What Can INFJs Learn From INFPs?
I am approaching 50 years old, and I find myself experiencing a significant transformation. I thought the transition I made at 40 was big, but this one is much bigger… and way more painful. If you know anything about Chiron Returns, you know that this is a pretty standard experience as someone approaches the half a century mark. (And if you think Astrology is BS, feel free to ignore this paragraph. The rest of the article doesn’t deal with Astrology.)
To help me through the toughest year of my adult life, I decided to hire a therapist. Somehow, I lucked out and ended up with an INFP as my therapist. Nora is a few years older than me, so she has experienced some of the transitions I am currently going through.
What INFJs Can Learn From INFPs
As an INFJ, why do I say that an INFP therapist is exactly what I need right now? Because INFP’s Primary cognitive function is Introverted Feeling or “Authenticity.” So, they’re more capable of identifying what they’re feeling than I am.
I can tell you what I am thinking all day long because my tertiary function is Introverted Thinking. Still, I struggle with subjective EQ (Emotional Intelligence) because my primary feeling function is extraverted (Extraverted Feeling or “Harmony”).
An INFP whose dominant cognitive function is Introverted Feeling will have a better grasp on all the nuances of emotional expression because they can identify a world of emotion within themselves. That’s why so many artists are INFPs. They recognize that the more personal an emotion, the more universal it is, and they find beautiful ways to express the human experience. INFPs are continually checking in with what “feels” right because Introverted Feeling is their primary decision-maker. Try forcing an INFP to do something contrary to their inner conviction. It isn’t easy! It’s like they have this internal temperature gauge. When their emotions are in alignment, they are all in and unstoppable. If their inner chorus is not in alignment, they are immovable.
Nora is the one who helped me realize I struggle to discern between thoughts and feelings. I’m not sure why that surprised me, but it did. I’m a Feeler, but I’ve spent a large portion of my life avoiding my feelings and living comfortably in the emotionally disconnected part of my cognitive function stack – Introverted Thinking or “Accuracy.” I’ve mentioned in previous articles that I used to mistype as an INTP, which is pretty common for INFJs who over-identify with their tertiary function of Accuracy.
As an INFJ, my Thinking and Feeling functions are in the Copilot and 10 yr old positions of my Car Model, so these functions are going to be more conscious to the INFJ and tend to blend together more than the Driver and Inferior functions. INFPs Driver is their Feeling function. They know it as well as INFJs know Introverted Intuition (the Driver for INFJs). INFPs have spent so much time with their inner emotional experience they appear masterful compared to my bumbling attempts to understand what is going on for me.
My appointments with Nora all have a similar theme. I tell her something, she asks me how it made me feel, I tell her a thought, she asks me again how it made me feel, I keep telling her thoughts, and this goes on until one of us comes up with the right word. When I try to force myself to name a feeling, it’s like I am looking at the containment structure of a nuclear reactor. I have all the emotions secured under a sealed dome with an exhaust that leaks only guilt. I have many mechanisms in place to avoid a meltdown (i.e. emotional overwhelm).
Emotional Intelligence and the INFJ
Introverted Thinking is an INFJs number one defense mechanism against feelings we can’t control. When emotions start bubbling up (like an overheating reactor), panic starts to take hold. I get the sensation of being punched in the chest. So, my habit is to go to that inner thinking place that deconstructs data without the “burden” of emotion.
For instance, when I found out my 23-year-old nephew had committed suicide, I felt a gaping hole in my chest that you could drive a truck through. Every time I imagined him as an adorable toddler, a tiny baby, or a laughing teen, the pain would sear through me, and I would drop to my knees and sob. It was too much in those early days, so I took refuge in Introverted Thinking and started collecting data. Why did he do it? What was going on in his life? What happened on the day of his death? What happened in the days leading up to it? Who could I talk to and gather more data? The objective collection of data provided me enough distance from the pain to let my mind and heart get used to the fact that an important part of my future was gone – and there was nothing I could do about it.
Does that mean INFJs have no EQ? No, we are still Feelers and we have mastered the art of understanding other’s emotional experiences and regulating the emotions of those around us. We are magicians when it comes to navigating another’s emotions. It’s our own we struggle with.
