Descriptions of the INFJ personality type often emphasize our peaceful natures and ignore any hint of a “dark side.” For example, one commenter on my INFJ Loki post argued my typing is inaccurate because he couldn’t imagin an INFJ “carrying on a constant fight with everyone around you for the majority of your existence.” He knows INFJs are generally peaceful and conflict-avoidant, and couldn’t buy an INFJ as this type of villain.
People also describe INFJs as disconnected from the world, and unlikely to feel involved in the reality of what’s going on around us. All too often, people incorrectly assume this means we don’t care about what other people do or things that happen. This isn’t true. As Amelia Brown points out in her post The Dark Side Of The INFJ Personality Type, INFJs can be stubborn, judge others harshly, and abruptly cut people out of their lives. We do notice, and care, what’s going on enough to have a pretty decisive reaction in some cases.
Though INFJs are generally peaceful, gentle, and dislike engaging in confrontations, we’re not completely harmless (just ask my siblings). Every personality type has a dark side, and INFJs can be just as scary as anyone else.
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Obsessive, Overindulging, and Defensive
Let’s dive into the sciencey-part of Myers-Briggs® theory for a moment. An INFJ personality type’s* dominant function is Introverted Intuition (Ni), which means the less-developed function which emerges in times of stress is Extroverted Sensing (Se).
- If you want to learn more about what all the letters in Myers-Briggs® types really mean, check out my post The Simplest Guide To Myers-Briggs® Functions Ever.
Naomi L. Quenk’s book Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality* is an excellent resource for how each type reacts to stress with their inferior function. Types with dominant Se use it effectively, but INFJs are not comfortable when forced to use their sensing side. On a small level, making a “sensing mistake” that involves facts or details can make us “annoyed or defensive.” On a larger level, times of stress trigger what Quenk calls a “grip experience,” where the inferior function takes over (all quotes in this section from chapter 11 of her book).
For INFJs, stress causes an “obsessive focus on external data,” an “overindulgence in sensual pleasure,” and an “adversarial attitude toward the outer world.” The first one can make us irritable and obsessive. The second often takes the form of overeating, shopping for things we don’t need, and generally becoming self-centered. The third is a defensive response to feeling like the entire world is spinning out of control.
Their hypersensitivity to potentially dangerous surroundings can promote uneasiness about people as well. … An INFJ said she “becomes suspicious. Usually I’m tolerant, curious, and compassionate, so ‘out of character’ for me means I’m unaccepting and frustrated with the world.” …
The altered state of any inferior function is typically accompanied by a lessening of social controls and therefore more frequent expressions of anger. However, the character of that anger may be different for different types. For INTJs and INFJs, the “cause” of distress is often one or more “objects” in the environment. The anger directed at either things or people may therefore be more focused, intense, and extreme than with other inferior functions (Quenk).
It would probably surprise people who think INFJs are harmless to learn their stress-induced anger can actually be “more focused, intense, and extreme” than other types. But it’s no surprise to the INFJs.
When An INFJ Gets Angry
Stress isn’t the only thing that can bring out an INFJ’s angry side. Back in 2014 Jenn Granneman of “Introvert, Dear” wrote an excellent article that addresses this issue. “How INFJs Deal with Conflict: 10 Confessions” is no longer available online, but here’s a quote:
Don’t underestimate my gentle nature. I’m not all warm fuzzies and smiles. If you cross one of my deeply held inner values, I become extremely outspoken and crusading. If I see someone else being hurt, I’ll have a strong urge to be their protector and defend them. An angry INFJ can deliver a wrath and intensity you’ve probably never experienced before. Think Jesus in the temple with whips, turning over the money changers’ tables.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
An INFJs generally peaceful nature can evaporate quickly when a deeply held value is crossed. We are, however, very good at bottling up our emotions until we can’t take it any longer. Until someone actually pushes us to the point where we feel like we have to say something they’re often clueless about how we really feel about them or their ideas.
An INFJ won’t share their real self and inner thoughts with a casual acquaintance, and we’ll go along with most conversations and suggestions just to avoid conflict. That can continue until the other person says or does something that crosses a line the INFJ has drawn in their minds, e.g. an INFJ woman being friendly to a guy she doesn’t really like up until the point where he actually asks her out.
I imagine it’s pretty puzzling for people who think they’re getting along just fine when suddenly an INFJ blurts out “I don’t agree. And by the way, here’s everything else you’ve done over the entire course of our relationship that irritates me.”
Dealing With Emotions
One of the great things about knowing your Myers-Briggs® type is learning about your type can help you with working on your weaknesses. I can use my Se as an excuse for angry outbursts, or I can recognize what’s going on and learn to deal with it more effectively. You can find helpful articles to read like INFJ Strategies for Dealing with Emotions by Cheryl Florus and 10 Stress-Busting Tips for INFJs by Susan Storm, or use resources like Personality Hacker to dig deep into your personality type.*
Naomi Quenk says INFJs and INTJs need “space and a low-pressure environment” to deescalate from a grip experience. It’s more helpful to take some alone time when feeling angry than to try and talk through it in the moment, partly to avoid sensory overload and partly to keep from snapping at people trying to give “helpful” advice. also, a “chance of scenery or activity can help break the negative, obsessive focus.” Try doing some yoga, going for a walk, or watching a film. Ni types can also exercise their Se through a hobby like photography, gardening, sculpting, or cooking.
INFJs do have a dark side. We don’t have to let it control us, be we should be aware of it. And other people would do well not to underestimate that side of the INFJ.
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