INFJs & INFPs: What They Learn From Each Other’s Personal Boundaries

A lot of angst tends to come up between the sometimes-conflicting styles of Extraverted Feeling or “Harmony” and Introverted Feeling or “Authenticity.” This conflict is unfortunate because, as an INFJ Harmony user myself, some of the most important lessons of my life were inspired by the positive example of Authenticity users at their best. Although, maybe the conflict is not unfortunate because, as uncomfortable as it is, conflict spurs growth, understanding, and more profound harmony, which is the perfect description of my flow state. 

In this article, I’d like to share an insight I came to recently about Authenticity and Harmony styles of boundaries and generosity. This lesson has been impactful in my own life as a psychiatrist and might be of interest to others trying to make peace with the world of the Feeling functions. 

INFJ Boundaries vs. INFP Boundaries

During my psychiatry residency, I cringed as I observed how some of my mentors would go beyond the standard of care for their patients. They gave some patients their cell phone numbers and returned frivolous or manipulative calls after the end of an already long and draining workday. Not wanting to get too friendly with these practices, I watched from a distance and didn’t ask many questions about how it worked out for such mentors and their patients in the long run. Expecting eventual validation of the boundaries I held dear, I was waiting to see the giving of inches turn into an expectation of miles. Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t. Either way, these Authenticity users seemed mostly unperturbed. 

Still, observing their type of practice always pained me because, though I respected these mentors, I knew it wouldn’t be psychologically feasible for me to follow their example. Partly because it would set a precedent that wouldn’t be reasonable to follow consistently, and it wouldn’t feel fair to patients who might feel rebuffed for similar requests of me. But mostly because I need confidence in firm boundaries so I can delineate my self-care and avoid a meteoric descent into becoming a resentful, burnt-out wreck – no good to any patient, to anyone I care about in my life, or to myself.

I realized that most of my colleagues who went out of their way consistently in select facets of patient care, or sporadically on a case-by-case basis, were Authenticity users (INFP, ISFP, ENFP, ESFP). As an aside, the ones who tended to go out of their way for patients in almost every way asked of them, often at the expense of their well-being, tended to be Harmony users (INFJ, ISFJ, ENFJ, ESFJ) who had poorly developed boundaries and tended to burn out intensely. 

This selective self-sacrifice made sense to me in terms of the subjective nature of Introverted Feeling, which gives the Authenticity user an easier time of taking individual circumstances as they come. If the happy place for Authenticity is detecting the nuances of subjective feelings and values, then it is hardly troublesome for them to take up that magnifying glass to each facet of patient care. It would be practically imperative to their nature to determine what kind of action each unique case warranted, regardless of blurring the lines of policies and standards. 

My priority, on the other hand, is to find an objective standard that I can rely on confidently. Come Hell or high water (both of which come up in patients’ lives), each tragic case is treated fairly in my practice, just like every other tragic case, without exception. That prevents hard feelings, right? At least none I can’t cope with by resting into my objective standards of care – and sitting with intense discomfort. Somehow the Authenticity users don’t seem to experience the torturous feelings I do of having my objective professional values wrenched around by each outside-the-norm expectation leveled at me by a patient.   

Choosing Generosity to Offset Misunderstandings

My next level of insight into this tango of Harmony and Authenticity boundaries came after listening to a recent Personality Hacker Podcast episode #298: Which is More Selfish – Harmony or Authenticity?  This podcast helped me see further into the murkiness of why it isn’t sustainable for me as an INFJ to weigh individual patient circumstances as potential instances for bending the rules like my Authenticity mentors. And, why they never seemed to come to the point of exhaustion and regret I would have expected from going all those miles that started as inches.  

