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!
34 thoughts on “Let’s be Real: One INFJ to the Rest of Mankind”
“Cheating without cheating”!!! Lol it makes sense though… I sort of skate through my job as a software dev manager by relying on random data that I’ve observed from somewhere at some point and insert that data somewhere else and shine it up.
I’m constantly rewarded with awards for this or that and I sort of just creatively plagiarized (Like Apple) so I could get back to “reflecting inwardly” aka shopping for a good deal online. (By the way, this is where I get the random data to apply which is applied elsewhere)
As I’m shopping online, I often think about the websites architecture. Take Pinterest for instance. When I login, how does it know what data to pull in (My pins, my name, my preferences) and when you login, it pulls your data. How does that work? My mind goes nuts because of all these potential theories, some possibly correct, others are just nonsense. But, sometimes in my job, we need a solution. I go home, eat, sit around in silence for about an hour and then BAM. My stupid theory of how Pinterest architecture worked, actually could work. Plug it in, the light turns on and then Scotty beams me up.
Lots of INFJ are afraid of their true power–it smacks of insanity–or what society calls insanity.
INFJ are good at seeing, sensing–whatever you want to call it–what I refer to as other “Levels of Perception”.
Science-based, other LOP are common among animals, insects, etc. who hear and see beyond human sense perception . It is well-known that human eyes can perceive only a small amount of the light spectrum, but bees can see ultraviolet light.
The biggest issue for INFJ is to finally believe what we perceive and act from there.
Thank you for the insightful and highly relatable article. Most of it is profoundly true for me… And I hate the false stereotypes that are so prevalent. However I do have to say that INFJs are not always just passively ambitious. We can be incredibly ambitious and goal oriented under the right circumstances. I think of it as selective ambition, rather like the selective perfectionism that you mention. I would rather spend most of my time in a state of dreamy contemplation… but once I have determined that a course of action is essential, I am very capable of doing whatever it takes to accomplish it. It is perhaps comparable to the INFJ doorslam in the sense that I am capable of flipping a switch that can suspend my natural inclinations… and I can then turn into a force to be reckoned with. And I can adapt whatever persona is required in order to accomplish a goal. It isn’t my natural state of being, but it is something that I can adapt when necessary.
Hello Heather. This article was wonderful! I am an infj and a counselor and I love using my infj powers to understand and help my clients. Do you have a blog or other articles online that I can read.
Thanks for this, when I typed as INFJ some things really fit but the more articles I read about being a creative perfectionist and a saint started to make me question if perhaps I was mistyped. Thanks for clearing up these labels. If I was half as active in reality as I am in my head perhaps some of those things would feel more accurate, unfortunately I live up here. Also, having an artistic sister stomped any delusions I had of being truly creative long ago. I wonder how many INFJs suffer from anxiety, it has been and still is a plague to my existence and, I am ashamed to say, it stops me from doing a lot of things I wish I could.
I definitely enjoyed your points on how we care about people and the “Psychic Narwhalicorn”. For starters, I have always considered myself quite selfish, though I have been told many times that I seem quite sweet and giving. I do care about most people in a general way, but not as deeply as most INFJ profiles would cause one to believe. The stereotype of being “Oh, so special!” bothers me tremendously. I have always felt inherently different from everyone else. Never once did it cross my mind that it made me more special than anyone.
A couple of things you might touch on in a part II could be the stereotypes of perfectly reading everyone’s emotions and always knowing social cues. I don’t know how most INFJs are, but I have have many, many moments of social awkwardness. I also have had a few people that I could not read entirely, though they were usually Fi dominant. Hope that helps because I would love to see more of your writing!
Yes, yes… more please! I’m so tired of 1. obsessing over reading everything ever written about the INFJ personality type and 2. walking away disgusted almost every time because yet again, I’ve been inaccurately stereotyped. Will I ever learn? Probably not. But your dissertation was spot on and beautiful. On another note… Even my closest, dearest friends and family (with the exception of one INFJ sister), never ever hear my true sense of humor. I find that keeping the darkness inside and having a royal laugh with myself later is much easier than facing the blank and shocked expressions on their faces. :D
I relate to with noticing patterns in the behavior of others and anticipating their behaviors. Notions like psychic or otherworldly also irk me because it makes me feel like I’m expected to be something beyond what I can be. Things I couldn’t relate to however were the parts about creativity and ambition. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been known for my imagination, I loved watching movies and finding the underlying meaning and make stories of my own that reflect that meaning. Maybe I’m just misinterpreting what you mean by creativity as the previous sentence sounds more like needing self expression which makes sense because I’m an enneagram 4w5 sp/sx. The ambition part is the exact opposite of who I am. I’m always thinking about my goals trying to figure out the perfect strategy to get what I want. For example I’ve known I want to move out by the time I’m 18. I’ve been working since I was 16. I have an app that helps me budget each of my paycheck and I live strictly by that budget. I figured out that I wanted to become a Psychiatrist this year and I’ve been putting in extra hours despite school to save up enough money to get an EMT certificate before moving out because it looks good on Med School Applications and I can support myself. Although I can definitely say I’m a bit lazy, articles about INFJs not being ambitious never make sense to me because of the Ni-Ti-Se functions. Doesn’t it make more sense that Ni finds the idea we resonate with and strategize with Ti to find the most logical route and apply Se to go after it. Having inferior Se makes more sense in that we go after our ambitions full force often neglecting our limits until we fall into a state of laziness as opposed to just sitting around and fantasizing/writing about them. That honestly sounds more like INFP as they don’t have Se and would be more likely to write about things which illustrate their intentions. Sorry if this sounds like a rant, I just couldn’t relate especially since you say you’re also an INFJ.
