What It’s Like Being an INFP, Based on Each Cognitive Function

A happy INFP

The INFP, one of the introverted Myers-Briggs personality types, tends to look at the bright side of things and fight for causes they believe in.

Based on Carl Jung’s cognitive function theory, I identify with the INFP personality type, the most idealistic of all 16 Myers-Briggs types. Those who identify with this type use Introverted Feeling (Fi) and Extroverted Intuition (Ne), followed by their two opposite functions, Introverted Sensing (Si) and Extroverted Thinking (Te).

The first and last functions in the stack, Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Thinking, are both judging functions. These functions are used for decision-making. The two functions in the middle, Extroverted Intuition and Introverted Sensing, are information-gathering functions. They collect information and feed it to the judging functions.

We INFPs tend to look at the bright side of things (and people) and fight for causes we believe in. Though we may be pretty private, we’re still expressive — usually through a creative endeavor of some sort.

INFPs are known as “the meditator personality” and make up only 4-5 percent of the U.S. population. However, we’re in good company, as some famous INFPs include William Shakespeare, Aubrey Hepburn, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

In case you’re not an INFP, here’s what it’s like being one, based on each cognitive function. And if you are an INFP, perhaps you’ll recognize yourself below, too.

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In the Beginning, There Was Introverted Feeling (Fi)

When I was younger, an older relative made a joke at my expense and everyone laughed. I became quiet for a painfully long time. All of my focus was directed inward toward this new feeling (embarrassment? hurt? anger?) I just wished everyone would stop staring at me — I wanted to sit in a corner somewhere and focus on this new feeling.  

Whenever a situation made me feel a strong emotion, I would replay it again and again — just to feel that particular emotion again and again. I would categorize the feeling as positive or negative, and mentally catalog it, along with its relevant memory (for later reference).

In case I wanted to know if a new situation matched that previously felt emotion, I would replay the old memory. Through the feeling that would emerge in me from that memory, I would be able to discern how close it was to the current feeling.

Does that appear to be a tedious process? Maybe! But that’s how my brain worked on autopilot.

My goal was mostly to make myself feel comfortable and positive (Fi). Identifying and studying the emotions (particularly strong ones) helped me decide whether a situation was good for me or not. I would go to great lengths to avoid possibly uncomfortable situations, sometimes even comically so.

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Then, Extroverted Intuition (Ne) Made Me a Good Companion — and Naturally Curious About Things

I generally liked new situations because I assumed they would make me feel good (FiNe). I also liked meeting new people for the same reason.

Back in school, a classmate told me about “Anasthla” — a group of aliens who had conversed with them from their window and the spaceship that had landed in their front yard. I entertained this new idea without believing it (Ne). I didn’t really think about whether this person was lying or just plain crazy. I only thought that this idea was quite interesting.

At some point, I started getting too much into exploring new and interesting ideas without pursuing anything in particular. I didn’t consider the time and energy it required to gather a decent amount of knowledge on a subject, or to get to a decent skill level. I also didn’t consider why I was delving into these ideas in the first place.

There’s a learning curve to these things, and I would give up when things started to get difficult. I took up different activities — like embroidery, bag making, history, and spirituality — and eventually abandoned them all.

This caused me a lot of frustration since I never went deep into anything enough to get any satisfaction from it. There were a lot of ideas, but no coherent thought to string those ideas together and give them meaning. There were different beginner-level skills, but nothing to give me the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile.

Introverted Sensing (Si) Decided to Step In

At this point, my Si said, “Look, all of this jumping around is making you miserable. You’ve got to be consistent with things. You’ve got to be more serious and get your act together.”

I started keeping track of my routine, creating painstaking schedules that didn’t allow me to breathe (except for when it was written in the schedule to breathe — just kidding!). I started feeling like I was finally becoming a “sensible” person (pun intended).

I kept thinking about my past. My memories were distorted by my feelings. If I associated a predominately good feeling with an event, I categorized it as “good” and said everything about it was good and nothing was bad. The same went for the association of negative feelings with an event. Everything was either soul-crushing or out-of-this-world. Nothing was ever just neutral.

Now, my Fi had to decide how to make me feel comfortable and positive. But Si said, “Positivity is not needed. Remember all the negative experiences you had when you were being positive about things (Ne)? Ne is immature and childish, always jumping head-first into things. Look at the past now and only do what has worked in the past. Don’t do anything new.”

So now what?

I (Inadvertently) Locked Myself Inside Myself

My Fi started skipping my Ne, and instead took all information from Si — while the only information Si was providing was the distorted past. 

Fi and Si are both introverted functions, which means that they focus internally on one’s own emotions (Fi) and personal experience (Si). Both of these subjective functions were now validating each other and blocking all other external data and perspective (Ne). I went so deep within myself that I inadvertently locked myself inside myself. But I didn’t know I was locked in because there was no one to tell me (my external perspective was blocked).

While on the outside I appeared balanced, and had a good routine, internally, I was gradually feeling very, very negative. My Fi was supporting this negativity, faultily assuming that I needed it in order to be comfortable. 

