Friday, December 18, 2015

How to emotionally protect yourself: Advice for ENFJ

Oh, hello my dear ENFJs! I didn't forget about you. I'm just slow sometimes! I really appreciate and love you; you're some of my very favorite clients/friends/loves of all time. I hope my slowness didn't hurt your feelings. 

ENFJ functional stack: Fe Ni Se Ti

So, the usual caveats are relevant here: some of these will resonate with you, some of them won't. No one is exactly the same, and we all have different needs/desires. But, I'll start with the biggest thing, which if you are truly an ENFJ will for sure ring a bell: 

1) ENFJ, my friend (and I say this so very lovingly, because I know what a good place it is borne of) you've got a serious case of Major Boundary Issues. If there is one specific hallmark ENFJ has that clues me in that that's the type I'm dealing with, it's a general lack of or difficulty with boundaries. This may pop up in any number of ways, but most commonly manifesting as a lack of boundary between your emotions and the emotions of others. So let's say item #1 on our agenda is just to get clear on the fact that you're not naturally well-suited for establishing clear boundaries. It's your Achilles heel. It's the place you falter the most in your quest for genuine soul happiness, deep and sustainable satisfaction at work, balanced love and friend relationships. 

2) And next let's also clarify that these issues occur specifically because you care so much about other people and you so much want everyone to be safe and happy and cared for. I emphasize this part because I need you to know that there's nothing wrong with how you are. The world needs people like you, because you help us all out so much and you provide so much love and support. You are the givers and teachers and most generous lovers of humankind. You are inspirational! And I know that you really get a lot of genuine satisfaction out of providing all the love and support you can, and sometimes it feels like you have endless capacity to provide. It's just that...well, this lack of boundaries very often ends up making you feel shitty in the long run, (for a variety of reasons) and we don't want that. 

3) I need you to understand - deeply. in your bones. - that identifying and correcting your difficulty in establishing and maintaining boundaries is not an act of selfishness. It is not harmful to others. It is an act of self-care, self-love, and self-respect. You are setting an example for the many people who look up to you, because truly it is only through loving and caring for yourself that you can effectively sustain the love and care you want to provide for the people in your life. People look to you for guidance for any number of problems, issues, concerns, etc. You can practice and model solid boundaries with a little bit of mindful adjustment. Remember that the world does not need you to martyr yourself. There's a reason the flight attendants say to put your oxygen mask on first. 

4) So, let's start with a plan for emotional boundaries, or the fulcrum at which the feelings of other people can overpower or even become your feelings. It's basically like having emotional hypochondriasis: if you are too enmeshed in others, you can literally begin to manifest the emotional state of the people around you. You may be super happy one day, like everything is going great and there's not a cloud in your emotional sky...and then you may meet for coffee with a super negative friend who complains the whole time. And then you may spend the rest of the day in a funk you have no identifiable reason to be in. Meanwhile, your friend  feels so much better after spending time with you. You know why? Because that Negative Nancy has vampirically sucked the very joy from your veins, and you let him/her do it. You veritably offered your neck for the joy-sucking. This can happen to you so easily if you are not mindful of and actively protecting yourself against this risk. This is especially dangerous for your emotional state if you partner with someone who is very dark or very emotionally needy. You can fairly easily find yourself in an effectively parasitic relationship in which you are the sole source of happiness or positive emotion for another person or even a whole system (family/work/friend group). You may not even realize you're being drained because the siphoning makes you feel so useful and important. 

5) I use this metaphor most often in my work with ENFJ clients: in your most natural state, you're basically swimming around in a sea of feels with nothing to protect or inoculate you. You are just floating around, nakedly exposed to the detritus of everybody else's emotional states. And not only are you exposed, you're like, super welcoming. You really, really love swimming in other people's feels (and holding people up and helping them not drown, etc); it's your most reflexive way of being. Asking you to not do that is like asking a bird not to fly. And so you're totally used to everyone around you bumping up against you and getting all up in your personal space and wrapping their hungry emotional tendrils around you. It feels like home to be enveloped in other people's feelings in this way. You understand it. You can handle it! The problem is: if you are not careful, you can be entirely swallowed up and not even notice for a long, long time. ENFJ has no natural defense against being swallowed up by other people's emotional needs. So you need a net, and stat. 