Extraverted Feeling is not a subjective feeling function. It is extraverted, so it is more objective. It takes in outside world feedback and determines the best course of action based upon the needs of everyone else. So, FJs (ISFJs, ESFJs, INFJs, ENFJs all use Extraverted Feeling as a dominant or auxiliary cognitive function) may experience an emotion, but if they realize it will cause conflict, they may suppress their emotion in preference for others. This, of course, isn’t an ideal situation and explains much of the resentment and anger FJs feel. If nobody ever teaches an FJ to honor their feelings, they will learn at an obscenely young age to bury their emotions and only feel what everyone tells them to feel. In fact, they can get really good at reading other people’s emotions in an effort to mirror the audience’s approved emotion and not appear socially inept. Occasionally, their spidey sense fails, and they express the wrong emotion or take on a fight that is not theirs to get someone else’s emotional needs met. (INFPs do this but only after they have found the will to fight aligns with their idea of justice. INFJs can willingly take on a battle they don’t fully understand or care about if it will make someone else happy.)
Most FJs will insist that they are getting their emotional needs met by maintaining emotional harmony with the rest of the world, but this is smoke in mirrors. In reality, they often feel bitterly angry, resentful, and judgmental over the burden it is placing on them. And if they never allow themselves to feel what they want to feel, you may see their bodies break down and manifest as auto-immune disorders such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue. (This is a theory of mine based upon observation as a therapist. I have no references to back it up, although many of the professionals I have mentioned it to agree with me.)
Objective EQ vs. Subjective EQ
So, at the age of 47, I have come to realize that the only emotions I experience are the ones my mind tells me to have based upon the expectations of the people in my life… and guilt – because that’s what keeps me in this cycle. A year ago, I would have insisted I had EQ based solely on the fact that I’m a Feeler. But in reality, I’ve never experienced an emotion that I didn’t pass through a ton of filters:
- Is this emotion okay to have?
- Who will be hurt by this emotion?
- What are the long term consequences of this emotion?
- Will this emotion create conflict?
- Is it worth the hassle?
Very few subjective emotions can meet all those criteria, so the emotion goes unexpressed. Buried alive. For the INFPs reading this article, who are asking, “How the hell do you bury an emotion?” I will explain it. I convince myself I’m not experiencing the emotion. I have received the consistent message that my feelings can’t be trusted because when I allow them to take over, the world reacts negatively. In the world of Extraverted Feeling, majority rules. So, if the people in my life insist my emotions are inappropriate or triggering, I will get the message that my emotional gauge is broken. This doesn’t mean that every emotion every FJ has ever experienced has brought negative feedback. But when your primary decision maker is Harmony, it only takes a few negative reactions from the world to get the message that anyone who rocks the boat is likely to be ejected from the boat.
Alienation is terrifying. Assimilation is safe.
INFPs have this amazing ability to stay true to themselves in spite of widespread social pressure – usually from FJs. I used to think it was vanity that made the INFP stand firm, and it would drive me insane when I was attempting to get everyone’s needs met, and an FP was standing firm as the lone outlier. But a piece of me envies their ability to resist peer pressure on behalf of their integrity. In reality, if we could combine an INFP with their subjective EQ and an INFJ with their objective EQ, you would have super EQ! The individual and the outer world would be getting their needs met in the proper order.
Getting In Touch With Your Inner Truth
When my therapist asks me to identify an emotion I felt or am feeling, I struggle to differentiate between thoughts and feelings. Occasionally, she will say, “It sounds like you are feeling [fill in the blank].” But now that she realizes subjective emotions are my Achilles heel, she won’t fill in the blank anymore. My homework is to set an alarm and check-in with myself throughout the day to determine what emotion I am feeling. Since I don’t have the words, I bought myself a Feel Wheel from Amazon. I admit I feel foolish using a tool that we prescribe for Thinkers. Still, I believe my inability to identify my authentic feelings has resulted in a life that is out of alignment with what I want.
Like many INFs, I had a painful childhood. I started shutting down emotions when I was just a kid because they had become a liability. Thirty-five years later, I am 80% robot. I have a mountain of desires I have denied myself in preference for the needs of others. Each decade that passes feels like it’s one more decade wasted. (That said, we have had quite a few INFJs write in saying they’re 70+ years old and so grateful to know these things about themselves, even at the twilight of their lives. It’s never too late to take charge of your life and start asking for what you want.)