Creativity – Perhaps the INFJ creativity is of another order, one of catalysing a myriad of connections from already existing material. That in itself may be a precious, uncommon quality less noticed and treasured.
Ambition – An alternative analogy to the INFJ lazy bum, is the spider waiting in its highly-connected web, for unwitting insects to trap themselves, after which they are fed upon by sucking dry. Another application of minimal effort, maximum results. :-)
Punctuality (under Perfectionism) – The INFJ eagle with the big-picture view is late in finally dive-pouncing on the punctual rodent, scampering linearly on the ground, frantically grabbing at all of its objectives in quick time. Still bags the meal in the end.
Interesting article! Thank you for sharing. I can relate to most of your points, except on 2 issues: creativity and getting things done.
Even original arts make use of meme, the smallest unit of information which is already ‘known’ to be communicated to the audience … otherwise the ‘art’ becomes incomprehensible. In my opinion, what differs INFJ with Ne in creating arts is actually the presence of ‘purpose’. Ni artists are communicating, while Ne artist are simply expressing.
Secondly, INFJs get things done. Actually, this is what differs them with other perceptors. INFJs has this unique combination of resoluteness and receptiveness. They have idealized/focusing visions (Ni), are connected with their surrounding (Fe), constantly making sense of everything (Ti), and cannot help but being constantly affected by immediate stimulus 24-hour a day (Se). Since extraverted sensing is the inferior function which INFJ has less control over it, thus in order be at peace with themselves, INFJs are longing for a kind of harmony between their vision (Ni) and what they experience (Se). With the help of Fe, INFJ has the mean to create some influence within their surrounding. Some people think Fe only affects people, but actually Fe is the constant feedback or influence that happens between INFJs and their surrounding. When this happens, INFJs are getting things done.
This makes so much sense to me! Thank you. The bit about being ambitious but not necessarily achieving is so true and gets frustrating to me. I haven’t been able to achieve big, long term goals because I get bored of the pursuit. However, I am able to achieve things when I can work quickly and not be required to stay on one track for too long. This is the all or nothing syndrome us INFJs have. If something can be accomplished during one “all in” phase, I can be very productive!
“INFJs are altruistic and people pleasers.” -_-
What a good realist description of an INFJ… I agree with nearly everything you said… actually lol I was about to have a slight go at your criticism of us being creative but realise it’s kind of true. “Passive achievers” sums up my life. I have wanted to become a creative writer my whole life and am still now attempting to write a grand fantasy series.
What I will say though is that in the article you mention how you had these anxiety attacks of seeing all these negative ‘what if?’ scenarios… and ascribed them to Ni. I would rather say that this would be a sign of Ne in your shadow which is still a strong function but shows negative possibilities under stress rather than the single possible dream that you hope and secretly believe you will one day achieve that is Ni.
Going on from this point, I would also say this is where I think some of our true creativity can come from (or at least where mine has) – your just hot to make the most of it. For while, as you said, most of my story is a reshuffling and distilling of awesome ideas from others fantasy books, some of my most poignant scenes that I can claim to be truly mine is I believe to be the ones I created when I was in a bad place and emotional distress (using my shadow functions Ne and Fi). For example, in such times I would fantasise my pent up emotions into an imaginary scene from my story using the fictional characters. These I would later, almost automatically, be scooped up at some alter date by Ni and adapted and placed into the story (which as I’m sure every INFJ writer knows can be quite a magical wonderful experience). Other times I would express my dark emotions in some poem which I would write down at the time and which I still believe are actually quite good. I think this is how our Fe can shine – through writing down – not just the cool visions of Ni but the dark creativity of Ne and emotional abyss of Fi (both of which play a significant part when we are stressed – look at the Stella Maze site for clarification). But maybe this is not the same for all INFJ’s and I wonder if it may be heightened because I’m an Enneagram type 4, which is known to be a creative type. Meh who knows. Tell me what you guys think.
As an INTJ married to an INFJ for a very long time, I can corroborate with 100% certainty (now THAT’s rare for an INTJ) everything in your post.
