7 Tell-Tale Characteristics of an INFP

an INFP personality gets lost in his imagination

Thought to comprise only four percent of the population, the INFP is a rare Myers-Briggs personality type that stands out from the rest. As an INFP myself, I’ve found that I frequently instinctually recognize other INFPs, sometimes after only a few minutes of conversation.

INFPs are complicated, magical, mysterious beings, and for a while I thought (in typical INFP fashion) that something cosmic was cueing me into the presences of others who share my four letters. After thinking about this for a while, I’ve realized there are some more earthly continuities that bind us together.

So, here are seven characteristics of an INFP that will help you recognize when you encounter one of us introverted-intuitive-feeling-perceivers, too.

(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality assessment.)

Characteristics of an INFP

1. We’re selectively observant.

INFPs think about everything — and then think about everything again, reliving it all in their dreams. It’s no wonder so many of us are writers and artists; it helps to have a space where we can externalize at least some of the thoughts buzzing through our heads.

When someone says something that seems unusually or even unnecessarily critical or thoughtful, like a hyper-specific statement about a small detail that most people wouldn’t bat an eye at, I know I might be talking to an INFP. That’s not to say that we’re super-observant — sometimes we’ll miss logistical details because we’re caught up thinking about something much larger (or weirdly specific).

For example, I took the same route to and from school every day growing up, usually spending the whole time staring out the window. But when I started driving myself, I discovered I didn’t actually know the way! During all those years riding the bus, I’d noticed countless details about the trees or specific signs, and of course, thought about many large-scale problems and questions, but didn’t memorize the twists and turns of the actual route.

When someone is deeply observant and sensitive to the world around them but also gets so caught up in the moment that they temporarily forget the existence of time — someone who’s willing to talk about everything until the sun comes up but forgets to check the time of the last train home — I’m pretty sure I know their personality type.

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2. We’re deeply self-reflective.

When someone casually mentions complex personal observations about the nuances of their own mind early on in a conversation, you might be in the presence of an INFP.

For example, Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese poet and intellectual from the 1920s — whom I firmly believe was INFP — wrote an entire book consisting of observations of his own mind. Called The Book of Disquiet, it’s written from the perspective of several of his alter-egos and contains statements like:

“My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same… I attend to everything, dreaming all the while… I’m two, and both keep their distance.”

3. We have a strong sense of compassion and empathy.

Though we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves, this does not necessarily mean we’re self-centered. Actually, I believe that our self-analytical minds make us very compassionate and open to others, because by observing our own thoughts, many of us (like the aforementioned Pessoa) come to the conclusion that we are fragmented beings, constantly in flux. This allows us to relate to people of many different backgrounds and walks of life — because we’ve seen them all in ourselves.

INFPs tend to worry a lot about how others are doing. We’re the kind of people who will ask if you’re okay, then become convinced that you’re lying when you promise that you really are fine.

Nicknamed “the Mediator personality type,” INFPs will never be content with lives dedicated only to themselves and their own achievements, nor will they be satisfied lodged in systems of inequality and complacence. We truly value compassion in ourselves and others, often above all else.

It pains us greatly when others are in pain, sometimes so much that we take on that pain. This can be harmful, especially in relationships, where we may take on the entirety of the other person’s mental weight. Wanting to be close to the people you love can backfire when you have a mind as open and malleable as an INFP’s, because this sort of exchange can be like carrying another person’s backpack while hiking, then falling down the mountain under the weight of it, thus ending the entire expedition.

When someone seems at once very compassionate and emotive yet also hesitant, perhaps afraid to open up too much, this person might be an INFP.

4. We’re dreamers.

Growing up,  my grandfather constantly said to me, “Earth to Eden,” and I’ve heard this expression from others in countless forms. I’m always “in my own world,” a “space cadet,” etc. When I meet someone who seems “out of it” — distracted, elsewhere — but who also seems to truly want to listen to what I have to say, I might be in the presence of an INFP.

Being dreamy has its perks and consequences. Many INFPs are great writers — J. R. R. Tolkien and William Shakespeare were likely some of our own — and we don’t spend all that time elsewhere thinking about nothing; our imaginations make us artists and visionaries, and they allow us to come up with big, grand ideas about how to make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, sometimes this compromises our ability to deal with the minutiae of daily life, and it’s often hard for INFPs to reconcile the grand vistas we discover in our mind with doing small tasks like cleaning the house, remembering dates, and completing tax forms.

5. We can be quite self-conscious.

Like many introverts, INFPs can be quiet and reserved. Even when we get comfortable around certain people, we’re rarely able to escape the coil of our own self-awareness, which wraps around us like a well-intended but overpoweringly cloistering grandmother’s hug.

INFPs can be a little bit — and I say this with all the love in the world — awkward, unsure of what to do with the collection of bones and flesh we have been given.

Certainly, we can be graceful in situations we are comfortable in. I, for one, have always thrived when performing on stage, and INFPs can ace interviews and presentations when we get into a groove. In conversations, we breathe sighs of relief when we can talk about things we’re interested in or know a lot about, or when we can listen to someone else talk.

But when making small talk with people we don’t know well, we can be identified by visual cues like shifting around on our feet, struggling to make eye contact, and not knowing where to put our hands. When I see someone squirming like an insect under a microscope at a bar or party, I take this as a hint that I’m not alone. Of course, many personality types share this trait (even some extroverts), but when combined with other INFP traits, awkwardness can be a surefire clue.

6. We love people almost as much as we love being alone.

One of my best friends is an INFP. She’s one of the sweetest people I know, yet sometimes she doesn’t reply to me for a week at a time. This doesn’t bother me, because sometimes I do the same thing.

As INFPs, we crave connection on an intense level, but shallow interactions (like simple text messages) can be taxing. We aren’t satisfied with small talk, but once we meet someone we click with, we can easily spend all our time with them.

I sometimes can intuit an INFP’s presence when I meet someone who seems closed-off, even unfriendly, but who opens up in a big way once a layer of ice breaks. Maybe we’ll have a super awkward conversation when meeting for the first time, then suddenly one of us will say something very emotional or unexpectedly revelatory, and then — if the other person takes the bait — the river starts to flow.

Even so, no matter how connected we are to someone, we always have to come back to ourselves and the natural world. We treasure our solitude, partly because we feel no one really understands us except for, well, us — and often we don’t even understand ourselves. Spending time alone and in nature can be immensely healing and re-energizing for INFPs, and we crave a good balance of solitude and meaningful human connection.

7. We’re hungry for meaning and inspiration.

We experience the world intensely, and it doesn’t take much for us to have spiritual, life-changing experiences. On the other hand, if we stick to routines and don’t spend any time stepping out of our comfort zones, we quickly become dissatisfied.

I recognize other INFPs when I come across someone who loves going on adventures, but not of the sort that others typically find interesting. INFPs might love exploring weird parts of the world like abandoned places, and a rundown old mill can be as beautiful as a royal palace to an INFP’s mind. We might enjoy taking road trips and frequenting the kinds of places that are easy to fill with our own creative observations.

There are so few of us INFPs. In a world designed around small talk, hierarchies, and competition, we dreamers have to stick together.

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