INFJ, HSP & Protector Personalities
Around the age of twenty I took my first Myers-Briggs test and came out as an INFJ – sometimes known as the Advocate or as a Oracle. I resonated deeply with the description I was given. Yet later, I scored as other things including an ENFJ, or the Protagonist, (the same, except for extroverted), INTJ or the Architect, (the same except for making decisions based on my thoughts instead of my feelings), and ENTJ, the Commander. Basically, these results will tell you that I'm fairly borderline on the introverted-extroverted line as well as the thinking-feeling line when it comes to how I make my decisions. However, as it turns out, INFJ types often feel that they are “thinkers” and it is also common for INFJs to be the most extroverted of the introverted types.
At twenty-nine I delved deep into the concept of protector personalities, and when I cross-referenced that with my Myers-Briggs typing experience, I had a breakthrough and concluded that these three alternative personalities (ENFJ/Protagonist, INTJ/Architect, and ENTJ/Commander) are actually protector personalities that I've created to help me deal with social situations where my most natural inclinations don't work for me. (More on this later.)
Also, I realized, these (ENFJ/INTJ/ENTJ) might have been my results if I had not been born a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
Highly Sensitive Genetic Trait
High Sensitivity is a genetic trait passed down from parent to child. This genetic trait is only an advantage if a minority of the population has it, so being sensitive is maintained at 15% to 20% of the population in humans and over a hundred other species including fruit flies, horses, and dogs. Being highly sensitive comes with advantages in brain processing that allow for greater extrapolation and understanding of incoming data. The down-side is that all this extra information rapidly becomes over-stimulating. This is why many highly sensitive individuals are actually misdiagnosed as being shy, introverted, or autistic when they are actually retreating due to sensory overload.
My Source: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.
This isn't to say you can't be highly sensitive and introverted, or highly sensitive and autistic, or highly sensitive and shy, but you can also be an extroverted, out-going, social butterfly as a highly sensitive person.
Perhaps the most key part about high sensitivity is that it affects how serotonin is released in the brain, making a highly sensitive child both more impacted by traumatic events as well as by positive ones. Childhood traumatic events (such as chronic humiliation) are shown to effect brain development and hormonal release for life in the general population, but for highly sensitive individuals the impact is roughly doubled.
My Source: Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
INFJ or ENFJ — Am I an ambivert?
My scores on introversion and extroversion on tests always land me close to the center, which could label me an ambivert. In a sense, this is true; I do need both time with people and time away from “people” at large in order to stay energized. And, as I explain in my article the whole concept of introvert versus extrovert is flawed, because it overlooks that what gives a person energy is always the same: being your true, authentic self. When you can't be yourself, you're exhausted by the situation.
Recently I came across this:
“[Ambiguity between introversion and extroversion] usually leads to the misconception that Highly Sensitive People are either ambiverts, or that they are well-balanced between the two preferences. This is not accurate. According to Myers Briggs theory, a low score between preferences indicates some sort of transition or turmoil between the two functions.” — Jacquelyn Strickland, an ENFP and HSP
This resonates more deeply with me. I want to socialize more, and yet I find it challenging to find space and time with other people where I can really be myself. I want to go deep, and I want to stay deep – for hours. Later I learned that wanting to go “deep” is actually a quality of introversion, even if one prefers to do it with a person. Ultimately, we're still a social species and being introverted has nothing to do with disliking humanity.
“Hating people is not an inherent quality of introversion. Conversely, liking people is not an inherent quality of extroversion.” — Heidi Priebe
Growing up I always wanted to attend and host parties in order to get “lots of people” in my life “all at once” for a while before going back to my favorite solitary activities. This preference arose out of rarely ever being able to go deep with anybody, yet wanting that contact. I burned out heavily after a lot of noise and light, but it was such a rarity in my life that I welcomed it.
At the age of eighteen I started hosting my own “crazy house parties” with ample drinking, loud music, sex, and so on, and after six months (of having a party of that nature monthly) I was burned out on those. In fact, these parties caused me to become so popular that my cell phone was always ringing and I burned out on owning a cell phone too. I've gone from age twenty to thirty without owning a cell phone – thank goodness!
When I started getting the kind of connection I really wanted more regularly, I became less tolerant of second-rate interactions that had nothing to offer me. I was no longer a starving person looking for any scrap of intimacy I could find. Thus I was no longer willing to wade through uninteresting waters in the hopes of finding meaning. No, I'm not starving anymore – merely hungry.
“INFJs aren’t interested in superficial relationships. They want and need deep and meaningful connections with people they can talk about ideas and relate to on an emotional and even spiritual level. Despite their caring nature and natural empathy, the INFJ’s focus is internal, and they are driven by the world of ideas, meanings and possibilities, as well as a lifelong search for personal growth, identity and authenticity.” — Deborah Ward, an INFJ
In Jean Leidloff's book, The Continuum Concept, it is repeatedly illustrated how humans are naturally social. It is only through childhood traumas routinely imposed through cultural normalcy that we wind up with so many people who require “alone time.”
When I can be fully my true self, I have no need for time alone whatsoever. The deeply people-fearing folks I know all have a deep fear of revealing themselves because past negative experiences proved to them that revealing themselves led to rejection. What's crucial to understand here is this: there comes a time where we need other people in order to be ourselves – through performing, nurturing, or receiving help. Social activity is part of being ourselves, no matter how we may try to isolate ourselves. And wanting isolation is not the same as being introverted. Introversion is about seeking depth, whereas extroversion is about seeking breadth.
In cases like mine it is common to wind up chronically fatigued. Many INFJs go through the same thing that I do where you can't be yourself around other people because you're repeatedly rejected or redirected and you can't be yourself fully when alone because you can not share camaraderie, large projects, dreams, or inspirations with another person. You're trapped in a lose-lose, so you do your best to compromise between lack-luster social time and bland – but at least peaceful – alone time. This is why many INFJs find a great monogamous relationship and stick to it like glue, usually with an NP who can understand their insights. ES and EJ types aren't usually very appreciative of INJ insights. (That said, INFJ and ESFP types can be attracted to one another because Ni is the inferior function for ESFPs and it causes them to admire Ni-dominant INFJs and likewise Se is the inferior function for INFJs which can cause them to admire the Se-dominant ESFP. I've twice made the mistake of falling for an ESFP and I've heard of it happening with INFJ friends of mine as well.)
Those who cope best with being alone (which, in and of itself is a coping strategy) do so by finding a suitable “second best” to social interaction, such as fantastic books, fulfilling goals, or creative endeavors. For myself, I need all three of these and at least one partner I can talk to at length every day in order to feel fulfilled. Keeping my Ni (introverted intuition) busy gives me the most flow in my life.
INFJ or INTJ — Do I decide based on thinking or feeling?
When taking the Personality Junkie True Type Test I actually received this result: INxJ – because it said that it was unclear whether I relied more on my emotions or my thoughts to make my decisions. This test seemed well conceived to me – able to identify my introverted nature despite the many hallmarks that I have for being extroverted (such as being willing, able and likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger).
I respect that the creator of this specific test – A.J. Drenth – allowed “x” to be a potential result. That may be so that you'll pay for one of his clarifying tests or ebooks. Personally, I've been so impressed with A. J. Drenth's work that I have gone ahead and bought one of his books. He seems to be one of the best authors about Myers-Briggs around. Check out his book: My True Type.
Functional Stack & Type Development of the INFJ
“Carl Jung developed psychological types based on the four functions (feeling, thinking, intuition and sensing) and the two attitudes (extroversion and introversion). (There is, in my experience, a good deal of confusion – especially among those without some grounding in psychological type – about the nature of these functions and attitudes. The words don't necessarily mean what we expect them to mean, and caution should be used in applying common usage to these terms if this system is to be of value in the understanding of basic temperaments.) The 16 types popularized through the MBTI reflect each of Jung's eight types subdivided by auxiliary (secondary) functions.” — Joe Butt, TypeLogic
An INFJ's functional stack looks like this. And understanding this stack is what led me to really understand my type, and to confirm that this is, indeed, my type.
