Friday, August 05, 2005

What is it like as INFJ?

To be pedantic, I shouldn't say 'I am an INFJ'. I should say (using the Myers-Briggs model) that I have preferences for Introverting, iNtuiting, Feeling and Judging. Or (using the cognitive processes model) that my dominant process is Introverted iNtuition, with axiliary Extraverted Feeling. Or (using the temperament model) that I'm a Role-Directing Responding Idealist. Sometimes given the title 'Foreseer Developer'.


So much jargon. It takes a long time to come to terms with all the ramifications of these theories, and see how they interrelate. I do see them all as different sides of the same coin. Or perhaps a better analogy is the famous one of the blind men and the elephant. One felt a leg and insisted it was a tree. One felt the tail and said no, it was a rope. One held the trunk and assured his friends it was a snake. All their sensory impressions were valid, but their conclusions were false because they were each only considering one part of the whole. Put together, with someone else feeling the body, and the tusks, and understanding the patterns was necessary before the elephant could be perceived as what it was.

Of course we each have our own perspective on just about everything. And while some conclusions might be wrong, or only partly true, our perceptions are always valid. The problem arises when we refuse to acknowledge that others may have different - but equally valid - perceptions. They may also draw different conclusions, which may or may not be as accurate as our own. So long as we remain open-minded, we can always learn.

Yet we cannot be TOO open-minded. It's a fine line. 'So open-minded his brains fell out' is bandied about as an insult about someone who can't seem to think for himself. Yet the opposite of open-minded is closed-minded. Personally I prefer to err in the open-minded direction if I can't get the right balance. At least I will listen to others, and be willing to learn, and also willing to change my own misunderstandings and incorrect conclusions.

It took me a long time to realise that (using the simplest shorthand) my preferences are indeed INFJ. I didn't even want to admit it at first. I would prefer to be a straightforward person who's good at hospitality, understands logistics, makes friends reasonably well, and always understands social customs. Those people who buy just the right gift, express just the right amount of thankfulness, throw great (but relaxing) parties, invite guests to their home and find things to talk about, seem to fit in wherever they go, don't worry about dozens of contradictory perspectives and complex abstract theories ... doesn't that sound great?

But it isn't me. I finally gave up my self-image as a Guardian (albeit a rather different and not very succesful one) about six months ago, and sat down wearily in the INFJ box. There aren't many INFJs around, only about 1% of the American population, and perhaps similarly low elsewhere. So I don't even have any role models whose preferences match mine. Descriptions aren't always very useful either. The one on the Personality Page for instance, doesn't leap out at me at all. I don't think I"m particularly complex, I'm certainly not artistic. I like things to be fairly orderly and systematic, but I'm very bad at arranging them that way. Logistics is the realm of the Guardians, not the Idealists.

There's plenty more that does describe me (warm, sometimes intuitive about people, potentially stubborn...) but then personality descriptions have a lot of generalisations in them and most of us can find something in just about all of them that seem to fit. For years I identified with ISTJ descriptions, and then for a year or so with ISFJ. I can't honestly say that INFJ is a better match, as far as most descriptions go.

On the other hand, there's much in this description at the BestFitType site which is correct. I like this site, because it talks about 'best fit' types rather than exact matches. It also uses personal descriptions by people with the particular types, ensuring as much as possible that is common to all of this type rather than vague generalisations which either apply to just about anyone (whatever their type) or only a few people.

Even so, I had to read it a few times before I made sense of it. But that figures. The core of each of us is what we take for granted, what's always been there. It's not obvious to us at all, and for Introverts like myself it's not much evident to anyone else either.

Here are a few sentences from that page which really do sum up who I am:

Connecting for me means being able to intuitively ask questions of people to get them to go deeper into the things they are talking about.

Yes! Rapport is very important to me, and one of the ways I establish it is to ask questions. I like to encourage people to think beyond the box. To figure out WHY they believe what they do.

Sadly, this often leads to misunderstandings. It's only recently that I realised that not everyone wants to think more deeply about anything. Some people want to accept what they've been taught, at more-or-less face value. Others adopt strong moral principles, but then feel threatened if anyone else queries them.

