in a timely fashion before it has a chance to simmer and boil over. Do not wait until morning if you feel it coming. The INFJ is slow to anger, but once they get to that point, it is really best to attempt to defuse it or suggest you talk later once they have had a chance to cool off or do anything but engage in a fight while they are at the angry place. An INFJ trying to communicate while angry is not a pretty thing. This is when they will use their power for evil instead of good, and you do not want to be in the line of fire for that. Hell hath no fury, yo. 

It is important to note here, too, that the INFJ is a true introvert in the sense that they need a lot of alone time to "recharge their batteries". Any partner of the INFJ will need to understand this and do their best not to take it personally; there is a threshold at which the INFJ shuts down (generally it is related to being overstimulated) and it is a good idea to learn where your particular INFJ's is. There is no point trying to squeeze any more energy out of them once they've reached this point. What do they say about blood from a turnip? It's pretty much like that. 

INFJs are very affectionate in their own way, and will often do nice little things to surprise you and show you that they care. Also, sex and physical contact is very important to the INFJ as a way to connect with their partner. They will go to great lengths to make you happy. A genuine emotional, spiritual, and physical connection with an INFJ is a profound experience, and that is ultimately what the INFJ is always searching for in relationships. 

They are deeply committed to growth and discovery. So while they could be perceived as picky, and persnickety, and even difficult, all of that comes from a good place: INFJs are simply committed to having an exceptional relationship and don't want to settle for less. An insecure person will likely struggle to not experience their relentless commitment to growth as criticism, but it is an important distinction to note that it is not coming out of a negative place. Quite the opposite, really: they see how amazing you are and want to elevate you and the relationship to ever-higher levels. If you find yourself lucky enough to be in a relationship with an INFJ, take note of what you're learning there. Even if it doesn't last forever, in some form or fashion it is likely to be one of the most interesting, meaningful, and unconventional relationships you'll ever have. 

Update: Here is some advice for the INFJ her/himself: 

http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2015/12/how-to-be-infj-in-world-that-isnt-made.html

If you want to talk more about this: http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2016/12/new-service-distance-coaching.html


30 comments:

  1. This was incredibly insightful and fascinating piece. I've taken the MBPTI several times over the past 12 years and I always end up INFJ. In my early 20s it used to bum me out because I hated being typecast as "shy" or "quiet" or told that I would never be a leader if I wasn't going to speak up first or share my thoughts right away. Over time, I've found a circle of people that embrace that but it's taken much longer for me to do the same. As many things as I've read about introverts, introverted processing, emotional intelligence, intuition, etc. there were still so many concepts in this article that were new to me...yet dead on. I wish I could hand this out to people I love as a roadmap to dealing with me. And I'm looking forward to accepting the constant brain activity as 95% awesome and 5% - incredibly exhausting and sometimes perceived as highly abnormal and crazy by others. Thank you for writing this, I feel a lot less "lonely in the world." :)

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  2. i'm so glad!!! it makes me feel less lonely in the world to know there are other people like me, too. :)

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  3. This is very accurate. Especially "you wouldn't understand.." I don't know how many times I have said that lol

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  5. nailed it...this is truly the best description and "clarification" of my style...

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  6. Wow. Well done. It was heart warming reading this. Thank you for writing. It's always comforting to know that there are a few persons out there willing to traverse the INFJ landscape.

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  7. Can't believe how well I relate to this whole post.
    I'm even surprised at small details mentioned that explain me better than I've tried to explain them myself! What a relief to have all of this written out, and to have it available to the public. Thank you.

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  9. Really insightful explication of our inner world and what makes us tick. Pleasure to read. And made me chuckle too. It's so rare to be understood.

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    1. Aww. So glad you appreciated it. I love my fellow INFJs! :)

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  10. Really well done, thank you for compiling and sharing this. Rare to have words presented in such a way that I am found saying "a-ha...that's it". Well done.

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  12. Incredibly insightful for a fellow INFJ . Thank you for this beautifully written article

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  13. This is so spot on, thank you.

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  14. Oh for crying out loud, you're not that magical. This is as annoying as INTJ's thinking they know everything. I'm in the INTJ group and I find both aggravatingly self congratulatory on their perceived specialness. When in fact the INTJ and INFJ are the most dysfunctional of all the sixteen trait groups.

    Both INTJ and INFJ have significant capabilities in terms of insight, but they are pretty much the loneliest of the trait groups as well.

