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. I’m an INFJ myself, and I’ve seen us described as the world’s prophets and shamans with deep spiritual insights. We’re called natural empaths with unfailingly accurate telepathy. We appear so deep you’ll never plumb the depths of their souls. We’re even seen as the ideal type–the one everyone else mis-types as because they wish they were this special. And the more people describe INFJs as perfect and other worldly, the more ridiculous the claims about INFJ super-powers becomes. For example, I’ve actually seen such ridiculous claims like these made in INFJ memes and blog posts:
If you’re laughing out loud at the craziness of this, 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, and yet these sorts of stereotypes are still around. On the one hand, you have certain INFJs and want-to-be INFJs embracing the idea that they’re better/special and using it to look down on other types (something that can be damaging to us as well as to others). And on the other hand, you have non-INFJs buying-in to the otherworldly stereotype and reacting to it in ways that aren’t good for the INFJs (such as when certain people “hunt” INFJs for a relationship, a disturbing thing that I’ve written about in another post).
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 an idea that “different” equals “better.”
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 known as the telepathic mind-readers of the Myers-Briggs® community (even though other types use this process as well).
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. On the one hand, this is a good thing–we do need to understand that there’s nothing wrong with our personalities and that we have amazing strengths. On the other hand, though, we also need to be aware that we’re not a special category of human that’s more valuable, impressive, intelligent, etc. than other people who aren’t INFJs.
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 nasty, 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 ourselves and damage our relationships with other people.
After writing my “Myths About Sensing Types” post, a reader on Facebook commented that quite a bit of the Sensor-hate online comes from INFJs, who write a large percentage of the personality type content online. Since Sensors make up 70% of the population, that means most of the (very real) emotional wounds that INFJs carry around and feel so deeply came from Sensors. And so we may look down from our “I’m the most insightful personality type around” pedestal and turn Sensing types into villains, or at the very least a type that Intuitives like us cannot get along with.
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. 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. Alternately, it might make an INFJ feel even more isolated and alone than they did before now that they’re sure they don’t fit in with other Feelers, or the Thinkers, or Sensors. If we’re to believe our special snowflake status makes it impossible for others to understand us, that leaves a depressingly small pool of people we can build relationships with.
Embracing Differences Without Becoming A Snob
In describing INFJs, it’s important to make sure we do so the same way we describe other types. INFJs are special and different, but we’re no more special and different than everyone else. We need to make sure we talk about and value the unique traits of each type, and show both INFJs and all the non-INFJs balanced, insightful, and helpful portraits of their types online. At the same time, we also need to remember that everyone individual is more than the mental hard-wiring that we call a Myers-Briggs® type.
As INFJs, 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. We also have to be careful not to resent or put down other types because they’re not like us or because someone of that type hurt us in the past (I know I have to be careful of that when I meet people with the same personality type as an ex-boyfriend). This shouldn’t really be a difficult thing to do, since as INFJs it’s usually easy for us to see things from other people’s perspectives. Most of us know what it’s like to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and unfairly judged. Let’s commit to not doing that to other people.
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 that we become adversarial or snobbish towards other people. A healthy INFJ is going to recognize that these tendencies are not ideal 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.
If you’d like to know more about the INFJ personality type, check out my book The INFJ Handbook. I just updated it with a ton of new information and resources. You can purchase it in ebook or paperback by clicking this link.