6) That said: it won't be easy to change. It will feel really weird at first. You will worry about being selfish, because you're so incredibly used to being selfless. So to begin to ease into establishing boundaries for yourself, first imagine yourself wrapping a net all the way around you. The reason I suggest a net as opposed to a wall or some less permeable barrier is that a net will still allow for emotional ebb and flow, because I would never advise you to stop doing that part. You love the fact that you can feel what people around you are feeling, and tune in so deeply to the needs of others. That's, like, what you do. I'm decidedly not asking you to be someone else, and I know you would never be happy if you weren't deeply engaged with the people in your life. It's just a matter of not allowing their feelings to infect you, drain you, or in any profound way change your feelings for the worse. 

7) Next, the most effective mantras I've found for ENFJs are these, and I revisit them with ENFJ clients and friends often: "That is not your problem" and "You don't have to care about that." 

Say it with me, friends: 


Grant yourself complete and total permission to accept these as valid perspectives as often as you wish, because they so totally are. Not everything is your problem to solve, not everybody's issues are your concern, and not everything requires you to give any fucks at all. No matter how used to being invested and involved you are, or how much people are vying for your attention and concern, it is up to you where you put your attention. Again: you do not have to give any fucks about things you do not give any fucks about. Permit yourself to give no fucks. Particularly if your fucks have been exhausted by things you actually do and should and can care about and in which you should invest said fucks. (e.g., your partner or children). 

8) So, here are some examples: let's say your friend calls you every day to complain about the same shit he's been complaining about - and not changing- for a year, and so far you've been taking his calls every time, and advising him in all the ways you know how, and providing endless free cheerleading services. Well, at some point you have every right to identify the fact that you have nothing left to say to him about it. You are tired of talking about it. You are entirely out of fucks to give about this particular issue. And so you can say to him, with all the love and respect in the world: "I love you, friend. And I love helping you, but you do not seem ready to change this. I have said all I can say about it. When you have a new perspective on it, or are ready to change the situation, please get back with me and I'd love to talk with you again." And then stop taking his calls for a little while. You know why you can do this? Because IT IS NOT YOUR PROBLEM. And because, boundaries. 

9) Here's a trickier one: let's say your mother (or MIL, or sister, or father, or some other close family member) meddles in all your business. She is constantly bugging you about your life, asking when are you going to do this, why are you not doing that, why don't you just, saying "you need to" and "you oughta"...and you are frankly exhausted by it. It hurts your feelings. It makes you feel like a failure, or like she's criticizing you, or like she's just being nosy and you don't like it. Whatever, it makes you feel really not good. With all respect, you have every right to say, "Mom, I love you so much. I know you are coming from a good place and you want me to be happy. But when you do/say ____, it makes me feel ____. So would you be willing to try approaching me ____ way instead?" (I know it gets trickier when it's your family, especially a parent, but I'd like to remind you that you do have a right to boundaries and to engaging in relationships that generally feel good to you, and if something feels bad, there are ways to respectfully address that.) If your mother or close family member is unwilling to honor a boundary, you also have the right to disengage from them. I'm not saying don't talk to your mom anymore, but I'm just saying that you don't have to be quite as enmeshed in the relationship. This is a radical idea to some ENFJs, so it may take some getting used to! That's okay. Just start considering it. 