    What would be more practical is to look at what sort of childhoods people in the INFJ and INTJ groups have to see how the environmental conditions contributed to their polarization into these extreme trait groups. The MBTI index online community is nothing short of crowdsourced happy making over perceived specialness of each trait group. This is not therapy or psychology, certainly in my significant perusal over the last few months there is an almost black hole lack of discussion about therapy for extreme traits in these groups. Not to mention the prevalence of mental health issues. No one has brought up the "why" of people falling into these groups, and environmental factors that psychologically skew us to perhaps overdevelop traits, some as crutches.

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    1. This was a rather harsh comment given the intent of this blog, which is not diagnostic. Any particular reason you felt compelled to critique in this particular way? I'm happy to engage with you if you'd like to have a conversation.
      In my experience as a therapist, INFJ and INTJ are not the most dysfunctional. Also, my opinion is that MBTI merely accounts for innate temperament. Nature, if you will. Life experiences shape us into different versions of these sets of preferences.

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    2. I can see Jillian's perspective, though my take on that would be that early environmental factors might explain extremes within the type rather than explain the why behind the type in the first place. I do believe our natures/innate temperament are what they are, regardless. And that nature itself dictates how we respond to the environmental factors (calmly, passive-aggressively, explosively, etc).

      To the author, thank you for the post. It's spot on.

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    4. I think you're right, in some ways, but your interpretation of the intent behind what you're seeing is flawed. INFJs are heavily criticised by the majority of people in their lives, because their traits are considered (more often than not) to be flaws that require fixing. Indeed, your own analysis of our type seems to veer towards the suggestion that we're in some way damaged, and that we need to figure that stuff out. So when a fellow INFJ writes about us on the internet, it's often celebratory. Because we're never celebrated elsewhere.

      Introverted people are *always* viewed as pet projects to be fixed. I can't recount the amount of times I've been told I need to get out more. That my small friendship circle was my underlying problem, in any given situation. People patronisingly view my tendency to prefer space as some kind of problem requiring resolution. So yeah, when an INFJ writes about their traits online, it's probably going to be in a congratulatory sense. Because actually, we deserve to be valued as well, and not criticised for everything the other types don't or won't understand.

      It's nice to feel special occasionally, when in real life you spend your time being made to feel like a freak.

      Also, please don't conflate introversion and loneliness. I'm hugely introverted, but I'm not lonely.

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  15. As I read this: "uh huh, uh huh, yup, yesss!" Spot on. And for the people who think INFJs somehow get pushed into being that type, uh, no. I was born this way, no abusive family or other such stuff. I've never felt like I truly belonged, but at over half a century, I am now figuring out not everyone thinks in remotely the same way I do. Thanks again for the perfect article!

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  16. As an ENFP married to an INFJ, I thought this was pretty accurate. The last paragraph about the INFJ partner was spot on. When we were just dating, I felt insecure when she had sharp criticism directed at me and I wasnt sure if she was on my team but after an argument she assured me that she is on my team and I knew she wanted the best for me and us. With that perspective I knew I had to marry her!

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  18. Thank you! This helped me to understand myself a little bit more.

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  19. I am an ENFP married to an INFJ and my daughter, also an ENFP has a best friend that is an INFJ. I have to say that this is a very accurate description and understanding this personality type is essential to a peaceful and happy relationship with them. The traits that I used to think of as flawed and annoying (my husband is guilty of this in regards to me as well) I have discovered are simply the downside of one of the most lovely and loyal people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Now that I understand how to talk to my husband (and my daughter to her best friend) and what questions to ask when they are feeling down, I have found the secret to getting along and also getting the positive environment I so crave. I can be useful in helping to bring my hubby out of his funk, or just be the ray of sunshine when he's ready to get out of his head, and I have an incredibly caring and sensitive partner when I need it. Also the nutty and funny person he is when he's being silly is well worth the sometimes discouraging sensitivities of this personality type. Also, for people who think that understanding this personality equals some kind of "crutch" for dysfunction I'd like to throw the B.S. flag. understanding personality characteristics(any personality) is simply another tool to deal with negative tendencies and, for us ENFP's, freeing us from the responsibility of everyone's happiness ALL THE TIME! Thanks for a great post!

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  21. I am an ISFJ married to an INFJ and this is a spot on description of my wife, explains a lot thanks you!

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  22. I'm an INFJ and my partner is an INTJ. This piece was incredibly insightful and accurate. I'd love it if you did one for INTJs as well.

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  23. This, as an INFJ, has given me hope in myself again.... Thank you! I'm sharing this with EVERYONE I know. Which fits that wanting to be understood thing, I know. ;)

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