Usually when I hear this phrase someone is trying to talk me out of being anxious about something. I’m sure they mean well. It’s supposed to be reassuring. Maybe they mean it as a promise that I’ll find acceptance and enjoy myself if I just stop thinking too much about things. But when someone says, “Just relax, have fun, and be yourself” what I hear is, “Be the person I want you to be and have fun doing it.”
What if my real self simply can’t relax in that situation? Or “myself” doesn’t have fun with activities like the one you’re trying to talk me into? In that case, I assume that you’ll either judge me for failing at such a simple instruction or you’ll feel bad that I haven’t enjoyed myself. So instead of actually being myself when I hear this, I want to try to be whatever version of myself I think you expect in response to what you said.
To Chameleon or Not To Chameleon
INFJs interact with the outer world using a function called Extroverted Feeling. Personality Hacker calls this mental process Harmony because it’s concerned with creating and maintaining harmonious relationships between people. It’s often (but not always) something that INFJs are tempted to skip developing because it’s more comfortable for us to stay in our introverted side with Intuition and Thinking.
When you pair a Harmony process that isn’t very well developed with anxiety (not all INFJs have anxiety, but I do), you end up with the sort of situation I described above. You try to “chameleon” into what other people want desperately trying to keep things in a comfortable state of non-confrontation. Read more →
It’s easier to follow the second great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” when you like your neighbor. But Jesus didn’t say “love the people you like” or that this great command only applies to people who are easy to be around.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors also do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing that is remarkable? Do not the Gentiles also do the same? Therefore you be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:46-48, LEB)
God is perfect in every way. In this case, however, Jesus is specifically talking about His perfect impartiality. Leading up to these verses, He said,
But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:44-45, WEB)
If we want to be like God, we have to love the way He loves. God is love. It “is the sum and harmony of all His attributes, His essence” (Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts on 1 John 4:8-9). Love isn’t just something God does. It’s His nature; the motivation driving every choice He makes. The chief example of this is that while “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, LEB).
Clearing Up What Love Is
But things get complicated when dealing with humans. We run into questions, not because we’re trying to wiggle out of the command to love others but because we’re not sure what it means. Consider these scenarios:
Does love that “bears all things” mean I let my abusive parents/spouse/etc. keep hurting me?
Does love that “covers a multitude of sins” mean I always have to trust people again after forgiving them?
Does love that “does not behave rudely” stay friends with people who creep you out?
Have you ever cut someone out of your life because you were 100% done with that relationship? Then you’ve done a door slam. Anyone can door slam someone else, but it’s INFJs who are most “famous” (infamous?) for it in personality type circles. The INFJ Door Slam involves deciding not to invest any more time or emotional energy into another person. It’s also pretty final.
When you’re struggling with a hurtful and/or decaying relationship it’s always hard to know how to handle things. Do I slam the door on them and avoid more hurt? Do I try to address the problem and patch things up? The more self-aware I become, the more I realize that I have the capability to emotionally hurt those close to me and that I don’t want to do that. Sometimes relationships have to end, but perhaps it’s worth taking a little extra time to step back and ask how you can protect yourself while minimizing the damage you do to the other person.
While the door slam can be a healthy defense mechanism (like if you need to get out of a relationship with a narcissistic personality that’s controlling and manipulating you), it can also be a way of avoiding conflict. Much as we hate conflict, it’s sometimes necessary to rebuild a friendship that might actually be valuable if you’d put time and effort into fixing things. But how can you tell the difference between relationships you should fight for and ones you need to let go?
Are You Being Hurt?
That’s the first question. For a type known for their lie-detecting skills, INFJs are surprisingly prone to ending up in relationships with people who are not trustworthy. We can be far too inclined toward initially giving people the benefit of the doubt and then holding on to people who aren’t healthy for us. This might be because we feel that we need to help them, or because we see the person they want to be rather than who they are, or because we don’t feel that we have the energy to get out of the relationship. Read more →
Shutting people out of your life after they’ve hurt your or someone you love isn’t specific to INFJs, but it happens often enough that we’ve given it a name: The INFJ Door Slam. I like the definition given in “How INFJs Deal with Conflict: 10 Confessions.”
It means you’ve hurt me so much, I’m no longer investing any of my (limited) supply of energy in you. It means I’ve come to resent you. If you value me, don’t let it get to this point. It’s really hard to go back.” – Jenn Granneman
This may or may not involve actually cutting a person out of your life. Depending on the circumstances, a door slam can range from ignoring someone completely, to limiting contact to the bare minimum, to carrying on as normal from the other person’s perspective. In the INFJ’s mind, though, something has definitely changed.
INFJs are typically tolerant, understanding, and patient. We hold ourselves to a strict code, but we don’t expect most people to adhere to that code and we’re understanding of individual choices and personality differences. The closer you get to an INFJ, though, the more we expect from you. In our close relationships, we want a certain level of trust, commitment, and commonality — just like every other personality type.
It takes INFJs a long time to open up, and once we let someone in we’ll do just about anything to keep that relationship. Too much disappointment, especially a breach of trust, results in the “door slam.” This rarely happens to casual acquaintances — there’s no point in “door slamming” someone who wasn’t close to you once. We’ve poured energy into this relationship, but if it just turns into a one-way energy drain that’s hurting us emotionally, then we finally reach a point where we cut off contact. Usually there’s a build-up to this in the INFJ’s mind, but it may not be apparent to the other person until the INFJ starts distancing themselves from the relationship.
If you’re an INFJ on the giving side of a “door slam,” make sure you’re not shutting people you care about out of your life simply out of a desire to avoid conflict. Sometimes slamming the door on a relationship is good for you, sometimes it’s not. Knowing the difference is a key to healthy relationships.
If you’re on the receiving end of an INFJ door slam, know that it’s a symptom of much larger problems in the relationship. Rebuilding the relationship after an INFJ has cut you off is possible, but it’s not going to be easy and it will require lots of honest communication over a period of weeks, months, perhaps even years depending on what happened.
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.”