- Dominant: Introverted Intuition (Ni) — Deep awareness of unconscious processes
- Auxiliary: Extroverted Feeling (Fe) — Empathy and awareness of other people's emotions
- Tertiary: Introverted Thinking (Ti) — Inward facing thoughts; thinking best whilst alone
- Inferior: Extroverted Sensing (Se) — Externally focused sensing of worldly objects and events
In a way, you can think of your type (INFJ or whatever your type is) as letters representing your behavior, but understanding the functional stack behind your behavior is what makes your type, your type. Potentially, you can change your behavior to look like a different letter type (like ENFJ, INTJ or ENTJ in my case), but this doesn't change the functions beneath. Your functions are how your mind works – your behaviors are essentially the “symptom” of your brain functions.
Your functional stack will also line up with your development. As a child, your dominant function will be the way you interact with the world. As you come of age or into your twenties, you will have increasing access to your auxiliary function. Depending on your childhood experiences, you may be called to use and master your auxiliary function early, or you may mostly leave it alone until after your physical maturation has past.
Your tertiary function will come into play increasingly in your adult life, and wisdom will be found when you begin to master your inferior function. Some people never develop their inferior (fourth) function, and some don't really begin to do so until well into maturity (in their forties). How soon you begin to work on the next part of your functional stack doesn't necessarily imply precociousness or mastery of your dominant function, but it does say a lot about what function you felt you needed to develop at a given part of your life in order to fully work with that part of your life.
Understanding my stack particularly convinced me that I am, indeed, an INFJ, because this line of development lines up perfectly with my life – my childhood dominated by my introverted intuitions, my ideas, my fantasies, my stories, followed by a rapidly increasing sense of compassion over the course of my teenage years as I grew into my extroverted feeling, followed by a deepening of my logical, inner thought processes as I studied nutrition and the art of editing in my early twenties (introverted thinking), and lastly, followed by connection to my ability to externally sense as I learned neuro-linguistic programming techniques in my late twenties. And still, at thirty, my capacity for each function in my stack follows the original order, with introverted intuition (Ni) being my strongest point, and external sensing (Se) still being my weakest function.
Dominant: Introverted Intuition, Auxiliary: Extroverted Feeling
Or, as I like to call it: Abstract People Focus
“The dominant function of INFJs is Introverted Intuition (Ni), which means they focus primarily on their internal world of ideas. But their auxiliary function is Extraverted Feeling (Fe), which gives them a focus on people.” — Deborah Ward, an INFJ
The focus that I have on people is rather abstract, as indicated by my consistently high intuition scoring. And, interestingly, I have not identified as someone with a focus on people until my late twenties. Looking back, however, I can see that I did – in an abstract way.
In my early teens I drew drawing after drawing of women. Sometimes they were from anime shows (like Sailor Moon) and sometimes they were young women my own age. My focus was on my perception, my vision, my progress as an artist, and my drawing project. However, the auxiliary aspect was definitely people-focused. I wanted to draw women – not cars, not flowers, not grass, not ponds, not mountains, and not architecture. Specifically: women.
When my own health collapsed (at the age of sixteen) I became ardently focused on studying health. I quickly sunk into a several-year rabbit hole learning about the horrors of processed foods. The primary focus was on the data I was learning, but my studies quickly led me to wanting to share that data with others and apply it to other people.
By the time I was twenty I was proactively teaching other people about food. I continued to learn more about nutrition and biology over the course of my twenties. I've identified with this as being “something fascinating to learn about,” but of course, there is some people-focus in the study of biology. In a strange way, it is an extension of the external study of biology that I did when I was focusing on drawing women.
At twenty-five my focus switched to consciousness alchemy in its many forms. This, without-a-doubt, is people-focused.
Do INFJs self-sacrifice?
I find it strange that a recurring theme among posts about the INFJ type is a tendency toward “self sacrifice.” While I do that in my most deeply personal relationships – with my husbands – I can't imagine just simply doing that “out in the world.” Perhaps that is the real reason why it is hard for me to make friends; I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for them because I'm already seeking divine harmony in my most intimate relationships and can't spare more of myself for a cadre of friends besides. This could come from witnessing my mother repeatedly sacrificing her own needs for other people and my sense of betrayal when she did that. I felt that it was hard enough to get my needs* met growing up, and having to share my mother with anyone often upset me.
*Needs for being seen, heard, and understood primarily. I had clothes, food, shelter, etc.
Whether or not an INFJ has a tendency to self-sacrifice seems somewhat dependent on how developed their sense of self has become. When an INFJ is tending toward chronic loneliness and they're in a relationship that they feel is their only source of connection, an INFJ is quite likely to self-sacrifice for the relationship often, unknowingly damaging the longevity of the relationship for the sake of short-term harmony.
INFJ Emotion Processing System
INFJ people lack an internally focused differentiation function. In other words, INFJs lack a direct way to actively organize and view their emotions with clarity. This can come as a surprise since the auxiliary function of an INFJ is extroverted feeling (Fe) which causes INFJs to be highly empathetic. Sadly, this often means that INFJs will mistake everyone else's emotions for their own and actually overlook their own internal emotional conditions.
What you do have as an INFJ is introverted thinking (Ti). It's a tertiary function in the INFJ, which means it may not emerge until you're seventeen, or twenty-five, or thirty. In my case, I think the emergence of this function is what caused a dramatic shift in me at the age of seventeen.
This explains why I said to Lytenian, “How could I possibly access my emotions without thinking about them?”
And he, an INFP, looked at me like I was bonkers, as the dominant function in an INFP is introverted feeling, giving an INFP a very direct link with their own emotions.
The INFJ's dominant function, introverted intuition (Ni) can be brought in to help analyze and understand the emotional landscape – but only if extroverted sensing (Se) presents the data. Extroverted sensing is the least strong function in an INFJ's toolkit, but it works quite adequately for something as straightforward and important as re-reading one's own journal, for example. And there you have the reason why writing became so important to me when I was young. In fact, before I was writing I was playing with dolls aloud. I didn't know it at the time, but I was taking the emotions within me that had no outlet and weaving them into the personalities of my dolls. Then, by hearing myself tell the stories aloud, I received feedback via extroverted sensing. This feedback was then available for my introverted intuition to act upon.
What is even more clarifying and helpful for an INFJ is to talk about her feelings with someone else who cares about her feelings. Then, through witnessing empathy in the other person, she gains empathy for herself using her secondary function, extroverted feeling. The more the other person responds with care and understanding, the more the INFJ will gain access to her own feelings through their reflection in the other person.
“Because INFJ’s emotions seem to internally flow in random directions because of a lack of an inner structure, sometimes drifting to the surface of consciousness, other times sinking to the bottoms of the subconscious again, the emotions that the INFJ will likely feel the need to talk about are the ones that are on the surface of consciousness at that moment. This means that not all feelings about a particular subject will likely be expressed in one conversation, simply because he or she doesn’t have access to all of them at that moment. So in reality, this means that it takes many conversations to get everything out. Even then, new emotions will always be generated, meaning that the INFJ will have to repeat this process of outwardly expressing their emotions indefinitely, either on her own or with someone else. This can be with a confidant or psychotherapist.” — Cheryl Florus, an INFJ
One trick that INFJs often develop is observing themselves as if they were an outside person, using Se, Fe, and Ni in concert to decode one's own emotions. I often look down at myself and observe my posture, and then visualize myself as if I were another person. This often clarifies that I'm feeling defensive, agitated, relaxed, open, or closed.
A more sophisticated trick I've developed uses my Ni almost exclusively. I simply ask myself, “How am I feeling now?” Then I wait for an image of myself to appear in any way it wants to appear. If I see myself punching through a window, I know I'm angry. If I see myself giggling and cuddling with a cat, I know I'm feeling child-like, playful, and happy. If I see myself struggling to pull myself out of a pool, I know I feel like I'm desperate, tired, and in danger. Usually these images entirely surprise me because I don't directly feel the emotion, but through seeing it with Ni I am able to recognize it and begin to address it.
