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INFJ Meets Sensing Type—A Relationship Challenge

INFJs trying to live peacefully in this world face a major challenge in their relationships with the Myers-Briggs sensing type. Unlike INFJs, sensors are not intuitive (N). They’re puzzled by people who rely on hunches rather than hard facts to steer their way through life. Sensing types believe in concrete evidence. INFJs depend on insights. They just know. For this reason, the two types often find themselves at cross-purposes.

It isn’t so difficult for INFJs to relate to their opposites on the other three Myers-Briggs scales: extraversion/introversion, thinking/feeling, and perceiving/judging. Like INFJs, extraverts need some solitude, too. It’s just that they need much less. Thinkers may be mostly logical in their approach to life, but they’re not without feeling. Perceivers are capable of adopting some judging habits when it’s to their advantage. If they antagonize enough people with their tardiness, for example, they may cultivate the habit of punctuality.

Examples

The INFJ looking for a car with a sensing partner may dread the shopping experience. He or she is prepared for a long, tiresome search. Alone, many INFJs could purchase a car in a single morning. They’d do research online the day before, figure out what automobile would be the best buy, and then go out and look for a dealer that has one.

Not sensors. They want to collect lots of information and then go out and look at lots of cars. Even when their brains are full of specs and prices, it may be hard for them to choose. However, pressuring a sensing type into a hasty decision tends to come with consequences when he or she later ponders its wisdom. (“Are you sure the sticker said 27 mpg?” “Do you think we could have gotten a better interest rate?”)

Another problem is that INFJs lose things a lot. Unlike sensing types, they have more engaging things to think about. With their minds elsewhere while checking out at the supermarket, they leave their keys at the counter. When they reach the car, they panic. If they’d taken a sensing partner shopping with them, this probably wouldn’t have happened. The sensor would see the keys on the counter, pick them up, and roll his or her eyes.

INFJs and sensors also handle social situations differently. After a party, sensing types remember who was there and what they were wearing. These details go right past the INFJ. On the way home in the car, the sensor asks, “Did you notice Fred’s orange tie? It was horrible!” The INFJ has no memory of Fred’s tie. He or she says, “Do you think Fred’s having trouble at home? His wife wasn’t there and he seemed tense.” The sensor wonders how the partner could have jumped to that conclusion from across the room.

Earth to INFJ

Sensing types are earthbound. They’re systematic, follow instructions, and collect information before making big decisions. INFJs are creative and free-wheeling. INFJs with sensing partners are in for a rough ride if they don’t respect their personality differences. Neither type is being willful or obstinate. They are simply using their tried and true methods for viewing the world.

Myers-Briggs Personality Differences

How the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory Works

The Myers-Briggs Inventory (MBTI) focuses on four pairs of basic personality traits in human beings. The inventory, based on the theories of Carl Jung, was created by Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs in the 1940s. According to their work, every person’s personality falls somewhere along a line between the extreme ends of each pair. The pairs are:

Extraverted (sociable) > Introverted (private)
Sensing (practical) > Intuitive (creative)
Thinking (logical) > Feeling (emotional)
Perceiving (flexible) > Judging (organized)

The traits in each pair are like opposite sides of a coin. Extraversion (sociable) is the flip side of Introversion (private) and vice versa. While some people are at the extreme ends of a trait continuum, most are somewhere in between. However, even those who score at one end or the other are capable of thinking and behaving like their opposites some of the time. Myers and Briggs believed that the traits by which a person is classified are simply his or her preferred modes of thinking and acting.

You’d think that having identical traits would make people more compatible. It can actually cause problems. Two extraverts may fail to take time away from social activities to enjoy each other in a relaxed way. Because they’re always with other people and never alone, the partners drift apart. On the other hand, two introverts may tire of each other’s company and start getting on each other’s nerves. The chances are, they need the influence of outside friends and activities.

Introversion vs. Extraversion

Extraverts seek out the company of others. They’re energized by parties, meetings, and other group activities. They’re outspoken and often prefer talking to listening. When the phone rings, the extravert is likely to jump up to answer it. If left on their own for long, extraverts get jittery and start looking for company.

