It's Hard To Be an INFJ: The Author's Personal Story

Since posting “It’s Hard To Be an INFJ” on this blog, I’ve received hundreds of e-mails from other INFJs. Their main theme has been how disconnected they’ve felt surrounded by extraverts and more sensible, earthbound types. Their posts and my responses appear after that blog.

This is my personal account of what it feels like to be an INFJ.

Growing up

As a child, I felt like an outsider. I’ve felt this way most of my life. Even though all evidence suggests that I was successful and respected by my peers in school, I knew that I was an odd duck. I never liked large groups of kids. I preferred being alone or in the company of one friend—a typical preference of INFJs. Most introverts tend to feel insecure about their preference for privacy because of the high value our culture places on extraversion. People who enjoy being alone are considered odd.

As a student in elementary and high school, I did well academically and had two close friends. For an INFJ, I was surprisingly active in extracurricular activities: acting in community theatre, studying the piano accordion and sometimes performing publicly, editing the school paper, and so on. I was like two people—one who appeared successful and the other who always felt a little lost.

When I left home for college at the age of 17 and began to date, my relationships with boys were fragile. If I fell in love, I couldn’t figure out how to hang onto the boy. He usually tired of my neediness and left. If a boy I didn’t care for kept pursuing me, I couldn’t figure out how to escape without hurting him. With my overactive feeling function, relationships with boyfriends put me on emotional rollercoaster rides.

Personality Traits

Like most judging types, I’ve always been highly focused. I’ll stay up all night working on a project, never miss a deadline, and be punctual for appointments. I like closure, not uncertainty. I make decisions quickly. Thanks to my highly developed intuition, they tend to turn out well.

My opinions on social and political issues are pretty unshakeable, without shades of gray. I recognize the problems my inflexible positions can cause, however, and try to open my mind to other perspectives. When I have strong feelings about an issue, I share them with only one or two trusted friends. I am generally not a leader of causes in public. I write about them passionately, though.

My intuitive, feeling, and judging functions, acting in concert, make me quick to respond to emergencies, especially those involving injury or danger to people or animals. Even at age 82, I still rush into threatening situations. I always emerge unharmed because my intuitive function steers me away from personal danger while my emotions give me the courage and force to act.

Career Experience

Like me, many INFJs are writers. We make good investigative journalists, science editors, and nonfiction writers. The social sciences interest us more than physics, mathematics, electronics and other theoretical and physical sciences. The social sciences engage our feeling function. On aptitude tests, we excel on the verbal portions. However, our thoughts usually have a strong visual component. What we describe in words we see in pictures. We’re more concrete than abstract. Highly creative INFJs are drawn to careers like acting, painting, designing, and so on. However, they are more concerned with pursuing truth than creating art.

Because of their creativity, many INFJs are successful entrepreneurs. They’re good at coming up with fresh ideas, taking risks, introducing new products, marketing to the public, and trouble-shooting. All the while, they maintain their idealism and desire to make life better for those around them. If they get too caught up in the profit motive and are seduced by materialistic goals, they end up demoralized. They suffer from stagnation, burnout, and loss of creativity.

In my early 60s, I earned over $250,000 a year for three years in a row. (I saved most of it and am now enjoying the fruits of my intuitively guided investments.) The problem with all that money was that I became too attached to it. It made me feel very important. Ultimately, my confidence and self-esteem relied on my six-figure income. Approaching retirement, I realized that money could be a trap. I needed to release this attachment and start volunteering. I began to give more money to causes I believed in—mostly animal welfare, education of children in developing countries, and women’s rights. Now, at 82, I have all the money I need to feel safe and enjoy myself. When I work, I don’t accept money for my professional services. Charging money would spoil my pleasure.

Life Can Be Hard

Life can be difficult for those of us who share INFJ traits. First, we’re often misunderstood—perhaps because we make up only one percent of the population. There aren’t enough of us around. Although we often don’t recognize a fellow INFJ when we meet, we’re likely to become fast friends once we recognize the common ground we stand on. Here’s how each of the four traits challenges us:

Introversion: Our preference for privacy can isolate us. We retreat into our thoughts too much and can find ourselves in a cycle of brooding.

Intuition: While well-developed intuition is a gift, it seldom makes us popular. Because the intuitive individual can seem almost clairvoyant, he or she can make others feel uncomfortable. Our forecasts usually turn out to be true, but in the passage of time they’re usually forgotten so we go without credit. We may become so confident of our insights as the years pass that we’re shaken by the rare occasions when they’ve led us down the wrong path.

Feeling: The truths that underlie our accurate insights can wound us. For example, if I have a hunch a friend is lying to me, the chances are I’m right. Knowing this and having it confirmed can be more painful than it is for people whose dominant function is thinking. Although our feelings often bring us joy, when they’re negative we suffer, particularly when rejection is involved. Many of us are prone to depression.

