By Michael Pierce
David Keirsey called them the “Healers,” and I have also heard the nicknames “Idealist” and “Dreamer.” I have most often seen them portrayed as idealistic to a fault and able to see the good in anything. They are especially reserved and shy but passionate about defending the weak. They appear dreamy or detached from the world as they run about in their personal wonderland; in short, kindly, well-meaning daydreamers. It is also worth noting that the two types that get mixed up the most in the Jungian community are the INFP and the INFJ. From a behavioristic standpoint they can appear remarkably similar: both are often quiet, contemplative, caring, and passionate about their beliefs, communicating them in artistic ways. However, the INFJ and INFP are not the least bit interchangeable. The processes beneath their behavior are very different.
As always, let’s break down what constitutes the INFP functionally.
They are a Perceiving type, meaning that they prefer extroverted perceiving and introverted judging. This means that they base their judgment criteria on subjective, inner information, while simply observing and drinking in objective information and experiences. You could say that they are more receptive towards the outside world and more aggressive towards their inner experience.
Their preferred way of doing this is through extroverted intuition and introverted feeling. Extroverted intuition is innovative: it perceives and seeks out new possibilities from objective data, finding the ones with the most promise and bringing them to fruition. Introverted feeling is individualistic: it has deep, personal passions and convictions that it holds to despite outside opposition, and it greatly values the right to individual freedom of expression and being true to oneself.
Third, they are very similar to the ENFP; both prefer Ne and Fi. The INFP, however, prefers Fi more than Ne. Nevertheless, they are in some sense the same type, or at least sister types. I personally like to call NFP types the “Dreamers”, because their relation to the outside world is passive observation of the unreal, of possibilities and ideas; their passion and aggression lies in their individual convictions, which develop isolated from the outside world and become something of a personal dream: thus, both their inner and outer relations take on a somewhat dreamlike quality. Of course, “Dreamer” is merely a nickname to help me remember the NFP nature, and does not mean all NFPs lie sprawled in fields of flowers and never accomplish anything.
The INFP, then, is a “dreamer” for whom their individual convictions hold more weight than perceiving new possibilities. They are primarily concerned with developing, discovering and expressing their innermost feelings and values.
The word I like to use to remember the INFP nature is “dream-world.” Fi is sentiment or desire that develops isolated from the outside world and therefore often appears alien or even disagreeable to others. While this is secondarily present in the ENFP who is often quirky, it is a primary attribute of the INFP, who is characteristically idiosyncratic. INFPs, more than any other type, with the ISFP as their only competitor, struggle with “being normal,” if they don’t despise conformity altogether.
The source garden of this idiosyncrasy, the INFP’s personal dream-world, is like an enormous system of caverns out of The Arabian Nights. The caverns are filled with all manner of strange and wonderful treasures unknown to the outside world. All the while there is a strange and inviting light glowing from somewhere deep in the caverns, and the purpose of the INFP’s many expeditions into their dream-world is to discover the source of this beautiful glow. Attempting to describe the nature of this strange light and convey some sense of its beauty and warmth and all that it illuminates within the caves is the drive behind the INFP’s characteristically expansive, sincere, original, and rich artistic creations.
The INFP is often tempted to spend long amounts of time exploring their caverns in search of the primordial fire. To some extent, they lead a double life: the dreary reality full of unoriginal, conforming mobs and all their injustice, insincerity, cruelty and noise, and then the breaths of air within their own minds, within created worlds where their values and passions are exemplified. There is a drive to dig through themselves and map out every inch of their psyche’s caverns and keep careful record of all its treasures. They find their inner life delightful, but often fear to share it with others due to past criticism or incomprehension.
Now, given that the INFJ and INFP are so often mixed up, I have found that contrasting the two types is very insightful in understanding the INFP personality. Between them, there are two major differences.
First, the INFJ is problematically unaware that their intuitions are entirely subjective. An INFJ may be inspired by a droplet of water to ponder on how it represents the true nature of the cosmos, and then develop a grand vision, forgetting that their only real-world evidence for said vision is a droplet of water. INFJs have trouble realizing the subjective origin of their seemingly objective visions. This is not so for the INFP, who is fully aware that they are exploring their own cave, and not reality. For them, that is the whole point. The INFP wouldn’t have it any other way; they want to explore their own passions, not somebody else’s, or some collective passion or truth out in the dreary world of mobs and cruelty. The point here is that the INFJ is always searching for objective truths, based on real observations in the real world, and applicable to real people. The INFP, however, is inclined to present their insights as subjective truth, exempt from normal rules of logic, data, or public opinion, and to encourage others to explore their own caves rather than sacrifice their identity to the collective. The INFP is more likely to resonate with the statement “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you put all of your heart and soul into believing it.” The INFJ, however, resonates with objective, universal truths and conclusions.
