Introverted Intuitive Types: the INFJ
Introverted Intuition versus Extraverted Sensing
This thread examines the way effective INFJs experience their inferior function and the temporary transformation they make into ineffective, inferior Extraverted Sensing types when they are either briefly or chronically “in the grip.” A review of the characteristics of Introverted Intuition and Extraverted Sensing will be helpful to our discussion.
Important Features of Dominant Introverted Intuition
INFJs are the most intellectually independent of the types. They have a theory to explain everything, prefer innovative solutions to established ones, and are adept at seeing situations from an unusual perspective. Their skill at taking a very broad, long-range view of things contributes to their reputation as visionaries. Regardless of their auxiliary judging preference being Feeling, their dominant Intuition tends to be sharp, quick, and often uncannily correct. It is as if they have antennae that enable them to detect things long before other people do.
People often count on INFJs for insightful analyses and forthright judgments. They are adept at appropriately discounting distracting details and homing in on the essential meaning of complex, confusing situations.
INFJs report being puzzled by others’ perception of them as rigid and intractable. This perception may result from their tendency to express their views directly and forcefully. Misinterpretation of their forthright communication style as inflexibility may make others reluctant to present alternatives or argue their own point of view. However, dominant Perceiving types are unlikely to be wedded to their decisions, since they give greater weight to data (perceptions) than to conclusions (judgments). Experience bears this out for the most part. INFJs readily modify their incorrect conclusions when they receive convincing contradictory new information.
The spiritual, sometimes mystical, bent of INFJs has been frequently noted. At the very least, they seem to be aware of subtle cues or nuances long before others notice them. INFJs are especially sensitive to unexpressed anger and conflict, whose presence is usually denied by others. This contributes to the sense of separateness from others that many INFJs report, which may lead them to doubt their own mental stability.
INFJs readily see the big picture in crises and know how to direct others to take the most effective action.
INFJs at Work
Work can provide INFJs with the ideal opportunity to fulfil their typological nature. They are highly energized when they are able to use their creativity and independence of thought and action to achieve important goals. They enjoy variety in the projects they work on and prefer complex problems to simple ones. “Planning and strategizing that will help fulfil a vision—in silence or with a small group, and after I have had some time to reflect and gather information” is how one INFJ described what is most energizing for her. Another INFJ stated that he liked “an opportunity to put all my facilitation in place to solve a problem, reorganize a section, and then run it—some autonomy and complexity.” While another INFJ described as most energizing “creativity, variety, people, time alone, helping people grow and develop.”
INFJs want to see their vision of the future enacted at work. This desire for completion contributes to the intensity and single-mindedness that others observe. One INFJ described as energizing “working on projects that have a beginning and an end, which I can work on autonomously, especially those that have a visible, tangible, beneficial impact on the organization and individuals. Finishing tasks and multitasking, making improvements, getting recognition, and keeping people happy.” An INFJ in her early twenties said, “I place all of my heart and soul and expectations into my work, so I like to see these expectations fulfilled or exceeded.” Another INFJ is energized by “thinking up the best process and ways to work with my staff to accomplish tasks. To be able to juggle tasks and complete them.”
INFJs very much want to be recognized and appreciated for their contributions at work, but they may not receive such appreciation. Co-workers may misperceive their desire for autonomy and their single-minded concentration as arrogant and controlling. They may be seen as overly critical and hard to please. Their typical long-range vision can also be an obstacle if others at work do not trust the INFJ’s ability to accomplish his or her often complex and interconnected objectives. However, in environments that support the needs and talents of INFJs, others readily recognize, appreciate, and encourage their devotion to excellence and accomplishment.
Important Features of Dominant Extraverted Sensing
The qualities associated with Extraverted Sensing that are relevant to our discussion of its form as an inferior function are
- Focus on external data
- Seeking sensual/aesthetic pleasure
- Delight in the outer world
The Everyday Extraverted Sensing of INFJs
The inferior function affects INFJs in several different ways. These include everyday sensitivities, projections, and ways of relaxing, as well as the dramatic manifestations that can be seen when the inferior erupts and a full-blown episode occurs, or when an INFJ is chronically in the grip because of long-term stress.