Judging: Our judging function can lead us into premature decisions with uncomfortable consequences, especially in relationships. Many a marriage has foundered because an INFJ didn’t take enough time to understand his or her partner fully before the wedding. (I’m an example of this—more than once.) As the saying goes, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” In groups of people, INFJs may appear aloof, even arrogant, because they’re concentrating on sizing up others before they can relax.

We’re in Good Company

INFJs are in good company. Famous INFJs of the past and present are Mahatma Gandhi, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Carl Jung, Simone de Beauvoir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa, Noah Chomsky, and Oprah Winfrey.

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INFJ Meets ESTJ

All things considered, the attraction between the ESTJs and INFJs isn’t surprising. Because ESTJs are conventional people, they prefer colorful partners to make their lives more interesting. They aren’t drawn to other ESTJs. INFJs have creative minds and supply the friendly, playful traits ESTJs are missing. The INFJ, in turn, is rewarded by an appreciative audience.

An INFJ may find ESTJ friends too direct and outspoken. They tend to overlook polite ways of dealing with others. Often, they forget to say “please” and “thank you.” To build a good relationship with an ESTJ, it’s best to let the person know up front that these courtesies are important to you.

You’ll avoid frustration in friendships with ESTJs if you make an effort to understand how their minds work. They aren’t like you—a person who would rather act on hunches than gather detailed information. ESTJs are guided mainly by rules, principles, and traditional values. INFJs adopt novel approaches to problems and bypass convention. INFJs are rare enough (one percent of the population) that most ENFJs (over ten percent) haven’t met enough of them to understand them.

Type Differences

Type Differences

Getting To Know an ESTJ

Don’t expect much spontaneity from a new ESTJ friend. For them, work and play are kept separate. Activities are scheduled, and work comes first. Play must be earned. Even then, it should have a goal, such as walking to lose weight or attending concerts for cultural improvement. Since INFJs need a purpose in their leisure activities, too, you’ll have this in common.

You’ll find that ESTJ friends are quick to take charge and give advice, whether it’s asked for or not. When something goes wrong, the first thing the ESTJ wants to know is what happened, why, and who caused the problem. Only then is he or she ready to think about a solution. As a result, the INFJ may find this type judgmental and hard. The compassionate INFJ’s position is that mistakes are part of the game and it’s best to move on to a remedy.

ESTJs generally expect to share expenses on outings. They’re not comfortable letting others pay their way. The exception is when the ESTJ is a female. She’ll allow a date to buy dinner or pay for a movie because it’s the conventional thing to do. Her way of reciprocating may be to buy a new dress that pleases her companion. ESTJ men often give candy and flowers. They remember birthdays with cards or gifts. These actions serve to replace the flowery expressions of love they have a hard time expressing.

Working with ESTJs

ESTJs function best with structure. They want to know what’s required of them and what the deadlines are. Unlike INFJs, they don’t improvise easily. Because ESTJs are so focused on the concrete aspects of things, they sometimes lose sight of their underlying purpose. When asked to judge entries in a science fair, for example, an ESTJ may be so caught up in the technicalities of the assignment that the overall goal of encouraging children to explore scientific interests is forgotten.

Under stress, ESTJs make decisions too hastily. They don’t give themselves time to reflect on alternatives. Even when things start going wrong, they’ll stick with their original plan and resist new information, vetoing suggestions for change. Their motto is, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

ESTJs who supervise INFJs may wonder why their employees dislike them. The reason is that INFJs have a horror of being micromanaged. They like to figure out their own ways of doing things. However, because bluntness is not their style, they tend to nurse grudges rather than confront ESTJ supervisors directly. Differences in the two types can be a source of irritation, although the INFJ will suffer more from any misunderstanding than the matter-of-fact ESTJ.

Loving an ESTJ

In a new relationship with an ESTJ, you’re likely to find him or her spontaneous and easy-going at first. As time goes on, the ESTJ will revert to type and become more matter of fact. If you disappoint the person in some important way, he or she is likely to get angry and self-righteous. This is because ESTJs expect others to honor their standards.

INFJs who are troubled and seek sympathy from an ESTJ partner are in danger of feeling short-changed. The partner is more comfortable looking for a practical solution than listening with a sympathetic ear.

When conflicts arise in a relationship, efforts to explore underlying causes are generally ignored by the ESTJ. Insights are not the person’s long suit. If an argument gets heated enough, the ESTJ may explode and need help rebuilding their control. Tactfully, the INFJ can remind them of what’s really important. If the INFJ suggests counseling, the ESTJ will probably resist.

Don’t expect romantic emotional displays from an ESTJ. The ESTJ will feel that his or her loyalty is the only proof of love that’s needed. Eloquence is not their style. They aren’t given to creative lovemaking, either. Once a routine for physical intimacy has been established, the ESTJ will resist attempts to introduce new techniques.