It comes down to another imperative for Harmony users in my experience. Where Authenticity weighs circumstances for what level or type of action is required to satisfy their value system, Harmony weighs situations to prioritize what action will best serve the social construct as a whole. This often comes down to pretty much every decision I make as a Harmony user. I am actively weighing my self-interests against others’. Unless there is a strong justification to put mine first, or I have a need so great that it would harm me (and by extension the others who rely on me) not to, then I put others’ interests first. Everything from where I stand in a crowded room, to the temperature I keep the office, to which seat I choose in a lecture hall, to whether I speak up at a meeting. I am always weighing whether or not I should assert my self-interest and how that might impact everyone, even when I remind myself that “I am part of everyone.”

Just as an example of how this draining thought process infiltrates everything that I do, take the mental gymnastics I did earlier this week: I was having some insurance documents drawn up by an advisor. The final contract they gave me wasn’t the same as we had discussed and would cost me over a hundred dollars a month more. It crossed my mind to consider whether I should sign this more costly contract – because I’m sure the person worked hard on preparing it, I didn’t want to go through the hassle for both me and her of contacting her again, and I didn’t want to be a nuisance. Even though it was her mistake, which could have cost me thousands of dollars! Now, mind you, this never came to the point of me signing this document that wasn’t what I wanted. But, I did think about it. I did put some of my mental and emotional energy into weighing the cost to her vs. me.

Every single decision passes through this process of weighing the impact on my own experience vs. others, and the result is that it decreases my capacity to be flexible with other things that feel justified. Even the justified ones (which the insurance contract was) get weighed, they just get concluded more quickly and confidently than more ambiguous situations. 

To use the example from the PH Podcast episode mentioned above: Society sanctions that couples getting married set some expectations of their guests in terms of things like dress code. In the podcast, Antonia observes that a Harmony user might feel distressed and resentful if a guest were to let their freak flag fly at the wedding (paraphrasing here), drawing attention away from the couple and the intended atmosphere, standing out like a sore thumb in photos, etc. The Harmony user has likely put many of their preferences aside to accommodate others for this occasion, not to mention deferring their desires in the ways I described above. So, when someone can’t let them have this one day as they would like, it is incredibly angst-inducing.

Professional boundaries are like my “wedding day.” In that sphere, I count on defined standards that protect not just the patients’ rights and safety but also my own. And when a patient asks me to go beyond the standards of care, they are expressing entitlement to more than their fair share, like the extra slice of pizza referred to several times in the podcast. They don’t realize they are “asking too much of me.” After all, a philosophy I try to live by is that people have a right to ask for anything; they just won’t always get it. As a professional, it is my responsibility to know and communicate the professional limits. However, I still feel resentful having to continually put energy into enforcing these boundaries, especially when other professionals are undermining objective standards.

It seems that Authenticity people can more readily go “out of their way” with patients in the situations I described because they don’t regularly weigh the calculation of me vs. others, or me vs. the collective. They are more inclined to permit themselves to go their own way, even in ways that might inconvenience others, without second-guessing. So, when they do go out of their way for someone, it is on their terms, because they didn’t go out of their way the rest of the time. Or, if they did, it fed their sense of self by honoring a value intrinsic to them. They do seem to come out ahead energetically when it comes to saying “yes,” or “no,” to demands on their time, effort, and sympathies. When they do say “no,” they don’t carry with them the pain of everyone who didn’t get their needs or expectations met.

What Can INFPs & INFJs Learn From Each Other?

Let me bring this back around to the lessons the two feeling functions can glean from each other, or at least what I have learned from Authenticity users in my life. With the help of positive examples of healthy Introverted Feeling, I am always working on integrating the lesson not to take on full responsibility for the feelings of others. Realizing that they will feel whatever they need to feel and manage it okay in the end, I don’t put as much energy into second-guessing and de-prioritizing myself. So, I can free up some energy for self-care. Perhaps Authenticity users can appreciate that if they make choices that serve a social standard at times, they can bolster a positive sense of self more significant than a single interaction that might be perceived by their tribe as crossing a line. 

I realize a lot of this narrative I’ve laid out is influenced by my Harmony Copilot, which is an energy-draining function for me. Unfortunately, weighing the dozens of decisions a day to minimize the cost of disharmony doesn’t energetically feed me. I suspect a Harmony Driver might not be as tortured as I am.  

