I’m an INFJ, and ever since childhood, I’ve struggled with being too invested in my ideals. My internal world is built on stories. Like my need for food and water, I consume stories from books, movies, and even other people as they tell me the personal happenings of their lives. There hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t immersed in the fantastical worlds of my novels or fascinated by different ideas and theories of the world.
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But this comes with a downside: When your identity comes from stories, it can be all too easy to fall into an overly idealistic mindset.
My books were filled with myriad perspectives that stretched my imagination. This is generally a good thing, but for me, it became a problem. I started using my idealism as a crutch in times of adversity.
See, like any other person, I experienced rough times in my childhood. I was also extremely depressed as a teenager, developed anxiety, and suffered abuse in my early twenties. My relationships with people — and even life experiences — were categorized as “should have been like_____” or “should be like ______.” In other words, I was underwhelmed by my real experiences, which paled in their vibrancy compared to how they unfolded in my books.
INFJ, can you relate?
To escape from the trauma and disappointment in my real life, I sought solace in the only true safe place I had: my imagination. When life got hard, I retreated into my imagination, because no one could tarnish the narrative I created there. There, I could always rewrite or overwrite my thoughts and feelings. I could write myself a different life. A better one. I could base my story on my own ideals instead of my circumstances or other peoples’ influence.
Eventually, I would escape to this place in my head so often that my life became flat in comparison. I grew more and more disgruntled with the motions of everyday life and viewed it as mundane and unfulfilling. Flaws in my life glared at me from every angle, because my relationships, grades, projects, and job all could have been better in some way. I couldn’t let go of this discontent and couldn’t see that I had fallen in love with the idea of life as opposed to seeing my life for what it was: messy, imperfect, but wonderful nonetheless.
The Problem With Being Too Idealistic
Here’s the problem about investing too much in ideals: while they are a great starting point for manifesting the life you want, they don’t exist in the here and now. Ideals are the potential you could achieve in your career, love life, friendships — essentially the highest bar you could set for any given circumstance.
But there are many times when life simply will not accommodate your vision. Sometimes you may be put in situations where nothing is ideal and you’re forced to make difficult choices. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to have full control over shaping your life into exactly what you want it to be. Your life is constantly mingling and being affected by chance, natural causes, and other people with their own agency.
Eventually I learned that life will never be perfect, no matter how much I strived to obtain the perfect job, relationship, house, body, grades, etc. There will always be something that could be “better.” When I began to idealize various elements of my life, I imagined every decision I would have to make to be easily identifiable as good or bad — and there would be a straightforward route to happiness. Instead, I only found that the fantasies had become expectations that were impossible to reconcile with reality.
Idealism can be dangerous when you become too focused on how things should be instead of how they truly are. For example, I had read so many stories about the unyielding generosity and loyalty that can exist in fictional friendships that I expected my real-life friendships to be modern versions of Sam and Frodo. So, any time a friend said or did something that didn’t follow that relationship template, they were automatically knocked off the pedestal in my mind, and I began to view them differently afterwards. I completely disregarded the fact that people make mistakes, because the ideals in my head had no room for flaws.
I became increasingly unhappy and depressed. How could anything in real life measure up to the perfect fantasy I had become so emotionally dependent on? In the past, I escaped to a happier place to protect my mind, but what I discovered was that the longer I hid in my perfect world, and the more I justified picking apart every flaw in my life, the more I was sabotaging my chance at genuine happiness. I was letting myself marinate in my discontent instead of moving towards solutions that would fix my problems.
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Because I believed that the only relationships worth having would perfectly fit into my life, I wasn’t learning how to resolve conflicts. Because I believed that the path to success was a smooth, upward trajectory, it was hard for me to move past each failure in my attempts to settle into a “perfect” adult life. Because I didn’t have the exciting, perfect life I created in my head, I thought real life wasn’t worth living at all.
How INFJs Can Strike a Balance
Ideals function like a North Star for our hearts. To hold them in our minds and hearts is to point our moral compasses and dreams in the right direction. Ideals keep us moving forward, but in order for that to happen, we need to keep them grounded in what’s real and practical.
Like me, if you’re an INFJ who struggles with being overly idealistic, here are three things that will help:
1. Have a friend or someone you trust hold you accountable.
Check in with them once in a while when you feel like you’re getting too lost in your head or carried away by some idea. Just the simple act of articulating your thoughts and feelings to someone else makes them more real — and helps you see them more clearly. It also helps to get someone else’s feedback on your ideas and have them help you course-correct if needed.
2. Write down your thoughts and come back to them later when you’re feeling more calm and collected.
When you get lost in idealization, it’s easy to feel impassioned, excited, and even righteous! There have definitely been times when I’ve gotten into arguments I’ve regretted because I got carried away with my ideals. Before incurring any real life consequences for the visions in your head, there’s no harm in writing them down and double checking if they’re actually achievable.
3. Be open to alternative opinions.
Let’s be honest: INFJs can be a stubborn bunch. It’s part of our “judging” nature to narrow down options to just one or two — and stick with them. It’s important to remember that what you value is not necessarily what someone else values, so be open to having a conversation, reading a book, or engaging in a debate with someone who has a different opinion. It’s okay to feel strongly about what you believe, but entertaining other ideas and arguments is a good way to stay balanced.
Ideals are meant to be aspired to, but they aren’t meant to be obsessed over. If something in your life isn’t perfect, it’s not the end all, be all. In our crazy, messed up, and ever-changing world, ideals are a fixed point, perfect and undeviating from that perfection. But real life is more fluid — and chaotic — than that. When we loosen our ideals just a little bit, we gain the freedom and peace to enjoy life’s beautiful imperfection.
You might like:
- 3 Causes of INFJ Burnout (and How to Get Relief)
- INFJ: 9 Reasons You’re Still Single
- The INFJ’s Paradoxical Struggle With Loneliness
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