Does your inner parent have your best interests in mind as an INFx?

The role of the inner parent is to be there to support your personal development journey. This part of you – your auxiliary or co-pilot process – is the key to living a happy and meaningful life; this is the part of you that will help you bring forth your inner wisdom and your purpose path.

Your inner parent is the bridge between your healing journey and the reality you want for yourself. Your inner parent is also the “home” you have always been yearning for but have not been able to find. Without your inner parent’s mature guidance, you will go from one relationship, personal development programme, or career to another always looking for the answers that you already have within.

personalityhacker.com_inner-parentPowerlessness is rampant in the world, but what people don’t realise is that they have the power to choose their own destiny. If you choose not to develop your inner parent, you choose not to develop your sense of inner power. The choice is yours.

Your inner parent’s level of maturity will also dictate your ability to help guide your inner child to healing. And since your inner child has at least two specific ways of being and expressing themselves (tertiary and inferior function or the 10-year-old and the 3-year-old of the car model), having maturity and flexibility in your inner parenting style become necessary; this will allow you to engage fully in your life and actualize into the person you were born to be.

I want to challenge you to start taking your co-pilot (auxiliary) function seriously, and make a commitment to developing it’s healthy aspects over any other part of you right now. Committing to developing your co-pilot will make the rest of your healing journey easier and less time and self-consuming. Instead of allowing your co-pilot to run your inner parenting in an immature, destructive way, by choosing to strengthen your co-pilot process you claim the authentic part of you and begin to access your real gifts.

Here is what the different processes look like with a healthy and unhealthy expression:


(Adult self)

(Inner Parent)

10-year old

(Inner child)

3-year old

(Inner child)

Perspectives Harmony Accuracy Sensation
Healthy Can see everyone’s point of view. Can make decisions that are a win for everyone, starting with self. Naturally inspires the elevation of standards for self and others Inclusive sense of humor and playfulness. Allows them to feel completely free in life.
Unhealthy Obsesses about what people are doing wrong, and what the consequences of those things will be. People pleasing; has no boundaries; readily hands over the reins to others for decision-making and ends up self-sacrificing. Constant criticism about what is wrong, and what is not good enough; this usually starts with self and spreads to other people. Unwillingness to engage with anything other than what will make them feel free. Can become addicted to substance, intimacy, attention.
Common ways to resolve unhealthy issues Be more prepared, try to mellow anxiety down with substance/medication. Tolerate people who walk all over them until the only thing left is the INFJ door slam. To do lists, setting goals, getting obsessed with being organized. Indulge in addictions and then beat themselves up for not being good enough to do better. Makes an unrealistic commitment to do better in the future, and does, until the pressure is too much and falls back into the pattern.
Try this instead Learn to embrace your imperfect perspectives by seeing that every “flaw” has value.
Choose a supportive attitude through pattern interrupt and then self-parenting with “Harmony.”
Train your inner parent to identify your needs and then vocalize them. Learn to set boundaries before issues become too much to bear.
Learn to trust some people and lean on them when you need help.
Learn to use Harmony as a decision-making process, instead of leaning on your “Accuracy” too much.
Remember, while you can give a 10-year-old a job, you would not ask them to run your adult life and make grown-up decisions.
Give your 3-year-old a creative project, which your inner parent (Harmony) is managing.
What this looks like in practice is learning to have creative conversations with your 3-year-old, so that they turn to self-parenting for soothing, instead of addictions.



(Adult self)


(Inner Parent)

10-year old

(Inner child)

3-year old

(Inner child)

