What’s It’s Like To Be An INFJ, In Other Words, A Living Paradox

What’s It’s Like To Be An INFJ, In Other Words, A Living Paradox

If you’re at all into learning more about personality types, you’ve probably run across descriptions of the INFJ before. INFJs are touted as the rarest personality type of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but what does it actually mean to be an INFJ? INFJs are often labeled as “The Protector,” “The Empath,” “The Advocate” and “The Counselor.” This type stands for “Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F), Judgment (J).” Although INFJs make up only 1-2% of the population, remember that you’re likely to “run into” an INFJ more often in creative communities (whether virtually or in real life) because that’s where they tend to congregate to share ideas.

As someone who has consistently tested as INFJ since the age of eighteen and has interacted with more than a few INFJs in the mental health advocate community, I wanted to share some insights about this interesting personality type and how they work. Keep in mind that INFJs share a few of these traits with other like-minded personality types such as INTJ, ENFP, INFP and ENFJ, but the ways in which they manifest can vary by personality type. In an INFJ, these traits tend to be embodied in more extreme ways:

1. They are complex but they have integrity.

Like a living, breathing Walt Whitman cliché, INFJs contain multitudes. Developing a friendship or relationship with an INFJ is like slowly peeling away an onion. You think you know them, but you turn around and they’re revealing another facet of their personality that doesn’t seem to align with their more cookie-cutter image. You may see a scholarly and reserved INFJ get down on a dance floor with alarming ease, or a normally demure and quiet INFJ serve a savage clapback to someone who’s pissed them off. They can be both the class comedian and the highest achieving student. There isn’t a ‘box’ that contains their seemingly contradictory characteristics.

This is not because INFJs are duplicitous; in fact, they tend to be extremely genuine and authentic, veering on the edge of perhaps being too honest at times (unless they’re a narcissist, in which case, anyone of any personality type can be). Rather, it’s because INFJs have many layers to their personality that sometimes even they haven’t worked out! It can take years to get to know an INFJ; not because they’re deliberately hiding parts of themselves, but because they tend to take their time trusting people and revealing different facets of themselves along the way.

2. Although they are natural loners, they tend to get mistaken for extroverts; they love people, adapt well to social situations and can be the life of the party.

INFJs can be incredibly vivacious, humorous, fun-loving and energetic, especially with those they feel comfortable with. They definitely have a wild side which can shock those who stereotype them as button-down academics. However, just like any other introvert, they also need enormous amounts of time to recharge from being around others. Being alone for long periods of time is necessary for them to detox from social interactions and to reflect on their lives.

INFJs love disappearing inward, exploring deep philosophical questions and inventing things. Even a simple walk in the neighborhood can turn into a full-on imaginative fantasy scenario for them; there’s nothing they love more than taking refuge in their own minds. They can spend days pondering hypothetical scenarios or coming up with ideas. INFJs have such rich inner lives that they can imagine new worlds and new methods in the blink of an eye; being creative comes easily to these types. It’s no surprise that the creator of the beloved Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, is also an INFJ. They are also lovers of research and learning. Their intellectual complexity and imagination make them ideal candidates for careers that challenge them to create in some capacity or engage in innovation.

3. They’re incredibly compassionate, but it’s wise not to mess with them.

INFJs are often among the world’s changemakers. Famous INFJs are said to include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Oprah – you get the picture. Their compassion for others drives their need to help the world and save it. But sometimes, INFJs also bear a remarkable ability to save themselves from toxic situations.

To put this ability into context, remember that INFJs are natural targets for toxic predators like malignant narcissists, who assume these sensitive types will succumb to their bullying behaviors. INFJs make up a large portion of survivor communities that are healing from violations like narcissistic abuse.

Yet what predators forget is that INFJs appear to be lambs, but they’re really lions. They are extremely compassionate, but they will defend themselves and others fiercely when they feel that their rights are being violated. If you’ve read anything about an INFJ, you’ve probably heard of the infamous “INFJ Door Slam.” This is what happens when these normally warm, gentle individuals meet with someone who causes them to ‘flip their switch’ so to speak.

The INFJ door slam is not a malignant trait; it’s a protective measure taken against chronic bullying and injustice.  It often occurs after numerous transgressions have already taken place (for example, when an INFJ meets someone who consistently talks down to them and treats them with contempt). In this type of scenario, the INFJ finally recognizes his or her worth and boundaries. They face emotional overwhelm and they need to retreat – stat. In a flash, you see them depart and probably never hear from them again. Or, if they’re in the mood, they’ll serve you with an epic manifesto of your wrongdoings before leaving forever (after all, they do tend to be excellent communicators!).

