“Mandi, what chapter are we on?” my third grade teacher barked at me from the front of the classroom.
I looked up, startled at the towering man seething with anger, and said the only thing I could think of—
“I said… WHAT CHAPTER ARE WE ON?” he roared.
My heart raced as I frantically thumbed through the giant math book on my desk. The truth was, I had absolutely no idea. My mind had drifted off nearly thirty minutes prior to an imaginary land where it was far more intrigued.
“I don’t know,” I whispered, watching eyes all around the classroom narrow in bewilderment. I blinked back tears as the teacher proceeded to howl insults in my direction.
I Was Different, and Therefore, Flawed
This was among the first of many painful experiences that came as a result of my proclivity to the world of imagination. Very young, it became apparent to everyone that I wasn’t wired for the concrete, mathematical world. I was made for the world behind the curtain — the invisible, the abstract, the poetic … the world deemed an adversary to my education.
While the other kids played outside at recess, I sat at my desk and wrote pages of short stories. While they perfected their t-ball skills, I wandered into the fields and made bracelets out of dandelions. And when they were conquering algebra, I was drawing sketches of horses and flowers in my notebook.
Suffice it to say, I wasn’t exactly the model student. I was different, and therefore, I must be flawed. This very belief is the birthplace of shame — a powerful emotion that erodes our ability to share ourselves with the world.
Sadly, these painful childhood experiences are all too common among introverted feelers (such as the INFP personality type and others), whose unique strengths and abilities aren’t always readily apparent growing up — not to our parents, teachers, friends, or siblings . . . maybe not even to ourselves.
(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality test.)
But the world didn’t hesitate to show us what we lacked.
So how do we move forward from these painful childhood experiences? How do we overcome the suffocating belief that our differences somehow make us flawed?
3 Ways INFPs Can Overcome the Problem of Shame
1. Speak it. Shame thrives in the dark — lies of inadequacy grow and fester where there is no light to disprove them. When we hide our shame from the world, we only become further convinced that the lies we believe about ourselves are actually true. Shame tries to convince us we must disguise our pain and self-doubt with accomplishments and poise if we are to be loved and accepted — and tragically, these disguises only serve to further isolate us. The path to true connection begins by being honest. Choose to come out of hiding with a trusted friend, family member, mentor, or counselor. Let someone into the dark, and you might be surprised to discover that’s exactly where true belonging and acceptance are born.
2. Redirect it. Shame feeds on past failures. It keeps a record of the moments we fell short and plays them on a merciless loop in our minds. If we allow this cycle to continue, it can quickly lead to debilitating fear and depression. But we have the power to stop the failure-reel from running. We can redirect our thoughts to focus on our strengths, instead of replaying our past cringe-worthy moments over and over in our minds. Maybe you didn’t always shine in math class, but your artistic and empathetic nature helped others understand the world in ways they may never have otherwise. With time and practice changing these harmful thought patterns, shame will begin to lose its hold on you. Choose to look for ways to utilize your strengths today instead of living in the shadow of yesterday’s failures.
3. Channel it. Shame is fueled by denial. When it comes to painful emotions, sometimes our first instinct is to ignore them all together. And while this might bring us a form of temporary relief, it inevitably causes far more psychological damage in the long run. The inconvenient (and somewhat corny) truth is that healing begins with feeling. When you sense shame rising up inside, don’t run from it or deny it. Simply recognize it and allow it to wash over you; then, look for ways to channel it into a powerful form of expression. Let it morph into a short story, a poem, a painting, or another work of art. Pour your emotions into your craft and let it reveal the beauty of human connection in the midst of pain. Turn those dark moments into something that can bring clarity and hope to someone else — as an INFP, it’s what you do best.
It can take considerable effort to unwind the experiences that taught us our differences were flaws to be fixed rather than gifts to be embraced. But the truth is, the past doesn’t define you. Neither do your parents, your friends, or your uptight third grade teacher.
Stepping into your true identity is a responsibility that belongs only to you.
The world desperately needs you to move beyond the past and become the truest version of yourself. It needs your unique gifts, quirks, and talents. It needs your dandelion bracelets.
So, fellow INFP, here’s my advice to you: stop hiding from your shame and face it head on today. You’re strong enough, brave enough, and wise enough to overcome the lies that have been holding you back.
Don’t let shame rob the world of the light only you can give.
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Read this: 10 Contradicting Things About INFPs
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