INFJs long for relationships. Whether it’s close friendships or romantic partnerships, we’re hard-wired for connection (as are all people, really, though we approach it in different ways depending on personality type and individual differences).
As I think most people know, finding a good relationship is bloody difficult (side note: I may or may not watch too much British television). Today, though, we’re not going to talk about the relationship problems that everyone faces. We’re focusing on the problems that many INFJs find particularly troublesome. Other types (especially NFs and FJs) will probably identify with these struggles as well, and I’m sure INFJs also struggle with some relationships problems that aren’t on this list. Still, these five things seem to come up with more consistency for INFJs.
INFJs tend to have active imaginations. That combines to with INFJ idealism to develop some pretty spectacular expectations for relationships. In fact, David Keirsey identifies this as a trait of all Idealist (NF) types. He wrote,
In all areas of life, Idealists are concerned not so much with practical realities as with meaningful possibilities, with romantic ideals. … if any type can be said to be “in love with love,” it is the NF. And yet, while they fall in love easily, Idealists have little interest in shallow or insignificant relationships. On the contrary, they want their relationships to be deep and meaningful, full of beauty, poetry, and sensitivity. (Please Understand Me II, p.142)
Keirsey goes on to say that NF types seek “a Soulmate” with whom they can have this “deep and meaningful” relationship. He also notes that “Idealists are asking their spouses for something most of them do not understand and do not know how to give” (p.146). As a single INFJ longing for romance, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read. It’s like we’re setting ourselves up for romantic failure. Read more →
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.
Think INFJs are hard to figure out? Have you found yourself puzzled by an INFJ’s contradictory words and behavior? Well there’s no need to worry any more. I’ve got your quick, easy, and not-at-all-confusing guide to finding out if an INFJ agrees with you. No more will those mysterious unicorns of the personality type world confuse you in conversation. No longer will their confrontation-avoidance leave you wondering whether an INFJ actually agrees with what you’re saying or is simply making you think they do so you won’t get upset with them.
Nodding mostly means we’re listening to you, so this could really go either way. Cross-check with other signs.
Making eye contact typically means the INFJ agrees with you. Not making eye contact could mean one of three things: they disagree with you, they don’t care, or they agree with you but don’t want to admit it.
An INFJ who’s making sounds like “um-hum” while glancing away looking for an escape doesn’t agree with you. But if they’re making the same sound with eye-contact while leaning toward you and smiling, then you’re good. Probably. Read more →
A few weeks ago a fellow INFJ named Bo Miller contacted me and asked if he could interview me on his new podcast. After picking my jaw up off the floor and texting my boyfriend to share that I was equal parts terrified and excited, Bo and I started a conversation that led to this interview. Our conversation focused on how INFJs can understand and learn to use their Extroverted Feeling and Introverted Thinking functions.
I already shared this link on my Facebook page, but in addition to the podcast I have a special treat for you all today as well. Bo is a Certified Myers-Briggs practitioner and the creator of iSpeakPeople.com as well as The INFJ Personality Show. He recently published The INFJ Personality Guide and would love to give you a free copy. I haven’t read it yet myself, but from my conversations with him I’m pretty well convinced it’s going to be really good. I hope you’ll grab a copy and check out his website. Here’s more info:
In The INFJ Personality guide, you’ll discover…
• Your greatest strengths
• Your weaknesses
• Why the rest of the world thinks differently than you
• Why you’re so good at discerning people’s thoughts, motivations, and feelings
• How to set better boundaries
• How to cultivate healthy relationships
• What to do when you get down or depressed
• Career advice
• How to manage your thoughts
• How to make your creative ideas, insights, and visions a reality
• How to communicate more effectively with other personality types
• How to handle criticism without getting your feelings hurt
The guide is divided into three sections:
• INFJ preferences
• INFJ functions
• How to develop your personality and reach your potential
So you want to date an INFJ. I’m not quite sure whether to congratulate you or pat you consolingly on the shoulder. Perhaps both.
Assuming you want this relationship to go well, one of the most important things you can do is try to understand your INFJ love-interest. We’re the rarest personality type and we often feel misunderstood and alone. Showing us that’s not going to happen with you will instantly endear you to an INFJ’s heart.
And so here you are learning about the 15 things INFJs really want you to know as you begin a relationship with us. They might not all be equally true of every INFJ, but this list is the result of feedback from and discussion with nearly 20 different INFJs so you’re getting a pretty good idea of what we’d like to say to you.
Even though I’m an INFJ myself and I’ve written a fairly successful book about the INFJ personality type, I still like to get feedback from other INFJs before writing a post like this. And so I want to say a big “Thank you” to everyone in the Facebook group INFJs Are Awesome who responded to my question about what they thought people should know before dating an INFJ. You guys helped make this post so much better than if it were just me typing away my thoughts in a vacuum.
1) We take relationships very seriously
While there are some INFJs who will have one-night-stands or enter casual relationships, most of us are interested in something long-term. If you’re not willing to take the relationships seriously we need to know that up-front so we can make a decision about whether or not to bother with you. Most of us know how to be alone and we’d rather stay single than settle for a relationship that just adds stress and anxiety to our lives. We also have a vision for how we want our lives to go and we’ll be going into a relationship trying to figure out how you might fit in with that vision.
2) We need to feel safe and accepted
This one is huge for INFJs. If you’re not a safe person for us to be around then we either 1) won’t enter a relationship with you or 2) will be trying to get out of the relationship. We desperately need to know you won’t dismiss us. We don’t actually expect you to fully understand all our quirks, nuances, and oddities but we need to know you will accept and even love them. We need to know you’re interested in getting to know the “real” version of us and that you won’t run away when we start opening up. Similarly, we typically have strong values and we’re looking for someone who lines up with them. INFJs can be very accepting of other people’s differences, but the closer you get to us the more closely we want you to line-up with our core beliefs. Read more →
Once upon a time, I told my sister, “I don’t think I’d ever date an ENFP.” Even though I’d seen lots of people describing ENFP-INFJ as a “perfect” pairing it just didn’t sound like a good fit for me. I loved having ENFP friends, but the ones I knew were either so intense they made me feel anxious, or so extroverted they wore me out, or too scattered for me to think I wouldn’t eventually get irritated with them in a closer relationship (or all of the above).
Then a few years after making this statement, I started actually getting to know one of my ENFP acquaintances. And now we’re dating (doesn’t that sound like just the sort of coincidence that would happen in a romance story?). He does have an intense personality but I’ve done enough work overcoming my social anxiety that doesn’t scare me any more (actually, it’s rather exciting). He’s the most extroverted person I know but I’ve discovered it’s not a problem for us. And he’s not scattered or flaky (which, it turns out, is another of those unfair/too widely applied stereotypes bouncing around Myers-Briggs circles).
Now, I could spend the next 1,000+ words telling you about how wonderful my boyfriend is but that’s probably not what you clicked on this post for (if it was I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed). Instead, we’re going to talk about why ENFPs and INFJs have a reputation in Myers-Briggs circles for getting along so well. Read more →