Typical Sensitivities and Projections
INFJs easily gloss over facts and details in their everyday behaviour but can be hypersensitive about this. When they become aware that they have made a “Sensing” mistake, or an error of fact is pointed out to them, they are likely to become annoyed and defensive. Like their Extraverted Intuitive counterparts, they may compensate for their uneasiness in this area by becoming expert in some highly specific area. This can sometimes resemble a fetish. An INFJ who had little interest in most aspects of housekeeping knew all the ingredients of different household detergents; another INFJ was pleased with his ability to identify any kind of cloud formation.
INFJs sometimes assert as “fact” information that may have no basis in reality but that strengthens a conclusion they have arrived at using Introverted Intuition alone. When the validity of such facts is challenged, they may become defensive or simply change the subject.
INFJs focus on relentless realities in the present. They have a readiness to distrust the outer world and to assume that the environment, things, or people will fail them. An INFJ dreaded an impending vacation trip because she was sure the highway signs would be inadequate or confusing. To deal with these kinds of concerns, INFJs may acquire detailed knowledge about the issue at hand—carefully studying highway routes and so on.
Discomfort with the environment can also be seen in an over-concern with keeping track of things. INFJs try very hard to avoid losing things or getting lost in unfamiliar surroundings. They can become disproportionately upset when their efforts fail, frequently blaming others for their own carelessness.
INFJs readily project their own distrust of the environment onto others. They may comment on other people’s failure to notice details or assume that everyone experiences the anxieties they experience when dealing with an unfamiliar environment. They may therefore be overly cautious in giving people directions and provide too many—often irrelevant—details. One INFJ instructed his 28-year-old son as he was about to head out on a long trip in the car, “And when you smoke, you use the ashtray.”
Expressions through Interests and Hobbies
For INFJs, relaxing their dominant and auxiliary functions may occur through such sensual pleasures as eating, exercising, and gardening. One INFJ especially enjoys and appreciates sunshine in spring, autumn, and winter. Another likes to “go somewhere beautiful—mountains, ocean, water.” INFJs often mention the pleasant luxury of taking an afternoon nap. Other INFJs describe craving very hot curries, or escaping by becoming very absorbed in a mystery or adventure novel. “Escape literature” seems to be a particularly effective way for INFJs to suspend their intense inner focus and vicariously enjoy adventures in the external environment.
An INFJ reports that at times she feels exceptionally relaxed and able to focus totally on observing her environment. At these times she is able to step away from her usual goal-oriented approach and does not feel she must immediately do something with her observations. Often doing aerobic exercise precedes and stimulates this relaxed state. An INFJ who is a passionate bird-watcher tries to arrange his worldwide consulting work to take advantage of bird-watching opportunities. Other INFJs take up hobbies that require careful attention to details and memory for facts, such as photography, woodworking, furniture refinishing, or cooking.
INFJs mention going for walks or drives and noticing interesting details, such as the shapes of houses, the designs on garage doors, the arrangements of trees and flower beds in parks. One INFJ described taking walks by himself and noticing how many different shades of green he could identify on a nature trail, or closing his eyes and trying to identify as many different sounds as he could.
Using Sensing for relaxation seems to be particularly enjoyable because there is no pressure to achieve any particular goal. “Gardening is an activity I love. I do not worry about performance or doing it perfectly,” said an INFJ. “I like pulling weeds, smelling flowers, removing dead flower heads, admiring the colours. All of this nurtures me.” Another INFJ enjoys the aesthetic aspects of gardening, the shapes, and colours of the flowers, as opposed to the straightness of the planting rows.
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. INFJs are vulnerable to the type-specific factors described below.
Typical Provocations or Triggers
Dealing with details, especially in an unfamiliar environment, can trigger inferior Extraverted Sensing in INFJs. 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 INFJs enough to arouse their inferior function. One INFJ said, “Sometimes it can be something like having to get from the airport to a hotel. It can happen if I am 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 imprudent. I truly do not seem to be able to take in explanations and process them. I have such anxiety I cannot 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.
Of the four dominant introverted types, INFJs most frequently mention “too much extroverting” 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 INFJ 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 behaviours. “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.’”
Triggers and Stressors at Work
Work settings that do not permit sufficient autonomy or that offer few opportunities to work alone and intensively, and that do not provide the opportunity to be creative, think independently, and accomplish goals, are extremely stressful and undesirable for INFJs. INFJs hold very high standards of excellence for themselves and others, so issues of competence at work are quite important.