Authenticity Exploration Memory Effectiveness
Healthy Visionary, stable, self-sustainable driving force that has a high level of respect for self and others. Acknowledges the sovereignty of self and others. Is open to new learnings and explores new possibilities readily. Patient and kind, expressive and inclusive. Embraces the safety of routine and tradition, rather than sees it as a restriction. Deliberately enjoys the meaning of life, and wants to share it with others. Loves people, loves connecting with others on a practical, playful level, and takes great pleasure in achieving meaningful goals effectively.
Unhealthy Messy and unable to handle the injustice and unfairness of the world. Innermost emotions become too much to handle, and thus hands the reins over to the co-pilot in the hope to be saved by them. Escapes into the inner world. Distracts self with books, movies, stories, substance. Comes up with stories that are not necessarily in line with the reality of the outer world. Creates stories about others to reflect how they feel about themselves. Stubbornly holds on to how things “should” be done, and is idealistic. If this idealism is not met, becomes overly critical of self and others. When overwhelmed with not being able to live up to the idealism, hands the reins over to the 3-year-old self. Is unable to deal with feelings, refuses to take responsibility for anything and lashes out uncontrollably. Once they come out of this rage, they often feel undeserving of forgiveness, and can slip into depression.
Common ways to resolve issue Trying to force boundaries so that they don’t lose their sovereignty. Withdrawal and a sense of disappointment in people. Beating themselves or others into doing things that they think “should” be done. Lashing out at other people, and making others responsible for how they are feeling.
Try this instead Remember, that sovereignty of self and others may sometimes seem to be a conflict, but that everyone, including yourself, is entitled to that sovereignty.
Learn to look for the good in differences.
Instead of making stories about what others may or may not be thinking or saying, go and do something FUN!
Claim your sovereignty by choosing to do something that nurtures you, instead of focusing on what you can’t control.
Learn to pick your battles and let go of the ones that do not serve your authentic self.
Stay present with the emotions that are presented to you (by yourself or others), and try to see the person as a unique being, who is going through their own struggles.
Try to let go of the need to compare others’ behavior to your standards and try to see where they are coming from.
Walking away from the situation that has triggered you. Take responsibility for your feelings.
Once you realize that people are not out to get you, you can go back to clarify your position with the other person from a neutral and open point of view; this will build relationships, rather than put a strain on them.

As you can see from this diagram, each process can have it’s healthy and unhealthy expression. The question becomes what kind of support you want to offer yourself throughout the rest of your life. I’m sure you’ve noticed a lot of grown-ups running around behaving like children: they are the perfect example of a person who has not undertaken self-parenting, and have not balanced their driver process with a healthy co-pilot. As an INF type, I assume you have aspirations to actualize yourself fully, rather than be at the mercy of others emotions and circumstances.

And so if you were to practice self-parenting and begin to actualize your true self, what would your life look like?

Here are some cause and effect pointers:

  • Spending time and making play dates with your inner child is paramount – the time spent with yourpersonalityhacker.com_inner_parent-article inner child is sacred. It builds trust between different parts of you, and you will finally feel safe within yourself.
  • Building a mental child care facility for your inner child serves a great purpose; this may seem strange, but as adults, we understand that everything in life is not age appropriate for our inner child. Those insecure parts of us will learn to extend trust toward ourselves and the world if they feel safe and secure.  
  • Enforce boundaries in a reasonable way, but make sure to maintain a certain level of flexibility. People change. You change. Having boundaries that are too rigid disallows natural growth in relationships and within people themselves.
  • Choose a suitable parenting style for your inner child and study it. Commit yourself to building a relationship with all these different aspects of you, which is important, as you are the only person you have a relationship with for your entire life. Learn to make yourself a priority.

And some further action steps we recommend to get on your inner parenting journey:

  • Book an hour a week to do a sensory activity with your inner child, and do it specifically from a healthy inner parent place (Harmony for INFJs and Exploration for INFPs). Take a walk outdoors, along the beach, sit by a river, lay on the grass and make animals out of cloud shapes, swim, etc. Whatever happens do not cancel – try this for four weeks.
  • In the same four-week period, teach yourself to leave your inner child at childcare when attending to grown-up matters that need your full attention; this will teach you to set boundaries with your out of control emotions and will equip you to live a more balanced adult life. Don’t just dump your inner child into childcare – make sure that you make it a pleasant experience for them and reassure them that you will be back in no time to pick them up.
  • Write down three things you wish you always had, or had done as a child, and then try to make them happen – there is no rule to say you can’t still do them now, even as an adult.