INFJ: Wise Beyond Years
Reading many descriptions of INFJs in recent years left me thinking my type had changed, until I read this:
“INFJs are “old souls.” Many grow up feeling wiser than would be predicted by their chronological age. Having discovered the value of their Introverted Intuition (Ni) quite early in life, INFJs grow to trust its judgments and insights. Even as children and adolescents, INFJs can be found advising and counseling ... even adults. They tend to feel happiest and most fulfilled when helping enlighten others through their insights. Because of their strength of intuition (and commensurate detachment from physical reality), many INFJs report feeling like aliens in the world.” — A. J. Drenth, INTP
This describes my life perfectly. I was often called an “old soul” or a “star child” growing up. Even as a child I was doing energy healings on adults, and by age nine I was giving tarot readings as well. At the age of eleven I counseled a man through the suicidal thoughts he was having after his wife cheated on him with his best friend. This man – twenty years older than I – didn't realize I wasn't close to his own age at first. We ended up becoming friends, talking on the phone regularly, and meeting in person a year later.
To this day I still feel happiest when I can enlighten others with my realizations. This is why I set up my realizations journal online. I have often felt like an alien, but it isn't actually that I'm all that different from everyone else. In truth, it is just that I can see more of myself – and thereby more of others.
“Because Ni perceives the world so differently and profoundly, INFJs often experience a sense of loneliness and isolation, even when they are with other people.” — Dr. A.J. Drenth
To me, being understood is what it means to be loved and to share space with another person. If there is no understanding, there may as well be no people with me at all. In fact, I feel less alone when I am physically alone than I do when sharing space with someone who clearly doesn't understand me. Teal explains exactly what this feels like, and the incredible damage this feeling does when experienced by anyone, in her video, The Most Dangerous Parallel Reality. I'm convinced, by the way, that Teal is an INFJ like myself, which is undoubtedly part* of why I relate to Teal more than any other guru or individual I've encountered.
*There are many other parts, including the coping strategies that she and I chose in order to overcome the traumas and trials we were presented with in life.
Outspoken INFJ – The Soft-Spoken Advocate?
I can easily imagine that other INFJ people are soft spoken. I'm not. My parents heavily rewarded me with praise for virtually any outspoken behavior, and they rolled their eyes at any sign of being “shy.” Both my parents strongly identified with the notion that I would one day become a strong leader, and perhaps part my psyche trying to fulfill that is what leads me to get ENTJ, the Commander, these days when I take a personality test.
The INFJ is clearly outspoken, between frequently being a highly sensitive person (genetically) as well as having a rich, internal world where both escape and inspiration is found. Apparently, among the INFJ population it is common to be soft as well as out spoken. In my case, I was such a loudmouth growing up that I was repeatedly admonished by school teachers to “stop being a chatterbox,” and to “shut my big mouth.”
By the time I was ten I had my own mantra running through my head: “Don't open your big mouth and you won't get in trouble. Just don't say anything!” In fourth grade I was actively attempting to “keep a lid on it” every day, but I didn't “successfully” learn to be quiet until I was in my late twenties. Once having accomplished it, I found it compulsory, confining, and nightmarish. I felt even more trapped in my “parallel reality” than ever. In short, I hated it. By twenty-nine I was proactively working to reverse the process and learn to speak my mind in public again – before I lost all will to socialize at all.
INFJ – The Public Speaker
Combining deep, abstract thinking abilities with a focus on human problems, it isn't terribly surprising that INFJs can make powerful public speakers. Obviously many highly sensitive people will be intimidated by being on stage, but this is usually a situation that is within the speaker's control.
As a speaker I get to choose what venues I accept and reject. I can choose the subject I want to talk about, and I can change my mind whenever I like. I can choose who to work with and who not to work with. I can choose to charge money or to speak freely. I have a surprising amount of control over my stimulation level when I'm the center of attention because I can command the audience to cooperate in many different direct or subtle ways. As speaker I can hand over the attention to an audience member or a team-member working with me. I can direct people to close their eyes and take deep breaths. I can ask a troublesome person to leave if absolutely necessary.
“INFJs can even be astonishingly good orators, speaking with warmth and passion, if they are proud of what they are speaking for.” — NERIS Analytics
And best of all? I get to be heard and I'm almost guaranteed that someone will understand. The more people are listening, the more sure I feel that some of them really get it. When I see nods in the audience, or a startled look of revelation on someone's face, I know I'm doing it right; that surge of confidence gives me the passion I need to keep speaking what I know to be true.
INFJ – Extremely Private?
“It can be a challenge to get to know INFJs, as they are very private, even enigmatic. INFJs don’t readily share their thoughts and feelings – not unless they are comfortable, and since those thoughts and feelings are the basis for INFJ friendships, it can take time and persistence to get to know them.” — NERIS Analytics
It's no wonder that people would never guess I'm an INFJ. I hide my private nature under a guise of complete, utter transparency. To me, information is information, and knowing about me is very different from knowing me. However, I do, in large part, share so much about myself in the hopes that someone will get me deeply enough to be interested in connecting with me in a real way.
Or maybe, I'm just not private at all and not all INFJ types actually have a private nature.
Perhaps I developed a more novel approach to privacy partly as a coping strategy for how chronically lonely I felt growing up. I wanted someone to see me for the real me and to really get me. I was more desperate to be understood than anything else.
In light of that, privacy was a small thing to throw to the wayside in favor of being understood as often as possible. In my teens I learned that I could say “shocking” things about myself as a way to quickly weed out anyone who was going to eventually reject me anyway. I didn't realize I was doing this consciously, but in retrospect it is obvious to me now that I have used this method as a way of testing people ever since I began puberty.
The Romantic INFJ
The Bridge Across Forever – my favorite book – is deeply concerned with the highest level of connection possible between two people. It's a book about creating a soul-mate connection, and what that really means.
“INFJs will take the time necessary to find someone they truly connect with – once they’ve found that someone, their relationships will reach a level of depth and sincerity that most people can only dream of.” — NERIS Analytics
In my case, at the age of twenty I spent nine months single, treating “finding the one” as my full time job. I spent no less than eight hours a day on activities that pertained to finding a perfect husband. I spent hours exchanging letters on OKCupid every day. I went on roughly fifteen first dates during those nine months. I went on several second and third dates as well. I had several short-term (one to three week) relationships during that time period that I quickly discarded as “not it.” I did a world-wide search for my highest matches online.
I ended up moving 2,500 miles away to be with one of the top match results I had worldwide. I met him in person three months after meeting online. I moved in three months after that. We said marriage vows three months after that. That was ten years ago now, and we're still together. (Although we've had a rough patch or two.)
In relationships I am always seeking the ultimate relationship, the most perfect love I can find. One pitfall of the INFJ type cited in some places is that we're too quick to give up when something isn't perfect. In my case it isn't that I give up on a relationship. Rather, it is more that I begin grieving for its lack of perfection. If my partner seems unable to grow or evolve past something, I can slip into a despair that sometimes morphs in a depression that lasts for months.
“We will push you to be your best self while simultaneously accepting you exactly as you are; it seems contradictory, but somehow we pull it off. We see the potential you carry, and we are more than willing to remind you of how capable you are of pursuing your goals.” — Amelia Brown, an INFJ
Now, at thirty, I can relate to the ability of making people feel simultaneously accepted whilst also pushing them to be more. Yet at twenty I was always making other people feel inferior, intimidated or downright guilty for not sharing my lofty ideals. Despite the realism and practicality of my suggestions and beliefs from my own perspective, I didn't understand how my speeches came across to other people. I was often accused of “preaching” when I thought I was making casual conversation over breakfast. What a gap in perception!
Is she – the INFJ – as Judgmental and Stubborn as she Seems?
