Descriptions of the INFJ personality type often emphasize our peaceful natures, and point out that we have a hard time dealing with conflict. For example, one of the reasons a commenter on my INFJ Loki post argued my typing is inaccurate was because he couldn’t imaging INFJs “carrying on a constant fight with everyone around you for the majority of your existence.” INFJs are also described as disconnected from the world, and unlikely to feel involved in the reality of what’s going on around us. Though both of these can be true, we’re not completely harmless. Just ask my siblings. Every personality type has a dark side, and INFJs can be just as scary as everyone else.
Let’s dive into the sciencey-part of Myers-Briggs theory for a moment. An INFJ’s dominant function is Introverted Intuition (Ni), which means the shadow function which emerges in times of stress it Extroverted Sensing (Se). Naomi L. Quenk’s book Was That Really Me? is an excellent resource for how each type reacts to stress with their shadow (a.k.a. inferior) function. All quotes are from the 11th chapter of her book.
Types with dominant Se use it effectively, but shadow functions are underdeveloped and so INFJs are not comfortable when forced to use sensing. 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.
For INFJs (and INTJs, who share Se as a shadow function), 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.
Stress isn’t the only thing that can bring out an INFJ’s angry side. Jenn Granneman, the INFJ blogger of “Introvert, Dear” wrote an excellent article that addresses this issue: “How INFJs Deal with Conflict: 10 Confessions.” 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.
One of the odd things that results from INFJs generally peaceful nature evaporating once a deeply held value is crossed is that some people might be clueless about how we really feel about them. An INFJ won’t share their real self and inner thoughts with a casual acquaintance, and will 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 that knowledge 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 articles about INFJ Strategies for Dealing with Emotions and guides like Manage Those Pesky Emotions.
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, woodworking, furniture refinishing, or cooking.”