Guest post by Heather, INFJ
I’d like not only to dispel some of the myth and mist surrounding the INFJ legend today, but to cast some light and provide some entertainment as well. There are some frequently repeated assumptions (aka stereotypes) regarding INFJs that have been circulating internet-land for years. These legends affect non-INFJs, it’s true, but they also have a tendency to inform INFJs’ opinions of themselves. It’s the power of suggestion. Particularly when there is a grain of truth to a stereotype, it is both easy and agreeable to say, “oh yes, that’s me,” so long as the stereotype is positive or comical or gives us an excuse for our bad habits.
One of these assumptions that INFJs love to claim for their own is being psychic, otherworldly narwhalicorns. It’s kind of an attractive idea to have about oneself. Particularly when one has felt like something of an alien amongst other humans for most of one’s life, and when one is actually quite clever at reading people. So, let’s be real: INFJs very often know a substantial amount of information about you that they don’t let on to, because first and foremost, they want you to be comfortable with them. No one feels very comfortable if they think you’re aware of their motivations and inner life. So then, where did this mysterious cache of information come from, you may ask. First, INFJs are simply very attuned to people in general. Se is our inferior function, but it is still a function. Because we are sort of ‘set’ to the people wavelength, that is the information we tend to pick up a lot of. This information is fed into our Ni (dominant function), which recognizes patterns and themes and can extrapolate accurate readings based on very little data. Add to this that I at least (sorry guys, I don’t know any INFJs in real life besides myself) amuse myself by studying personality theory, graphology, and Chinese face reading so that I can know even more about every specimen that crosses my path unsuspectingly.
I’d like to elucidate something here: INFJs are attuned to other people, not necessarily because we care so deeply about them, but often out of self-interest, because we find them interesting or because we want to maintain the tactical advantage of the general good opinion of others. This is not to say that we don’t care about people and use our powers to that end; it is to say that you shouldn’t take an INFJ’s motivations for granted. We care about people, but like anyone, we are selective about who we care for, and showing interest or consideration is not necessarily a sign of genuine regard. We do certainly, however, use these strengths to show special consideration for those we love.
The ‘psychic narwhalicorn’ stereotype has some truth to it, but it fails to understand the mechanics of the phenomenon. There is an additional caveat to this issue that I am rather loathe to express. I am one of the more skeptical persons you may ever meet, so you can imagine it is with little relish that I admit that even I, myself, have experienced ‘feeling’ other people’s emotions (cringe). It is important to understand that these are unstated feelings. I don’t listen to someone talk about what they’re going through and then empathize with them (I’m actually not capable of that, for some reason), I somehow just acquire their undeclared emotions, and then wonder why I feel depressed or anxious and etc. Sadly, this interesting phenomenon does not provide me with helpful accompanying information like where it’s coming from, where it’s directed, or what it’s about. I used to think it was just me experiencing mercurial emotions (definitely abnormal for me), or I would make untrue assumptions about other people being upset with me or disliking me, because I was unconsciously absorbing their negative emotions, which were not necessarily aimed at me at all. Particularly disturbing was when I would feel the negativity, but the person exuding it acted polite or warm to me. I thought such people were being disingenuous with me, when really they were preoccupied with something else, but liked me and wanted to be sociable. Now that I am aware of the phenomenon, it is much easier to make accurate readings of social situations. It may have contributed to my dissociative tendencies, but that’s a topic for another time. I really don’t know how to categorize this bit of the puzzle, so I’ll let you, the reader, make your own determinations.
Another assumption is that INFJs are really creative and deep. This stereotype rises from one of two problems. 1. Like the last issue, people looking in from the outside just don’t understand the mechanics, or 2. INFPs typing as INFJs are skewing the picture.
Now, maybe I see this issue so clearly because I have an INFP sister, and the differences in our creativity are painfully obvious. I’m going to explain it in terms of function. In terms of creativity, INFJs function with Ni, and INFPs function with Ne (although their N function is auxiliary). Ne is expressed creativity, sometimes known as ‘the idea generator’. Ne dominants and auxiliaries are incredibly creative, and they are very often fantastic musicians/songwriters and artists. They are always generating ideas, some of which are awesome, and some of which are ridiculous and nonsensical. As artists they tend to use a lot of flamboyant, intense colors, and their art generally contains a sense of the exotic. They have difficulty coming to any certainty of truth because the possibilities are so endless to them. They are anti-perfectionist. They express; they do not edit.
Ni is introverted/inward intuition. I call it ‘the idea distiller’ (the term has yet to catch on). Particularly in INxJs, who share dominant Ni and inferior Se, this is Ni’s function. The inferior, mainly unconscious function Se gathers data and feeds it into the dominant Ni function, which takes all of the data (information, ideas, etc.) and analyzes it, distilling the data into convergent truth, or at the very least, a good estimate of truth. Here is where Ni creativity comes in: Ni recognizes legitimate patterns between apparently disparate elements, discerns the important, foundational bits, and also saves relevant incomplete data for later, when additional pieces of the framework may be acquired. It is my theory (as an Ni dominant) that Ni creativity consists of observing, connecting, and essentially regurgitating powerful themes into foreign settings. Most people don’t notice patterns, frameworks, archetypal ideas and stories. They may experience the power of such things without discerning from whence the real influence comes. They might say, “that was a great story”, but they couldn’t say what it was about the story that was great. An INFJ would be able to discern a common universal theme in the story that gave it particular significance, or a particular effective appeal. Because these types of treasures that INFJs store up are generally forgotten or invisible to the rest of the populace, when an INFJ uses them in a fluid way in art or literature, and etc., it is perceived as creativity, when really it is simply good innovation mixed with keen, culled insight and strong aesthetic taste. Let’s be real; INFJs are not creative in the truest sense of the word. If you are an INFJ in denial about your proudly guarded virtue of creativity, all it takes to come to the above realization is to spend time with an Ne dominant or auxiliary artist. It may be painful, but ‘the truth will out’, as they say.