Authenticity has its own cost to ExFPs who have it in that challenging Copilot position. I don’t doubt that their ability to take a stand by drawing a line in the sand one minute and make a difference in someone’s life by crossing it the next, comes with a cacophony of inner voices that are not always pleasant to hear. Maybe at some point, it does cause them to question how they see themselves based on the moral choices they’ve made. That would be the part I don’t see as I peer around at my mentors who are Authenticity people.

I’d love to hear from people with Harmony and Authenticity in other positions or other Harmony Copilots with different experiences than mine. Please share and keep this conversation going! 

A lot of angst tends to come up between the sometimes-conflicting styles of feeling for INFJs and INFPs. This article explains why that is and how we can bridge the gap. #INFJ #INFP #boundaries

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Showing 20 comments
  • Maya

    This type of article confuses me. I am very certain I am an infp but I relate to all the examples you give of how you weigh things in your mind and the real life examples of situations you’ve been in (like the not fixing a contract that was to your detriment because you didn’t want to cause another person the problem of having to fix it). I am always weighing things between the interests of others and the interests of myself, and unless it is going to harm me or deplete me (which in turn will hurt the people that depend on me), I put the interests of others first. It’s just that I’m oblivious to social protocol or the idea that there is some sort of collective set of values that can be applied over and over again on a regular basis. Every situation is unique to me and I have to ask – can I afford to choose self sacrifice in this situation?

    When I was younger, I couldn’t say no. I could see what people needed and I felt I had to give them what they needed. Even if it was at my own expense. It’s taken me 30+ years to learn boundaries and the only way I got there was by realizing that if I sacrifice my own interests too much and deplete myself, I will have nothing left to give, and ultimately that will cause harm to others around me as they depend on me.

    One thing from the article that stood out to me was this:
    “With the help of positive examples of healthy Introverted Feeling, I am always working on integrating the lesson not to take on full responsibility for the feelings of others. Realizing that they will feel whatever they need to feel and manage it okay in the end, I don’t put as much energy into second-guessing and de-prioritizing myself. So, I can free up some energy for self-care.”
    I don’t think it is the positive example of Fi, but rather, the positive example of people Fi/Fe users who have arrived at a place where they are able to set boundaries. This paragraph exactly describes my experience in life too, using Fi. I have always felt responsible for other people’s feelings – but it happens more on a case by case, individual level, I would say. There is no “social standard” that I consider – I just consider the individual – “This person is going to feel x if I do y, so I can’t do y, I don’t want them to feel a negative feeling.” But I have no idea what the social protocol would say about how to treat a person at any given time. The wedding thing is a mistake I could make because it would not even enter my head that there is a social rule or expectation for how to dress. I would think about it like a case by case thing. Instead of considering – “I am going to a wedding, this is what you are expected to wear to a wedding” – I would think, “X invited me to a wedding. If I wear something that sticks out too much, she probably won’t like it. She usually likes things to be in x way. I’ll dress in x way because that will make x happy.”

    So, I’m not convinced the process is very different for Fi/Fe. I think it’s the same process. The difference is just are we judging each case individually, or are we creating like a streamlined judgment system where there is a particular judgment for each particular situation. In general, I’m confused when Fe users mention seeing Fi as a judgment process that basically does things on its own terms whereas Fe gets “pulled into” doing what is best for others. I very much perceive my Fi to work in the same way – I get pulled into doing what is best for others and deprioritizing my own needs, because that is what feels right to me. And unfortunately I have felt as “unwillingly” pulled into it as Fe users describe feeling. Like you don’t want to self sacrifice and its not on your terms, but you just do. But with Fi it happens on a case by case level and I have no perception of social rules or expectations. I just see the person in front of me and what they need.

  • Julie

    I would like more examples of Harmony. I am an Fi user, Infp. I am having a hard time understanding what FE is. What is the “others” in a situation where there is only a doctor and a patient? Would it mean, in this context, to take care of the administrative clerks and medical assistants needs instead of focusing on the patent’s needs?