What happens when you realize that your life is based upon emotions you have only the barest comprehension of? Love can be mistaken for a lot of things: loyalty, affection, friendship, obligation, pity. At some point, you look yourself in the mirror and realize that there is a part of you that you have consistently dishonored. This part of you is usually a small child who had dreams and visions of a future that bears no resemblance to your present. Sometimes this is a good thing. Being an astronaut is frightfully inconvenient and hard to achieve. But if the childhood version of your future is someone with confidence and self-love who stands tall and is admired by others, that’s not so hard to attain. In fact, I would say it is absolutely imperative.
How To Get Back on the Right Path
So, what do you do when you realize you have strayed from the path your heart still longs for? As I wrote that last sentence, I realized something. What if we disconnect from our emotions because we have disconnected from our heart’s desire? Many of us are living a life we wouldn’t have chosen if we thought we had a choice. I often wonder what my life would have been if I had continued with my obsession with astrology when I was 12. If I had the courage to tell my parents that their choice of religion was not mine. It would have required years of fighting, which I wasn’t willing to do – but I wish I had. I wasted another 25 years in that religion and didn’t leave until my parents were dead. If that’s not the most co-dependent thing I’ve ever heard of, I don’t know what is.
There is a part deep within all of us that wants what it wants. What would happen if you honored that part of you? (For some of you, that last sentence triggered a fear in you that’s not unlike a red hot brick sitting in your stomach. You are very familiar with that brick. It pops up now and then, and you find ways to distract yourself from it until it goes back into hibernation, and you once again win the battle of convincing yourself that life isn’t so bad.)
Still, the dreams are only dormant.
I believe we are here to fulfill our dreams, and our dreams tell us who we are meant to be. That hot brick sitting in your stomach, poking you now and then, will keep it up until you listen to it, or your body starts to break down. At some point, though, the pain exceeds the fear, and you must act.
I know the idea of that is terrifying, but I have a plan of action for you.
Start working on yourself – today. Don’t put it off another minute. It’s not selfish to work on yourself. Your relationships will be stronger the more you stop blaming others for your mental state and start recognizing that you are permitting everything in your life. You are in control. Especially if you’re an adult. You may have gotten the message as a child that you had to do the bidding of others, but that is no longer the case. Meditate, exercise, do whatever you need to do to start feeling good about who you are and what you need.
Start asking for what you want. If asking for what you want is such a foreign concept that you honestly have no idea what you want, start saying what you don’t want. Start listening to your gut. How do you know when your gut is saying “Yes” versus “No?” Personally, “yes” is a peaceful feeling of alignment; “no” feels like panic. Give yourself permission to change your mind.
For instance, I recently attended a health expo and signed up for a healing that promised to be incredibly powerful. I had just told my husband a couple of weeks before that I didn’t want to be married anymore after 18 years. I was going through the most painful experience of my adult life. After signing up for the healing, my gut started twisting into knots. Something in me told it was going to be too much. To back out would make me look like a total flake and mess up their signup sheet, though. Still, I had to honor that still small voice to encourage it to keep talking to me. So, I backed out, scribbled my name off their sheet, and walked away. I felt massive relief, and the knot in my stomach unraveled.
Stop telling yourself you need to do things you don’t want to do just because you are afraid of inconveniencing others. Honor yourself. It isn’t as much of an inconvenience as we usually think. And if it is, it doesn’t matter. How often have you willingly inconvenienced yourself for someone else? It’s time for some payback.
If you honor yourself and follow your heart, will you finally gain some emotional intelligence? I don’t know. I’m still in the midst of this journey. But I do feel like I am steadily correcting coarse and navigating my way back to the path my heart longs for. And checking in with my Feel Wheel every day and journaling about what I’m feeling is also helpful for learning to recognize the emotions coming up.
