All introverts feel like outcasts at times. But there may be no one who feels like more of an outsider than women of the INTJ personality type. While INTJ men can generally fit in with other men, many INTJ women don’t fit in with other women—or with anyone at all. Yet for all of the ink spilled about INTJs, very little of it is aimed at women.
I can’t pretend to be able to fix that, at least not alone. As an INTJ man, I’m no spokesperson for the women of my personality type. But I can see that my female INTJ friends and colleagues really struggle to be understood, and I decided to recruit expert help in the form of career coach Penelope Trunk.
Trunk is an ENTJ personality type, the INTJ’s extroverted twin. She also has one of the largest followings of female INTJ readers of any blogger in the world. Trunk got those readers because she gives INTJs exactly what we want: blunt, no-nonsense answers backed up with facts. I asked Trunk to sit down with me and discuss the difficulties that INTJ women face.
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Portrait of an INTJ Woman
Trunk said that INTJ women are right to feel like they don’t fit in—because often they don’t. “INTJ women just aren’t typical of women in general,” she told me. “INTJ is the rarest personality type for women.” In fact, at 0.5% of the population, INTJ women are the rarest of any gender/type combination. You can easily go your whole life and only meet a few other women like you.
Trunk ticked off a list of the ways that INTJ women stand out:
- Gray or black seems to be the unofficial dress code for all INTJs, and many INTJ women wear minimal makeup. They prefer function over fashion. Many even have a system for what to wear and when, so they don’t have to think about it.
- Many INTJ women don’t enjoy traditional female activities like shopping. They tend to shop alone, with a checklist, and get in and out as quickly as possible.
- Work and school are not social activities for INTJ women. They focus on accomplishing goals, and are often alienated from the bonding that everyone else goes through.
- Many INTJ women are told they’re intimidating. People think their no-nonsense attitude is an act that they will drop sooner or later—but it’s just who they are.
But the biggest difference between INTJs and other women is simply temperament. INTJ women aren’t “warm” the way women are expected to be, and they’re rarely the emotional partner in any relationship. INTJs do have deep emotional needs, like anyone else, but they’re much better at managing those needs on their own. After a fight, for example, most INTJ women prefer alone time to being comforted, unless they specifically seek out the comforting.
Trunk says this temperament is exactly what makes INTJ women so competent, and so successful in the workplace. “Every organization needs people who will make cool, dispassionate decisions,” she said. “INTJ women refuse to do the ineffective thing even if it’s the ‘feel-good’ thing.”
The Biggest Obstacle for INTJ Women
When I asked Trunk about the biggest obstacle for INTJ women, she didn’t even pause: “Being questioned for why they can’t fit in with other women.”
I took this answer to a group of nearly 100 INTJ women, and they resoundingly agreed. Most have only a few female friends, and many were tomboys as kids. Over and over, I heard that female politics or “girl stuff” is like a foreign language, one they’re expected to speak but were never taught. Several even wondered how much more they could have accomplished with their powerful minds if they had been born male.
Instead they’re constantly questioned for their blunt, sensible attitude. “If I were a dude, my workplace wouldn’t care about my demeanor and personality being the way it is,” one told me.
But it’s not just the workplace that’s hard. Relationships can be even harder. According to Trunk, “INTJ women don’t need a lot of the things out of a relationship that a traditional relationship provides. They aren’t going to take care of all their partner’s emotional needs, and they tend to be goal-oriented and financially independent. All they really need is just love and support.”
In some cases, Trunk says that INTJ women are more fulfilled by their career than they are by relationships, which can lead to being seen as emotionally stunted:
“Maybe you’re 45 years old and you’re not married. You stay late at the office every day and you don’t like vacations. Your family thinks it’s sad that you work so hard and they try to get you to do things for fun. What they don’t understand is that for you, working is fun.”
According to Trunk, this also leads to the biggest mistake INTJ women make. “They settle. They start to try to fake it, and they downplay their competence. They know it puts people off so they try to hide it.” Trunk says this gamble never pays off. “You can’t fake it. You’ll still seem different. So then you’re still the outcast but without the dazzling brilliance that people will respect about you.”
How to Fit in and Be Happy as an INTJ Woman
To me, what Trunk described sounded like a catch 22. How can you find acceptance, if you’re an outsider whether you try to fit in or not? But Trunk said that fitting in with the female norm wasn’t the point at all. She offered several tips for finding acceptance:
- Seek out other women with big goals. “As an INTJ woman your aspirations are outside of traditional female roles, but you’re not the only one. Surround yourself with women with big ambitions—you’ll fit in.” Professional associations, women’s leadership events and continuing education classes are all great places to meet ambitious women.
- Don’t be afraid to join the boy’s club. Many INTJ women aren’t drawn to careers that are traditionally female, and that’s okay.
- Try developing your closest friends at work. Being accepted and understood feels very good to an INTJ woman, but it can be hard to find that acceptance with family members. Instead, turn to the colleagues you admire the most. These are the people who will respect your natural competence and like your personality.
- It gets better. Many women quit or downsize their career to stay home with kids—including some INTJ women. But if you choose to keep working full time, eventually you’ll find yourself surrounded mainly by men and other career-driven women; you’ll fit in much better by your mid-30s than you did earlier in life. (The INTJ women I spoke to agreed; many don’t want kids at all, and others are happy moms who continue to focus on their career.)
- Seek a partner who will take care of your emotional needs. This is especially true for heterosexual INTJs, Trunk says. “The man needs to want to do the work of being emotional and close, because the INTJ woman isn’t going to do it. It’s going to be on him, and he has to be okay with that.”
The most important piece of advice Trunk gave, however, was also the simplest: be yourself. There’s a much bigger world out there than “girl stuff,” and there are both men and women who will appreciate you for what you are—and believe it’s not an act. There is nothing wrong with you, and the world could use a lot more women like you.
“It’s okay to have high ambitions,” Trunk said, “You should be true to yourself and follow those ambitions.”
Seminar for INTJs: Our partner Quistic offers a course for INTJ success. “Best Practices for Leveraging INTJ Strengths (and How to Be a Likable INTJ)” is a four-part webinar from career coach Penelope Trunk. Includes access to a private Facebook group with nearly 200 success-oriented INTJs. Learn more about the INTJ course here.