“A common misunderstanding is that INFJ people are controlling or closed-minded. This typically stems from INFJs’ tendency to Extroverted [Feeling] Judging (Fe). But as I’ve described elsewhere, Introvert Judges are often better understood as Perceivers because their dominant function — Introverted Intuition (Ni) — is a Perceiving function. In actuality, INFJs — especially those further along in their type development — are surprisingly adaptable and open-minded. While rarely wearing their openness on their sleeves, INFJs can be surprisingly open to unique or less conventional practices. ” — Dr. A.J. Drenth
In plainer terms, people often mistake me as having a “hard” aspect that can't be moved. With strong ideals and pre-meditated plans for how to bring about harmony and perfection, I can seem like I have it “all figured out” without any space for feedback. While this is sometimes true, more often than not, I am very curious about other people's differing perspectives and ideals. Yet, caught up in my passion for sharing my own vision, I often forget to actually ask other people about their own ideas. I've practiced a lot over the years, and now I usually will remember to ask a fair number of questions if given two to six hours alone with someone. With less than an hour it is rare that I will remember to express my curiosity.
“Without a doubt, the most frequent complaint about INFJs (or the INTJ for that matter) is the way in which their unswerving devotion to their own visions and intuitions causes them to be closed off to alternative opinions. Ne refutations seem to bounce off undeterred INJs like plastic BB pellets launched against a solid steel wall. To many types – particularly those with Ne – this reads as closed-minded. But extroverted sensing (Se) is not INFJs’ conscious forte; in fact, it’s the weakest of their four primary functions. And if the firm Ni/Fe convictions of the INFJ are going to be changed or overruled, it’s typically through a sensory encounter a la their inferior extroverted sensing (Se). In other words, theoretical debates and counter-arguments (of the Ne variety) are unlikely to have much, if any, power to change the mind of an INFJ. For an INFJ, the proof is in the pudding – and they’ll only change an intuitive conviction if experience demands it.” — Elaine Schallock, INFJ
Call me full of myself if you will, but my entire life I've repeatedly learned this lesson: Listen to my own intuition more and what other people tell me less. Why? Because listening to other people's theories, advice, concepts, critiques, predictions, and so forth, have led me down paths of humiliation and suffering countless times. Yet during the times I intensely listened to my own intuition, I made the best choices I could make.
I do agree with Elaine's last statement (in the blockquote above) however: I often hold onto an idea until experiences prove otherwise to me. However, often it is someone else's experiences that prove something to me. When someone provides me with contrary evidence to my world-view, I question them further trying to understand where their experience fits in. I can't argue with someone else's experience; I can only learn how their experience is simultaneously true along with my own – seemingly contradictory – experience.
Perhaps some INFJ types are quicker to dismiss the experiences of others, or perhaps Elaine isn't talking about that sort of debate at all, but only the sorts of debates that are purely theoretical – where we're discussing a hypothetical utopia, for example. In these cases, where I am speculating together with other people, I think it is true that I'm less likely to be persuaded once I've come up with treasured ideals.
Are all INFJ types also HSPs?
“We cannot say for certain whether all INFJs are HSPs, but it seems they probably are. A large portion of HSPs are either INFJs or INFPs — the ones that don't tend to be ENFJs or ENFPs.” — Deborah Ward, an INFJ
Highly Sensitive People make up roughly 18% of the population. INFJs only make up 1% of the population. It is easy to conclude that all INFJs are HSPs partly just by looking at a list of characteristics of HSPs and of INFJs. The descriptions are nearly identical. This would mean that 1 in 20 HSPs are INFJs. It is also said that all INFPs are HSPs. Since INFPs are just as prone to “picking up other people's emotions” and generally being highly sensitive in the colloquial sense, this also makes sense to me. This would mean that about 3 in 20 HSPs are INFPs.
It doesn't seem likely that any other type is exclusively made up of HSPs, although ENFJs and ENFPs are commonly HSPs. If they were exclusively HSPs, that would mean that 4 in 20 HSPs were ENFJs and 7 in 20 HSPs would be ENFPs.
“My research, including interpreting Myers Brigs results with scores of HSPs, has shown the majority of HSPs are of the “NF” temperament, specifically: INFP, followed by INFJ, then ENFP, ENFJ. Then comes ISFJ, and less frequently, ESFJ. There are many HSPs who are “Ts” and can be found within the “NT” temperament, such as INTP and INTJ. Fewer HSPs are ISTJ, ISTP. I have met only two HSPs who identified as ESTJ.” — Jacquelyn Strickland
So here's your (wild, speculative) hypothetical breakdown of the population through this lens:
82 in 100 people do not have the HSP gene.
18 people in 100 have the HSP gene, and of those 18:
- 3 or 4 are INFPs (implying all INFPs are HSPs)
- 4 or 5 are ENFPs (out of the 7% ENFPs overall, perhaps 1 in 2 ENFPs is a HSP)
- 1 or 2 are INFJs (implying all INFJs are HSPs)
- 1 or 2 are ENFJ (out of the 4% ENFJs overall, perhaps 1 in 2 ENFJs is a HSP)
- 1 or 2 are ISFJ (out of the 7% ISFJs overall, perhaps 1 in 4 ISFJs is a HSP)
- 1 or less ESFJs (out of the 12% ESFJs overall, perhaps 1 in 24 ESFJs is a HSP)
- 1 or less INTPs (out of the 2% INTPs overall, perhaps 1 in 4 INTPs is a HSP)
- 1 or less INTJs (out of the 2% INTJs overall, perhaps 1 in 4 INTJs is a HSP)
- 1 or less ISTJs (out of the 9% ISTJs overall, perhaps 1 in 20 ISTJs is a HSP)
- 1 or less ISTPs (out of the 6% ISTPs overall, perhaps 1 in 20 ISTPs is a HSP)
In any event, since being an HSP is a genetic trait, if any types are 100% HSPs then that means that personality type is partially created by genetics. This fascinates me and causes me to wonder: What other genes are forming our personalities? What genes might be linked to other personality types?
Being highly sensitive impacts a lot of behaviors including who you feel comfortable socializing with, what sort of buildings or outdoor spaces make you feel comfortable, and what sorts of recreational activities are appealing to you. The trait is so powerful in directing behavior, in fact, that it would be hard to point to any area of my life not impacted by the trait.
I'm personally never happy without a project to work on. Whether it's a small project such as a watercolor painting, or a huge project, such as an entire board game, my satisfaction in life is dependent on exercising my imagination in the tangible world. Bringing forth creations from the depths of my thoughts gives me a sense of empowerment, and lacking this empowerment I quickly slip into depression.
Unfortunately, I find it a lot easier to start projects than to finish them. The inspiration and ideas to start new projects is always at hand. Yet the determination to carry them through can be hard to find when my own idealism and perfectionism demand more and more of me. Worse, other people often don't understand what I'm working on and their doubt can drown me. Between my high standards, huge visions, and a dose of self-doubt, I often abandon projects for days, weeks, years, or indefinitely.
Fortunately, I do finish many of the projects I start. If I didn't, this website wouldn't exist.
“Judging means you prefer to stick to a plan, a schedule and a structure, allowing this type to be more organised and get things done. For this aspect of the personality, INFJs and HSPs may differ. Highly sensitive people can be organised, methodical and seek closure, but they can also be less structured and more interested in starting a project than finishing it. In this respect, they can be more like an INFP. But there’s a key difference. INFJs, more than INFPs, are known for being determined and passionate about their work and pursuing their goals with the intensity of their convictions – qualities that are also key characteristics of the creative, sensitive HSP.” — Deborah Ward, an INFJ
Deborah says that we pursue our goals “with the intensity of our convictions.” This rings particularly true. So long as the doubt doesn't creep in and get in the way, I can be tireless. Despite a high childhood adversity score (five), and despite being prone to over-stimulation (as a HSP), I can display an incredible stamina when it comes to something I really believe in. Self-doubt is the worst sort of poison for me, allowing every ache, burden, and trauma to consume my will to act.
This is why people with a bent for “coaching” or “cheer-leading” are essential to my vitality; a few encouraging words meant sincerely can break the spell and bring me back into a space of invigorated ingenuity.
Judging versus Perceiving
Judgers . . .