INFJs have a lot to learn from INFPs, and vice versa. We could overcome a lot of the misunderstandings between these two types if they just realized that the other has the key to the thing that causes the most pain. INFPs can teach INFJs to honor their subjective emotions, and INFJs can teach INFPs when it’s important to fight and when it’s okay to cave. INFPs will experience less judgment from the outside world if they realize that not everything is an identity level threat. And INFJs will experience less resentment and anger if they stop compromising their identity. These two types remind the world to honor the emotional experience of the individual and the collective. One without the other would be chaos or tyranny.
One of the biggest lessons I am learning in all this, beyond learning to listen to myself, is the need to be patient. Growth is a slow process. Pay attention to what feels right and what doesn’t feel right and trust yourself. If you’ve spent your life telling yourself your emotions are untrustworthy, it is going to take time for you to unlearn those habits. Be kind and patient with yourself and be patient with the people in your life as they learn how to interact with the emerging you. As you grow and change, you will start noticing the people in your life growing and changing, too. Or you won’t, and the gulf between you will become ever wider until there is no doubt what your next step is. One way or the other, your self-esteem will be in a better place, and you will be better able to cope with the changes you want in your life.
Go forth and claim yourself. The destination is worth it.
This article was so helpful and I very much appreciate learning from an INFJ as an INFP :). My partner is an INFJ and I found your insights incredibly helpful into better understanding how he may be processing things and why sometimes frustrations arise for me when it seems we are saying much of the same thing but expressing it differently. I have learned to understand that he isn’t meaning to correct me when he repeats what I say in his own words, but I still sense he is missing much of the nuance in the musings or ideas I am sharing with him and it has made me feel unheard or that my opinions aren’t being valued at times. I have wondered if he might not be the best listener because he’s more focused on formulating his own thoughts. I have struggled with sometimes feeling insecure about thinking he doesn’t find me interesting enough to bother fully paying attention to and then slightly resentful when I give so much energy and attention to what he is communicating so as to truly understand his perspective. These sort of misgivings don’t go unaddressed, we are able to talk to each other about them usually at a later time when the moment is more conducive. During these talks I realize just how much he cares and the effort he does put in because I see how much it hurts him to think he is the cause of me hurting. We then formulate resolutions or strategies and always end up feeling closer and glad that we can openly talk to each other. Later when these sort of misinterpretations repeat themselves, I end up frustrated with myself for thinking I must not be properly edifying what I want to express or I have the same previous frustrations from thinking I’m being casually dismissed. After reading your article I now feel better equipped to deal with some of our misunderstandings without rushing to judgment about why they are happening. I’m an INFP with an incredible INFJ man that I know will also appreciate this article for the insight and possible explanation it provides for us. Thank you for sharing your life with us in this way.
There must be something about being 47! I went through what you are going through at exactly that age.
Now I am 65! A lot changed in my life in the past 18 years! I am so much better for it, yet I am still learning and growing about the nuances of INFP ( my current partner) with INFJ (me).
I wrote about it in a series of books about healing what i called ‘soul misery’.
See http://www.clarityforfreedom.com for those book titles.
Thanks for your article! I am profoundly grateful to you for introducing me to the existence of Chiron Returns, as I am also in the middle of getting my butt kicked in mine (worse yet mine is in the 1st House.) Now I am beginning to understand why 2019-2020 have been unmitigatedly ghastly, although fortunately I am beginning to gradually regain my center of gravity.
I am grateful for a health crisis in my teens (which has returned via Chiron in my current life) which developed both my Fi and Si functions in order to survive, even though they are not in my functional stack as an INFJ. I had to develop the Fi to deal with not only a dark night of the soul, but also a chemical depression brought on by a microbial infection from a tick that forced me to develop very quickly the ability to figure out both what my feelings were and where they were coming from (not to mention extract whatever wisdom they might contain.) The Si had to be developed to both monitor physical symptoms, as well as track the cause and effect relationships of my symptoms to previous actions. I sometimes falsely test as an INFP as a result, although it’s also partially because most of the more intense behaviors exhibited by my INFJ-nature have had to be pruned back for survival purposes.
