INFP vs INFJ: 5 Surprising Differences To Tell Them Apart
There may be no two types mistaken for each other more than INFJs and INFPs. And while they may look similar from the outside, they are very different creatures inside. Add to that, INFJs and INFPs are two of the personality types most interested in personality psychology, so an incomplete understanding of how these two types are differentiated can cause a lot of personal frustration (not to mention internet arguments!)
This article is intended to be a deep-dive, side-by-side comparison of their similarities and differences.
(If you’re in the middle of trying to figure out whether or not you’re an INFJ or an INFP, remember that these aren’t intended to describe your individual interests or values, but rather how the two types are ‘wired’ differently.)
1. INFP vs INFJ: Different Driver processes
The Driver process can also be called the “dominant cognitive function.” It’s the mind’s first point of contact and the primary lens through which everything gets filtered.
For an INFJ, this dominant process is technically called Introverted Intuition, but we’ve nicknamed it “Perspectives.”
Perspectives is a learning function (technically called a “perceiving function”), and works by watching one’s own mind form patterns. After years of use, eventually Perspectives begins to see the ‘pattern of the patterns’ and understands that what is happening inside of themselves cognitively is also happening for other people.
INFPs, on the other hand, lead with a process called Introverted Feeling, which we call “Authenticity.”
Authenticity is a decision-making function (technically called a “judging function”), and works by being deeply in touch with how one is emotionally impacted by events. Decisions are made by “checking in” to ensure that they are in alignment with one’s values and identity. There is a saying that the more personal something is the more universal it is. Over time Authenticity understands that they aren’t alone in their feelings. They are simply more aware of them than other types.
Already, there’s a major difference in how these two types see the world.
INFJs are leading with an intuitive, learning process and INFPs are leading with a feeling, decision-making process.
For many INFPs it may be surprising to learn that they lead with a decision-making process, since decisions can be grueling for this type. Although Authenticity is truly decision-making, it is easily the slowest of the four decision-making processes (the other three being Effectiveness, Accuracy and Harmony).
Authenticity needs to be able to register how something is feeling viscerally, and often an INFP won’t know the right decision to make until after they’ve made it. It’s especially confusing when the Authenticity user can see a case for almost anything, so what’s true for them has to be carefully parsed out.
Each decision and its subsequent emotional impact is cataloged, however, and future decisions become easier and faster.
In fact, being so in touch with the emotional fall-out of a decision is how Authenticity eventually creates conviction, knowing in one’s ‘bones’ the rightness of something.
INFJs can also have trouble making decisions, but not for the same reason. Their decision-making process – technically called Extraverted Feeling that we’ve nicknamed “Harmony” – is faster than Authenticity, but secondary for them.
That is, they lead with Perspectives, and Harmony is an auxiliary process. Effort is required to develop the secondary process (that we call the “Co-Pilot”), and so when an INFJ finds themselves indecisive it’s because they’re spending too much time in their Driver of Perspectives and not enough time in their Co-Pilot of Harmony.
The result may look the same – indecisiveness – but the root is entirely different.
For an INFP, because their decision-making process can take time, it can feel grueling to be pressured to make a quick call. Each decision needs to be in alignment with the INFP’s values, and even a decision as simple as what salad to order can be a frustration if, say, their relationship with food has become a part of how they define themselves.
On the other hand, since INFJs are more removed from their decision-making process of Harmony, it’s usually over time that they become frustrated with the inability to make a final call. They are less likely to agonize over smaller decisions because not every decision is a reflection of their identity.
Understanding the difference between Perspectives and Authenticity can be tricky. They are both introverted processes after all, and require some measure of introspection. But even though they both are looking ‘inward’, they’re looking at distinctly different things.
Think of it as the difference between having an “a-ha!” moment versus that moment when you can feel your entire body tell you that you just made the right decision. “Getting” something for the first time conceptually is a very different experience than checking in to ensure everything is emotionally copacetic.
The Perspectives process allocates as much of its attention as it can get away with on the ‘a-ha’ moment, whereas Authenticity is constantly checking in with the individual’s emotional thermostat.
Understanding the difference between these two functions is crucial to understanding the difference in types.
2. INFP vs INFJ: Two different ways of evaluating emotional significance
As mentioned, an INFJ’s decision-making criteria comes from their auxiliary, or Co-Pilot, process Harmony.
Harmony is technically called Extraverted Feeling, in contrast with INFP’s Driver process of Introverted Feeling (Authenticity).
Which “attitude” (or, direction) the process faces once again shifts focus in a significant way.
Both Feeling functions are decision-making. That is, they are mental processes designed to help us evaluate information in order to come to a judgment.
Any time you ‘weigh the pros and cons’ of a decision you’re using a decision-making process, and what ends up standing out as important to you is based on which process you’re using.
We nicknamed Extraverted Feeling “Harmony” because we think it adequately describes the criteria this process is utilizing.
The Harmony person might ask themselves something like…
“What get’s everyone needs met?”