. . . Present a timetable and stick to it (or provide maximum warning if not).
. . . Allow time to prepare.
. . . Show their achievements and results.
. . . Allow closure on consensus items, document those areas that require more work or discussion.
. . . Itemize achievements and decisions reached so far.
. . . Acknowledge the need for closure and short time schedules.
Perceivers . . .
. . . Allow time for things to flow, not necessarily following a calendar.
. . . Bring in new ideas and possibilities.
. . . Acknowledge the time for creativity.
. . . Encourage autonomy and personal freedom.
. . . Realize changes in direction are not necessarily impulsiveness.
— David Straker
Reading this often causes me much confusion. If I only had this description to go by, then I truly would be in the middle when it comes to the J/P continuum. Honestly, all of the above sounds like me. On the E/I scale I relate more to being “troubled” than to being an “ambivert.” Yet on the J/P scale I do feel like I contain the best qualities of each. It wasn't until I learned the underlying psychological difference between a J and P that it really clicked for me. Being a J is all about needing psychological closure, whereas being a P is all about needing psychological openness or freedom.
It is interesting to note that due to the high stakes for being unprepared as a highly sensitive person (perhaps even a highly, highly sensitive person in my case), I value being prepared more than being spontaneous. Nevertheless, many of my most inspired, exciting, and fruitful decisions have been spontaneous ones. Whenever there is room for both unstructured time as well as structured time, I choose both. When planning a retreat, for example, I fill the schedule with workshops to an extent, but I also leave time for people to simply go their own way. I also leave space for workshop activities to have spontaneous elements arise, while having a backup plan for how to fill empty space if nothing arises. In some articles I've read, INFJs are notorious for not having a backup plan. So the fact that I develop back-up plans may be an out-growth of some traumatic childhood – and adult – experiences that I didn't want to repeat.
While planning thoroughly for certain occasions is critical to me, I also find it equally critical that the majority of my calendar is empty at all times. Seeing something on my calendar every day for days in a row causes me a great deal of distress. A sort of mounting panic will rise in me: Where will be my space to introspect? When will I have time to talk to one of my husbands and decompress? What if I really need to take a two-hour bath and mull things over but don't have time to? What if I feel inspired to write but don't have a free day to dedicate to it? I don't necessarily worry about those things in particular, but in general, there is a panic about not having space to just “be me” between all those structured activities.
Yet, conversely, if I'm going to the Renaissance Festival, I prefer to look at the program ahead of time and circle each thing I want to attend and make a detailed plan about what food I will bring, what costume I will wear, and who will carry what, and how soon we will leave the house in the morning, and so on.
This all may suggest that my natural inclination was toward being a P rather than a J because it seems that my planning, structured side mostly comes out in response to situations that would be painful if I didn't plan for them accordingly.
And yet . . . I enjoy making packing lists. I enjoy planning in general. I've drawn detailed house designs including plumbing, window placement, curtain drain placement, and roof structure – for the fun of designing my own dream home ideas on paper. I've created similar designs for dolls, gardens, shelving units, and even entire cities. You can see some of my reflections about city design in my article: How Much Land Does It Take To Feed One Person? & Are We Over-Populated?
I've had a suspicion at times that there is another axis at play, and that the J/P spectrum needs to actually be divided into two separate spectrums. As I continue to research the personality types through Jung's original work and how others have expounded upon it, I will further reflect on this issue. Recently I've started reading Personality Hacker and I've found it to be a major game-changer for understanding cognitive functions in-depth. I wish I'd started with that book instead of reading dozens of articles and listening to dozens of podcasts first. It would have cleared up a lot!
Judging versus Perceiving (or “Prospecting”) — Based on Timescale?
I never test out as a P, even when in the most fey of moods. And yet, in a certain timescale, I seem to feel happiest when I don't have plans – such as for this evening. Widen the timescale to a weekend, and now I want to know what expectations others have of me, and what I need to plan for. Widen the timescale to a year and I want to have some things in place to look forward to and a rough outline of how these things will be accomplished. Widen the timescale to three or more years and I begin to get overwhelmed – it's too much to plan except in the most abstract of day-dreaming sort of way. I don't want to commit to something three or five years down the line; who knows who I'll be or where I'll be by then?
Both of my husbands are P types, but they too manifest differently under different timescales, and also differently from one another. Greg, my husband since 2016, has a very organized, orderly approach to meetings and evenings. He wants to know what the plan is for the next hour in particular. He wants to know what is expected of him and what others want. He asks me almost every evening, “What do you want to do tonight?” Widen the timescale to a day – even a day out on errands or doing fun things – and he's likely to wing it, not planning food, rest periods or any of the rest. Then again, Greg's stakes aren't as high as mine or Lytenian's, because he's not a highly sensitive type, whereas Lytenian and I are. It does seem as though EP types (like Greg as an ENTP) are more likely to be “planning in the moment” – asking questions about what is going to happen in the next five minutes, or even misinterpreting general statements about long spans of time as being particularly relevant to right now. IP types, in contrast, do not seem to have this “now” focus.
Lytenian, like Greg, doesn't plan short jaunts as much I do – but unlike Greg, Lytenian is less likely to leave the house in 15ºF weather without his scarf, hat, and gloves. Being highly sensitive makes it more of an imperative to have the right tools at the right time; the consequence of being unprepared as a highly sensitive person is usually suffering. Thus, P types who are highly sensitive (HSP) versus those who are not may behave quite differently.
Even with Lytenian's high sensitivity, he's a terrible procrastinator. In our years of chronic traveling I became more and more detailed in my planning and preparations for every leg of the journey. I became an expert in planning my meals, clothes, toiletries, luggage, custom first aid kit (mostly essential oils), supplements, clean water supply, and so on. I made an increasingly detailed template checklist over the years that has formulas for how many pairs of underwear to bring a given length of trip, and how many skirts to bring, and whether or not to bring a laptop. I began including household preparations like watering house plants before leaving, and even a reminder to bring a gift or thank you card for anyone who might be hosting us.
Lytenian (an INFP) never developed any of this even with years of chronic traveling to do so. Often on the day of departure I would be completely ready to go a full five hours before he was and I would be helping him prepare for the majority of that time after I had finished readying myself. This, as you might imagine, has been one of the greatest sources of conflict in our relationship.
Greg keeps a to-do list, but instead of being inspired by it, he has an antagonistic relationship with it where he refers to it with a sort of overwhelm or dread. While Greg is organized to a certain extent – taking copious notes, carefully tracking expenditures, and keeping a well-updated calendar – he is also very negligent in other respects. His lack of orderliness around the house at large is a point of conflict between us; I want everything to have a place where it consistently belongs so that I can return every item to its place and keep it clean and aesthetically pleasing. This seems beyond Greg's ken. In fact, Greg doesn't like having to go through his belongings to sort them – whereas I relish the opportunity to classify and rearrange everything I possess. To me, organizing my things feels like an opportunity to restructure my entire life and identity to my current liking. Perhaps there are definitive J versus P qualities showing up here in these descriptions.
Greg, like me, seems to act more like a J based on the timescale involved. He wants to plan a given evening or a given hour, but he is less likely to want to create an itemized packing list. He wants to plan his vacation days well in advance (for good reason, of course), but he tends to procrastinate about actually planning any details of any arranged trip – if he ever plans at all. Greg used to consistently test out as an INTP, but now tests out as an ENTP – which is listed as one of the ideal pairings with an INFJ, incidentally. In Greg's case I believe he incorrectly was typed as an INTP due to the sort of work he was in (technology) and because he was bullied as a child, which led him to be more reclusive than he would ideally be. The more I learn about the ENTP personality, the more I see it clearly as both Greg's type, and my father's type.
“INFJs seek out people who share their passions, interests and ideologies, people with whom they can explore philosophies and subjects that they believe are truly meaningful.” — NERIS Analytics
I've struggled with friendship immensely in my life. This is partly because my parents failed to do a good job at modeling it for me. My father (an ENTP) was a class clown in his school days and my mother (an INTJ) was an outcast. Both suffered from regular humiliation and rejection and neither of them seemed to make much headway in improving their social skills until they were well past sixty – after I'd already moved out.
