The INTJ personality type is one of the rarest personalities. That makes it easy for us to feel like no one gets us, or understands the challenges we face. But in most cases, other INTJs have had startlingly similar experiences—and many of us share the same frustrations. Here are 5 experiences that you’ve likely had if you’re an INTJ.
What’s your personality type? Knowing your type can help you leverage your natural strengths. Take the free test from our partner Personality Hacker.
1. Being told to relax or cheer up when you already feel great.
INTJs spend a good part of our early life being asked what’s wrong, and a good part of our adult life faking smiles so we’re not asked what’s wrong. But we have a dirty little secret: nothing was wrong in the first place. Apparently, our faces look pretty not-happy even when we actually feel great.
This happens for a number of reasons:
- We view emotions as private, and we generally contain our feelings, even positive ones.
- We don’t see any practical use for acting super-hyper-chipper-cheerful.
- The things that give us the most pleasure are purpose-driven activities, like research or designing something, that other people don’t view as “fun.”
- We are more likely to be fascinated than happy.
As a result, INTJs often wear a serious expression that other people mistake for tension, worry, or distress. This manifests differently for men and women. As a young man, I was often asked if I was angry or told not to be “so serious.” It was fertile ground for people to jokingly pick on me. But INTJ women often get a reputation for being intimidating. For them, the serious facial expression and lack of hyper-happy-chipperness is seen as unfeminine, cold, and aloof.
2. You said something totally obvious, and everyone was horrified.
I imagine that conversation, for other people, is like a really fun game of Frisbee—you’re good at throwing, you’re good at catching, and even when you miss you just get a good-natured laugh. For many INTJs, conversation is not like that. For us, it’s like tossing the Frisbee and hitting someone in the face and then finding out that you actually broke their nose. As a bonus, if you go around breaking too many noses, people start to think you’re doing it on purpose.
This happens for two reasons. One, INTJs are good at seeing the underlying cause for something, or the long-term effect it will have. That means we often spot problems that other people aren’t aware of. Two, we wrongly assume that everyone prefers for their friends to be honest. When these two factors come together, it results in us saying something that sounds helpful t0 our ears but hits everyone else like an emotional cannonball.
Examples of things I have actually said:
- I don’t think you should marry her.
- He’s cheating on you.
- The problem isn’t your boss, the problem is that you’re in the wrong career.
Of course, INTJs aren’t always right, and there’s no special glory in bursting people’s bubbles. But that’s the thing: we don’t do it for ego, or to prove a point, or to bring other people down. We often do it by accident, fully assuming that everyone else sees things the same way until we notice the horrified looks we cause.
3. You thought your friends’ plan was an actual plan.
Most get-togethers involve some planned activity. It can be as casual as game night or it can be much more structured, like taking a stained glass class. What INTJs don’t understand is that the activity is not important to most people—even though it’s the official reason there was a get-together at all.
It took me the first 17 years of my life to catch on to this. As a teenager I assumed that “do you want to go to the movies?” meant we would proceed directly to the cinema. I couldn’t understand why nobody else cared that we were just sitting around someone’s house, or that once we got underway we might get waylaid on a totally different errand. It didn’t make sense.
But to most people, any gathering is primarily about socializing, not about getting something done. INTJs eventually figure this out, and we may even learn to “fake it” by pretending to be as laid-back as everyone else in group outings. But this approach isn’t natural to us, and really, it stresses us out; it feels like a lot of our time (and others’) is being wasted.
4. You look terrible in literally every photo.
If you’re an INTJ, get ready to not get a lot of sympathy from anyone else, because everyone thinks they look terrible in photos. The difference is most people actually look fine, whereas INTJs look like monsters assembled from spare body parts.
Or at least our faces do. Many of us have absolutely no instinct to smile a big, cheesy smile when the camera is turned on us, because—see above—we think it’s okay to just feel happy without a big outward show of happiness. Our faces remain so flat and expressionless that it almost looks like we’re trying to grimace.
This flat face is so natural that it still surprises me when I’m told to smile—I thought I already was smiling! But then it gets worse, because then I try to smile, which makes me look like a hostage who was ordered to act happy for the camera.
Not convinced? I asked members of an INTJ Facebook group I’m in to send me their selfies. Here are pictures of actual INTJs “smiling” for the camera:
The reason INTJs look this way is complex. It’s partly because a genuine smile uses muscles around the eyes, not just the mouth. A fake smile uses just the mouth muscles. So, on one level, INTJs look weird on camera because we’re faking our smiles.
But the real mystery is why other people don’t look weird. If we’re all just putting on a smile for the camera, shouldn’t everyone’s smile look fake? But it doesn’t, because for most people, one of the following things is true:
- They’re enjoying the moment or squeezing in with their friends for the photo, so the smile is real, or
- They’re putting on a smile not just by moving their face muscles, but by conjuring a warm thought or feeling that makes their smile genuine.
It’s that second trick that INTJs have to learn in order to become photogenic. And I definitely haven’t learned it yet.
5. Knowing a better way, but absolutely no one believes you.
Some friends once invited me on a beach trip to go swimming. When we got there, however, the weather was much cooler than expected—maybe 68° Fahrenheit and breezy. Everyone was bummed because it was too cold to go swimming. But as the resident INTJ, I volunteered a little-known fact:
“Right now the water is actually warmer than the air, which means it’s going to feel amazing as soon as you go in. We should do it.”
Everyone booed me. It didn’t matter how I learned this information, or the fact that I was actually correct—they were all set to throw in the towel (literally, I suppose) and sulk over to a restaurant. Fortunately I’m devoid of social graces, so I cajoled, pleaded, and argued until my friends decided to go in just to indulge me.
Which was followed by:
“Oh my god! It’s really warm in here!”
“Wow, this feels nice!”
“Someone get the beach ball!”
This is easily the experience that unites all of INTJkind. You have a piece of information that could substantially improve a situation, you share the information, and no one believes you. And there are no good options: either you argue like a pushy jerk, or you let someone’s day be ruined by their problem. It’s an experience that most INTJs have every single day.
Again, INTJs don’t feel this way because of ego or because we think we can never be wrong. We’re wrong plenty. But the main thing we spend our time doing is learning new stuff. That pastime may come with plenty of downsides—like having few friends or having no idea how to read social cues—but it also comes with the huge bonus of legitimately knowing better ways to do things. If only people believed us.
Of course, there are ways to get people to accept your ideas as an INTJ. It just gets exhausting having to go through the same process of convincing people every single day.
INTJs, what are some of the experiences you find yourself having over and over? Have you experienced the ones I described above? And how do you deal with them when they come up?
Seminar for INTJs: Our partner Quistic offers a course for INTJ success. “Best Practices for Leveraging INTJ Strengths (and How to Be a Likable INTJ)” is a four-part webinar from career coach Penelope Trunk. Includes access to a private Facebook group with nearly 200 success-oriented INTJs. Learn more about the INTJ course here.