This Whole “Otherworldly INFJ” Thing Is Getting Out of Hand

It’s nearly impossible to study Myers-Briggs types on the Internet without coming across several articles about the incredibly rare and nearly magical INFJ type. They’re described as the world’s prophets and shamans with deep spiritual insights. They’re called natural empaths with unfailingly accurate telepathy. They appear so deep you’ll never plumb the depths of their souls. They’re seen as the ideal type — the one everyone mis-types as because they wish they were this special.This Whole "Otherworldly INFJ" Thing Is Getting Out of Hand | marissabaker.wordpress.com

If you’re vomiting a little in your mouth after reading that description (or laughing out loud at the crazy claims in the image up there), you’re not alone. The tendency to portray INFJs as something akin to a demigod or goddess doesn’t sit well with most healthy INFJs. Aspects of it even scare me. And yet it’s still around.

On the one hand, you have certain INFJs (and wanna-be INFJs) embracing the label and using it to look down on other types. That’s not the purpose of personality types and it’s damaging to us as well as to others. And on the other hand, you have people buying-in to the otherworldly INFJ stereotype and reacting in ways that aren’t good for the INFJs. Some even “hunt” INFJs for a relationship, which is pretty creepy.

How Did This Happen?

The simple fact that INFJs are the rarest personality type is going to make us feel and appear different than other people. That’s where this whole thing started — with acknowledging and explaining why INFJs aren’t like the other 98-99% of the population. So far so good. But soon, it started turning into a “different=better” idea.

INFJs process incoming information with a mental function called Introverted Intuition (Ni). INTJs also lead with this process, and they’re the second-rarest type. That means only 3-7% of the population has this as their preferred mental process (it’s the co-pilot for ENFJ and ENTJ, and they’re pretty rare too). Ni is a perceiving process that’s inward focused, tied to personal perspectives, highly interested in patterns, and is concerned with things that can’t be directly experienced.

It’s not too hard to see how this process could be seen as mystical, or even magical (as side-note, I actually like the nickname “The Mystic” for INFJs as much or more than “The Counselor,” since it focuses on our dominant function instead of our co-pilot). Introverted Intuition doesn’t “make sense” to most people, even the INFJs and INTJs who use it all the time. Pattern-recognition related to things you can’t directly experience is hard to explain. And if we stop trying to explain how this works, then some variation on “it’s magic” seems like a good enough stand-in.

The impression of INFJs as empaths and mind-readers comes from how Ni relates to their co-pilot process, Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Fe picks up on other people’s feelings and makes decisions based on meeting the needs of the whole group. When you couple a keen interest in other people and an ability to pick up their emotions with Ni pattern recognition, INFJs can be insanely good at predicting behavior. And so we became the telepathic mind-readers of the Myers-Briggs community.This Whole "Mystical INFJ" Thing Is Getting Out of Hand | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Perpetuating The Unicorn Stereotype

The fact that the quasi-mythical, somewhat deified image has become a stereotype for INFJs is party our fault. Many INFJs grew up feeling like outsiders who never fit in. We’re carrying around deep emotional scars and we’re longing for someone to look at us and say, “Your weirdness makes you wonderful and valuable.” And we find that in the personality type community. Here are a couple examples:

The INFJ has been called “The Mystic,” “The Counselor,” and “Empath”.  They are described as  original, gentle, caring, and highly intuitive. The quality of extrasensory perception, or ESP, is often attributed to them. People who have known INFJs for years continue to be surprised when yet another layer of their complex personality is revealed.  (Ann Holm, “The Mysterious INFJ”)

If we hearken back to humanity’s tribal days, we would likely find only a few INs in a given tribe. At that time, they would have assumed roles such as sage, healer, Shaman or prophet—anything that capitalized on their powers of insight and intuition. Indeed, their rare and unusual gifts would have made INs a precious commodity. (Dr. A.J. Drent,  “Why INFJ, INFP, INTJ, & INTP Types Struggle in Modern Life”)

While there are some INFJ haters out there, most of what you’ll find about INFJs on the internet is positive and supportive. In fact, the descriptions are so good at inviting you to identify with this type that non-INFJs are very likely to mis-type when reading about different types online. In at least one little niche of the world, INFJs are in vogue for the first time in their lives. And we’ve been eating up the attention.This Whole "Mystical INFJ" Thing Is Getting Out of Hand | marissabaker.wordpress.com

The Dark Side of Special Snowflakes

As I mentioned in the opening for this post, there are a couple dangers to letting the mythical unicorn INFJ persona run around unchecked. On the one hand, it can build resentment towards INFJs or make them targets for unwanted attention. I’ve seen a few down-right aggressive posts attacking INFJs for thinking they’re so special. But for now, let’s set aside how the mythical stereotype hurts people’s perceptions of INFJs and look at how it can lead INFJs to develop wrong ideas about themselves and damage their relationships with other people.