  • Julie

    Authenticity is an introverted process, which means there is no “tribe” to consider, there is only 1 person, the Self and its ethics, its standards are and it’s rules are all built on top of its values- NOT “the tribe’s” values and standards and ethics. That is why Authenticity can more easily ‘take the wheel’ on the go while driving on the job, and make decisions based on her INTERNAL locus of decision-making based on her own standards. Which should lead into trouble, as one would suspect, and lead into being over-drained- but these co-workers must be well-practiced and ‘mature’ and already know through their experience how much they can handle and that is why they are able to navigate without becoming drained- otherwise, they would be just like you.

  • Sally

    Thank you so much for this illuminating article. I’m ENFP and my partner of 11 years in INFJ, and we’ve had endless conversations about this. Our experiences are exactly as you described. We sure have learnt a lot from each other’s ways of setting personal boundaries (or our attempts to do so, at least) and of showing how we care. Our conflicting perspectives on generosity/selflessness/tact vs egocentrism/selfishness/lack of consideration brought up so many times by our diverging Copilots have led to heated arguments though, and we’ve had our share of tensions. The thing is, it is draining for both of us to be firm with our boundaries (the INFJ because they always weigh their own interests against others’ in the light of some external, objective principle, the ENFP because they can’t predict what their boundaries will authentically be in the moment since the measuring scale is subjective and internal, therefore fluctuating), and it is even more so when your SO disapproves of, and shames you for your way of handling things and sees it as selfish, or at least unhealthy, when in the end you both go out of your ways but suffer from it differently and not in the same places. Maybe we need to own and master our respective Harmony and Authenticity copilots better. We both do and don’t understand each other deeply. Actually when you wrote in a comment that “Harmony and Authenticity kind of turn inside out when they stretch and grow outside their comfort zones – Harmony setting boundaries can look very much like Authenticity and Fi standing up for values shared by others and activating communities can look much like Fe” I found it very true and enlightening. I had already read something similar but reading it again was a good reminder. Those mirror effects are so powerful – both annoying as hell and fascinating. They’re definitely growth-inducing. Because even if our way of handling things and relating to the world are different, in the end we both care very much. I once read that INFJs look at how the world impacts them (which might at first seem self-centered) while ENFPs look at how they can impact the world (which might sound more altruistic). The thing is, if INFJs tend to rattle about how the world and other people impact them, it is because they go so much out of their ways already to serve others’ needs and interests that they often end up depleted very quickly if they don’t pay attention. While ENFPs focus on how they can positively impact the world because they are less impacted by others: they honour your freedom and authenticity as much as their own and so they tend to let you do what you want and not care that much (unless it violates their core values), which, in turn, leaves them with enough energy to champion the (humanitarian) causes that fit with those core values. Anyway, I’ll save your article! Thanks so much again.

    • Lainey

      Dang, Sally. Well articulated.

      • Tai

        Hi Sally, thanks for the comment and also to for this.

        I am going thru stuff atm and trying to understand things, but mostly about me right now. I can never figure out me and I felt like I was everyone and everything that was wrong with this life and now I am starting to figure myself out, because of this test. I am still unsure of this personality, because it describe me and why I am or feel the way I am or do.

        I am having a hard time accepting this and want to reach out and to everyone, so I can hear it from people like me and how to prove it is real. I used to feel like I was a curse or something like that. I felt like I have won all the shitty stuff in life and have even ask god or the universe, why me and what have I done to really fully deserve this. Now that I have hope that everything had been a tests and lesson for me to go thru, to be able to really harness this great gift.

        It is really scary to guess things and be right most of the time, so I am afraid of all my guesses.

        How did you validate that this personality is a real thing and how did you harness it fully?

        Thanks inadvance all!

