By Boye Akinwande and Ryan Smith
In type comparisons like these, INFJ and INFP is perhaps the contrast that receives the most attention out of all the 120 possible pairings.
If you ask around the internet, you will sometimes get the rather snooty answer that since these two types don’t have any functions in common, the question of whether someone is an INFJ or an INFP shouldn’t really be an issue for anybody and it shouldn’t be possible to confuse the two types.
For our part, we agree that it is easier to distinguish between types that share no functions, as opposed to types that share two or four functions. That being said, however, it can still be difficult to tell these two types apart at times. Not least since both them seem to be quiet, sensitive, sympathetic and introspective on the emergent level.
Another similarity between the two types is that both of them seem to be naturally preoccupied with individual human nature and existential predicaments about the individual’s place in the world. With both types, one can often sense how these ruminations stem from a fundamental sense of alienation, that is, they do not appear to be quite at home in the world, and their actions and styles of thinking often give off a vibe of them being not quite built for this world.
Despite the surface similarities, however, the underlying cognitive patterns of the two types are very different. And it is by this difference that we shall know them.
Let us start with a general outline of each type.
INFJs prefer Extroverted Feeling over Introverted Feeling. Since their Feeling is extroverted, they direct their sensitives outwards, towards the social environment. As we have argued in our earlier work on function axes, Extroverted Feeling and its complimentary thinking attitude, Introverted Thinking, tend to perceive objects and people to be more similar than they actually are. This style of cognition is somewhat akin to the Platonic Theory of Forms.
Since all people belong to such a Platonic universal class of people, it follows that one’s own existence is nothing but another expression of this same Platonic Form. Thus we are all in the same boat; all extensions of the universal principle. With INFJs, one common outcome of this “Platonic background cognition” is the notion that we are obliged to be good to others, inviting them to participate in the shared order of the universe, and to be open to accommodating their feelings and needs if we can.
As for their intuitive function, INFJs prefer Introverted Intuition over Extroverted Intuition. Of all the cognitive functions, Introverted Intuition is perhaps the least preoccupied with immediate reality or reacting to things in the moment. When faced with stimuli which they can’t understand or control, Introverted Intuitive types, that is, INFJs and INTJs, prefer to withdraw from them, seeking refuge in a familiar environment where they can brood on what they have encountered, coming up with new and creative ways of perceiving these stimuli so that the individual stimulus is subjugated to some ideational regimen that allows the Introverted Intuitive to make sense of what has taken place in their own head.
Taken together, the INFJ’s combination of Introverted Intuition and Extroverted Feeling tends to motivate them to come up with perspectives of abstract oneness and to factor in how each person fits into this abstract order. This holistic participation is no laughing matter for them, or something they can turn off at will. In fact, INFJs are often at pains to empathize with others – to sort out the messy pulp of their feelings and straighten it out so that it can be universalized and made to participate in the holistic order.
In spite of their cognition being much softer and more amorphous than that of the INTJ, INFJs can nevertheless share some of the dogged stubbornness that the INTJ is famed for. This stubbornness is simply the cost of doing business under the auspice of Introverted Intuition, which, as mentioned, is solipsistic and must be free to deal with external occurrences at its own pace. On the face of things, the stubbornness of INFJs may sometimes cause them to be mistaken for INFP types. But as we shall see, the cognition behind the obstinacy is really quite different in nature.
We will now move on to a general outline of the INFP.
INFPs prefer Introverted Feeling over Extroverted Feeling. Where Extroverted Feeling is attuned to the values of the social environment, Introverted Feeling is attuned to the values that are peculiar to the individual’s own consciousness. Consequently, INFPs follow their personal sympathies and values to a far greater extent. Therefore, INFPs are more exclusive, idiosyncratic, and personal where INFJs are more inclusive, universal and relational.
While the INFJ is prone to see objects and persons as expressions of some ethereal universal, INFPs are more inclined to see the same objects and persons as individual and distinct. Far from being variations on some ‘greater’ universal, they are profoundly particular and unique. Consequently, people’s emotions don’t need to be straightened out in order to be rationalized and universally accessible. Their emotions are their own. The quest of the individual is not to go higher into some supercelestial interrelatedness, but deeper into their own selfhood, exploring and manifesting their own values and passions in depth.
In other words, if INFJs think like Plato, INFPs think like Kierkegaard.
Thus, the INFP does not think of harmony as unison or fellow-feeling, but as giving everyone space to diverge, each into their own parallel world of highly differentiated personal affects.
