It happened again the other day: I frightened people by suddenly shifting from my quiet public persona to the person who hides behind the mask. I know most people buy the mask that I have carefully constructed for myself over the years. I am quiet, polite, and I can become invisible if I wish, as other people fill the room with their noise and busyness. My life probably seems dull to them, filled with routine and silence. I come home to no noisy family, just a cat. I know not to talk about her much, as a woman of my age can gain a reputation from living alone with a cat.
Like most introverts and INFJ personality types, I speak slowly, weighing my words, which makes snappy small talk a special kind of torture. I also find it hard to look directly at people when I talk to them. Instead, I break the social convention, preferring to look past them to reduce stimulation so that my thoughts remain ordered. Unfortunately, this often makes my more rapidly speaking extroverted colleagues grow distracted and move on to the next person before I have even warmed up.
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As a result, I sometimes find myself spoken to in a remarkably patronizing way. People think I’m unintelligent or dull, despite the fact that I am the editor of a literary magazine and a teacher. I often wish for a little of the INTJ’s bluntness, for then, like Sherlock, I could call them boring for talking about the weather or their weekend plans. But my INFJ nature will not allow such rudeness. For an INFJ, an overly blunt comment and the hurt feelings of another, no matter how well earned, will cause as much hurt to the INFJ as to its intended victim. I am a person who cries in anger and feels the need to apologize when my temper is lost. Another reason why, as an INFJ, I prefer to just quietly close the door on a person or a situation rather than stir up conflict. But the INFJ Door Slam is an extreme act. Usually by that point, I have endured a person’s patronizing for a while.
This time however, was different. I was speaking with a colleague about growing up gifted. His daughter’s school had recently reassured the students that they should be less nervous about their final exams than other children. My colleague was unimpressed by the lumping together of all children who achieve high marks as gifted. I revealed that had Gifted and Talented been a category when I was at school, I likely would have qualified as a gifted child.
As a result, my overriding memory of school was that it was boring. A combination of introverted thought processes and my gifted nature allowed me to process and remember much of the information that interested me quicker than most other children, while those things that did not interest me were disregarded and neglected. Like Sherlock not knowing that the Earth revolves around the Sun. I was gifted, but what I was gifted at was not on the curriculum. However, given the freedom of university, my introverted thought processes and gifted nature flourished. INFJs tend to be professional students.
As I warmed to the conversation, making the kinds of odd leaps that INFJs would be famous for (were we more well known), discussing Chinese astrology and eventually the concept of introversion and extroversion, I could see my colleague’s face change. He seemed to grow confused and a little freaked out to discover that this quiet, polite person had disappeared and a wild, talkative, loud person had replaced her. So shocked was he by this change that he likened me to a slot machine—put a coin in and information comes out.
That was when I knew it had happened again. I had relaxed, shown my true nature, and I had surprised someone. I was sharing my interior world, the thoughts and concepts that make my mind buzz when I sit alone. But he had not seen a person connecting, sharing something of value. He acted like he had seen a freak, someone whose world he could not comprehend. And in that moment I pulled back, replacing the mask, returning to the safe, polite, quiet persona that he knew. And inside, behind the mask, as always happens when a moment of revelation is met with bewilderment rather than connection, I died a little.
Taking off the mask that you wear to fit into the social world is always hard, and something that many introverts and certainly INFJs would recognize. Most of us find that our masks have been finely crafted over a long time and help us to pass as extroverts in public. But a mask, no matter how well made, is not comfortable and we do long to take it off. Usually, with my INFJ ability to read people’s emotions, I can judge accurately whether or not to remove the mask and reveal my thoughts. But on occasion, even the most skilled reader can make a mistake, and find themselves lowering the mask at the wrong time or to the wrong people. When this happens, the person grows confused, thinking the INFJ has multiple personalities.
So, to those who have been confused by a glimpse behind the INFJ mask, be assured that we are quite sane. There is only one personality in here—it just happens to be a complex one.
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