  • Martina

    Thank you for this article. I am INFJ and I found myself in your words. I agree, I learnt a lot from my friendly Authenticity users. Btw. even when we are close, they still don’t get my Harmony overuse sometimes. They usually say: Well, just do it, why do you think so much of what others might feel or think. :))

  • Rebecca Mielke

    As a Harmony driver, I can tell you that I resonate so powerfully with your explanation of the mental process of weighing my needs against those of others that I wonder whether I am actually INFJ rather than ENFJ! But, no, I know I have my type right. Thank you for writing this!

    • Jamian

      I’m glad it struck a resonant cord! Thanks for the feedback and for sharing your experience as a Harmony driver. Much of the article would apply to people who use these functions in various positions.

  • Kristin

    I am an Authenticity user (INFP with Authenticity Driver), still I recognised myself in most of the examples you are using – even the “bad contract” one! The reason is, I tend to be too selfless in all those little decisions where I dont already have a strong opinion. My Fi stubbornness kicks in on the important issues to me, but on all the others I seem to have very little opinion, and mostly let the others lead the way. So it was interesting for me to read that you as an INFJ let Harmony decide on every decision, small or huge. I do understand how that would be draining.

    I think I make Authenticity decisions when it really matters to me, and otherwise I tend to not care, so I act in a selfless way. The downside of this is – going with the flow (following the crowd) doesnt feel very interesting to me, in fact it bores me and is slightly energy draining. Secondly, giving in too regularly to other peoples wishes makes me an easy target for being taken advantage on.

    Although I have no problems standing up strong for my values, I have problems establishing my personal boundaries in every-day situations, because standing up to myself doesnt seem to be very important somehow. This is probably what I need to work on the most, setting boundaries and standing up for my self when being belittled.

    Anyway, my point is that although the typical Authenticity decision is of course very different from the Harmony one, reading about an INFJ’s struggles makes me think we still might have a lot in common.

    • Jamian

      Thanks for adding the nuance of your perspective to the conversation. There definitely is a lot in common between Harmony and Authenticity and they kind of turn inside out when they stretch and grow outside their comfort zones. Harmony setting boundaries can look very much like Authenticity. And Fi standing up for values shared by others and activating communities can look much like Fe.

      I wouldn’t say I always let Harmony decide (otherwise I’d be paying that monster bill that wasn’t what I wanted!), but the consideration of it is always there pulling me. What I focus on as my growth work is to know when it is pulling me off kilter vs when I’m being pulled in the orbit of what I commit myself to. The pull of the small objects that are up close in our face seems unavoidable at times, but when we keep in mind what I like to think of as the Big Pull, we realize how insignificant these “in your face” objects are.

      • Alison Fisher

        Thank you for your comment, I had the same thoughts while reading the article as an Authenticity dominant INFP. Other people have thought of me as being too self-sacrificing for others because they don’t realize I’m not actually giving anything up while helping someone, it feels more like I’m gaining something by the positive emotions I experience while being able to provide. I also am often misinterpreted as someone lacking a backbone for not leaping to be the decision-maker or not vocalizing my preferences within social circumstances because it is not understood that in any given situation unrelated to my values or principles, I’m not particularly invested in the outcome. I’m much more comfortable with and built for taking things as they come regardless of whether it calls for rolling with the punches, or exploring joyful activities. Living in the moment before judging my experience of it rather than having premeditated conclusions about what has yet to happen IS my preference and how I like to navigate. Behaving otherwise is more likely to be draining or a cause of anxiety. I examine people and situations on a case by case basis. There is much I do feel strongly about and no one is likely to convince me to do anything oppositional to these feelings unless a substantial gain or possible benefit can be achieved in doing so. Even then it’s going to be a big IF since I don’t believe in “the ends justifies the mean.” Thinking of Authenticity and Harmony in terms of which is more selfish might possibly be a misnomer. I tend to think they are more akin to different operating systems than to personalized methods of acquisition since the function is subconscious even though the thought process it is driving isn’t.

      • Anna

        As a fellow INFP, I resonate with all of what you said so much. Especially the occasional being taken advantage of. It’s gotten to the point where I will need to make a decision and I will even have the inkling that I’m probably going to be taken advantage of (because that inevitably happens in most cases) but, at the end of weighing wether I nip it in the bud or take the chance because it relates to a core value, I make the decision to do it anyway. Somehow I know I will deal better with recovering from being taken advantage of than the guilt of feeling like I didn’t follow through with my core value.