Your inner parenting journey won’t always be smooth sailing, but it’s good to remember that when you feel powerless in your journey, you can allow these feeling of powerlessness to pass by showing kindness to yourself.

When you struggle, just remember that you are so much more than your feelings at that moment. You are the magnificent being who is doing the work to self-actualize.

That’s how I see you, and it’s an honor to share this work with you.

Want to learn more?

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Showing 20 comments
  • Pat

    Ian undoubtedly an INFJ who is striving overcome my dysfunctional relationships with people who do not respect my boundaries. I seem to want everyone to have their needs met to the point of ignoring my own needs. Most times I don’t even know what my needs are other than wanting to bei alone. I used to think O was adaptable and was happy going with the flow of what other people wanted. Now as I set boundaries, those persons who are used to my acquiescence either belittle me or try to manipulate me into accepting their wants as always. How do I handle this without losing my intimate partner? FYI: I think he may be an unhealthy IFP.

  • Ellie

    Well this is interesting. A few years back I wrote about this old fashioned, prim and perfect pre pubescent girl who appeared on my piano bench one day, swinging her feet because she liked how her copper toed boots caught the light. She gave me smug looks because I was messy and not even dressed yet. I tried asking her why she was there and what she wanted, but she wouldn’t respond (although I somehow knew her name). Now I understand.

    Meanwhile, my 3yo bites and screams and throws endless temper tantrums, a child raised by wolves, complete with matted hair and layers of mud.

    • merja

      Thank you for your reflections, Ellie! Well written!

  • Angie

    Ah HA! I’ve been seeing the car metaphor everywhere but haven’t been able to intuit what’s really going on. Until now. Not only do I understand. Oh it’s amazing, sad but darkly funny: my life has been so out of control because I’ve been letting the 10-year-old and 3-year-old take turns driving! The car has been running for years on cynicism, toxic perfectionism, and chocolate chip cookie dough.

    Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my INFJ heart, thank you, for phrasing and grouping everything in precisely the way I needed. My mind is swirling and in overdrive, connecting dots, working out a way to get Harmony in the car again. After all, how can I possibly achieve harmony around me when inside me is discord? Imagine what the car rides have been like…

    Fellow INFs, please don’t let the children drive.

    I have a lot of wonderful work to do. It’s going to be rough at times, but I can make it through. The hope and optimism I’ve been missing are back and making me a little teary. Oh this is awesome! Thank you!

    • merja

      Hi Angie, thank you so much for your comment and your reflections! I’m so glad that you’ve had an A-HA moment from this article. It warms my heart so very much – Thank YOU!

      From the clarity you are expressing about your next steps on your journey, I can’t help but to be excited for where you will take this work. Just as a matter of interest, have you taken either the INFx Unveiled course or the 4 People Within course (self parenting courses)?

      There are so many questions I want to ask you but want to make sure you have a frame of reference for my questions! 😀

  • Heather

    I came gere for the info for INFJ, but yet again the INFP has me questioning whether that is more accurate. I have become quite obsessed and rather stressed about finding out if I am INFP or INFJ. I keep coming up with different results when I take any of the personality type quizzes. I have gotten INFP, ENFP, INFJ, and ENFJ. I am quite certain that it is either INFP or INFJ, but keep going back and forth. Would looking at the “Driver Seat” part of this be the best way to figure it out. I decided to settle with INFJ just to stop obsessing and a friend who has more knowledge on typing suggested INFJ, but I never feel sure when I read posts about INFP. My husband says that I like to keep my options open, but really that stresses me out. I just don’t decide because I want to make the right decision. I want to know that it is right before moving forward, however I don’t often figure it out and life seems to pass me by. I also flip flop on decisions because I will know that it is right, but when I come against resistance I assume that I am wrong and my research and figuring out which is right starts all over again. How is the best way to determine INFP and INFJ?

    • Merja

      Hey, Heather, the type is not nearly as important as you are as a person. Rather than getting obsessed, why don’t you go for a label like XNFX or INFX and let that be your guiding light for now? Remember to only use labels if they help you. If labels are not of help, then don’t use them. You’re awesome as you already are!