After writing my “Myths About Sensing Types” post, a reader on Facebook commented that quite abit of the Sensor-hate online comes from INFJs. We’re the ones writing a large percentage of the online content, and since Sensors make up 70% of the population that means most of our emotional wounds come from Sensing types. And so we look down from our “I’m the most insightful personality type around” pedestal and turn Sensing types into villains. And of course we can’t be wrong. The internet told us we’re special.

It’s not just around Sensing types that this sort of thinking can become a problem. We also read that we’re too intelligent for the Feelers and too emotional for the Thinkers, which further alienates us from the other types. And depending on how an individual INFJ responds to the message that they’re special and different, they can become a terror in typology as they wield their 1% status to prove that we’re better than everyone else.This Whole "Mystical INFJ" Thing Is Getting Out of Hand | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Embracing Differences Without Becoming A Snob

In describing INFJ personality types, it’s important to make sure we do so in the same way we describe other types. And while I know this blog is part of the problem, I’m going to say it’s also important to start talking about the other types as much as we talk about INFJs. The non-INFJs deserve to see positive, insightful, and helpful portraits of their types online as well.

In living as an INFJ, we need to guard against the temptation to see ourselves as better because we’re more rare or because that’s what we read online. And we also have to be careful not to resent or put down other types because they’re not like us or someone of that type hurt us in the past. Sometimes INFJs won’t think of themselves as “better,” but will still attack others for their differences.

It’s also important to point out that while INFJs aren’t perfect (we’ve all got a bit of a dark side to us), most of us don’t default to thinking we’re better than everyone else. It’s when we’re unhealthy, hurt, and/or stressed-out that we become adversarial or snobbish towards other people. A healthy INFJ is going to recognize that these tendencies are not healthy and work against them (or perhaps not even have a problem with this at all).

Personality type systems are meant to give us insight into how our minds work. That insight should empower us to understand and embrace our differences while also celebrating the uniqueness of others. It’s okay to enjoy what makes your type unique and, in the case of INFJs, rare as well. It’s even okay to embrace certain aspects of the mystic persona, if that fits your personality in a healthy way. But we should never use our INFJ-ness as an excuse to put-down other people or make ourselves look better than them.

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11 thoughts on “This Whole “Otherworldly INFJ” Thing Is Getting Out of Hand

  • Thanks for writing this. Another thing I’ve noticed is the whole witch hunt against “fake INFJs” is out of hand. After reading ridiculous accounts about the superpowers of INFJs and the evils of the “imposters”, I spent a long time doubting whether I was really an INFJ because I wasn’t a goddess. This lead to a lot of self doubt and prevented me from exploring my true personality type. So really, the whole snowflake concept really doesn’t help INFJs at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen the witch hunt thing, too, and I hate it. I’m sure there are plenty of people who mistype as INFJ, but if so then we should be encouraging them to keep looking for their best fit type, not attacking them. And in some cases the “fake INFJ” hunt gets directed toward people who actually are INFJs but just reject the outlandish aspects of over-the-top type descriptions. It’s crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Yep! Such a needed article, thank you! When I began my INFJ journey I was tempted … oh, so tempted … to think I was smarter than everyone else, and of course I was RAISED to BE SMARTER. This shuts out the world and creates a self-induced cave of selfishness. (not to mention the huge crash at the bottom of the Ravine of Failure) I believe INFJs need to pull the focus off themselves and their special gifts and learn from the strengths of others … like anyone with an E!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the point you make about us needing to pull the focus off our special gifts and learn from others. Discovering and appreciating those gifts is such an important first step, but we shouldn’t stop there. I have some Extroverts in my life right now who push me to grow and, while I occasionally feel more like hiding from them than thanking them, it’s good to have people like that around 🙂

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  • Another damaging aspect can be the focus on intuition. Sometimes the the message given to intuitives is that their intuition is always right, and therefore hunches should be trusted 100% of the time. That is dangerous advice and acting upon it without question can hurt others in relationships.