In recent years I realize that much of my struggle with friendship has merely been my high standards for friendship. I've decided to stop calling what I'm seeking “close friends” and instead call it something more accurate in its dramatic labeling: “soul friendship.” As I explain in my article, Why is it so hard to make friends?, seeking soul-friends is really no easier than seeking a soul-mate, and it requires a level of commitment that few are willing to make – even when it comes to romance.
Besides how picky an INFJ can be about his or her friends, there is also the potential for driving people away due to being overly judgmental of other people's level of authenticity.
“From a young age, the INFJ innately senses the difference between behavior that is authentically motivated (i.e., spiritually and psychologically healthy) and behavior that is inauthentic or ego driven (i.e., spiritually and psychologically destructive). Respect out of duty isn’t freely given by INFJs who (to the chagrin of their elders) tend to see adults and children through the same lens and then judge them by this universal qualification: authenticity.” — Elaine Schallock, INFJ
For me this showed up as a result of learning about nutrition, health, and the toxic things people put in their bodies at a young age. I could intuit that others were using refined sweeteners and cigarettes to mask something else, and I could tell it wasn't in their best interests, yet when I said what I perceived, I was ridiculed or shamed for doing so. In fact, I was confrontational about these things in my teenage years, often approaching strangers to talk about them about their visible, unhealthy habits. I tried to explain that what they were doing was not in their best interests but, as you can imagine, I just offended people.
Now, at thirty, I've come to appreciate that people open up slowly for a reason. I appreciate the level of authenticity people are willing to share and the challenge of getting people to take their own masks off (rather than attempting to swipe their mask away).
INFJ & HSP Households | Setting Healthy Boundaries
“Not having a private place to unwind is miserable for a highly sensitive person; you really have to ensure your lifestyle matches those who you are living with. INFJ types tend to accommodate others. So if your housemates, partner, family members and etc don’t have the same lifestyle as you or even worse, they have one that is opposing yours, then you are going to suffer, especially when you don’t speak up and set your boundaries.” — Yong Kang Chan, INFJ, Mindfulness Teacher & Author
Accommodating others can be particularly damaging when living their lifestyle literally hurts you – i.e. causes you to breathe fumes that make you sick, or eat foods that leave you fatigued or aching, or to listen to anything that causes you a headache, and so on. For a long time I made the mistake of trying to just “tough up” and endure it. Unfortunately, during the years when I endured, I developed stomach ulcers, more extreme sensitivities, and a whole host of other health problems.
As an INFJ it is essential to create a safe haven sanctuary where everything you breathe, eat, hear, touch, and see restores your balance. In the above photo you can see my bedroom sanctuary, as it happened to look on a given day when I was twenty-nine or shortly after I turned thirty.
While I don't identify with being “self sacrificing” – because I know how damaging it is to a relationship, family, community and society for people to discard their own needs in favor of others – I have seen a terrible trend in myself where I will allow other people to hurt me with their painful music, painful fumes, or painful lights because I'm just too afraid of telling them how much it hurts me. I've become a master of hiding my pain – even from myself.
If you want to restore balance within yourself, you have to be really, really honest about what hurts you. Get really broad about what a “hurt” is and make a list of all the things in your life that slow you down, make you uncomfortable, or make you feel “squished,” or “unloved.” Then, decide which pains you want to keep because they yield something worth it.
Obviously my two marriages aren't all rainbows and flowers every day – but I deem the pains I go through to be in these relationships highly worth it.
Yet when a friend asked if I could drive across town (twenty minutes there and twenty minutes back) every day to feed her cat while she was away for vacation . . . I said, “No.” And again, this may be part of why I'm not the best at making close friends – because I say “no” when other people might have said “yes.” But as a highly sensitive person I've had to learn to draw clear boundaries about what is and isn't too much stress and stimulation to endure. If I'd said, “Yes,” and ended up feeling super resentful, that would have undoubtedly been more damaging to my relationship with my friend than saying, “No.”
Painful Empathy in INFJ, INFP & HSP
Neuroscience discovered “mirror neurons” in the 1990s – neurons that allow us to feel how someone else is feeling through observing them. Newer research shows that there are more than one kind of mirror neuron and that they behave in different ways in response to different stimuli; some responding to emotions shown on footage, and others only responding to emotions displayed by live people or animals in the vicinity.
Some evidence shows that highly sensitive people (HSP) have more empathy than other people. For the INFJ and INFP types, this empathy can be extra painful.
“Bring an INFJ to your family Thanksgiving dinner and we’ll observe the passive aggression between you and your sister. We’ll see the underhanded way your mum puts down your life choices. And we’ll feel angry and hurt right along with you.” — Jessica Bakkers
Only about a year after reading The Continuum Concept of the first time I had the misfortune to watch a well-intentioned set a parents traumatizing their baby. I was in a rented vehicle with my husband, his parents, his sister, his sister's husband, and their baby. We had a long drive ahead of us – practically an eternity if you're a baby . . . or if you're a highly sensitive person empathizing with a baby.
The baby did not feel safe or happy. She cried and wailed from the prison of her “safe” car seat. The screaming was incredibly painful. I wanted to plug my ears, but I felt I had to stand vigil and at least listen to her pain if I would not be so good as to demand it be relieved.
No matter how many great intellects try to tell our natural, maternal instincts to shut-up and shut-down, those instincts are still there. Babies are meant to be held, naked, skin-to-skin on their mother's body at all times. There are all kinds of fail-safes in place within our instincts to ensure this happens: The mother feeling depressed when she can't imprint or be close to her baby; the baby howling in clear sounds of utter terror and torture; the community being disrupted by the noise; the guilt the mother feels if she doesn't attend to her baby; the guilt other people feel when they hear the terrible howling.
Yet our minds have become so incredibly domineering that the well-educated, kind-hearted father turned to me and said, “It isn't as bad as it sounds.”
I was horrified right along with the baby! I felt the need to be touched too and I reached out to my husband, desperately needing comfort as I resonated with the plight. I knew what it felt like to be left stranded, unable to receive comfort no matter how loud I screamed. After all, I was born in 1989, when leaving a baby to cry was trendy. While visual memories from this time in my life do not remain, the emotional pain is quite accessible.
For thirty long, long minutes, she cried and cried. Her mother tried offering some comfort by putting her hand on the baby's stomach (over the fabric and straps that were there), but it was too little to help. She didn't have a wet diaper. She'd been fed. My husband's sister looked pained. Her husband looked remote, detached from it all. I felt like I was drowning.
That was around six years ago now, and still I look back and wonder if I should have stood up for the baby in some way. Should I have demanded that we pull over immediately? How do we balance “car safety” against not traumatizing babies and arresting their emotional development?
These questions plague me, and in this stream of thoughts and feelings you can see my dominant function, Introverted Intuition, and auxiliary function, Extroverted Feeling, working hard to come to resolution.
For more on the subject of infancy trauma, toddler trauma, and how these developmental traumas impact highly sensitive people in particular, read my article: Developmental Trauma.
For an example of a society in South America that does not routinely traumatize their children and, as a result, has a culture with no incidence of depression, post-traumatic stress, or any related disorders, read the book, The Continuum Concept.
INFJ Protector Personalities
“We often wear a blank mask when we meet new people. This is not a trait unique to INFJs – most people wear masks when meeting new people. This mask is protective in nature; we wear it to hide who we are from you until we know we can remove the mask . . . and put on the new mask. Now this is where the INFJ differs from the other types. Most other types, after deciding you are trustworthy, will throw away their blank mask and let you see their true self. The INFJ, however, will now pluck a new mask from her myriad collection and wear that instead. ” — Jessica Bakkers
What we colloquially call a façade or mask is called a “protector personality” in psychology. Every time we endure trauma we split our fluid sense of self into two parts: the part that can handle the traumatic situation and the part that can't. This way, the next time we encounter that situation we're prepared – we already have the aspect of ourselves that can handle it primed and ready.