      I struggled with this until I understood that a disorder (adhd-alltypes) was behind the anomoly. I am an impulsive talker and my disorder makes it nearly impossible for me to impose order in my life sometimes..but when I recognized that where it showed deviation, I have experienced the most distress about though out life. I crave and need order and structure, and when I cannot achieve it I am stressed. Personality is only one aspect of who we are, granted it’s the bedrock, always try to see where personality, disorders, and experience meet and diverge

  • Victoria M

    Hi, Merja: Thank you so much for all of your work here on Personality Hacker! I appreciate it so much. Hoperfully I can take the INFX Unveiled soon.

    I know this comment is a bit late, but hopefully you can help me with this — I’ve been looking at my car model and trying to look at all my cognitive functions with a view of “What gets your needs met?” (thank you, harmony) so that everyone in the car can be happy. I really appreciate your breakdown above, it’s been super-helpful as I determine the needs of the different parts of my personality, so I can implement them in an actionable way.

    However, in the section for INFJ where you talk about what you can do instead, for Accuracy you said “Learn to use Harmony as a decision-making process, instead of leaning on your “Accuracy” too much. Remember, while you can give a 10-year-old a job, you would not ask them to run your adult life and make grown-up decisions.” Which is true, but doesn’t really tell me what I CAN give to my 10-year-old to make her happy. There are other parts of the PH website that talk about using your backseat functions in times of play, but I’m struggling to see how to do that with Accuracy. Thanks so much!

    • Merja

      Hey Victoria, many thanks for your message. Yes, as an INFJ your harmony process should be your predominant decision making process, however, like most of us, you seem to be able to relate to your accuracy being better at making the calls.

      When you start to take the decision-making power away from your 10yo, it’s great to give her a project instead. This way, you won’t make her wrong for being so decisive in the past. So just to re-iterate, we need to take the 10yo out of the “driving seat” when it comes to the grown up decisions in our lives, and get the harmony process to help the perceptions with the navigation and instructions.

      So, the kinds of projects you could give your 10-yo are things that you naturally enjoy, but that are not related to a long term decision. Things that need to be done accurately – finishing off a painting, teaching your horse to stand still, building clocks, or even get your receipts in order for your accountant.

      The key here is to let your 10yo know that she is valued and that she has a lot to offer as a team member, but not as a leader.

      I hope this helps!

  • LeeAnn Parish

    INFP here, and I see how this works in myself to a “T”!! I am immensely appreciateive for the way that you broke this down here. Personally, I had no idea that, when I was at conflict with my belief in others or the world, and I focused in on the injustices intensely like a hawk on it’s prey, that I am at such conflict with my authentic (and destined best-self)! I know how much this hurts me to be in this state and I automatically turned to my exploration process to help me make sense of this. However, I in turn don’t make sense of anything. I just go into a downward spiral that continues until depression sinks in…BECAUSE, I can’t research away the fact that these two facts I wrestle with: 1. there is good in people, inherent goodness 2. there is injustice. My exploration process, as of late, with all the terrible things happening in the world would focus on the injustice. I would ask “what if” questions to understand the situation better. However, I wanted so deeply than to make change, and I wrestled with the fact that I can’t believe that we live in a world with the kind of injustice we see. My exploration process wasn’t working properly, as all it wanted was to wipe away the horrible things I see in the world. However, I am just now realizing that when I am in this state of mind that I can hold these two concepts that seem at odds with each other, but don’t have to be. I can say there are 1. both inherently good people AND 2. there is injustice. Something, that I think will take a lot of saying to sink in, and a lot of letting go and surrendering to, as I dislike the reality of it all very much. So, yes when I am aware of an injustice it is much better to then go have FUN, and make sure ALWAYS that I am able to see the good, and I must see the good. It’s not a selfish act. It is necessary for my destiny. Thank you so much!

    • merja

      Hi LeeAnn, many thanks for your reflections. It’s always great to see that people are getting value out of this work, and in particular I enjoy hearing HOW.

