By Michael Pierce
The INFJ is the best-known personality type in the typology community. I think there are two main reasons for this. First, C.G. Jung was an INFJ, and therefore the first foundations of typology, though later modified by other personalities, come from an INFJ’s preferences of thought. For instance, the deductive nature of the theory appeals to the INFJ’s Ti, its interest in objectively understood human values and motivations appeals to Fe, and its overall compelling and contemplative nature appeals to Ni. Thus, INFJs are the most likely to be interested in Jungian typology and have gained a considerable presence in the field. Second, and probably because of this presence, INFJs have commonly been described and portrayed as the most interesting, mysterious, deep, mystically intelligent, and according to many sources, the most rare personality type. Without ever explicitly stating it or even consciously intending it, this plethora of praise often gives the researcher the feeling that the INFJ is the most desirable and gifted personality type.
The stereotypical aspects of the INFJ I have seen, whether accurate or not, are as follows: they are very caring and compassionate. They are private people and are difficult to get to know, making them mysterious. They are characterized by a very deep and complex nature, impossible to fully comprehend in a lifetime, often benefiting from therapy to help untangle their thoughts. They are unusually empathetic, having an uncanny understanding of others’ emotions and intentions, nearly to the degree of being psychic. They are the wise, deep, soft-spoken but charismatic prophets with multitudes boiling within their rich psyche.
Some, in reaction to this rather god-like composite image, have gone the other route and considered INFJs to be characteristically flawed, overly metaphysical, overly emotional, overly idealistic, and overall neurotic cranks. Neither of these descriptions gives a very insightful image into what really makes an INFJ an INFJ. Both descriptions are too vague and emotionally biased.
So let’s break down what constitutes the INFJ functionally.
They are a Judging type, meaning that they prefer extroverted judging and introverted perceiving. This means that they base their judgment criteria on objective outside information, while simply observing and drinking in their subjective information and experiences. You could say that they are more aggressive towards the outside world and more receptive towards their inner experience.
Their preferred way of doing this is through extroverted feeling and introverted intuition. Extroverted feeling is accommodating. It adapts to objectively understood values, becoming whatever is appropriate, harmonizing and overall desirable for a given situation. Meanwhile, introverted intuition is contemplative, in that it has no real interest in reality, but perceives the possibilities of ideas within their own mind, developing more and more compelling and delicious intellectual ideas, theories and understandings.
Third, they are very similar to the ENFJ; both prefer Fe and Ni. The INFJ, however, prefers Ni more than Fe. Nevertheless, they are in some sense the same type, or at least sister types. I personally like to call NFJ types the “Teachers”, because they both develop compelling ideas and understandings of the world and seek to convey these visions to people in an accommodating and objectively desirable and engaging fashion. Of course, “Teacher” is merely a nickname to help me remember the NFJ nature and does not mean NFJs are more likely to have an interest in teaching as a career.
The INFJ, then, is a “teacher” for whom their subjective perceptions and musings hold more importance and interest than accommodation. They are primarily concerned with perceiving the possibilities of internal ideas, developing deliciously compelling intellectual insights.
The word I use to understand the INFJ nature is “idealistic.” As usual, I mean this in a specific way. Unlike the ENFJ, whose focus is on communicating and communing with people (Fe), the INFJ is focused on discovering intuitive insights (Ni). Thus, part of the reason I refer to them as “idealistic” is because the INFJ is driven to discover the ideal vision of how best to solve problems in society. Once the ideal comes to them, they attempt to communicate it to the world. But their time and focus is first invested in contemplating the problem before taking action.
The combination of Ni and Fe makes for an interesting characteristic in the INFJ: they naturally lean towards a holistic philosophy; that is, they believe that the universe (or whatever system they are describing) is so intimately interwoven that one cannot properly understand any individual part without referencing the whole system. This is the result of both Ni’s tendency to combine and connect many disparate concepts and centralize information and Fe’s tendency to sacrifice individuality in favor of an objective standard; thus, an interwoven system that can only be understood as a whole.
This makes the INFJ perfectionistic, or from their perspective, idealistic. They are never satisfied with an incomplete or limited understanding of a subject, and they can’t rest until every branching idea has been sufficiently accounted for and attached to the same central trunk. They cannot present their vision until they are sure it is complete, with no loopholes, no unexplored implications, and all derivable from a common principle or source. The INFJ always seeks to discover a “perfect” system that is, in the end, too good to work in this imperfect world, but, as Plato himself admitted concerning his Republic, it can make a great reference to strive for, and it can refresh the world with new perspectives.
