Posts

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.

Myers-Briggs Personalities—When Opposites Attract

Is the old saying right—that opposites attract? Is this good or bad?

Anne and Fred

Anne has always been emotional. Strong, silent men make her feel safe and protected. So that’s the kind of man she ended up with. She married Fred, a successful contractor. The problem is, after they’d been together for a while, Fred’s macho qualities lost some of their appeal. Anne didn’t know how he felt about things. The emotional climate of the relationship grew chilly. Whereas Fred once listened to Anne’s problems attentively, he now criticizes her for being too “clingy.” Who’s got the problem, Anne or Fred?

Anne’s attraction to strong, silent men is partly due to her insecurities. She never learned how to stand up for herself—to view herself as a strong, independent adult. Fred, on the other hand, was discouraged from showing his feelings as a child, or even from having them. He was brought up to be a take-charge male. Anne looked for someone who supplied the parts that were missing in her. Fred did the same.

 Matt and Laura

Matt is an easy-going guy, liked by many people. However, he’s usually late to social engagements. When decisions are needed, he’s apt to put them off. Then he meets Laura. She’s smart, productive and on top of things. He admires this. The two begin dating. Laura has gotten into the habit of picking Matt up because her car runs like a top and his doesn’t. If their date is for 7 pm, she’s there by 6:59. When she arrives, Matt hasn’t shaved and can’t find a clean shirt. Soon Laura gets critical of his chronic tardiness. She feels taken for granted. One day she says, “Why don’t you get your car fixed? Why do I have to pick you up all the time?” Who’s got the problem?

Matt grew up a happy-go-lucky kid. His parents were lax in their discipline and cleaned up his messes. He seldom got his homework turned in on time. As an adult he expected others to continue taking up the slack for him. Laura was the middle child in a dysfunctional home. Often, she was the one in the family who prepared lunches for her sisters and her to take to school. She made sure they met the school bus on time. She learned to take care of not only herself but other people, too.

Heredity and Environment

These four people adopted ways to get along in the world that were consistent with their upbringing as well as their genetic tendencies. Anne—never an assertive child—needed a man who would replace her parents. Fred needed to feel strong and manly. Matt depended on others to make up for his irresponsibility. Laura had the habit of bailing Matt and other people out as a reaction to her over-responsible childhood

The problems of many couples are due to their personality traits, not whether one is right and the other wrong. The partners simply look at the world and respond to events differently.

Myers-Briggs Personality Traits

When couples take the Myers-Briggs inventory, they’re often amazed at their differences. In the case of Anne and Fred, Anne’s scores are heavily weighted on the feeling side, while Fred’s are weighted on the thinking side. Thinking types are rational and have cool heads. They base their decisions on logic, not feelings. Feeling types are soft-hearted and easily moved. Fred thinks that Anne is a cry-baby. Anne wonders whether Fred has any feelings.

On the Perceiving/Judging scale, Matt has mostly perceiving points. Laura scores high on the judging scale. Perceiving types tend to do things at the last minute. They like to keep their options open. Judging types prefer closure. They’re conscientious about their commitments. Matt thinks that Laura is too controlling. Laura thinks that Matt is irresponsible.

Instead of trying to understand their basic personality differences, couples tend to get into the blame game. This only escalates their conflicts. Rarely does either party change. Myers-Briggs personality typing gives partners a fresh look at themselves and each other. It helps them appreciate their unique strengths and their differences. When they have a better understanding of how each functions in the world, they can put their relationship on a higher plane—with no name-calling or blaming.

 

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.

*  *  *