Yet another assumption is that INFJs are future-obsessed, high-achieving perfectionists. Let’s be real; I don’t even know what that means. Kidding aside, there is some truth to this, but I think it gives a false impression. Future-obsessed: This causes me to raise an eyebrow, because I certainly wouldn’t label myself this way. Yet, I am in some (unexpected) ways preoccupied with future. This has been a huge factor in my long-term anxiety disorder. The fact that my mind turns on ‘what-ifs’ was hugely problematic when I first developed that disorder almost immediately upon graduating from secondary school. When your brain is roiling with horrific ideas about what could potentially happen in the future from minute to minute, you’re in a bad place. The worst part about that was not being able to dismiss the notions. I had to learn to essentially disable the questions, because once entertained, they were very difficult to eject, and they bred more equally disagreeable notions of apocalypse. Has that coping mechanism injured my future-orientation? I don’t really think so. I’m still quite capable of understanding cause and effect, i.e. what is likely to happen in the future. I think it may have caused me to spend less time pondering the future, and I don’t really mind that.
High-achieving: are INFJs ambitious?
Yes and no. INFJs are passively ambitious (is that an oxymoron?). ‘Man, it would be great to be the next child prodigy in the literary field.’ That was my thought in 2nd grade when I won a school-wide creative writing contest. ‘I want to be a teacher.’ That was another thought I entertained in the 2nd grade and the years following. Did I attain these goals? Absolutely not. You may say it’s unfair of me to use primary school examples, but believe it or not, these were goals I held long-term, and they are actually the most definite and permanent goals I could think of. My point is that INFJs have ambitions, but they don’t necessarily achieve them. Why, you ask? Because they are passive. INFJs are lazy bums, skating along through life with impressive ‘cheating without cheating’ skills, applying minimal effort for maximum result. Caveat: I really wanted to be a teacher, and considered going to school for it before experience taught me that I was not gifted by nature, or even capable by nature for the teaching field. Compare INTJ ambition: INTJs get stuff done. They are ‘do-ers’. INFJs are ‘be-ers’. INTJ insights, ideas, plans are not necessarily superior to INFJ insights, ideas, plans, they are simply applied, and that gives them the advantage. The INFJ concept of ‘application’ is to write about it. Write a letter, write a paper, write a blog. Take action? What? Implement? Orchestrate? That’s crazy talk. Kidding aside, I don’t think that this passivity is necessarily just a flaw to be overcome. INFJs write stuff. INTJs do stuff. Everyone has their own role. That said, there are some related areas INFJs would be wise to renovate, like dealing with conflict, being proactive when it’s necessary, applying yourself, etc.
I couldn’t see this one in myself for a long time, but then I realized that I really am perfectionistic about certain things. I’m a selective perfectionist, and that’s what threw me off. I see it mostly in what I write, but even that largely varies in degree by who my audience is and what the subject matter is. If it’s something in which the quality of my work and the coherence of my logical structure is very important to me, I obsessively check it and re-check it, then let it sit for a day, then check it again with fresh eyes, then finally submit it against my will and amidst much anxiety for its reception. On the other hand, if my desk at work is mostly clean, it’s good enough. I can leave the mail tray full of mail and resolve to check it the next day. I’m often late wherever I go. I hate being late, but I don’t seem to have a very linear concept of time, so it is what it is.
The ‘Resting Sad Face’ Myth:
Perhaps you’ve heard this one (“INTJs have resting b— face, INFJs have resting sad face”). I think this comes out of a different assumption that INFJs are habitually melancholy. In my experience, this is untrue. I suffered hard from a severe anxiety disorder for years of my life, and frequently contemplated the idea that it would just be so much easier to go be with Jesus now than to suffer through life. I wasn’t suicidal, but that’s still a pretty significant indicator of how difficult my life was at that point. Even at that dark hour, I would not have said I was depressed. Discouraged? Yes. Tired? Yes. Despairing? Yes. However, those feelings were always temporary, even though they lasted for years, because they were not a part of my inherent nature. They were a result of severe imbalance. I am not, nor have I ever been inherently melancholy. I have a fantastic sense of humor, even if most of it is internal. It’s only internal because I get the blank stare when I try to explain what’s so funny. I’ve been conditioned by society to keep it to myself. My resting face is not sad (my mouth has permanently turned-up corners), though it may be serious. Particularly in society, I present as a slightly aloof, stone-faced academic, I’m fairly certain. If I’m with friends who understand me and with whom I am comfortable being myself, I am much more expressive and inclined to submit frequent witticisms.
Well, my friends, I hope this has been entertaining at least. I’ll stop here in the interest of keeping your interest from flagging. I’m happy to contribute a part II, so submit your own favorite or hated INFJ stereotypes in the comments for me. You can look forward to “INFJs are the most extroverted introvert” and “INFJs are illogical and emotionally needy” next time!