      Yes, that battle between the inherent goodness and the injustice is such a big one, and for most INFPs it’s their life’s work! Most successful INFPs (read people who are living true to their life’s purpose, not monetary measure only) have discovered this tension and learnt to exist in it without making the tension a priority, and instead making a result of the tension a priority. This result of tension can be an insight, a new discovery or a specific project that has the power to change the face of humanity. INFPs have an awesome superpower like that.

      But the key is learning to exist in the tension, while using exploration to discover a fulfilling resolution in real life issues (not just on a thought level). This ability to exist within the tension seems to be gained fastest by self parenting and bringing all parts of you together. This is what originally inspired me to write INFx Unveiled.

      Thanks again for your reflections, they are invaluable! I’m glad you got value out of the work.

  • jen

    Eruptions of Inferior Extraverted Sensing

    When one or more of the preconditions for eruption of the inferior function are present, Extraverted Sensing appears in its more exaggerated, disruptive form. .

    Typical Provocations or Triggers

    Dealing with details, especially in an unfamiliar environment, can trigger inferior Extraverted Sensing in Introverted Intuitive types. In fact, these types frequently mention that feeling overwhelmed by details often provokes characteristic inferior function reactions. Unexpected events that interrupt planned activities can also unsettle INTJs and INFJs enough to arouse their inferior function. One INFJ said that “sometimes it can be something like having to get from the airport to a hotel. It can happen if I’m driving a rental car in a foreign city, and even if I’m in my own country.”

    Another INFJ reports having the following response when she has to deal with unfamiliar details like taxes and finances:
    I feel like I become instantly stupid. I truly don’t seem to be able to take in explanations and process them. I have such anxiety I can’t get through it. I feel panicky inside and desperately look for help from someone who can talk to me on my level so that I can slowly begin to understand.

    An INTJ finally turned the accounting for his small business over to an accountant when he found himself becoming tense, irritable, and depressed whenever he had to work on the books.

    Of the four dominant Introverted types, it is Introverted Intuitive types who most frequently mention “too much extraverting” as a common trigger for inferior function responses.They describe being provoked by such things as crowds; people overload; noisy, busy environments; feeling that their personal space is being invaded; and frequent interruptions. When faced with such provocations, they retreat inside themselves and become intolerant of intrusions by others.They either express irritation at people’s questions or do not respond at all to attempts to communicate with them.

    An INTJ described having been raised in a large family with no private, personal space for anyone. All family members were expected to behave in the same way, as prescribed by a narrow set of acceptable behaviors.“ Even though we had separate rooms,” he said,“we had no freedom to decorate them in our own way or use them for anything but sleeping. I had a sense of frustration and rage at the absence of private territory. In hindsight, I was too often ‘in the grip.’”

    • merja sumiloff

      Hi Jen, thanks for your comment. I’m loving the more detailed descriptions you have included here! Yes, this level of overwhelm is definitely a symptom of the extroverted sensing not coping very well. This is exactly why inner parenting is so very important. It builds the “extroverting” resilience and gives your 3-yo inner child (inferior function) a space to rest and recover in. Love this!

  • Tanya Krushen

    Very helpful for me. Especially the list of healthy and unhealthy expressions. I’m struggling to work through all of this for myself. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Meg

    Interesting article. Would love to see how this plays out in other types (or for the title to allude to it focusing entirely on INFXs).

    • merja

      Hi Meg, thank you for your comment – yes, all types have challenges around this. The basics of self parenting is not type dependent, but the specifics on how it all plays out is, of course! What’s your type? 🙂

      • Charles

        Sorry for hi-jacking, Meg and Merja, but how would this play out for INTP?

        I’m able to piece together clues using the INFP and INFJ Secondary and Tertiary function profiles, but it seems position matters for the interpretation.

        • Merja

          No worries Charles, thank you for your message! You can grab the Accuracy, Exploration, Memory and Harmony from the above grid and look at the healthy, unhealthy and common ways to resolve issues there. Now, here’s my challenge to you: you send me something that you think would be a good “instead”, and I promise I will get back to you.

          The reason I’m doing this, is to empower YOU to discover things about you. I’m more than happy to give you my reflections once you’ve had a go.


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