This in particular resonated: “Ni creativity consists of observing, connecting, and essentially regurgitating powerful themes into foreign settings.” Just so. It’s incredibly fulfilling having a partner who shares this characteristic since only these 2 types have it. As expected each has a somewhat different observation orientation. This makes the relationship even more delightful since each is able to truly understand the other and factor it into the individual observation.
For the record, in my experience the INTJ/INFJ match is as close to perfection as is possible for either to find.
This is f***ing brilliant
“it is perceived as creativity, when really it is simply good innovation mixed with keen, culled insight and strong aesthetic taste.”
a thousand times yes! this is a great article, but what most resonated is your point about INFJ creativity. having been praised all my life for creativity, especially in writing, i keep trying to tell people that i’m not really all that creative. i don’t think up new things. rather, i tease out the threads of existing ideas; i work with tangents, interpolation, synthesis of stored up treasures, as you so eloquently put it. (and i’m totally stealing that.) thanks for articulating this so well.
p.s. i definitely have resting b— face.
“INFJs are lazy bums, skating along through life with impressive ‘cheating without cheating’ skills, applying minimal effort for maximum result.” — I don’t say this often, but right now, I do feel attacked, whoops. I like to think that I’m focused on what really matters to me, but that’s just another logical sinkhole there.
The paragraph that discusses Ne creativity vs. Ni creativity is breathtakingly accurate. Kudos!
I too am an INFJ, and most of what you said resonates with me. The difference you show between INFJs and the INFJ/INTP counterparts is something I often struggle with. The “passively ambitious” phrase you used fits me like a glove. I’m constantly aspiring to do great things, but I never actually “do” them. Furthermore, the perfectionist ideals of an INFJ also suit me.
But one thing I have trouble comprehending is how Fe works in an INFJ, as I now contemplate if I am Fi or Fe, as I don’t fully understand their differences.
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I can’t speak for everyone, but as I understand it, Fe in an INFJ is auxiliary, so it’s never going to speak over Ni, unless there are some personality problems, perhaps. It ends up as the following: an INFJ is usually keenly attuned to the social dynamics around them. They observe people’s behaviour, and often mimic them in their turn. Fe in a social setting is a lot of mimicry and mirroring, which, I think, is totally not what an Fi person does. Ni is crucial here in an INFJ – it’s always looking for patterns, it’s trying to work out why so-and-so does something, why and when that kind of behaviour is appropriate, or how it affects others around them, etc. That means that (correct me if I’m going off in the wrong direction here) while an INFJ would be able to figure out how people work, they’re probably not going to participate with them whole-heartedly. There will be an element of detachment to it, because they’re too busy being observers, and honestly, couldn’t care less about actively socialising. That’s not what works in an ENFJ, though. ENFJs, with their dominant Fe, get very involved in this process, to a much greater extent than INFJs. Also, ENFJs don’t question social dynamics as often as INFJs do (again, I’m not speaking for everyone, and if you think you act differently, or that I’m straight-up wrong, tell me.)
Also, when they’re expressing their feelings for someone, I think Fi people are typically more like, “What can I do to help you? If I do this, will it help you, or make you happy and feel loved?” This is because of the Fi-Te axis. Fe doesn’t always have this drive, not in this way. And Fe doesn’t have the same grasp on ethics that Fi has, I think. That’s not to say that Fe people are inherently amoral or unethical or something. But the process works very differently. Which is why, if an Fe-person meets an Fi-person, and if they’re not composed and accommodating enough about understanding how the other person expresses themselves, there will likely be some trouble.
That should be fairly easy to determine. Fi is an inward-oriented feeling function, and Fe is an outward-oriented feeling function. If you’re utilizing Fe, it means that how you speak and act is determined by the impact it has on others and the general social atmosphere. Generally, Fe users want to maintain a harmonious social atmosphere, and tend to be quite diplomatic, even at times running interference when someone in the group says something that could be offensive to someone else in the group. They value truth, but they also value thoughtfulness in reference to the people they are conversing with. Fi users tend to be more interested in being true to themselves and their convictions, even if it offends someone. They are usually very opinionated and independent. They have their own inner structure of morality and rules, so they don’t tend to take kindly to having any external rules or expectations placed on them.
For me, Fe makes me default to gauging what the collective mood in an environment is (especially when Ni really wants to get that read right) whereas Fi focuses on gauging internal motivations and intentions and wants to match the external environment to internal experiences, which is why it’s paired with Te.
The creativity thing: Yes!! It’s so true: many of my most ‘creative’ things are just ‘remixes,’ I think (it’s so subconscious that I’m not positive), but distilled so far from their source and combined so much that most people probably wouldn’t see it. As opposed to Ne ‘creativity’ (from what I’ve observed)- where you can SEE the influences, but also see where it’s all them. We all draw from other sources, it’s just HOW we draw that’s different.
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