Boye Akinwande is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. As always with guest writers on the site, Akinwande’s piece represents his own insights and type assessments and not necessarily those of the site.
By Boye Akinwande
Both INFJs and ISFJs tend to be soft-spoken and considerate individuals. They often have thoughtful and well-developed perspectives on the social dynamics of what’s going on around them, manifesting particularly acute insight into people, emotions, communities, and values.
Unfortunately, however, many ISFJs are often misidentified as INFJs because the nature of Jungian typology makes it easy to assume that anyone who presents an ideational or intellectual world view must necessarily be an N type. In some cases, this tendency to identify ISFJs as INFJs is but yet another expression of the tendency described by Ric Velasquez to understand N types as S types “with an extra layer.” However, this perspective fails to understand that the way typology discriminates between people is not on the basis of merit, “but broadly, in their usual ways of mental operations,” as the seminal typologist Horace Gray has said.
In my view, both ISFJs and INFJs can often seem a bit more ideational than many other types on account of their thoughtfulness, reserve, and their predilection for compassion. As I have argued in my article (and video) on the judging function axis, the Ti/Fe axis inclines the individual to perceive the world as a place of abstract, theoretical commonalities between objects. This can sometimes make ponderous or intellectual ISFJs seem like INFJs, even to trained experts. So let’s go over the two types in turn.
A good way to distinguish the two types is that ISFJs have Si/Ne, so they tend to be more cautious and meticulous in their mental processes and approach. Accordingly, the perspectives they form tend to be cross-checked with reality to a greater degree.
On the other hand, since ISFJs are more inclined to cross-reference their ideas with empirical facts about reality, and because Intuition is their inferior function, they also tend to need a lot of time to process intellectual matters before forming conclusions about them. Accordingly, ISFJs are often more realistic in their intellectual conclusions, but on the other hand, they are also frequently less radical about them.
The ISFJ’s dependence on direct experience and verifiable facts also means that they can sometimes feel uncomfortable when forced to relate to foreign and novel ideas on the fly. This discomfort means that the ISFJ is often stereotyped as being uninterested in new ideas that challenge their perspectives, but in fact, most ISFJs actually value new perspectives that lie outside of their normal frames of reference, and they are often particularly happy to talk to other Fe/Ti types about such things, in order to enlarge the sum-total of their real-life references. To many ISFJs, the real-life reference point of another person’s opinion can present a more effective way of relating to an idea than a host of theoretical qualifications and observations that all seem to reference nothing more than yet more theoretical qualifications and observations.
Now if we compare all of this with the INFJ, we will see that by comparison, the INFJ tends to come across as being almost exclusively ideational in their cognition. While they can sometimes be excluding of new perspectives, this is not so much because they are held back by attention to real-life considerations as it is because the singular and excluding nature of their dominant function – that is, Ni – only seeks to extoll one comprehensive ideational world view at a time. Rather than ideas being struck down by real-world considerations, it is ideas being struck down by other ideas.
Another point worth noting about INFJs is that they often seek to unite contradictory values and judgments within the same perspective. Instead of observing how facts contradict each other, their cognition tends to be preoccupied with pondering whether how the way we think about these facts could pave the way for some grand unification or synthesis. This predilection for synthesizing seemingly mutually exclusive perspectives is what gives rise to the stereotype that INFJs are mystical and holistic.
Because they seek to push the boundaries of what and how it is typically thought possible to think, the perspectives of INFJs are therefore sometimes touted as ingenious, seminal, and so on, which again leads many IFJs to want to identify as INFJ, or to identify their smart IFJ friends and celebrity idols as INFJs. However, one downside that’s comparatively less talked about is that the perspectives of INFJs are not guaranteed to be ingenious – they may also be nonsensical, misguided, make-believe, wishful thinking, or only make sense in the mind of the INFJ themselves. This is one danger that Jung warned of with regards to having dominant Ni.
Finally, while ISFJs have inferior Intuition, INFJs have inferior Sensation. As Jung has also said, their connection with reality is often not the best. Thus, when speaking about their ideational perspectives, INFJs don’t always devote very much attention to how these ideas are going to be implemented in practice, but rather speak with a compelling clarity and certitude about what reality will be like once these perspectives of theirs have been implemented in full. They are not “nuts and bolts” thinkers and frequently must rely on more practical types to “translate” what they have seen abstractly into factual reality. Generally speaking, they don’t exist so much in the real world, but tend to be more preoccupied with making sense of meanings and ideas in their own heads.