Living with an ESTJ

If you move in with an ESTJ, you’ll find that there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. Your ESTJ partner will want clear arrangements about who does what. If the ESTJ volunteers to walk the dog, you can depend on it. No prodding will be needed. If you have children together, the ESTJ will send them off to school with lunch money, permission slips, and anything else they need for the day. If you’re behind in your own commitments, you can be sure you’ll be reminded of them.

When you get frustrated by your partner’s lack of sensitivity, take comfort in the knowledge that ESTJs show their love by actions more than words. They’re loyal and keep their promises. If you feel that your needs are being ignored, the best approach is to explain tactfully and clearly what you’d like from them. They’ll probably try to improve communications. The more you can help an ESTJ relax and expand his or her views, the more you’ll enjoy each other.

Famous ESTJs and INFJs

ESTJs known for their quick tempers include Lyndon Johnson, Bette Davis, and Herbert Hoover. In heated situations, they responded best to people who would hear them out and then suggest new insights. INFJ leaders famous for their ability to listen thoughtfully to others include Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ghandi.

Lyndon Johnson--an ESTJ

Lyndon Johnson–an ESTJ

Nelson Mandela--an INFJ

Nelson Mandela–an INFJ

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It's Hard To Be an INFJ—The Rarest Myers-Briggs Personality Type

Myers-Briggs Inventory

Isabel Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs—both psychologists— developed the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory more than fifty years ago.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

They were looking for a way to classify different types of personalities and describe them using the theories of Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychoanalyst. They wanted to create a tool to help people understand themselves and others.

The Myers-Briggs Inventory was first published in 1975. Its practical applications have been expanding ever since—in schools and colleges, business, counselors’ offices, and other settings.

The Myers-Briggs scale consists of four pairs of personality traits—each representing opposite ends of a continuum. Myers-Briggs test scores show where an individual’s personality lies along each continuum, with capital letters used to identify the dominant traits.

Myers-Briggs TraitsIntroversion-Extraversion

The introvert (I) needs privacy and solitude, generally avoids large social gatherings, and is happiest either alone or in the company of one or two good friends. The extravert (E) gets uneasy when alone too much, seeks the company of others, and enjoys mingling.

Intuition-Sensing

Intuitive (N) people tend act on their hunches, which are usually sound. They’re skilled at sizing up others and knowing when situations are risky. At the other end of the scale, people of the sensing (S) type don’t trust impulsive judgments. They prefer solid data and rely on what they can see and feel. Privately the intuitive type thinks the sensing type is earthbound and unimaginative, while the sensing type thinks the intuitive type is impulsive.

Thinking-Feeling

The thinker (T) is ordinarily rational and cool when making decisions—not prone to emotional reactions. The feeling (F) person is more likely to be swayed by sentimental considerations and has a softer heart.

Judging -Perceiving

The judging (J) type is more focused and comfortable with closure than the perceiving (P) type. People with a dominant judging function rarely miss deadlines or are tardy for appointments. The perceiving type is more happy-go-lucky, often has several projects going at once, and is more casual about deadlines. When making a major purchase such as a car, the perceiving type enjoys the information-gathering and comparison-shopping part, but is a little uneasy once a selection has been made—worrying that more research should have been done. The judging person is glad the purchase has been decided upon and the check written.

It’s Hard To Be an INFJ

INFJs make up only 1% to 3% of the population, the rarest of the personality types. They tend to be perfectionists who fear they aren’t living up to their potential. INFJs can always list the things they’ve left undone but have a hard time counting their accomplishments.

INFJs hold strong convictions and are deeply affected by the suffering of others. However, because they are introverted, they prefer thinking about weighty issues to talking about them. Those who are activists—a role toward which they gravitate—take up causes for moral reasons, not for personal glory or political power.

The INFJ is often found at disaster scenes as a rescue worker. When a person of this type sees people or animals being treated cruelly, he or she may fantasize about getting revenge on the perpetrators. Although INFJs are gentle by nature, they are formidable in battle.

The highly developed intuition of INFJs warns them when trouble lies ahead—for themselves or the world. Some people find INFJs pessimistic or even a little paranoid. However, INFJs are more often right than wrong because their intuition is so accurate. This ability makes them effective problem-solvers with the ability to act insightfully and spontaneously.

When INFJs move into their extraverted mode, as they sometimes do, they can express a range of emotions and opinions quite effectively as they have excellent verbal skills. However, they tend to be cautious about revealing their positions. Like other feeling-judging types, they frequently feel caught between the desire to express their opinions and their reluctance to offend people. Some INFJs vent their private feelings to a few trusted friends. The friends are chosen with care, and the relationships are usually characterized by affection and trust.

When INFJs turn from their feeling to their thinking function, they may appear aloof. Others sometimes conclude that this detachment reflects cynicism. A friend might fear that the insightful INFJ is so perceptive about human nature that the friend himself or herself is being judged. Generally this is not true at all. The INFJ is simply distracted by the need to focus and think. Under stress, INFJs are likely to overlook what’s going on in their immediate environment.16 Myers-Briggs Types