Hmmm. I’m an INFP married to an INFJ. My wife works with her dreams and intuitions constantly. It’s her happy place. Her extraverted feeling follows her intuition quite faithfully. As I read your article I had this empathetic sense of something like having my feet swept out from under me and then getting the wind knocked out of me as well. Kind of a one-two punch. Super painful and disabling. The story I’m telling myself here is that you’re not tapped into your actual prime power source which would be your introverted intuition, but rather you are being undermined by your precedent oriented introverted sensing function which would be your eighth function according to John Beebe. Your actual intuition, I believe, would have been a complete heresy to your parents and your church so maybe that was severely repressed out of a need to socially survive your circumstances. I’m honoring that we all do what’s needed to survive, and that’s not a bad at all. The last thing controlling religious organizations want is for people to be in touch their introverted intuition, let alone their actual feelings. Please dismiss or don’t publish this if my interpretation is off. I very much appreciated your article and your vulnerability.
Dear Charis, thank you for sharing your insights. Your article is so well written and clear. I resonate with a lot of what you wrote and found a lot of valuable advice. I am in mid 20s, learning about personality to (hopefully) help make smart career and life choices.
I am interested in your perspective on gut feeling and how it corresponds to fear. You express with such clarity, and I can relate deeply to how “yes” feels like a peaceful feeling of alignment and “no” is panic.
I would like to approach and explore the times when the distinction is not so clear. Some say that overcoming our fears lead to growth, but sometimes fear and panic can feel very similar at the critical moment of decision. How do you think it’s possible to navigate/assess between the two in this grey area?
I’ve experienced this ambiguity, for example, when signing up and going to a networking event that was slightly unrelated to my career wishes but networking is good for growth (felt bad, panic, fear, anxiety before leading up to, and during, and relief when I left), or making a drastic lifestyle change – investing time/money to develop a relationship by moving city, reconnecting with an old friend that have had previous trouble with…
I am interested and would appreciate to hear your thoughts on this.
Thank you again for your article.
PS Appednix with some extra thoughts/reflections on gut instinct:
What if when the gut is wrong? Or we are not actually listening to the real gut?
On one hand there is caution regarding the negative consequences when largely going with the gut feeling: When we listen to instincts without thinking enough about the implications before action (impulsive behaviours) Although to the other extreme, thinking too much could lead to rotten conclusions, inaction and a wasted time. On the other hand, to only act in places of comfort of gut saying “yes”, and then “step out of your comfort zone” becomes a common advice/criticism. With a life philosophy of bias to action, this eliminates inaction caused by choosing comfort or peace, but still ignores the huge trauma and bad consequences of acting on impulsivity.
How much should we listen to the gut feeling, and what if it is in fact life limiting fear, that we should actually overcome?
Perhaps my gut isn’t strong and accurate enough yet, and that is why it is never black or white. This leads to a different issue completely: how to develop strong gut instincts, but first to conclude whether they will actually help effectively (and to who?)? And is this personal preference of listening to gut related to personality type, if so how? Is this journey to differentiate between panic and fear with clarity even valid?
In summary, It seems there is a search for the healthiest balance the “peaceful feeling of alignment” (however internally one may interpret it as “staying in comfort zone of attitude/mindset, which inhibits growth”) and “panic” (often internally misconstrued as feeling fear, which could also inhibit real positive growth and therefore maintains ignorance and leads to chaos).
What if in reality gut feeling is less a future predictive or sensing mechanism, but a feeling that interlinks with attitude and time. A positive gut feeling will lead to positive results, whilst a nervous and negative feeling will affect results negatively; having a more direct impact on the future, as opposed to passive prediction. If there is some truth to this at all, the question becomes – how can one train their gut to be more positive?
I was in Therapy today and we explored this exact theme. I had an image of myself at 9 years old, holding a shield to protect “us” from the impending danger of my 4 year old self. The feelings were too big, you see, so my 9 year old has been waging war for me/in me since… Well I was 9. What happened when I approached her? She said “oh good, you’re here. This is the situation, now let’s come up with a plan. Here’s the information I have….”. Talk about a tertiary stronghold!
This article struck me exactly where I am right now, and the terror I feel to let myself FEEL is palpable. I’ve spent my entire life looking for rational answers to people’s behaviours in order to understand my own feelings. You described my internal process perfectly.
I read your comment and as an INFJ, all I know is anytime I have ignored my gut feeling I ended up regretting it big time!! I learned in my mid 20’s to listen to my gut instincts and it hasn’t lead my astray at all! ( I am 45 now) so hopefully this helps you also…I would also say to not over think it..its your gut feeling for a reason!