I must admit: I did feel comfortable in this negativity. My thought process went something like, “What’s the point of doing anything fun if we are going to die? Only things that have utility are good. There’s no point in aesthetics. Anything creative is a waste of time. Social gatherings are useless. There is no point in doing anything at all except for what needs to be done.”

This went on for a long time and I had gradually become very passive. Until…

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Extroverted Thinking (Te) Started to Nag Me

I was beginning to feel like a failure since I had not achieved anything in the external world (Te) — and Fi dealt with this nagging voice by refusing to partake in the external world. 

Fi: Don’t try to be competent at anything. Competency is just one of the ways the external world tries to control you. You are forbidden from wanting money for the same reason, too.

Me: But I need money…

Si: Oh, no you don’t! Say hello to minimalism and DIY. 

Fi: Yes! Look at all the chemicals in these products. Look at the vices of materialism. Surely it is “morally correct” to reject it.

So my Fi, aided by Si, seated itself at the throne of self created morality and self-importance, making its own DIY shampoo and judging everyone else on purchasing commercial products.

Now, whenever Te compared me to other successful people, Fi replied that this was all materialism, and my stance is to reject materialism; therefore, I cannot be compared to these people. Si clapped at this narrative and everyone was happy. Well, everyone except Te. Te was not happy…

Note how these were not objective morals, but self-serving morals that I had created. I’m not claiming that too many chemicals in commercial products are not harmful, or materialism creates no problems, or that there’s anything wrong with DIY (I still love my DIY shampoo). But my reasons for getting into it were to counter the feelings of incompetence.

But then…

Soon, Extroverted Thinking (Te) Took Over

This went on for some time, until finally Te could stand it no more and said, “You fools are using your subjective morals and faulty past experiences to justify your lazy and vain selves! I’m taking over.”

So now Te wanted to get a sense of accomplishment immediately. It organized and reorganized the cupboards for the gazillionth time, shifting items to places of its choice to exert dominance. I became a self-appointed manager for others. Rather than the passive self I had become in the previous years, I was now using my tongue, literally, like a sword to wage war.

This is when I felt most unlike myself. I could no longer recognize this ball of stress and anxiety who was desperately trying to control anything that would fall within its reach.

At this point I knew I had to open myself up to different possibilities and try something new (Ne). I understood I had to balance my outlook and find other ways of looking at the situation. I had to realize that trying to be competent was not in and of itself a bad thing (unhealthy Fi). Or that I was not a failure if external validation was scarce or not present at all (unhealthy Te). Because, after all, the definition of success varies from person to person, and not everything in life is about success and failure.

But my Te could not comprehend this and was stuck in its own version of “objectivity.” It wanted nothing less than a sense of accomplishment in the external world. Meanwhile, my Fi could not admit that my morals were not real morals, that they were not an excuse for my lack of participation in the external world. 

Going Back to Basics After a Lot of Mental Gymnastics

My mind did a lot of mental gymnastics before it finally opened up to Ne again. There were some people who appreciated my creative ideas and kept encouraging me to use them. I don’t want to make it sound too simple — it took a lot of time and resistance from my side. However, the little (but consistent) encouragement I got played a crucial role in taking me out of my mental turmoil.

As my intuition opened up, I started to get too many ideas and there were too many things I wanted to do. My Si said, “Don’t mess this up like you did last time.” And I listened.

I realized that having a routine was not the goal, but could be a means to get to a goal — so it should be made flexible as per the need (healthy Si).

I realized I didn’t need to go after every new idea that appealed to me (Ne). I should first think about their practicality (Si), as well as their implications (Fi). 

And, finally, I decided to put my work out there (Te). I’m now hoping to finally jump over that learning curve in two selected areas (one of which is writing), instead of buffooning around in 20 different areas. 

Putting my work out there and sharing it with others has also forced me to look at it objectively. Now my work can be compared with everyone else’s work (gasps in Punjabi, my native language). That alone made my Fi come down from its throne of self-importance. Because, secretly, my Fi has always been afraid of getting lost in the crowd. In the end, however, I realized that it had only been trying to protect me and preserve my individuality. 

Learning the Art of Balancing

In essence, cognitive functions have helped me understand some of the workings of my INFP mind. I have realized that I have different aspects to my perception of the world, and at any given time, one of them is more dominant. 

  • The Introspective Me is concerned with individual well-being and morality (not necessarily more moral, just concerned about it more). But I can become moody, melancholic, and full of self-pity. This is my usual default state.
  • The Excited Me is brimming with ideas, but can become impractical and distracted. This aspect can become dominant when I’m interacting with others.
  • The Sensible Me is concerned with health, stability, and financial security, but can become inflexible and resistant to change. I can also become hyper-focused on small details. This aspect pops in when I have a lot of responsibilities to take care of.
  • The Competitive Me is focused on results and efficiency, but can become harsh and cruel toward others. I can also become obsessed with being the best. This aspect usually takes over when I’m under a lot of stress.

It’s an ongoing struggle now to find a balance between all of these aspects of myself. But I’m glad that I have begun to understand a little bit (or a lot!) about my thought process. And I wish the same for you.

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