INFJs are intolerant of and impatient with inefficiency and with others’ avoidance of problems. They like to get to the heart of an issue immediately, which sometimes makes others uncomfortable. An INFJ finds it stressful “when there are multiple ‘agendas’ at play so that there is no sense of purpose or direction about an issue that may be a legitimate problem.”
INFJs are distressed by similar work characteristics, such as often focusing on the inability to achieve their vision of growth and development for people. Being unable to work at their own pace and within their own structure is also stressful. An INFJ cited as work stressors “lack of organization and vision by management.” In addition, another INFJ is stressed by “unclear goals, expectations, and others’ unwillingness to fit into my flexible time line.” INFJs find that dealing with details (often seen by them as irrelevant to the task) is extremely stressful. Other INFJs mention as stressful “noise, confusion, lack of order and direction,” “working with others and not being able to get alone,” “being led by the nose, not having a degree of autonomy.”
In a work situation in which the particular stressors for INFJs continue over long periods, they may respond quickly and intensely to the triggers described here. This increases the likelihood that their subsequent demonstrations of “grip” behaviour will be frequent and pervasive. When persistent stress causes them to be chronically in the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing, they are likely to lose touch with their natural confidence and pleasure in their Intuition and come across as picky, fault-finding, narrow-minded, and unimaginative.
The Form of the Inferior Function
INFJs appear less likely than other introverted types to get much pleasure from a lessening of introverted “inhibitions,” although some INFJ males describe becoming more extraverted in a positive, sociable way. An INFJ said he is “surprisingly more extraverted, especially in the company of strangers; more expressive and less contained.” Female INFJs mention increased sociability less frequently, possibly because they, like other women who are Introverts, are encouraged (or required) to develop social skills. However, for the most part, the obsessiveness and discomfort that accompany extroverting their Sensing function is experienced as overwhelmingly distressing for both male and female INFJs.
As dominant Introverted Intuition loses its position of primacy, INFJs start to lose their characteristic wide-ranging, global perspective. Their field of operation narrows considerably, and their range of acknowledged possibilities becomes limited and idiosyncratic. They may make mistakes that are more factual and become careless with spelling and grammar. “I am unable to cope with simple decisions and problems,” said an INFJ woman. “I am frustrated by the physical world—I lose things, drop them, and hate them. I do not know what to wear or what to eat. I am impatient with people and cannot read or concentrate.” An INFJ said she obsessively looks for the “right” factual piece of information that will solve the problem. “I notice things not put away around the house—things that are broken or things to do.” As their hold on their dominant and auxiliary functions further diminishes, the qualities of inferior Extraverted Sensing manifest in an obsessive focus on external data, overindulgence in sensual pleasures, and an adversarial attitude toward the outer world. For INFJs, tertiary Thinking may abet the process in that the “facts” (real or invented) on which the INFJ obsesses are often used as “proof” that the INFJ is inadequate or a failure.
Jung (1976a) incorporates the three qualities of inferior Extraverted Sensing (obsessive focus on external data, overindulgence in sensual pleasures, and an adversarial attitude toward the outer world) in the following comment:
Obsessive Focus on External Data
Originally Posted by Carl Jung
Effective dominant Extraverted Sensing types are open to the widest variety of information from the environment—the more the better for them. Fully experiencing the outside world is their greatest pleasure. For an INFJ in the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing, data from the outside world can seem overwhelming. Facts and details in the world demand the attention of the INFJ in the grip, so he or she obsesses about them. This may be experienced by INFJs as a state of intensity and divineness. Their attempts to control the details in their environment are often expressed in such activities as feverishly cleaning the house, moving furniture, and organizing records and other materials. They may show an adamant concern about minute details and an unrelenting effort to control everything in their immediate vicinity.
An INFJ described her obsessiveness and withdrawal from her usual interests this way: “I stew about what’s going on. I cannot sit still and am restless. I am mentally fatigued and find myself compulsively putting things in order and trying to control everything around me.” An INFJ described “obsessing about details.” He gave as an example:
When I am using power tools that can cause injury, I will spend an inordinate amount of energy making sure that I am not going to inadvertently hurt myself when I turn the thing on. I will triple-check to make sure my fingers are out of the way, etc. Usually I take in the world more globally and have less concern about details until I need them.
