I’ve talked with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of INFJs since I started this blog and wrote the first edition of The INFJ Handbook. One thing that most of us have in common is the feeling that we’re alien; that we don’t belong in the cultures, social groups, and/or families that we find ourselves in. Even if the people around us are welcoming, accepting, and seem to love us as we are we often feel as if there’s still something different about us.
Part of an INFJ’s feelings of alienation can be explained through type theory. Intuitives only make up about 30% of the population, and that means the way we process information and perceive the world is different than the way most people do. That difference is neither good nor bad; it’s just how our minds are hardwired. But as INFJs, we’re also FJ types who interact with the outer world using Extroverted Feeling. This is a cognitive function that’s keenly aware of values, ideals, behaviors, and cultural expectations. We notice when there’s something about us that doesn’t fit in, and it often bothers us.
Since I discovered the Enneagram and, years later, decided it might actually be a useful tool, I’ve started wondering if part of this feeling of being different might be connected to our Enneagram types. While INFJs can have any Enneagram type, some are more common than others. According to a survey conducted by Heidi Priebe in 2016, just over 30% of INFJs are Fours on the Enneagram, which makes it the most common Enneagram number for INFJs. It’s also my Enneagram type, and that’s the one I’m going to focus on today. If you’re wondering how different Enneagram types show up for INFJs, check out Susan Storm’s article “Your INFJ Personality Type and Your Enneagram Type.”
Why Fours Are Different
Myers-Briggs® types are typically describe in neutral or positive terms. You’ll also find information about the dark side of each type, but for the most part you’re likely to feel pretty good about yourself after reading your type description. That’s not the case with the Enneagram. When I first started reading about the Enneagram, what I noticed most is that it describes the core wounding message you internalized as a child and which you’re stuck with you your entire life.
I did not like this view. Truly, though, I probably wouldn’t have been so upset by the Enneagram’s description of Fours if part of me didn’t already believe that I was broken, abandoned, and envious of people who seem to have whatever basic human ingredient I’m missing. It wasn’t until years later, when I started seeing a counselor about my anxiety, that I realized I had internalized messages like this even though I grew up in a loving, supportive, stable home.
According to my favorite Enneagram book — The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile — “The wounding message Fours hear all the time is, ‘There’s something off about you. No one understands you, and you’ll never belong.’” Fours feel as if there’s something essential lacking; like we missed out on some important ingredient when God was putting people together. We’re not sure what it is, but we’re sure others have it and we don’t.
Wanting To Be Different, but Maybe Not Too Much
While some INFJs feel that their uniqueness is a burden, I’d venture a guess that most of us don’t really want to give it up (at least not entirely). The whole “otherworldly INFJ thing” can get ridiculous at times but many of us not-so-secretly like our unicorn status. I wonder if perhaps this might have to do with Fours being a common Enneagram type for INFJs
The Road Back To You says that Fours need to “be special or unique. They believe the only way they can recapture or compensate for their missing piece and finally secure an authentic identity is by cultivating a unique image, one that distinguishes them from everyone else.” I don’t know about you, but reading that connected with something deep inside me.
As an INFJ, part of me wants to be a chameleon to fit in with the people around me, but another part strongly wants an authentic identity (so much so that for a while I thought I might be an INFP, since Introverted Feeling is often associated with authenticity). This is probably the reason I started “dressing like a hippy” (to quote family members and friends who noticed my style change). I wanted a way to make myself visibly unique without stepping too far outside accepted behavior.
I suppose the holy grail for type Four INFJs is to find a way to express their individuality without feeling as if they have nowhere they fit. We want to be unique and different, but not so much that it messes with the harmony we need to have in our relationships.
Healing The Broken Things
I’ve come to realize that if there’s something inside us that feels broken, missing, and wrong, then running away from it or pushing it deep down inside us isn’t a good idea. It’s far better to let ourselves feel things and process our complicated emotions, particularly if they keep coming back to bite you after you think you shut them down (note: I’m not a therapist or psychologist. There are exceptions to every rule, and some things are best dealt with in a therapy setting. If you’re struggling with something, I encourage you to seek out professional help).
The Enneagram can be a useful tool for helping us identify and face unhelpful messages we’ve internalized. And it’s not depressing to read about those messages once you realize the Enneagram does include descriptions of healthy, average, and unhealthy versions of all the types, along with advice for how to grow into a healthier version of your type. What form that advice takes depends on who’s using the Enneagram. For example, The Road Back To You is written from a Christian perspective, and so the advice in that book is framed through that lens.
Before offering their 10 tips for Fours’ personal growth the authors write, “Fours need to hear this loud and clear: there’s nothing missing. It may be hard to believe, but God didn’t ship them here with a vital part absent from their essential makeup.” I teared up reading that the first time. I’m not convinced of it all the way deep down inside yet, but I want to be. And I’ve been heading that direction a lot more steadily over the past couple years thanks to tools like schema therapy.
Grow As Yourself
One of the most important messages an INFJ hears from Myers-Briggs® is that you’re not broken. You’re a perfectly normal INFJ, and it’s okay if that’s different than the majority of other people.
One of the most important messages we can hear from the Enneagram is that it’s okay to feel broken. None of us are perfect and we don’t have to be; we just need to grow, and realizing what sorts of foundations we’re starting with can be a great first step for that.
If you’d like to know more about the INFJ personality type, check out my book The INFJ Handbook. I’ve updated it with a ton of new information and resources. You can purchase it in ebook or paperback by clicking this link.
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