With regards to Intuition, INFPs prefer Extroverted Intuition over Introverted Intuition. Of all the cognitive functions, Extroverted Intuition is perhaps the function that is the most readily open to new ideas. Where the intuitive perspectives of Introverted Intuition are thought up in solitude, representing the INFJ’s personal need to bring external stimuli under some common ideational heading, the impetus for the perspectives generated by Extroverted Intuition is often nothing more than a new idea or perspective in itself.
Since there is no greater background need that must be obeyed in the formation of such perspectives, the outpourings of Extroverted Intuition tend to be much more explorative and free-floating. Consequently, the perspectives formed by Extroverted Intuition are also more whim-driven and open, sprawling in the direction of anything new that holds the promise of an imaginative delight.
Taken together, the INFP’s combination of Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Intuition tends to heighten their appreciation of people and their wonder at getting acquainted with a multitude of differentiated natures, each going their own way with little regard for the “objectively correct” standards of socialization. On the face of things, the INFP’s receptivity towards the internal states, perceptions, and opinions of others may sometimes cause them to be mistaken for INFJ types. But as we have seen, the nature of their interest in others is really quite different.
We will now drill down to explore more of these differences.
Insights into Human Nature
As we have already touched upon, INFJs tend to develop grand holistic views of the world. These views are structured in terms of what is harmonious and shared and tend to have a transcendental or meta-empirical bent.
INFPs, by contrast, are more inclined to develop perspectives that go deeper into the individual personality and selfhood of each person they acquaint themselves with (as well as to differentiate their own perspectives and values to a greater degree than INFJs). One might say that the INFJ’s perspective is an amalgamation of individual and specific human values plus the universal, where the INFP’s perspective is dedicated exclusively to the exploration of individual human values.
Only the INFP’s perspective will thus be able to say that it has as its end the development and fleshing out of a uniquely particular and individual human being; a self that stands separately from the rest of humanity and the cosmos.
Thus, having the particular as its aim, and not the universal, one can often see INFPs champion a certain relativism and fondness for the marginalized perspectives that would otherwise not be given voice. Now, even the use of the term relativism implies some Introverted Thinking bias in the way we describe INFPs. Since the INFP’s inferior function is Extroverted Thinking, with it being repressed from consciousness, it doesn’t necessarily matter to INFPs how each of the unique and particular perspectives they develop will all fit together. As Kierkegaard has said, there is an irreducible difference between individuals in the world, which it would be foolish – and perhaps even oppressive – to try to breach. To INFPs, the best one can do is to take a stand for the basic human decency of each individual’s perspectives, to ensure they may be heard. Thus, INFPs are better suited to take stock of each specific human being and to capture what defines them as an individual.
All in all, while it is sometimes said that the INFJ is the “ideal psychologist type,” and there is indeed some truth to that, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that the INFJ is better suited to counsel people directly while the INFP is better suited to sit back and take stock of what makes each person unique.
We have already said that neither INFJs nor INFPs tend to be particularly at home in the world. We will end this piece by contrasting how their otherworldliness comes out.
INFJs have dominant Introverted Intuition and inferior Extroverted Sensation. Such a function arrangement may be likened to someone attempting to get a bird’s eye view of the cosmos; seeing things up from above in order to capture the “whole” of the world. They see how forests are formed, how rivers bend, and all sorts of other patterns for how entities interact and how each has a part to play in the whole. But they can only see each object from afar. In spite of their clear view of the whole, they will not have a very good vision of specific objects on the ground. All too easily, they will glaze over them.
INFPs, by contrast, have dominant Introverted Feeling and inferior Extroverted Thinking. With them, they are not so much taking a bird’s eye view of the whole from afar. Rather, with their repository of subjectively-developed sentiments and ideals they seem structurally maladjusted to the world as it exists with the many harsh logical trade-offs and “lesser of two evils” rationales that often seem necessary to navigate it. One could say that where INFJs have idealistic perceptions, INFPs are themselves idealistic with all their personhood and being.
If the INFJ is someone who hovers above reality, trying to get a bird’s eye view of it, the otherworldliness of the INFP is instead like someone traversing the world with invisible psychic walls up around them. Within the bounds of these walls exists a dream world defined by the INFP’s own rich collection of personal sympathies and values. The walls filter out how the individual is able to perceive the objective world of facts and things and necessary logical trade-offs. It can be difficult for the INFP to step outside of these walls – outside this dream world – and approach the external world directly and on its own terms. It can make dealing with the crudeness of the external world very difficult for them.