    On another note, do you think the varying levels of information available for each type is equal to demand? My sensing family members couldn’t care less about personality typing, and the only people I’ve known who care about typing have been intuitives.

    Thanks for this piece. It is needed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do think part of it is demand. My posts about intuitives (especially INFJs) tend to get a lot more traffic than other posts. Erik Thor talks about this in one of his articles, too (here’s the link: http://www.erikthor.com/2018/01/17/ever-thought-youre-actually-just-smart-sensor/). He says his posts on non-INFJs get less than half the traffic of posts on other type.

      The only sensing types I know in-person who care about personality typing care because they have an intutiive friend or family member who’s interested in it. However, I have met several Sensors online who would like to find more information on their types and are frustrated by the focus on Intuitives. I’d say the demand for posts on sensors is definitely less than for posts on intuitives, but I’m not sure how much of that is lack of interest and how much is sensors giving up on finding the sort of content they’d like.

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  • Very timely and much needed perspective.

    When I was in college, I took tests that typed me as INTJ. I just accepted those multiple choice results even though the description didn’t feel like it matched very well.

    Now, I’m pretty confident that I’m an INFJ; it’s made so much more sense and tracks with what I know about myself and my experiences. Maybe it was because I didn’t think it was “cool” to have a feeler function as a male or maybe my mental state with constant stress influenced the results. Regardless, I am secure in my INFJ status and all the strengths and weaknesses that entrails.

    But since becoming secure in that knowledge, I’ve found myself put off by a sizeable amount of MBTI content related to my type. Pandering, embarsssing, and shallow depictions of the INFJ as being a superhero with supernatural empathic powers and the like were frustrating to comb through when I never felt unusually powerful or insightful in that regard. All I wanted was information and how to understand myself better. I wasn’t looking for validation I was looking for understanding. And with understanding I could have growth and not be subject to my chronic overthinking mind that always concluded I was mentally flawed because of my “alien”-ness.

    Blogs like yours I really appreciate because they are grounded and offer practical insights into my type. They encourage me that we are not irrevocably flawed but also not above common human foibles. It gives me the encouragement to grow and lean in to my unique abilities without ignoring my blind spots and short-comings.

    Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I’m so glad you like this post 🙂 I really try on my blog to be more grounded and balanced in how I talk about our personality types. I think that’s much more helpful than going to the extremes of either beating people up for their type’s weaknesses or exaggerating the strengths.

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  • Yes, agreed, though the reason I write about being an INFJ is because I am one and can write with authority on it. I have asked my family to guest post on their types, and my ENFJ daughter has a post waiting for editing eventually, but the rest of my family is uninterested. The first time I wrote about being an INFJ I was trying to give a sort of map to the people who cared about me because I knew I was complex- it was about understanding I felt I could shed light on: http://worldwecreate.blogspot.ca/2016/01/infj-magic-oddnessthe-door-slam-and.html little did I know it would get half a million hits and be visited EVERY SINGLE DAY! I almost took it down but I left it up because some people said it changed their life in a good way. It is hard to strike a balance.
    I also wrote a post about Sensors and Intuitives here: http://worldwecreate.blogspot.ca/2016/06/n-and-s-types-in-familial-relationships.html I think there is a lot of wounds from misunderstanding and if we can understand- things become easier which is why I write. However, you are right about being cautious…and sensors DO look for information less on the web. I have many sensor friends that I begged to do the personality test and then find them information online…and I am glad Personality Hacker began to do podcasts for the Sensors too and create more understanding that way:)

    There are also so many other layers to being human. I know I am probably more individualistic because of my Enneagram 4 with 5 wing than most INFJ’s and also insanely intense due to my Scorpio birth, and hold many paradoxes due to chronic illness and having Autism and Dyspraxia. There are so many factors. But knowing myself to the best of my ability helps me know and understand and give grace to others. That is the beauty of it, isn’t it?:) Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  • I loved this post! I go weeks (maybe even months and years) not thinking about being an INFJ. It is so nice to be able to find articles that speak to me. I had never heard of people pretending to be INFJ. I have spent most of my life wishing I was more like other people. Explaining that I really like sitting quietly at home to people gets boring. Luckily my hubs in an INTP and is all about sitting quietly at home.

    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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