The second difference between the two types is that the INFJ’s Fe gives up their own personal desires in favor of a common good or greater cause. But the INFP recoils from such a notion; their identity is a valuable possession, and they have no interest in being melted down until they are unrecognizable from others. This seems counterproductive to the INFP, who often sees evil as giving into a false public opinion despite personal convictions to the contrary, while the INFJ often sees evil as selfishly holding false convictions despite a clear, common good. The INFP seeks to strip away invading contaminants from the outside world and become more true to their inner values. INFPs do not like conforming for its own sake. If they do something, it is because they have reconciled it with their inner values, and not because they are trying to align with another’s values. As such, INFPs want to love what they love with all of their heart and soul, giving them a great depth and rich passion to their sentiments, whether or not this is apparent to others.
The auxiliary function of the INFP is Ne. This means that their relationship to the outside world is one of passive observation, unlike the INFJ, whose relationship is more aggressive. Although this gives the INFP a dreamy quality, INFPs directly observe the outside world and therefore have a clearer relationship to it than INFJs. Of course, their observation is intuitive, meaning that they perceive the possibilities and potential of objects and ideas. This often grants the INFP a clever and quick wit because of their ability to anticipate events and arguments. While Ni seeks for depth of insight, Ne seeks for breadth of insights, hungry for new insights over complete ones, and what it may lose in depth it makes up for in its multifaceted view of things and greater relevance to reality. As such, the INFP enjoys writing from multiple perspectives simultaneously because this allows them to explore more possibilities rather than just one at a time. This is reflected well in Shakespeare’s various characters, Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms, and even George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series.
The INFP’s tertiary function is Si, which is an introverted perceiving function. They are like a painter that records their past experiences, investing their own interpretation into what happened. Because their Ne is more dominant, the habits and routines and diligent preparation that is characteristic of Si is not as immediately present in the INFP, but neither is it repressed, and therefore the INFP has much less trouble with putting down anchor or settling into healthy routines than the ENFP. Si also grants the INFP an attention to detail, in the sense that they can view all sides of a subject meticulously, in a more controlled way, potentially making their arguments or thoughts airtight from all sides. Si also grants them a more vivid picture of their inner dream world. The INFP is famous for (even notorious for) describing very detailed worlds, rich with intentionally chosen colors, geography, peoples, family trees, or whatever is of interest to the INFP.
The weight of Fi represses the Te function, which is the drive to fulfill objective goals, even at the expense of one’s personal values. The INFP rejects this notion and champions respect for personal values even at the expense of fulfilling objective goals. The INFP wants to know what is really important to them before going about accomplishing it; but as a result, they often don’t ever get around to accomplishing it. They are excellent writers and champions of causes or ideas, but they have difficulty actually leading efficient movements to get things done. Their enjoyment is in expressing their sentiments, not in pursuing them. Whenever they do try their hand at Te they can find it a clumsy, heavy tool, and their attempts to pursue things logically and directly may seem childish and hardly effective, until, of course, they learn from experience how to balance their Fi with Te. Another potential problem is that because they repress Te, they also repress inductive reasoning, or drawing logical conclusions from objective data. The INFP is notorious for ignoring facts and evidence that contradicts whatever they hold dear in their hearts, often with the frustrated claim that reason and logic do not guarantee truth; there are subjective, sentimental truths that defy the logic of the masses, but are nonetheless true.
So, in summary, the INFP is characterized by their “dream-world,” delighting to explore their personal caverns in search of the pure light within its depths. They seek for subjective, sentimental truths and champion the importance of becoming more purely oneself. Their Ne grants them cleverness and multifaceted insight, assisted by the meticulousness of Si, which also adds greater detail to their inner world. Unfortunately, because their Te is repressed, they struggle to break away from pure expression to actually accomplish their visions, and may completely ignore reasoning or evidence that contradicts their values.
Thanks for reading, and to all the INFPs out there, thanks for sharing your beautiful inner light with us, and reminding us to discover our own.
Watch this piece as a video here.