When undergoing chronic trauma – from a disapproving parent, for example – it is common to develop a whole slew of protector personalities just to deal with that one ongoing source of stress. Let me illustrate this to you at some length so that you can understand it:
- The first time your mother offers humiliating disapproval you are shocked. You have just discovered something is wrong with you, so you feel ashamed. Feeling shame may work to get mom to stop harassing you for now.
- Later, you're ashamed, but mom is still disapproving of you. She's making it clear that your actions continue to be unacceptable. You feel this is unfair and get angry. The anger keeps you warm inside against the pain of feeling betrayed, hurt, belittled, or rejected.
- Then one day you're being disapproved of and you lash out with the anger you've been using to defend yourself. Then you are punished worse than usual for “letting our anger get the best of you,” and so instead, you turn back to shame, or worse: self-hatred. When our abuser witnesses us already shaming, blaming and hating ourselves, they turn to console us instead, so this works in our favor. To learn more about using self-hatred as your coping strategy, watch this.
- Over time you develop strategic ways of bending the truth to avoid the conflict at all, because no matter how you use hate, anger or shame to defend yourself – you still get hurt. You learn to use your ability to empathize to scan situations for potential eruptions and then learn to sooth the situation.
- By the time you're twenty you have a host of strategies, some of which have gotten so much “air time” in your life that they've become whole personalities: you can be the joker, the counselor, the “bigger person,” the humble doubter, the swindler, the quiet person, the morbidly-fascinating goth, the depressed person in need of help, the sick person in need of care, the easy-going person who mysteriously vanishes a lot but never shows any sign of weakness . . .
Depending on how workable your parents were, you may have developed only a few dominant protector personalities, or you may have developed a whole host of them.
Highly traumatic childhoods (where you score a seven or above on the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire) often don't allow for many different protector personalities to emerge because nothing works. No matter what you do, there is more pain. This leads to using one larger blanket coping strategy like disassociating with your body and emotions completely.
Childhoods with little adversity call for fewer masks (like if you have an ACE score of zero to two). It is safer to just “be yourself,” or use the same strategy over and over again to get what you want and need as a child.
It is the childhood with the middle level of adversity (ACE scores three to six) that lead to the largest array of personalities. Unfortunately, the INFJ and INFP types are particularly likely to face this level of adversity even if their siblings don't. This happens because sensitive people are bullied, shamed, humiliated, teased, and sometimes even beaten for their sensitives. A highly sensitive person is biologically more likely to develop illness as a result of stress, and because of this, they may face accusations about being a “faker,” and/or go without any treatment.
“Siblings may pick on the highly sensitive person in the household. [In families with emotional neglect] brothers and sisters are usually suffering from the emotional neglect as well, but they may take more naturally to the “toughen up” message than their highly sensitive sibling. And that makes it easy for them to establish themselves higher up on the pecking order.” — Andre Sólo
In my case, I had to learn to do something weird to cope with being accused of “faking”: I had to take my existing experience of pain and discomfort and find a way to make it easier for other people to empathize with it and believe it. Basically, I had to add some strategic faking to my real conditions in order to get the care I needed. Absurd, right? It is absurd, and it's the common sort of problem you face as a highly sensitive person. The non-sensitive people often don't believe your experiences are true, so you have to figure how to portray them to make them more believable or important either by downplaying the experience or by dramatizing the experience.
INFJs – and all highly sensitive people – have to learn how to get their needs met without appearing too “weak” to non-sensitive people. INFJs often have one parent who is also a highly sensitive person (since it is a genetic trait), but unfortunately, this doesn't guarantee understanding and refuge in that parent.
“If you have emotional blind spots yourself, you’ll be blind to other people’s emotions as well, including those of your children.” — Dr. Jonice Webb, author of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect
In fact, if the parent has been traumatized by our culture that preaches, “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,” they will often be the child's worst critic. The wounded, highly sensitive parent often wants to “save” their child by teaching them to “toughen up” and hide their sensitivity as soon as possible.
In my mother's case she was continually saying to me, “You're just too sensitive for your own good.” She was, of course, very well meaning. She thought she was helping point out a weakness in me that I had to learn to overcome. And, of course, she had suffered from her sensitivity in her childhood. She never knew it was genetic or that there were advantages to it.
ENTP as a HSP
I'm not sure about this, but my father may also be a highly sensitive person, and this may partially explain why my parents were originally drawn to each other: Two people who were keenly perceptive, but had mostly rejected their feelings, intuitions and perceptions in favor of their intellect in order to keep a modicum of peace with their external realities. My Dad is an ENTP. (ENP types often pair well with INJ types because Ne dominance is often a playful, insightful compliment to the deep intuitions of Ni dominance.)
“ENTP’s struggle to process emotions, so if an ENTP were truly an HSP, it would be a constant overload of emotions that would be unable to be processed. I would guess it would be crippling. I know an INTP that claims to be HSP and it was pretty similar for them.” — C.D. Angeli
The Real Reason the INFJ is Renowned for its Many Masks & Personas
“Any child who suffers from emotional neglect learns that they shouldn’t ask for help, because it won’t be given or because it appears “weak.” This is especially damaging to HSP children, because they need to learn to speak up for their needs in a world that often doesn’t understand them.” — Andre Sólo
The real reason why the INFJ personality is renowned for its many masks, personas, and so-called privacy is because they've almost invariably undergone tough childhoods. They're protecting themselves in a host of ways with these personas, including finding ways to get their needs met without appearing weak. Unfortunately, many people mistake the masks for “unimportant props.” That couldn't be further from the truth! Every protector personality has a vital story to share: a story of overcoming adversity.
“All highly sensitive people are prone to become overstimulated by loud, busy environments, and overwhelmed by strong emotions. But healthy highly sensitive people learn to manage this through self-care. Often they need a quiet, safe place to retreat to. For highly sensitive kids, that’s only possible if the care-takers are understanding of this need — and emotionally neglectful parents are not. Instead, they typically see it as the child “overreacting.” They may even get angry at the child. This can make overwhelm a source of panic and fear in the child.” — Andre Sólo
Every protector personality is a hero who rescued a hurting, vulnerable child from an unbearable situation.
If you learn one thing from this article, know this: Protector personalities are heroes. They are not merely masks or façades even though you can lift them away to uncover a vulnerable self beneath. Protector personalities are just as valuable and integral to our whole being as the vulnerable self that hides beneath them. When we do integrative work, the protector personality merges with the vulnerable self to create a more integrated aspect of self. However, this integration often does not wipe away the personalities. On the contrary, the personalities merely begin to cooperative better and better, meeting more needs and meeting them more efficiently.
“Only when you’re deemed trustworthy and welcomed into the inner circle will the INFJ remove all of her masks. Don’t fret if that doesn’t happen quickly (or at all); it’s a rare person that gets into the INFJs inner circle.” — Jessica Bakkers
I disagree a little with Jessica here, but not with her primary point; I disagree with the premise that there is a “more important” self within me that is hiding beneath all my masks. Rather, those who are really close to me recognize my many masks – protectors – and respect them, as well as the most vulnerable part of me that wears no mask at all.
As an aside: I often end up wearing a literal mask as a highly sensitive person who reacts profoundly to chemicals and particles in the air.
“The INFJ has become so adept at wearing masks, she can also see beneath them. You might wear a friendly, smiling mask when you meet the INFJ – but if your mask is hiding a dark heart, the INFJ will still see it.” — Jessica Bakkers
The INFJ who has not yet seen his or her self will not actually see through masks. I was incredibly gullible for most of my childhood, although I did learn to spot thieves after having been stolen from enough times. Really thin masks I could see through at eighteen. It wasn't until I was twenty-four and starting to immerse myself in journey work into my own heart that I began to see through other people.