An INFJ said, “I alphabetize my compact discs; or suddenly it is time to do that thing I thought about doing two months ago. I drop everything and do it; or I fixate on smells and sounds.” “I organize or clean. I feel pressured and cannot think clearly,” reported another INFJ. “I nit-pick about things in the environment. I bombard people verbally and obsess out loud.”
Often the external input that becomes the object of obsession is something someone said or even failed to say. When the last client on an unusually busy day left without saying her usual “See you next week,” an INFJ therapist became convinced she had made a mistake during the psychotherapy session. She spent many hours going over the content of the session. She felt the only reason the client had not terminated therapy that day was politeness, so as not to hurt the therapist’s feelings.
A common focus, particularly for INFJ women, can be an aspect of their physical appearance. They may become convinced that they have prominent skin blemishes, that others are noticing that they do not dress very well, or that they look fat. In combination with the “overindulgence” manifestation described below, a powerful effect can occur.
Overindulging in Sensual Pleasures
In INFJs who are in the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing, this quality takes the form of sensual excess rather than sensual pleasure. It is interesting that a number of INFJs described themselves as becoming “self-cantered” and “self-indulgent” when they are in the grip—a descriptor often projected onto well-functioning Extraverted Sensing types by INFJs (and by other types as well).
Overdoing gratification of the senses is a commonly mentioned behaviour for INFJs in the grip of their inferior function. They may overeat or binge. They see themselves as obsessively doing harm to their bodies. A typical “tactic” is to overindulge compulsively and immediately thereafter—if not during the episode—berate themselves for their uncontrolled, shallow, destructive behaviour.
An INFJ described the experience this way:
There is a clear preliminary state where I am totally apart from the real world. I am not even an observer, and I can completely ignore anything real. It is a nice fantasy,—just absorbing. However, later I become excessively indulgent, getting totally immersed in physical experiences—eating, exercise, pulp fiction, TV. However, I do not enjoy it. It feels like a dangerous roller coaster, but I am immobilized and cannot get off.
An INFJ said, “I have to get away from reality. I do too much of something—one thing. I eat more or stop eating; I shop for useless things.” Another said, “I eat too much, spend too much, watch TV or read excessively to escape. I am late for everything.” An INFJ said her pattern is to overeat, feel guilty about it, wake up in the night and feel worse, get too little sleep, causing her to feel more vulnerable, and then eat more. Another INFJ feels bad about her overeating but not guilty: “I hate it when people brag about how much they exercise!” she said.
Adversarial Attitude toward the Outer World
Effective dominant Extraverted Sensing types approach the outer world with eager anticipation of all the wonderful experiences awaiting them. For INFJs in the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing, the immediate reality of the outer world spells difficulty and danger. They expect obstacles and problems to plague them as they move through a strange and potentially hostile environment.
Their hypersensitivity to potentially dangerous surroundings can promote uneasiness about people as well. An INFJ said she “becomes suspicious. Usually I am tolerant, curious, and compassionate, so ‘out of character’ for me means I am unaccepting and frustrated with the world.” An INFJ described herself as “shutting down, communicating very little. I misplace things, especially keys and watches. I am very harsh, critical, not diplomatic. I lose my temper, obsess about details, organize, reorganize, yet nothing gets done.”
Anticipating the worst can often elicit anger and blame in INFJs. “I am moody and gloomy, with sudden deep anger,” said an INFJ. An INFJ also describes experiencing deep anger: “I am emotionally aroused and am terribly critical of others. I accuse people of never helping me. I become dogmatic and blast people with facts. If no one is around to attack, I write a scathing letter to someone.” Another said, “I internally check off all the events that happened leading up to the ‘conflict’ and then I verbalize this list with a sense that the impeccable logic of it will convince others I am right and I will be vindicated.”
The altered state of any inferior function is typically accompanied by a lessening of social controls and therefore more frequent expressions of anger. However, the character of the anger may be different for different types. For INFJs, the “cause” of distress is often one or more “objects” in the environment. The anger directed at either things or people may therefore be more focused, intense, and extreme than with other inferior functions. INFJs may be unable to recognize alternative possibilities so that their perspective becomes extremely narrow. This tunnel vision and externalization of blame can produce ruthless results.
An INFJ observed, “I am angry, unreasonable, totally irrational, closed-minded, and impatient. I feel vulnerable and then become angry at others for it. I cannot communicate with anyone. I am hard, callous, unfeeling, and I have no energy to be bothered with anyone else.”