Outwardly, INFJs may not be as overly bold and aggressive as other personality types, but when they bring the reckoning, they bring it with full force. You’ll never see an INFJ coming – and perhaps that’s a good thing, because they do tend to be on the front lines of massive social change.

4. They are extremely loyal and devoted, but they don’t like authority.

Don’t mess with the ones they love, either. INFJs hold a special place in their hearts for those they connect with and they will remember those who had their back during difficult times. That’s why, if they see someone being bullied or oppressed, especially someone they’ve bonded with, they will defend them with a righteous sense of devotion.

INFJs make loyal dating partners, friends, spouses, employees and parents, and their loyalty extends to social change too. They are the harbingers of revolution and the defenders of the outcasts, the bully victims, and the outliers. It’s because they themselves know what it’s like to not belong, so they seek to create refuge and safety for those like them.

However, the INFJ’s loyalty doesn’t necessarily extend to authority figures unless that authority figure is someone they admire and respect. Because they are naturally independent, strong-willed individuals with a high degree of intuition, they rely on their own sense of intuition to pave their path. They can sense when someone is working without integrity, and it makes them viscerally sick. They can be stubborn and hard-nosed at times when it comes to bending to someone else’s will especially if it contradicts the strong moral values they hold dear.

In many cases, especially in circumstances where there is oppression or injustice, this can be a good thing. INFJs are idealists who work to bring justice into the world and sometimes going against authority is the perfect way to do so. However, INFJs must also learn how to balance their faith in their inner authority with the ability to respect other perspectives. They could also benefit from letting themselves off the hook once in a while; their high standards of moral perfection are likely to falter under mental duress and human folly. While their intuition does bring them to great places, sometimes their way is not always the best way. The INFJ is still flawed and their high expectations of themselves and others could stand some reevaluation at times.

5. They are both scientific and driven by emotion.

The INFJ is an enigma in that he or she is not entirely driven by hard facts nor hot-headed emotion. They are a paradoxical package of both research and poetry, science and spirituality, intuition and statistics, art and dissertations. They are what I would call the “intellectual artists” of society, merging imagination and knowledge. Able to see the big picture as well as the finer details, they are motivated by a need to serve others while also cultivating the potential of every individual. They can reach masses of people with their message but they can also change individual lives because they know how to connect one-to-one. This is perhaps what also make them great researchers, counselors, scientists, writers and teachers. They flourish in fields where they can be both creative and logical, individualistic and people-focused.

The magic is that while INFJs make for great orators and can inspire people with their words, they are also very practical and know how to bring about tangible results. Their mission always has a purpose of improving the state of society in some way. They practice what they preach and they help motivate people to live their best lives not just by words but by living example. When it comes to persuasive arguments, they’ll bring the receipts but they’ll also appeal to your pathos. Their ability to stir emotion in others and also appeal to their action-oriented side is what make them great leaders and catalysts for radical change.

6. They are highly intuitive, but have a tendency not to trust themselves.

A fully empowered INFJ is someone who can take one look at a situation, follow their instincts and say, “I just know.” For example, INFJs may know years ahead of time when the person their friend is dating is conniving, even when they present a false mask. They know how to read the energy of a room, even in a room full of people they’re meeting for the first time. They know when someone is putting on a front. They can sense the aggression beneath someone’s niceties. The INFJ’s uncanny intuition is something other more seemingly “rational” personality types might dismiss, but in many cases, they really do know and they turn out to be right.

This is because an INFJ’s intuition can catch on quickly to the nuances of every situation. They can see through the facades of others and they can sense when someone is not being authentic. However, because they’ve been gaslighted for so long by a society that does not always appreciate their gifts and label them oversensitive, they’ve also learned to distrust their intuition and second-guess themselves, often. A challenge for the INFJ is re-learning how to fully trust in their inner voice while also leaving room for the constructive feedback of others.

The Big Picture

Being an INFJ is not easy, but INFJs can find a sense of community with others like them and those who appreciate their traits. Distancing oneself from toxic people and cultivating genuine relationships is key. When INFJs are supported and are able to grow in environments where their gifts are nurtured and seen, they can thrive and become incredibly revolutionary changemakers in society. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and the poetry book She Who Destroys the Light.

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