Introverts get worn out by too much interaction with others. They prefer their own company or being with one or two close friends. They’re independent thinkers and don’t need others to help them make up their minds. Only when they have strong feelings about something are they inclined to speak up or ask advice. Introverts may seem moody at times and go off by themselves. Close friends can be offended. It’s usually nothing personal.

Sensing vs. Intuition

Sensing types are matter-of-fact and literal. They get impatient when conversations dwell on the meaning behind people’s actions. They don’t take much stock in undertones or innuendoes. This practical type is more interested in what he or she sees than what might be under the surface. When they talk about the price of something, they know it to the penny. They’re detail-oriented.

Intuitive people are more imaginative and rely on their instincts. Intuitive types don’t need hard data to make all their decisions. They often act on their hunches. The interesting thing is that they’re usually right. They’re interested in new theories and ideas. They’re witty and fun to be around.

Thinking vs. Feeling

The thinking person makes decisions based on objective information. The feeling person is swayed by emotions. Thinking types often believe that those at the feeling end of the scale are too soft. Feeling types often find thinkers callous and overly concerned with hard facts.

Feeling types go out of their way to help others. They’re compassionate and understand emotions. If they hurt someone’s feelings, they’re quick to apologize. They dislike conflict and avoid it whenever possible. They know how to make others feel good.

Perceiving vs. Judging

People of the perceiving type are flexible. They usually don’t plan tasks from beginning to end. They start work and then make things up as they go along. They frustrate co-workers and friends with their tardiness and their habit of  meeting deadlines by the skin of their teeth. They’re easily distracted from what they’re doing. If an interruption is interesting enough, they’ll drop the task at hand and turn their attention to the diversion. Perceiving people are generally easy-going and without strong opinions.

Judging types are organized, neat and punctual. They get disturbed when they find themselves in a chaotic environment. The judging type is systematic in his or her approach to life. They dislike big surprises, even pleasant ones. They like to undertake one project at a time, finish it, and then go on to another. Unfinished work frustrates them.

Understanding Type Differences

According to Myers-Briggs theory, one trait is no better than its opposite. They’re just different. Studying MBTI types can give you helpful insights into why you and others think and act the way you do. The perspective you gain by appreciating personality traits helps you to enrich your relationships and understand yourself better. And it gives you a preview of where rough spots are likely to occur—challenges you face as an individual and issues you sometimes have with family and friends.

INFJ Meets INFP

INFP (introverted-intuitive-feeling-perceiving) and INFJ (introverted-intuitive-feeling-judging) types are a lot alike. They have rich inner lives and treasure their solitude. Also, their intuition is highly developed, giving them the ability to see what’s going on under the surface. They understand why people do the things they do. Because they see through facades and games, deceivers and players can seldom fool them for long. INFPs and INFJs examine every piece of evidence for its fundamental truth and then seek the wider context into which it fits.

As idealists, both types drive themselves to achieve their goals, which are frequently humanitarian. If they don’t have the luxury of choosing careers that meet their needs, they spend much of their spare time helping others. Their values are strong and their principles firm—unless they find a valid reason to change them. Their biggest question is, “What’s my purpose?”infp_injf table

INFPs and INFJs set such high standards for themselves that they’re often disappointed in the results of their work. Because they don’t give themselves enough credit, they make good partners. Each supports and encourages the other.

They protect their privacy. When they’re not allowed enough time alone, they feel drained. They need solitude to recharge their batteries and get their energy back. As friends and partners, they understand this and are usually generous about giving each other space.

Both are somewhat prone to depression. Their introversion inclines them to be loners, giving them the tendency to brood over problems without checking the facts with others. Their feeling preference inclines them to exaggerate the importance of conflicts or hurt feelings.

Both types are generally well liked due to their warmth and sincerity. They make good listeners, put others at ease, and are valued as friends and confidantes.

Intuition (N)

The intuitive skills shared by the INFP and INFJ form their strongest bond. They usually agree on important matters. Due to differences in their perceiving and judging functions, however, they don’t always carry out practical tasks in the same way. The INFP may start a painting project, then leave it half-finished—intending to finish at a more convenient time. INFJs aren’t happy until the job is complete.

As intuitive individuals, they sift through their experiences to discover their meaning. How does the evidence fit into the big picture? People with a sensing preference, whose intuition is less developed, tend to accept things at surface value. They see no point in overthinking matters. As a result, they may fail to appreciate the insights and predictions of INFPs and INFJs—sometimes at their peril.