Lengthy Episodes in the Grip
The types of episodes described above are experienced by INFJs as temporary states during which they are vulnerable to the three forms in which their inferior function is expressed. However, when an INFJ is chronically in the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing, inferior function behaviour may become habitual.
Obsessiveness about details in the form of micromanaging others both at work and at home may cause great distress to other people in these environments. “Irrational” accusations by INFJ can alienate others, causing them to avoid the person or attempt to remove him or her from a position of authority. Family members of an INFJ in a chronic grip state may be unable to find ways to sidestep the ready anger and criticism expressed by their loved one. Co-workers are likely to be similarly at a loss.
INFJs, who report a high level of stress in many areas of life, tend to rely on their spiritual and religious beliefs to help them cope and rise above persistent stress.
Chronic grip behaviour may lead the individual and others to believe that fierce anger, excessive control of others and the immediate world, and distrust that approaches paranoia are a part of the natural makeup of the INFJ, and that the person has always been that way. Since the process of becoming chronically in the grip is often gradual, even people who have known the person in a non-stressed state are likely not to notice what, in retrospect, will be recognized as a radical alteration of personality. The person will appear to be a rather exaggerated, poorly developed, and distorted version of an Extraverted Sensing type.
This can sometimes lead to a productive, valuable outcome, however, as illustrated in the last story in the next section. There are also occasions when a lengthy time in the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing can stimulate new awareness and growth toward completion and individuation. Remember that Jung saw the inferior function as the doorway to the unconscious and an important part of the self-regulating capacity of our psyches.
The stories included in this section illustrate one or more forms of inferior Extraverted Sensing as experienced by INFJs. It is interesting to notice that these INFJs, whose dominant focus is typically global, diffuse, and complex, relate their experiences of the inferior in that same style. The two examples that appear in the form of specific “stories” were actually contributed by the spouses of the involved INFJs.
“Being Autistic or Catatonic Sounds Good to Me!”
Polly, an INFJ, has given a lot of thought to her reactions when she is off-centre. As with many other INFJs, her description of her reactions is not oriented to specific incidents. Rather, she provides an integrated, global analysis. She related the following:
If I have too much contact with people in one day, especially if I am doing the kind of reality-based crisis management that used to be a large part of my job, it can be extremely draining for me. I just want to withdraw—being autistic or catatonic sounds good to me at that point! I lose my focus and my energy centre when I have to extravert too much, especially around facts and people.
When I am fully “in the grip,” I do not get anything done. I try to control every detail obsessively; I notice everything that is disorganized or needs cleaning in my outer world, and I want to fix it all perfectly and immediately. I eat too much, do not enjoy it, and feel guilty about losing control. I feel like nobody helps me; I have to do it all myself and nobody appreciates me. I cannot see any possibilities or alternatives around negative facts. I really focus on negative facts. I feel immobilized and unproductive and have trouble concentrating.
I think this side of me comes out in my dreams in both pleasant and unpleasant ways. My dreams tend to be in colour with a lot of emotion, feeling, action, and detail in them. It is almost like all the sensory details I overlook or don’t even recognize in my conscious life exist in my unconscious. I have very beautiful and very horrible images in my dreams.
“Let Me Help You Diagnose My Illness”
Angie, an INFJ who had always been plagued with allergies and frequent infections, became ill one winter with some new symptoms. Numerous specialists and clinicians were unable to diagnose her condition. They agreed that she was ill and growing worse, and many had theories about the possible causes, but what she eventually heard from each one was something along the lines of, “I do not know what is wrong with you. And I do not know what to suggest.”
Though often ill and discouraged about her situation, Angie began a systematic study of all the medical literature relevant to each of her puzzling symptoms, singly and in combination. She pored over volumes in the medical library, sent for all of her own medical records from childhood on, and racked her memory for even remotely relevant past symptoms or events that might have triggered or influenced her current condition. She explained the nature of her search:
My dining room table was piled high with neatly arranged insurance forms, physicians’ reports, synopses of medical articles, and a chronological accounting of my medical history—all the facts I could find. Before each appointment with yet another specialist, I summarized the relevant facts and brought them along. However, none ‘save a few’ doctors welcomed my help. They seemed overwhelmed by it. Most seemed to believe that because I was so knowledgeable about my condition, I must be a hypochondriac. Of course, I was an expert on my symptoms. After three years of seeing doctors who did not have a clue, I figured they needed all the help I could give them!