Much writing about the INFJ claims that we're all “sensitive, observant people who miss nothing with our gentle gaze.” We're not all like that – especially not if we've undergone abuse that we've yet to even face. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that some of the most cunning and cruel crimes ever committed were done by INFJs. You know why this wouldn't surprise me? Because INFJs are so often victim to such severe humiliation and alienation and because of the way we process the world, we're prone to feeling like “everything is a dream.” Combine that with a protector personality that only knows how to escape from the internal turmoil by hurting others and you've just created a homicidal maniac.
The toll is high on society when it doesn't look after the needs of each individual.
The INFJ who is able to mature with a reasonable collection of protector personalities and who turns to look deeply inward and see the vulnerable self beneath will develop an uncanny ability to see through other people. In my personal experience, the change was rapid and shocking. I went from having little understanding of how other people felt to (almost overnight) being able to discern what every little body movement other people made really meant. It was as if my auxiliary function, Fe, was switched on abruptly.
Now, combining my knowledge and intuition, I can look at perfect strangers and tell you what organs of theirs are struggling (and sometimes I can tell you why), and in a brief conversation I can tell you some of the emotions they're hiding and how much they like themselves. Often I can tell if the person likes me more or less then they are letting on, which can be frustrating in cases where I'm certain the person really doesn't like me very much but they insist on being overly friendly as a bad cover for it; in those cases I feel repelled even farther away than I would have been were they merely honest about their misgivings about me.
And yes, much of why I can see so much in others is because I've learned to be such a host of different people all in the same skin. In psychology they sometimes label us as having borderline personality disorder. I have an article on how I feel about that label which I encourage you to read if you've resonated with this section about protector personalities.
INFJ Processing Positive Emotions
I once wrote an article which I never published. It was titled, “Save your Orgasm for Yourself.” In the article I was using orgasm as a euphemism for an explosion of positive emotion. I didn't realize then that I experienced both positive and negative things more strongly as a result of being a highly sensitive person, so the idea of calling it an “orgasm” seemed natural to me. I decided to never share or publish the article because it contained a negative undercurrent that I mistrusted. The theme of the article was how easy it was to have one's own joy completely trammeled by other people who didn't get it. Now I see why my intuition told me not to share this article: the advice was for myself – and other INFJs – not the general public.
Because INFJs do not have a powerful way to process their own emotions directly, they often lose touch with their own feelings rapidly and are unable to recapture them. This interruption happens most easily when other people express negativity toward them.
The classic experience of this in my life goes like this: I'm really excited and inspired and ready to act on my inspired joy. I tell Lytenian about my idea and his mind begins troubleshooting my idea – since problem solving is a lot of where he finds his self-worth. He gives me a critique of my idea and I quickly crash from my joyful, inspired state into a state of disappointment and even despair. He apologizes and feels guilty, but my extroverted feeling sense just picks up on that too, and so I start feeling guilty too.
“Although their introverted intuition (Ni) usually senses whether critique comes from genuine concern or envy, and their introverted thinking (Ti) can weigh arguments to a certain extent, their emotions will still be affected – even when the INFJ rationally knows the critical comments are not justified. This is because of the inability to independently manage their emotions efficiently. When they get immersed in negative emotions caused by the critical comments, unable to handle such emotions, they are likely to start doubting the validity of their formerly joyful experience.” — Cheryl Florus
On the flip-side, when someone shares my excitement and inspiration, I pick up on that. I'm amplified to such a degree that everything feels effortless, exciting, inspiring and downright awesome. Unfortunately, people rarely understand the things that excite me, so I've learned to rarely share my genuine joy when I'm feeling joy. Instead, I talk about things that make me excited an abstract way at times that are long past the original inspiration. By doing it this way I get the opportunity to become inspired all over again if the person responds positively and I have much less to lose if they respond poorly.
I've also learned to be careful about how I frame what I'm sharing. I often begin my sharing by saying, “I'm not sure if I want feedback or not . . . But I want to tell you about something. Is that okay?” When framed like this, I almost never get unwanted feedback. Instead, I ask specific questions about their thoughts when I'm done processing aloud. Often I benefit tremendously from someone merely listening and asking clarifying questions.
“The effect of critique will be larger in INFJ’s who have low self-esteem or a depression, because positive emotions (about themselves) can seem disproportionally big compared to their depressed emotional baseline, making the plummet back to that baseline feel even more devastating.” — Cheryl Florus
One common solution that other people have found is keeping a “Positive Aspects Journal.” This provides an outlet for reflecting on positive feelings and it has the added benefit of being highly uplifting to re-read when you're down.
I've never consistently kept a positive aspects journal, but I've personally really enjoyed saving positive excerpts from people's facebook comments, e-mails, etc, in a file. It's like a collection of testimonials, except that instead of being about my products, it's about me – anything positive that others have said about me. At one of the hardest times in my life I kept a printed version of this list on the wall above my bed so that I would see it regularly. It really did work too – often I would be moping in bed and then I'd glimpse something on the sheet and immediately feel uplifted.
INFJ HSP Summary & Conclusions
- INFJs are sometimes called Oracles or Seers for their profound intuitive abilities; introverted intuition (Ni) being their dominant function. I like the term “Oracle” best because it underscores how other-worldly my experience as an INFJ is.
- INFJs are also sometimes called Advocates or Counselors for their externally focused human interest; extroverted feeling (Fe) being their auxiliary function.
- INFJs are the rarest personality type, and one that often faces the most misunderstanding, neglect and abuse. While lacking statistical data, I'm willing to bet that INFJs will almost invariably have an adverse childhood experiences (ACE) score of two or higher . . . in the United States anyway. I once met an INFJ from Australia who seemed grounded, loving and balanced in a way I'd never seen before and she said she'd never felt lonely in her entire life!).
- INFJs are exclusively highly sensitive people (HSP), as are INFPs. (There may be exceptions, but this seems unlikely given the evidence we have.)
- The high sensitivity gene impacts serotonin release in the brain, causing both positive and negative experiences to have more impact and more lasting effects.
- INFJs and ENFJs who “fall close to the center” on the introvert/extrovert spectrum are usually not ambiverts, but rather, in a place of turmoil where neither socializing nor alone time provides a satisfactory outlet for being oneself.
- INFJs want deep relationships with soul-friends and soul-mates who will see the validity of all of their masks as well as their hidden, vulnerable self beneath.
- INFJs have a capacity for an extreme depth of perception. Depending on your traumas and development stage as an INFJ this may lead you to notice subtle body language cues that give people's deeper feelings away. A traumatized INFJ may appear to be autistic, unable to pick up on these cues and completely lost in their own complex, imaginative reality.
- INFJs may be soft-spoken, jester-like, or aloof – it all depends on which protector personalities have served them best while navigating a culture that is generally hostile to their natural inclinations.
- INFJs are good with writing and language and often make impressive, creative orators.
- INFJs seek ultimate romance, profound connection, and never-ending growth with their partners. They are prone to two traps: Leaving perfectly good relationships in the hopes of finding something better, or hanging on to bad relationships because their vivid imagination and insight allows them to fixate on someone's potential.
- INFJs are usually very sure of their hard-earned opinions and perceptions and thereby can come off as hard and unmalleable. This perception, however, is usually false. INFJs usually are quite open to hearing about new ideas and perceptions, so long as it is presented in a way that respects their own sense of integrity.
- INFJs can be intensely passionate about their work; in fact, if they're not, they're unlikely to be able to bring themselves to do it at all. INFJs are often driven to bring their inner world and ideals into reality.
- It is essential for an INFJ's home to be a safe haven sanctuary where everything he or she breathes, eats, hears, touches, and sees restores his or her balance. Lacking this safe haven INFJs are likely to become physically sick in short order, or, at the least, begin to damage friendships with their short temper and frazzled wits.
- INFJs (and INFPs) experience empathy to a degree that can be so painful that it causes an emotional retreat from the source of discomfort. This same power of empathy can be a driving force toward humanitarian and ecological lifestyle choices and career choices.
- Every protector personality is an internal hero who rescued a hurting, vulnerable child from an unbearable situation. INFJs will show you all their favorite heroes and command your respect for these aspects before they are willing to show you their vulnerable, unmasked self.
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