Work

INFPs and INFJs frequently find careers in fields requiring verbal skills. They cooperate and communicate effectively with others. Often they hold medical or social service jobs. Their sharp intuition helps them solve problems, their feeling function encourages people to trust them, and their introversion gives them time to contemplate the complex factors in situations. They prefer careers that don’t emphasize details but focus on patterns.

Counseling and mental health therapy are common careers among INFPs. INFJs do this work, too, but they can be less patient with clients’ progress. Because of their judging function, they often make the best writers. They use their verbal skills to build constructs, put them on paper, and get them published.

While both types get along with others, group projects frustrate them. They get annoyed by co-workers who don’t live up to their standards or fail to see the big picture. They generally remain polite, but inside they may be seething. When an INFP and INFJ collaborate on projects, they may have conflicts over deadlines as the former dawdles and the latter pushes to finish on time.

Taking on too much to please others is a problem they have in common. Also, they may give colleagues the impression that they agree on the details of a project when in fact they do not. They need to assert themselves more and learn to be honest, giving negative feedback when it’s important. They need to make sure their own needs are met, too—asking for a raise, for example, when it’s deserved.

INFPs make effective mediators in the workplace—especially in situations where they have no self-interest. They are less likely to take sides than INFJs. They want to hear everything. INFJs can draw conclusions too quickly.

Romance

When INFPs fall in love with INFJs, the natural reserve of the former makes it hard for them to express their affection in words. It’s a little easier for the INFJ, who can also be shy but is better at taking action. Both can be eloquent in their physical expressions of love. As lovers, they are tender and creative. This helps keep the relationship anchored.

The two types are sensitive and easily hurt. One or the other can easily misinterpret a casual statement, offhand action, or forgotten promise and feel rejected. When one says, “I’ll be late tonight” as he or she leaves the house and means nothing more than that, the other may give the statement a sinister interpretation. To avoid bruised egos, they need to remember the importance of frequent reality checks.

Both tend to overdramatize situations and ignore the simple facts. When a disagreement comes up, they can get out of touch with each other. They have to release their ego investment and back-pedal in order to find common ground.

They tend to be absent-minded, too, which can be annoying for everyone. Where are the house keys? Did anyone let the cat in this morning? What time were we supposed to be there? Both are likely to shrug and say they don’t know.

Fortunately, they’re tolerant of each other because they share the inability to recall the concrete details of life. Such mundane matters don’t hold their attention.

Family Life

As parents, both types listen attentively to each other and their children, although INFJs are slightly less patient because of their judging function. They’re more likely to interrupt a conversation to see where it’s going. The INFP is content to listen without closure. INFPs wait to think about what’s been said before deciding what to do.

They avoid conflicts. Under normal conditions, they’re courteous and respectful, seldom raising their voices. When a problem comes up, they talk it over. The difference is that INFJs have a stronger need to decide who’s right and who’s wrong, while the INFP’s main goal is to preserve good will in the family. Both get rattled by conflict, but the INFJ is more likely to stand his or her ground on critical issues.

When it’s time for a vacation, INFJ parents are generally the chief planners. Their inclination to arrange details before checking them out with the family can cause problems, but after they’ve set off, the parents have no problem giving everyone time alone. After all, they want that, too. When the family re-gathers, they relax and have fun.

Nurturing their children comes naturally to INFPs and INFJs. They are patient, devoted, and protective parents. However, when friction arises over, say, a child’s behavior, they tend to keep their objections to themselves longer than they should. Eventually the INFJ in particular is likely to blow up.

Famous INFPs and INFJs

INFPs and INFJs whose four Myers-Briggs functions are healthy and well developed can accomplish great things, although they are generally humble about them.lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was an INFP—moody, quiet, gentle, witty and determined. As his law partner described him: “He cared little for simple facts. He cared for the underlying principle of truth and justice.” Other famous INFPs include J.R.R. Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, Vincent van Gogh, and John Lennon.jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was an INFJ. A historian described Jefferson’s character as having “a too-good-for-this-world streak that showed itself in many ways, from his mountaintop house, to his dislike of face-to-face argument.” Other famous INFJs include Carl Jung, Mahatma Gandhi, Agatha Christy, Leonard Trotsky, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

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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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