10) Unrelated to boundaries, you are incredible at picking up on exactly what people are feeling and detecting what they need, and being very, very considerate as a result. Sometimes you can get your feelings hurt when people fail to consider your feelings in this same way. I totally get it. I'm an INFJ; a similar thing happens to us too. In your case, it's that dominant Fe (Extraverted Feeling) function that makes you so good at this. Fe is all about being aware of and feeling the feelings of others; unfortunately, not everybody uses their Fe function well or at all. So, it would behoove you to cut people some slack here. I know it sucks, but it's a fact that not everyone is as awesome about this as you are. Your skill at intentional consideration is unparalleled. I'd invite you to continue to set a good example of this, because it does still bring you and them joy, but perhaps temper your expectations of others, because really only your co-ENFJs (or perhaps your INFJ, ESFJ, or ISFJ friends/loved ones, all of whom use Fe either dominantly or secondarily) are going to be as tuned in to you as you are to them. Everyone else, you will very likely/often have to use actual words to tell them what you need or want from them, rather than wait for them to provide it intuitively. It ain't happening, so don't keep setting yourself up for disappointment by expecting it. We have to realistically assess the people around us and to some extent accept them the way they are. And most people, sadly, are not quite as amazing at practical care as you are. 

11) This includes appreciation and validation. I know how much you need/want to be appreciated. You give and give and give and give and give some more, and I know you give because you want to...but I also know that there's a tiny part of you that really needs to be acknowledged for how much and how well you give. Maybe just a tiny part, and maybe just some of the time, but the hunger for it is there and I see you craving it. Some of you may be getting this need met, and that's great. But if you're may feel like you have to ask for it, which can feel a lot like fishing for compliments sometimes. You may accidentally find yourself humble bragging, or doing a weird passive-aggressive "did you see what I did there?" kind of thing, or any number of acrobatic measures to be like LOOK AT HOW AWESOME I AM PLEASE but it's only because you really just want to be seen and appreciated and aren't getting that need met. So learn to ask for it in a way that is very direct so that you don't unintentionally come off differently than how you intend. Maybe just tell your partner: "I need you to notice all of the things I do around here" or tell your dearest friends or family members honestly: "I really appreciate when you acknowledge how great our friendship is because I put a lot of energy and love into it" or simply, "I need validation sometimes" or "I need you to be proud of me" ...or just actually straight up brag on yourself, which is (btw) totally acceptable. You have every right to announce to the world, "Here is what I accomplished, and I'm super proud of myself!" Just don't wait for it, and then be sad it doesn't come without some prompting. Again, not everybody is super good at these things the way that you are!

12) Okay, so you probably already know you can be a little much sometimes. I mean that in a very nice way, and frankly I specifically love your too-muchness. But then again, I am a feelings person, and an iNtuitive Feeler at that, and I love to externally process all my and your stuff, so that's probably why I see you, get you, and love you for this. That said, you can be a little much to people who aren't feelings people, or who aren't external processors, or who don't want to talk all the time. So I'd just advise you to maybe remember that, and be self-aware enough to tune in (which you're so good at) and respond to when you're being too much for that particular person right then. And don't take it personally, because your "too much" for some is equally going to be "just right" for others. 

13) You are awesome. You are charismatic and inspirational and supportive and loving. We all LOVE having you in our lives. But don't let us love you to death. Don't let us be vampires, because we totally will if you don't stop us. Learn to tell us when to back up and give you space, because we (most of us) will also do that if you show us how and hold us accountable. You can set an amazing example for all of us in how to be supportive and loving and appreciative and validating...while also maintaining really solid boundaries. 

Here is a post you can share with your partner to help him or her understand you better:

New offering:


  1. This is a great post, thank you! I'm a pretty self-aware ENFJ and have been on a growth journey lately (actually all my life, if I'm being honest!) that has brought to this place where I've decided to start asking for help and support. The problem is that I genuinely don't know how, especially when I'm feeling really vulnerable (and extra in need of it of course). I just get so scared I'm asking for too much. Usually it's because I know what everyone else in my life is going through and I think, I can't add my stuff on top of all the other stuff they have going on. Or I think, I'm already a bit full on for them (my INFJ friends) with how much I talk about things, or people see me as the rock, and I don't want them to see me neurotic or anxious or down about something, so I stop myself from asking. It took a lot of introspection to figure out what my needs even were, but I'm happy to say I'm starting to be more in tune with that... it's just asking for support when I need it (and not after I have dealt with it) that trips me up! Every site on ENFJ growth I read talks about how ENFJ's should make sure to also get their needs met, or to set boundaries, but none explain how to do that. I appreciate all the thought and detail that went into explaining how to do that here! It's spot on.

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