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.
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.
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.
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.
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.