For an INFJ, querying something is not the same as attacking it. In fact I'm not sure I'd attack any philosophy or belief, because I truly believe everyone is entitled to believe whatever they like, however pointless or immature, or even incorrect. If it's a belief that's going to put them - or someone else - in danger, I want them to see it for themselves. Sometimes I seem argumentative, even provocative, but it never (all right, hardly ever!) feels that way from where I sit. It's just that what I'm hearing isn't congruent, and I want to hear more - for the other person either to explain in a way I can truly understand (even if I don't agree with it) or to see any fallacies and move on.

Here's another sentence from that description:

The challenge is opening up people’s minds to have their own original thoughts. I’m a listener and guide.

Absolutely. It seems so obvious. Isn't that what magazine articles, and mailing lists and blogs are for?

But not everyone sees them that way. I've had to learn that some people really don't like their minds being opened up, and perceive any attempt to do so as criticism. So either I phrase my questions more tactfully, or I swallow them altogether and say nothing. Sometimes the latter option is the right one, but it's a very difficult lesson for me to learn. If someone doesn't want a listener or guide, and is not interested in deep thinking or new perspectives, then that is their right.

In the meantime, if anybody I've upset with questions comes across this post, there's another vital sentence in that description:

I’m not as outgoing or as critical as I may sometimes appear.


There are other parts of that description that are absolutely right. Caring is (for me) at least partly about helping people grow. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. And yes, when I care about someone I care deeply even if I'm not always very good at showing it.

I love reading and writing. Indeed, I need to read. Fiction as well as non-fiction. Secular books as well as Christian books. Some people don't understand that either, but books are almost as important to me as food and drink. I also need to write. I have always written something - journals, stories, appalling poetry in my young childhood - and know I communicate better in writing than I do in speech.

I would like my day to be structured and organised. I set up routines, and sometimes I stick to them. Many times I don't, but it doesn't mean I don't like structure. I just can't be tied to it, and - much as I would like to think I follow logic rather than emotion - if I don't FEEL like doing something, it's very difficult to bring myself to do it.

Finally, one sentence which sums me up, and my purpose in blogging. I don't know if this is typical of all INFJs, but I suspect it might be.

If we spent more time trying to understand each other’s point of view, to communicate more effectively, we would grow.


Alex said...

I'm an INFJ too and it gets particularly confusing sometimes. I'd say that the personality descriptions fit me fairly well.
The whole thing about people don't "get me" and I think too much are spot on, but at the same time I don't see myself as particularly artistic or creative.

eugie said...

It's been a while since you wrote this, but I was googling "INFJ" trying to understand more about this archetype and found your blog. What you wrote in this entry really resonates with how I operate. It is uncanny how precise it is, especially the part about asking questions and wanting others to discover their own depth. I want them to, in the very least, attempt to observe why they think the way they do, irrespective of whether their conclusion may have been.

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HiMyNameIsDead said...

YES, the questioning aspect... Wow, it's so nice to know other people understand this.. I've began to realize the ways people react defensively to the perception of their values being challenged.. usually it's because they assume I'm like them in the sense that I ask questions,not for my own understanding,but to somehow establish some position of superiority in a conversation I never had intended to be received as a debate or an attack of any sort :\

I am also better conveying my understanding through writing,and considering I'm a judging type,it would make sense that given more time to organize my thoughts,my words would have a greater impact than if I were to try to speak the jumbled mess verbally. The emotions I feel can be quite confusing,because I feel so much at once.. and the ambivalence could potentially be overwhelming to the point that my ability to communicate is paralyzed by the depth of my understanding and empathy toward things other people would consider unrelated.

I also read alot,and mentally have a fairly high need for stimulation.. I constantly have multiple objects flashing through my mind as I marvel at the connections they all share when they would appear so different. I've never met a person who could understand that my "abstractions" are actually quite rational,and that I don't really go on tangents(as they claim),but can extend my insight shared between two deceptively distinct concepts beyond their normal line of thinking.. If I go out to far,they become mentally tired,and dismiss my whole perspective,assuming that the extension never resolves back to my main point,and I find this frustrating as it is a factor that limits my ability to connect with others..

And finally,I am VERY spiritually active. Reading about different belief systems,find the connecting principle in varied religions,understanding how to allow others to more readily identify with other people and ideas that they couldn't latch onto by emphasizing the similarities as opposed to differences, shifting their perspective(and occasionally my own) in the process... consistency is important to me.