Hi Eli! Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry it has taken me a few months to get back to you. This past winter had a lot of transitions for me… and now civilization seems to be transitioning, so… there’s that. 😉
You bring up some very good points. Following the guidance of our gut is an inexact science that can be easily misinterpreted. I think the important thing is to slow down and let your instincts guide you and allow some wiggle room in your decisions if you make a decision and end up realizing it was the wrong one. I think Betsy Garmon said it well in “Empowered: INFPs & INFJs”, “Slow down to the speed of listening.”
If your gut seems quiet on something, that may indicate it’s not a big deal. You can go either way. It might also be a good plan to allow yourself to work through the emotional wave. We have emotional highs and lows and we should avoid making decisions during those times. Wait until you reach emotional equilibrium before you act. This can take a few days.
And it is important to notice your usual triggers. Introverts have comfort zones and it can be scary to get outside of those zones, but it is necessary for growth. Is your fear based upon pushing the limits of your comfort zones or doing the wrong thing? That is something you learn to read as you get used to listening. Test it out with different things that are relatively minor and see what patterns you can start noticing.
Hi, I’m not an INFJ myself, but someone close to me is. I thought I’d recommend to you INFJs Frank James’ Youtube channel. The name of his channel is literally his name. Other than refreshing advice for INFJs that don’t seem to come from stereotypes, I actually found his channel from the comedy series of 16 Personalities in (everyday situation.) It’s silly and fun, yes, but it’s also informative. His skits of the different personalities don’t rely on stereotypes at all, and the non-verbal acting is also ridiculously accurate. I mean it. He also has a nice playlist called “Advice for Introverts” that give really good life advice, though if you ask me, a lot of the advice also applies to extroverts.
Just a suggestion. You don’t have to do this if you want to, but how about an article talking about what “INFPs can learn from INFJs?” too? Hell, you can even potentially make articles for “What xxxPs can learn from xxxJs?” and “What xxxJs can learn from xxxPs?” for each type too. Just throwing the idea out there.
Have a good day.
Hi Michael! Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll give it some thought.
I love Frank James’ stuff! He’s hysterical.
Coming across your article was such a pleasant surprise, Charis, as I was travelling home in a funk. My job has been sorely testing the growth of my inferior function, and I’m currently at an age where many transits are forming squares & oppositions to my natal placements, so finding out that someone at PH shares an interest in astrology & had recently uploaded a new piece was both soothing and satisfying. I am now much less likely to sigh and mutter tonight, so thanks for that! ☺
Hi Seely! Thanks for the comment. I’m glad the article brought you some comfort. I still have a lot to learn in regards to astrology. My current fascination is with Human Design. 🙂
This article was so on time for me! I just passed through the most difficult time of my life and I still do. Difficulties changed me forever but most important,all this made me realize that giving so much power to other people into my life decisions, that old model i followed for all my life…can’t go on anymore!!! I also recently meet an infp and i was amazed about his stability his dignity and how well centered to what he wants he is. Observing him taught me a lot about myself. Finally i decided to reconsider all of my life decisions till now and I’ve come to the painful conclusion that all the important decisions I made and the ones i DIDN’T make(studies, work, place to live etc) were actually made to satisfy someone else. Or at least i thought so. (family, society)I followed someone else’s path, not mine. I had always had a general sense of what i wanted but never got in tune to that. To me ,others knew better than me, for me. Now, I’m about to leave everything old and useless (including my old self and beliefs) behind and go for a new start and change. This time i don’t care if others agree or not. I have to evolve in order to be alive!
Thank you for the support and your beautiful article! Hope everything’s worked well for you too! !:)
Thanks for the comment, Sonia! Sounds like we are on parallel paths. I am still fighting the occasional uprising of guilt, but I feel like I get stronger every day. I hope you are staying strong, too. Never compromise on your life!
Excellent article! Thank you so much for sharing your life experience and wisdom gained from it. I had so many ah-ha moments reading this, and feel like I owe you a huge debt of gratitude.
Hi Ty! Thank you so much. Your words warm my heart. <3