“How do I create harmony both within interpersonal relationships and the context/environment?”
In order to know the ‘right’ choice, other people’s emotions become the most interesting piece of information.
They’re ultimately the feedback mechanism needed to determine a decision was the right one, because it’s their emotions that tell you if their needs are getting met and/or if they experience any form of conflict.
On the other hand, Introverted Feeling is nicknamed “Authenticity” because it’s about the individual’s emotional experience. It’s about checking in with one’s own emotions to determine if an action is the ‘right’ one.
Is Authenticity more selfish than Harmony?
There is some confusion around whether or not Authenticity is ‘selfish’ or ‘self-centered’ in comparison to Harmony. While immature Authenticity can be quite self-indulgent, mature Authenticity is vital for a healthy society. Authenticity is where we experience integrity, the part of us that says it’s unconscionable to offend our own values. The only way to 1) know ones values and 2) stay true to them is to spend time deep-diving into one’s own conscience and subjective emotional experience.
On the other hand, Harmony when immature looks more like emotional manipulation and social bullying, while mature Harmony makes sure all of our needs are understood and taken care of.
If offending others is more distressing than offending yourself, you are more likely using Harmony. And if you’re willing to be a total pariah in behalf of your convictions, you’re more likely using Authenticity.
Some INFJs, accustomed to being misunderstood and feeling like an ‘outcast’, will sometimes identify with the concept of being true to oneself over ‘society’ and identify with this aspect of INFPs.
But instead of seeing it as a variation of being true to oneself (which all 16 types are fundamentally attempting to do all the time), it’s more helpful to see it as “serving other’s needs first in order to get your own needs met” (Harmony) versus “honoring one’s own experience first in order to honor other’s experience” (Authenticity).
3. INFP vs INFJ: The subtle difference between “absorbing” and “mirroring” emotions
This may be the biggest confusion between the two types. It’s definitely the source of endless internet battles for supremacy of “who’s the most empathetic type.”
Both INFJs and INFPs have an almost magical ability to understand the emotional human experience. The way they go about it, though, is very different.
I once heard a description for ’empathy’ as “Your pain my heart.” For an INFJ, this couldn’t be more true. INFJs absorb other people’s emotional energy whether they want to or not. If it’s powerful and there – friend or foe, intimate or stranger – your pain is in their heart.[We did a full podcast on this (and other INFJ) phenomenon, called “INFJ Personality Type Advice.”]
The combination of Perspectives (getting into other’s heads) and Harmony (having other people’s emotions on their radar all the time) seems to converge into this super power (absorbing emotions), a gift I’d venture to say most INFJs would trade away if they could. (Well, for a day… before they started missing their sixth sense.)
INFPs, on the other hand, are masters at understanding the emotions themselves. As mentioned before, sometimes Authenticity doesn’t know the right decision until it’s already been made, and to compensate for this INFPs become consummate role-players. They can manufacture an emotional experience in order to test out what it would feel like, giving them more content to go on at game time.
Since Authenticity is their Driver process, this ability becomes unconscious competence for INFPs and they may not even register when they’re doing it. This is why Authenticity Drivers (INFPs and ISFPs) are easily the greatest actors and performers of all the types. Putting on a new emotion can be as easy as swapping jackets.
When in the presence of another person’s strong emotion, it’s not that the INFP is absorbing it, they’re mirroring it. Since this is exceptionally easy for them to do, it’s usually a surprise to discover that other people can’t even come close to this ability.
The nuance of their ability to mirror another person’s emotional experience can feel like absorbing since it’s so spot on. But, remember – this isn’t another person’s emotion in the INFP’s heart. This is years and years of the INFP mapping emotions within themselves and finding the closest proximity to what the other person is experiencing.
Again, the more personal an experience the more universal, and no one understands this as well as the INFP. “What is the exact feeling I’d be feeling if I were you?” is the Authenticity version of INFJ’s “Your pain in my heart.”
If an INFP appears to be constantly self-referencing, it’s because they are. They understand you based on understanding themselves. To self-reference is to enable more rewarding interpersonal experiences, though our culture can generate a societal distaste for self-referencing.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand the difference in these two styles (INFJ absorbing vs INFP mirroring) is their relationship to time.
To absorb another’s emotion, both the INFJ and the other person (who is emoting) have to be together in real time. This isn’t post-processing emotional experience, it’s an emotion hitting the INFJ due to energetic proximity.
For an INFP it’s about finding the emotion the other person is – was – or will be experiencing within themselves. The emotion can be bound through time via works of art, literature, journals and any/every other way we as people express our emotions.
INFPs famously have a special relationship with art, and this is a major reason why. Art is a great tool for the INFP to help other people mirror (or re-create) the INFP’s emotional experience.
Truly great art evokes in us a response, and sometimes we discover emotions inside of ourselves we didn’t know we had. Authenticity artists outclass just about everyone else in their ability to help others mirror emotions.
