At times, navigating the world as an INFJ personality type can feel like a battle. As a mother and a teacher, my proverbial energy source is almost always at “E” for empty. Why? Too many forces pull and push at me; my desires to help other people and to achieve my own dreams combine with an intense ability to feel others’ emotional pain.
These cumulative factors place me — and all INFJs — at risk of burnout. Let me explain. Here are three reasons INFJs get burned out, plus what I’ve learned about getting relief.
3 Reasons INFJs Burn Out
1. Being everyone’s counselor
Sensitive, intuitive, and able to read others well, we INFJs are known for being everyone’s pseudo-counselor. In fact, many INFJs are actual counselors who make their living as therapists or psychologists. As a teacher, I cannot tell you how many times students have stood waiting at my door in the morning to talk to me about what they’re struggling with at home. My own children frequently come to me with their fears and problems, and even older family members seek me out when they need advice or simply a listening ear.
Don’t get me wrong. I am SO glad that they see me as the kind of person who will listen and allow them to safely unburden themselves. I’m proud to be a part of helping and healing others.
However, being everyone’s counselor has a downside.
So many people seeking my advice, my listening ear, takes away from my time to recharge. As an introvert, I need that time. It’s what restores balance and allows me to get up again the next day and go forth.
Not only does being everyone’s counselor chip away at my much-needed solitude, it also sets my “doer” tendencies in motion. INFJs are “judging” personalities, which means we’re driven by a sense of closure and accomplishment. I not only spend time listening to others but also attempting to “fix” the suffering laid at my feet. Maybe I should call her and check on X. Maybe I can help her out by doing X or by planning Y.
Being the ambitious problem-solver that most INFJs are, next steps are not optional; they are mandatory. This means more time spent doing for others and less time giving to ourselves. Eventually, this drains our internal reserves, and we’re left feeling frazzled, on edge, and burned out.
2. Always striving for more
Sometimes I struggle to enjoy the simple, restorative pleasures that most people use to unwind. Let me tell you, as an INFJ, my brain never turns off. Never. While others are “Netflix and chilling,” I am “Netflix and planning.”
Sure, I may be looking at the TV, but there’s an unseen conversation unfolding in my head. While others are focusing on the storyline of their favorite television show, I am focusing on my oh-so-important to-do list. I’m telling myself I should be using this time better — all thanks to my “judging” nature.
I have so many things I want to accomplish. I should be connecting with my children so I can be the mother they need; I should be trying to write that next article so that my writing aspirations can come to fruition; I should be preparing that dynamite lesson to reach the struggling students who will enter my classroom in the week ahead.
As an INFJ, I always feel like I’m not doing enough. While my introvert side begs for downtime, my judging side demands I just get up and do it. And do it again. And again. Who needs downtime, right? Well, guess what? I do! Not getting enough of it takes a toll on the INFJ’s spirit and physical health.
3. Constantly sensing and absorbing others’ emotions
Empathic and sensitive, INFJs are constantly bombarded by other people’s emotions. We are already a radiator of internal energy, as our own emotions are always simmering just below the surface. Often, the traumas that others experience ratchet up the emotional heat, sometimes leaving us threatening to combust.
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Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, defines an empath as someone who can “sense subtle energy and actually absorb it from other people and different environments into [their] own bodies.” She goes on to say that empaths “energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others — and often have trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from [their] own.” Thanks to our highly developed intuitive and feeling functions, INFJs often experience this phenomena, and it can cause heightened emotional distress.
For example, I can get stuck in my feelings just from watching strangers. Recently, I was at a store trying on clothes in the dressing room. Stepping out to check myself in the mirror, I encountered a gaggle of adolescent girls giving each other a fashion show. Three of these girls were slim and Instagram perfect; one, however, was overweight and not quite the natural beauty as the rest of the padre.
Pretending to study myself in the mirror, I watched and listened to their discourse. The majority of their comments were uplifting, as they complimented each other on their new outfits. Still, I could see the unease on the fourth girl’s face. She tried to look relaxed and join in her friends’ laughter, but I could sense some pain under the surface.
And that’s when my mind took off. I took a quick trip through what I imagined to be her life — feeling inferior to the other girls and dealing with the harsh realities of middle school. Of course, I can’t be certain what was going on in her mind or what her life is like. But that didn’t stop my empathy. For the rest of the day, my thoughts were with her. There was nothing I could do to make her situation better, but that did not stop my heart from grieving.
Sometimes, even time away from the stressors of work and socializing does not mean time away from our feelings — and this can be very draining for INFJs.
How I Deal With Burnout
There’s no easy answer when it comes to dealing with burnout. It’s not in my nature to turn my feelings off, and even if I could, would I want to? Not really. My ability to turn my dreams into reality, to feel deeply, and to truly care about my world and the people in it are my greatest gifts as an INFJ.
Think of how many wonderful things we can do with our “bittersweet” abilities. Chase our dreams. Step into another’s shoes. Give a word of encouragement to that suffering soul we momentarily merge with. Find a way to make the world a better place with our ability to truly listen to another’s pain.
But as INFJs, we have to take care of ourselves, too. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to use our abilities to the fullest. We can’t help anyone if we ourselves are burned out.
That’s where self-care comes in. For introverts and INFJs, it’s not just something nice we do for ourselves; it’s absolutely crucial. What to know what I do for self-care? Here are seven ways I treat myself as a highly sensitive soul.
And INFJ, don’t neglect to celebrate your intuitive, sensitive, empathic nature. You have something to give the world that others can’t. So treat yourself with that manicure, that chocolate covered sundae, that sparkling glass of wine — or simply some extra time to yourself. You are quite spectacular, and the universe needs what you have to give.