Angie’s way of coping with her illness by collecting facts was consistent with inferior Extraverted Sensing as a response to stress. In this case, however, the data she so meticulously collected constituted an adaptive approach to her situation. However, most of her doctors treated her behaviour as excessive and pathological. No doubt, this judgment was abetted by her single-minded intensity in trying to help her physicians arrive at a diagnosis.
Return of Equilibrium
INFJs need space and a low-pressure environment to regain their dominant Intuition and auxiliary Thinking function. Like Extraverted Intuitive types, they are not amenable to suggestions and deny the possibility of alternatives. Stuck in a negative, omnipresent “reality,” they are unable to process contradictory information. They may respond to those who offer it with anger and rejection, adamantly insisting that no alternatives exist. In fact, INFJs agree that the worst thing others can do when they are in this state is to give them advice or try to fix the problem for them.
INFJs agree that a period of solitude and silent, nonintrusive acceptance from others is important in their return to equilibrium. INFJs may welcome a more direct form support, empathy, affirmation, and acceptance, but they are unlikely to let others know what they need when they need it. They need to give themselves the time to recover, often finding that accomplishing a simple, nonthreatening Sensing task is beneficial. Sometimes removing all stimulation helps the most. One INFJ said that after sensory stimulation and too much people dealing, what she does is “lie in bed with earplugs and a pillow over my head—remove all stimuli—often even fifteen minutes of this is enough.” Another INFJ said that when stressed, she wants the room to be dark to eliminate external sensory stimulation.
All types engage in self-criticism at some point during or after an episode of the inferior function. However, the focus of that criticism varies according to type. INFJs are especially hard on themselves, later viewing their obsessive concerns or angry intensity as a sign of unacceptable personal imperfections. One INFJ said that when she is in this state, she needs others to remind her that she is as human as the next person and that she should not be so hard on herself.
A change of scenery or activity can help break the negative, obsessive focus. This may entail getting outside, exercising, walking in the woods, or seeing a movie. As with other types, often a good night’s sleep helps. In addition, exercising, particularly alone, is consistently mentioned as helpful by INFJs.
Some examples of methods INFJs use for returning to normal include submerging themselves in peaceful, quiet, natural surroundings, being outdoors and looking at nature, cancelling activities, lightening their schedules, making more space for being alone, and taking time out to “recharge” and sort things out. One INFJ said:
A Sunday afternoon nap is a wonderful escape. I make an obsessive list of all the things I am thinking about, do some light reading or reading I “should” do, and go right to sleep. If I write in a journal just before I go to sleep, I will often dream, and that calms me and helps me find a solution to my troubles. In addition, my cat purring and sleeping next to me is a great way to put life in perspective. I know my equilibrium has returned when I cannot find my list of things to do and I do not care!
Auxiliary Feeling helps INFJs by encouraging acceptance of their less serious side. They can then give in to the urge to cry during “trashy” movies. Alternatively, they can read bad novels and recognize that doing so is normal and acceptable. Recognizing that others are hurt and distressed by their out-of-character actions often signals to INFJs that the process of extricating from the inferior is occurring. INFJs report that they know they are coming out of it when they become bored and frustrated with themselves.
Expressions of understanding, sympathy, and empathy aid the return of equilibrium for some, but usually not for all INFJs. INFJs may find it embarrassing to have others recognize their “weaknesses,” or may find such expressions condescending. Gentle humour can be helpful, especially for INFJs. An INFJ said she found it helped to remind herself to be as kind to and accepting of herself as she would be for another person in the same situation.
Expressions in Midlife
Ideally, midlife for INFJs is accompanied by a positive, progressive integration of inferior Extraverted Sensing, and along with it tertiary Thinking. This unfortunately does not occur for all aging INFJs.
Some INFJs retreat into themselves in midlife. Attention to their inferior Sensing and tertiary Thinking may be limited to idiosyncrasies. They may devote a lot of energy to an ill-conceived project and be lost in its details. They then become frustrated and despairing when they find that others are less and less understanding and appreciative of their efforts. This creates a sense of isolation and alienation.