Again, it’s not absorption, it’s mirroring (how I would feel in your place), which is why art speaks to everyone a little differently.
To recap: for an INFJ emotional absorption is done in real time/synchronously, whereas for an INFP emotional mirroring can be done through time/asynchronously.
4. INFP vs INFJ: Being understood vs. being validated
Both the INFJ and INFP personality types run into the problem of feeling misunderstood. For INFJs, the Perspectives process gives them an insight into other people that is unmatched, and it can be disconcerting to realize other people don’t have the same super power. The result is a lot of one-sided relationships.
On top of that, the Perspectives process is itself quite mysterious to other people. Both INxJ types (INFJs and INTJs) learn to keep their speculations to themselves. ‘Just knowing’ stuff feels like precognition to others and can make them uncomfortable.
INFPs face feeling misunderstood because no one could possibly ever know them as well as they know themselves.
The Authenticity process is a deep pool of nuanced self-awareness, and it’s truly impossible to communicate all the variety within themselves to another person.
If you peel back the layers, however, it’s not that INFPs have a challenge in being fully misunderstood. If anyone else ever actually ‘fully’ understood them that would actually be a bad sign – it would mean that the INFP had lost some of their individuality or that they’re dangerously close to being too similar to other people.
There may be some pride around being inscrutable. At the very least it’s a sign that they’ve not lost their uniqueness.
So, if it’s not full understanding an INFP wants, what is it that they’re seeking?
Imagine that the criteria you use to make all of your decision is perpetually questioned by nearly every person you encounter. And now add to that the phenomenon that you usually don’t know the best decision to make until after you’ve already made it. To put a cherry on top, it’s based on something you can’t possibly explain to another person (because it has no language) AND once you know the right decision, you know it with such certainty that you would die for it.
But you still can’t quite explain it beyond, “It just FEELS right.”
It’s extremely easy for people of other types to marginalize this process, and nothing is more maddening to have your mental wiring – one of the primary sources of ‘identity’ – marginalized.
Authenticity uses ‘intent’ as one of its primary calibrations for whether or not a decision is right, for both themselves and for others. Oftentimes when an INFP gets sensitive or defensive it’s because they think their intent is being called into question. When INFPs feel marginalized they can also feel others insinuating bad motive.
As in, if you’re insistent on making this choice but you can’t fully explain to me ‘why’, then you must be being selfish or have other bad motive.
When an INFP feels “misunderstood,” it could be more accurately stated that they feel marginalized, discounted and believe others are questioning their motives.
The antidote to this isn’t ‘understanding’ them better. Most INFPs would say no one could ever truly understand them, anyway. The real antidote is validating their process of making decisions.
As in: “I don’t have to agree with you. I don’t have to know why you believe or feel the way you do. When I tell you that you have every right to feel the way you do, and make decisions based on those feelings, I trust that you have positive intent.”
If you can sincerely communicate that to an INFP they will love you forever.
INFJs aren’t nearly as invested in others believing they have good motive. They are far more likely to be tuned into the motives and motivations of others to give a lot of thought about whether the other person believes the INFJ has positive intent.
Where an INFP can lose awareness of other people if they’re really excited by a topic, INFJs never lose awareness of other people.
In fact, that’s why INFJs generally need more alone time than INFPs (not always, but usually). The only real distance INFJs get from other people is when they’re truly physically alone, and this is generally used to recharge their batteries for the next trip into the outer world.
INFJs are far less interested in validation and are more interested in protection. They don’t need you to agree with them, they need to know you’re not going to hurt them, even if the fear of hurt is deeply unconscious.
There are some INFPs that have experienced trauma in the past and fear being hurt by others, but that’s more a product of wounding than anything intrinsic. The most protected, well-treated INFJ on the planet is still going to have something inside them scanning for people who would be deliberately hurtful.
The differences between being understood versus being validated can be pretty subtle, but profound when trying to determine between the types.
5. INFP vs INFJ: How each persuades and leads
INFJs – using the Perspectives process – often solve problems and persuade others by offering alternative perspectives. In fact, they generally solve problems by shifting perspectives until the solution becomes clear. They offer these shifts to others as ‘a-ha’ moments.
INFPs – using the Authenticity process – are more masters of emotional Aikido. Since they understand how emotions flow within the self, they can use this to redirect the emotional energy in another person, getting them to feel what they want them to feel.
Both are powerfully persuasive tactics, and both types are represented in famous spiritual leaders. And while each can utilize the other talent, it seems there’s a strong preference for INFJs to bring ‘insight’ and INFPs to bring ‘inspiration’.
INFP and INFJ: Sibling-Types
When well developed, both INFJs and INFPs are highly emotionally intelligent. There’s a sense that these two types are here to assist the rest of us in understanding the human condition in a profound way. These two sibling types are extraordinary at what they do, and can have deep appreciation for each other’s methodology.
p.s. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we’d love to hear what you think are ‘tie-breakers’ between the types. Leave a comment and let us know what you see as the biggest differences.
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