The INFJ is also famously empathetic and emotionally sensitive. They have an uncanny ability to perceive the emotions and motivations of others, and they can even be unhealthily affected by them. Seeing all people as inseparably interconnected, they play the part by intuitively seeing through others’ social barriers (or at least feeling that they can do so). This can give people the impression that they are psychic. However, while the INFJ’s insight may be mysterious, inexplicable, and creepily accurate, it’s usually not immediately practical or scientifically reliable, because the INFJ cannot point to any specific facts from which they derived their hunches about people.
The INFJ’s concern is not based on principle, but arises out of their empathetic experience of others’ suffering. Their compassion comes from walking in others’ shoes. David Keirsey nicknamed them the “counsellors” for this reason, because they don’t only listen, but feel to some degree what the other person is saying. Combined with this is a typically courteous, amiable, genuine, and soft-spoken manner reminiscent of a therapist, seer, or religious leader. They can develop a gentle charisma with people because of their insight and kindness. Simply put, people generally enjoy their company and are often surprised when the INFJ expresses their convictions and visions with such intense passion.
The nickname “counsellor” is not so far off, in that the INFJ enjoys and is notorious for playing the social role of therapist or psychologist, where the soul baring is always done towards them and hardly ever reciprocated. It is only with the INFJ’s most intimate inner circle that they intentionally exchange thoughts and feelings.
In such exchanges their friends may make a strange discovery: Ni is not a judging function, but a perceiving function. It is not morally based, in the sense that it does not form criteria of what is an acceptable ideal or not. Rather, it plays with potentials and ideas, combining and recombining various disparate concepts until it synthesizes one theory; however, the INFJ does not realize that they are fully responsible for the theory’s creation. Instead, the INFJ feels that they have observed it in the world. Even without being able to offer specific data, they still consider themselves an empiricist basing their conclusions on objective observations. The point here is that the INFJ accepts their vision on the basis of how complete and intellectually delicious it is, and not whether it adheres to certain moral principles, the domain of Fi. The INFJ’s visions can be disconcertingly amoral, idiosyncratic, or upheaving, without the INFJ feeling the implications for themselves or others. They merely present the idea as the final product of their internal searching, happy to have found such a beautiful concept. Thus, INFJs can be notorious for making very controversial or even disturbing statements; for instance, Plato’s proposal of totalitarian censorship or Spinoza’s denial of free will. Both of these ideas embody a fascinating and internally consistent concept, but they may not have very practical applications in reality (Plato’s attempt to create his ideal republic in real life failed miserably).
Ti serves as the INFJ’s tertiary function. As I mentioned earlier, Ti plays a primary role in the INFJ’s perfectionism, seeking to discover all of the necessary deductions from an intuitive idea and ensure that its structure is logically sound. The INFJ is not immediately concerned with achieving goals, as the INTJ is with Te, but finds greater satisfaction in ensuring the logical integrity of their system. Likewise, the INFJ’s inner world is ruled by cold logic despite their projected warmth, whilst the INTJ seems cold on the outside, whereas within burns a passionate furnace.
Finally, the INFJ’s Achilles heel is Se, their inferior function rendered primitive by the sophistication of dominant Ni. Therefore the INFJ’s perception of concrete reality and facts themselves is extremely unreliable. While in contemplation, they may pass by fields of cattle and not notice a single one, or they may know someone for many years but have only a vague idea of what they look like, leaving out hair color, facial structure, and specific height. And then with sudden vividness their Se is reawakened and they are surprised by something that everyone else noticed hours ago. This can be a problem if the INFJ does not gather enough facts before building their theory; their ideas, while compelling, are often formed from a scanty number of actual observations.
A less comical effect of inferior Se in INFJs is their unease with sensual experiences. When they give some focus to Se, enjoyable physical sensations become especially vivid for them. Food, drink, thrills, art, music, sex; all of these can present overwhelming sensuality for the INFJ, tempting them to overindulgence. To fight the temptation, INFJ’s very often guard against sensuality. They lock carpe diem away, and fear living life to the fullest.
So, in summary, the INFJ is idealistic, contemplating how to help people by developing a holistic, internally perfect system based on amoral, intuitive perception. They are known for their natural empathy and one-sided therapeutic relationships. Unfortunately, they struggle to pay attention to the actual world around them, and they are easily overwhelmed by sensual experiences, either overindulging or never indulging.
Thanks for reading, and to all the INFJs out there: thanks for your compassion, insight, and game-changing ideals.
Watch this piece as a video here.