After retirement, an INFJ social psychologist devoted all her time to working out the details of an obscure social interaction theory. Her attempts to publish her work failed, and she became more and more focused on it, until it became her main topic of conversation with family and friends. They began to avoid her or “tune her out.” Sensing this, she became bitter and withdrawn.
Other INFJs are more successful in incorporating previously neglected aspects of themselves. They are likely to find new pleasures in the environment and with people. They may take up a new form of exercise, like hiking or fishing, or enjoy a hobby like model building, gardening, or photography. They may also cultivate more moderate and therefore enjoyable ways of gratifying their sensual desires. One INFJ found that she enjoyed watching pro football:
I am amazed at how physical a sport it is and how crazy the fans get. I do not understand many of the rules, but I get a kick out of following the antics and fortunes of my team. When I was a teenager and young adult I hated sports and thought jocks were stupid. In midlife, this is an unexpected source of enjoyment for me.
Another INFJ became very absorbed in the stock market, which had been of little interest to her before. She pored over information, made Internet stock purchases, and thoroughly enjoyed studying the details and using them in a logical way to select promising stocks.
Sometimes spending a lengthy period in the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing can serve as an important stimulus to midlife development for INFJs. The combination of the natural upheaval of midlife and the disruption and distress of a chronic grip experience may push an INFJ into serious examination of goals and values, which may lead to significant changes in the way the second half of life is lived.
Knowledge from Grip Experiences
INFJs also recognize and honour their need for solitude and their right to set limits on how much others may intrude on them. This is especially true for INFJs who tend to be hard on themselves when they cannot meet others’ expectations.
After repeated experiences in the grip, INFJs learn to recognize some of their recurring unrealistic themes, which often stem from the INFJ’s lack of understanding or acceptance of the way other types are. They thus find themselves able to be more tolerant of others and to accept and appreciate people who are quite different from them. When stress either at work or at home is extreme and persists over time, INFJs may develop physical stress symptoms such as muscle tension and headaches. If their available ways of reducing on-going stress fail to help, they are likely to leave the stressful situation, especially if the primary arena is the workplace.
In the grip of inferior Extraverted Sensing, INFJs obsess about details in the outside world, overindulge in sensual pleasures, and externalize blame to outside objects. Their auxiliary Feeling can be the vehicle through which they regain equilibrium. INFJs examine the important meanings and feeling connections involved and are therefore able to regain their normal wide-ranging perspective.
Because of important inferior function experiences, INFJs may become better able to adapt to changing surroundings, incorporate sensual experience into their lives in a satisfying way, and moderate a perhaps overly ambitious, visionary stance into one that is more realistic and possible.
Appendix A: Description of the INFJ Personality Type
People with INFJ preferences are great innovators in the field of ideas. They trust their intuitive insights into the true relationships and meanings of things, regardless of established authority or popularly accepted beliefs. Problems only stimulate them—the impossible takes a little longer, but not much.
They are independent and individualistic, being governed by inspirations that come through intuition. These inspirations seem so valid and important that they sometimes have trouble understanding why not everyone accepts them. Their inner independence is often not conspicuous because INFJs value harmony and fellowship; they work to persuade others to approve of and cooperate with their purposes. They can be great leaders when they devote themselves to carrying out a sound inspiration, attracting followers by their enthusiasm and faith. They lead by winning (rather than demanding) acceptance of their ideas. They are most content in work that satisfies both their intuition and their feeling. The possibilities that interest them most concern people. Teaching particularly appeals to them, whether in higher education, or through the arts or ministry. Their intuition provides insight into the deeper meanings of the subject and they take great satisfaction in aiding the development of individual students.
When their interests lie in technical fields, INFJs may be outstanding in science, or research and development. Intuition suggests new approaches to problems and feeling generates enthusiasm that sparks their energies. Intuition powered by feeling may be of immense value in any field if not smothered in a routine job.
Some problems may result from the INFJ’s single-minded devotion to inspirations. They may see the goal so clearly that they fail to look for other things that might conflict with the goal. It is also important that their feeling is developed, since this will supply necessary judgment. If their judgment is undeveloped, they will be unable to evaluate their own inner vision and will not listen to feedback from others. Instead of shaping their inspirations into effective action, they may merely try to regulate everything (small matters as well as great ones) according to their own ideas, so that little is accomplished.
Quenk, N. L. (2002). Personality, Was That Really Me? – How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden.
Mountain View, CA 94043, USA: Davies-Black Publishing.