INFJ. A year ago, I had absolutely no idea what those letters meant. All I knew was that I had never really fit in, especially in social situations—like school, for example.
I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator through a freak accident, and now it’s my obsession. I initially tested as an INTJ personality type, which came as no surprise. My dad is an INTJ. I probably modeled myself after him.
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Here’s the slightly embarrassing part: I molded myself into the INTJ stereotype. Cold. Distant. Emotionless. Long story short, I forced myself to be something I wasn’t in order to feel like I fit into a category. Those four letters became my identity, and I held onto them with all I had. Somehow they made me feel like I was a part of the world. Like I finally belonged.
Then I found out about typing through the eight cognitive functions. “Cognitive functions” are mental processes that help us gather and process information. The eight cognitive functions are:
- Ni: Introverted Intuition
- Ne: Extraverted Intuition
- Si: Introverted Sensing
- Se: Extraverted Sensing
- Ti: Introverted Thinking
- Te: Extraverted Thinking
- Fi: Introverted Feeling
- Fe: Extraverted Feeling
In personality theory, cognitive functions can either be extraverted or introverted. The “extraverted” functions are the ones you show to the world. For example, ESFJs use Extraverted Feeling, which makes them outwardly warm and caring. Your “introverted” functions are the mental processes that happen internally. For example, INFPs use Introverted Feeling, making them deeply aware of their own private feelings and values.
Both introverts and extroverts have two extraverted functions and two introverted functions. What makes a person an introvert is having an introverted function as their dominant (or main) function.
I became so interested in the cognitive functions that I researched them for hours and came up with several techniques for recognizing them. I looked at the INTJ stack and found something that made me take a second look. The INTJ function stack is:
- Ni (Introverted Intuition)
- Te (Extraverted Thinking)
- Fi (Introverted Feeling)
- Se (Extraverted Sensing)
According to Linda V. Berens and Dario Nardi in their book Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to the Personality Type Code, Introverted Intuition is about synthesizing information that seems paradoxical or contradictory. Using this process, INTJs (and INFJs) can have moments when completely new, unimagined realizations come to them. There is a sense of being able to tell how the future will unfold, based on unseen trends or telling signs. Introverted Intuition can work out complex concepts or systems of thinking, or conceive of symbolic or novel ways of understanding universal truths.
This described me perfectly. I’m able to grasp concepts quickly with little explanation, and I constantly surprise people with how perceptive I am. On the rare occasion I watch a movie (I really prefer books) my ability to predict what will happen next is uncannily accurate. People don’t like watching movies with me because when they ask if I was surprised by the storyline, I usually answer: “I saw that coming.”
But it was Extraverted Thinking, my second function, that didn’t seem to fit me. This is Extraverted Thinking in a nutshell, again according to Linda V. Berens and Dario Nardi:
“Contingency planning, scheduling, and quantifying utilize the process of Extraverted Thinking. Extraverted Thinking helps us organize our environment and ideas through charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, outlines, and so on.”
Definitely not me. I hated flow charts and anything associated with graphs and tables. The very idea of using them horrified me. But then I came across Extraverted Feeling:
“The process of Extraverted Feeling often involves a desire to connect with (or disconnect from) others and is often evidenced by expressions of warmth (or displeasure) and self-disclosure.” (Linda V. Berens and Dario Nardi)
That was when it hit me. Extraverted Feeling fit me better than Extraverted Thinking.
With this new information in hand, I followed a hunch and looked at the third function of the INFJ, which is Introverted Thinking:
“Introverted Thinking often involves finding just the right words to clearly express an idea concisely, crisply, and to the point. Using Introverted Thinking is like having an internal sense of the essential qualities of something, noticing the fine distinctions that make it what it is and then naming it. It also involves an internal reasoning process of deriving subcategories of classes and sub-principles of general principles.” (Linda V. Berens and Dario Nardi)
My eyebrows went up when I read this. Someone had finally managed to explain overthinking and make it sound good.
That’s when it hit me. I’m an INFJ.
It’s no surprise that I mistyped as an INTJ, because these two types share many of the same traits. Also, INFJs tend to mistype a lot. My own theory behind INFJs mistyping as INTJs is based on something INFJs everywhere have probably experienced on some level or another: betrayal.
We’re very kind and caring people who like to focus on the good in others, and sometimes focusing on the good blinds us to the bad. People often take advantage of that and use us. This has happened to me a few times, and as a defense mechanism I closed myself off and started isolating from others, telling myself that I didn’t need anyone. I became independent and distant and ignored my hurting heart. I didn’t want to deal with the emotions associated with betrayal and I actively avoided emotionally-charged situations to keep myself from breaking down. Putting on a cold, logical face seemed safer.
After figuring out my actual type, people started remarking on how much nicer I seemed. I’m not saying all INTJs are cold and distant; my INTJ friends are awesome and not like that at all. Remember, I had been acting out the stereotype of an INTJ. (Thanks a lot, Tumblr.)
Now, I gave myself permission to be me. The stereotypical INFJ is a good, wholesome boy scout who cares about donating to charitable causes, adopting kittens, and helping the elderly cross the street.
True, but… there is another side to INFJs. Have you ever seen a cat when it’s all wound up? You know, when it pounces on anything that moves, including your foot? Well, that’s an INFJ when they’re comfortable around you or are having a good time. We can be snarky, outgoing, and constantly unexpected—but only when we’re being us, which we can struggle with.
The moral of the story is this: Don’t try to fit in. “Fitting in” is an illusion. Be you. If you’re not sure of your type, just be you. I’ll say right now that being something you’re not is exhausting and draining. Plus, it’s simply not a good way to spend your life. Be you: unique, free, and special.
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