  • Ack

    Harmony is my 10-year old, but I relate a LOT to what you’re describing here, especially with regard to students. I hate when they put me into a situation where I have to enforce the rules (no, you don’t get special treatment just because you want it, there needs to be a valid and approved reason first). It makes me feel bad. I probably just don’t feel bad as long as you must. Thank you for explaining so clearly WHY it is.

    • Jamian

      I’m glad it helped shine a light on your back seat function. Having Harmony in the 10y position means you have Accuracy and Harmony on the right hand side of your “car”, which means they are in a conscious power struggle a lot of the time. But they are best when they are on the same team working toward the same goals. What makes sense can also serve the greater good and vice versa.

    • Michie

      Thank you so much for this article. I am an INFJ who grew up with half my family as xNFP’s. I was constantly asked to look at my motivation, address my own needs, and not to take on other people’s baggage. The interplay between Authenticity and Harmony has fascinated me since I first dove into Personality Hacker. I love learning boundaries from Authenticity users. I believed myself dumb as a child because it was a grind and full of second guessing to say no while my brother could gracefully and quickly say no and show no signs of regret. Over the years, I trained myself to picture myself as my own best friend. When I look at decisions, I step out of myself and ask “Can you really take this on without putting your own needs aside?” Today I am married to an INFP and I can count on his steady sense of self. We engage in intuitive conversation that covers both breath and depth of the human psyche and society at large. And we occasionally don’t understand what the other is babbling about until someone else “translates”. I could not ask for a more fulfilling life thanks to learning how personality traits interplay.

  • Bea

    Thank you for this glimpse into how a Harmony user’s mind works. As an ENFP, I find the thought of using systems to make decisions in those types of situations exhausting. How can I decide in advance what my rules are around going the extra mile when I don’t know how I’m going to feel in the moment? I make those decisions by checking to see if giving feels right and then seeing if I have the resources. Sometimes I have the resources to go the extra mile, and sometimes I don’t. I keep my word. Consistency beyond that isn’t a worry for me. I see those extras as bonuses. As long as I don’t set expectations about them, and am clear that I’m going above and beyond, people usually see them as a delightful surprise. When someone responds with entitlement, I don’t go above and beyond for them again.

    • Jamian

      Wow, thank you Bea, this has really brought me into your headspace as an Authenticity person and how it feels for you to consider using a pre-determined standard of how to handle a situation.

  • Ty

    This was very well articulated- thank you! It helped me identify where some unpleasant envious feelings I had towards an Authenticity user in my life were coming from.

    My experience with Harmony as a co-pilot has been largely the same. I gave up on the idea of counseling/mentoring because of all the personal emotional challenges I foresaw having to deal with. Instead I went into a career where I could rely on my Introverted Thinking. Well I got my wish- it’s not emotionally draining. But… it’s also incredibly unsatisfying. There are no short cuts. The only way to meaning for me is to embrace my natural pull towards Harmony and figure out the right balance between helping myself and helping others. I’ve started to realize that your co-pilot is something you need to treat as a discipline- it takes a lot of practice, failure, humility, dedication, time, evaluation, fine-tuning, and patience to really master it.

    • Jamian

      Such wise words – no shortcuts indeed and yes to much discipline, practice, failure, humility, dedication, patience, etc. I can absolutely understand the impulse to lean away from all the interpersonal shock waves of a career in working one-on-one with people on personal growth. I’m in communities of psychiatrists and other doctors who are leaving patient care in droves because of the emotional toll it takes. Building skill in the copilot function is Exercise. It needs resistance in order to grow, not empty calories, and there will definitely be a burn when you really work it out! When I exercise Harmony at a level that honors the *greater* Greater Good rather than the individual in front of me who has a poignant need I feel like I’ve run a marathon!

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