The INFP personality type makes up about 4-5% of the population, outnumbering INFJs at a pace of three to one. INFPs are idealistic, humane, creative, quirky, and individualistic. They see themselves as unique individuals, equipped with a special blend of skills and abilities.
With Introverted Feeling (Fi) as their dominant function, INFPs’ (and ISFPs’) emotions are deep, intense, and personal. This contributes a deep sense of attachment and loyalty, even jealousy, toward the objects of their affection. INFPs empathize with and form attachments to those that affect their own emotions (Fi), such as their own pets, children, or the victims of an act of injustice. Instead of broadly distributing their F-related concerns (the way of Fe types), INFPs (and other Fi types) funnel their emotional energies into select individuals, groups, or causes. This is why Fi is often said to be intensive, whereas Fe is extensive.
INFPs can commonly be found helping individuals that are sick, disabled, disenfranchised, or otherwise in need. They love rescuing or helping the helpless, such as adopting abandoned pets from the animal shelter. They take up “niche” causes that have affected them personally, such as rallying for research for a rare disease.
INFPs want to feel inspired. They need their Fi to be stimulated and impassioned. They may therefore seek out, even if unconsciously, experiences that arouse or intensify feelings of passion, inspiration, or meaning. They may turn to relationships, novels, poetry, music, travel, or charity work to achieve their desired level of intensity. In romantic relationships, INFPs can feel restless and dissatisfied when the passion or intrigue wanes.
Since Fi is introverted in direction, INFPs’ status as Feelers is not always evident when viewed from without. When immersed in Fi, INFPs can often seem cold, aloof, indifferent, moody, or hypersensitive. But despite their Fi’s lack of emotional warmth, INFPs’ auxiliary function, Extraverted Intuition (Ne), often steps in to compensate. When using Ne, INFPs present as open, receptive, quirky, and even fun.
Because INFPs are outwardly receptive and non-judgmental, they can serve as veritable dumping grounds for others’ problems. This can engender a sense of emotional heaviness, leading some INFPs to have a tragic or melancholic air about them.
Many INFPs are well-described as “earthy,” both in appearance and lifestyle. Female INFPs tend to go light on the make-up and are generally less concerned with being fashionable than ISFPs are. INFPs also content themselves with rather meager or Bohemian living arrangements, flanked with second-hand furniture and decor. Designer clothes, fine meals, and extravagant vacations are rarely high on their priority list. Male INFPs, especially early in life, often assume the role of the lone wanderer. Almost always lovers of nature, many take to the trails, mountains, and wilderness in hopes of passionately connecting with what they see as the essence of life.
Although body types do not always closely correspond to personality types (especially in females), there is evidence to suggest that INFPs are disposed to more of an ectomorphic build. If mesomorphs are envisioned as square and chiseled and endomorphs as rounder in shape, ectomorphs can be pictured as more linear and lanky. While it is not all that unusual, at least in the Western world, to encounter INFPs who have taken on a rounder shape, only rarely are they heavily muscled.
Of all types, INFPs are among those most explicitly concerned with achieving a holistic balance of mind (Ne), body (Si), and emotions (Fi). Toward this end, they often populate self-help, “human potential,” or bodywork seminars. Such holistic practices may also serve as attractive and viable career paths for many INFPs. They may find their niche in alternative or complementary medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, Reiki, etc. Others might opt to study psychology, nursing, or ecology. Because Ne and Si are adjacent in their functional stack, INFPs (like INTPs) enjoy work that allows them to bridge theory (N) and practice (S).
Like ENFPs, INFP career-seekers can be drawn to all sorts of creative endeavors—poetry, music, drama, fiction writing, the fine arts, and the like. Creative expression is in many ways the lifeblood of artistically-inclined INFPs. It not only provides INFPs an enjoyable sense of intensity and absorption, but an opportunity for self-discovery and self-expression.
INFP Personality Type Development & Functional Stack
INFPs’ functional stack is composed of the following functions:
Dominant: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Auxiliary: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Tertiary: Introverted Sensing (Si)
Inferior: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
INFPs’ personality type development can be broadly conceived as consisting of three phases:
Phase I (Childhood)
This phase is characterized by the development and employment of INFPs’ dominant function, Introverted Feeling (Fi). Phase I INFPs tend to be highly idealistic and quick to judge (even if keeping most of their opinions to themselves). In this phase, they have yet to grasp the bigger picture of reality (Ne). While their Fi confers a strong sense of right and wrong, their moral sensibilities have yet to be opened by the use and development of their Ne.
Phase II (Adolescence-30s)
Once their dominant Fi reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, INFPs’ inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), enters the picture and begins to play a more influential role. This can be confusing because Te is not next in line in their functional stack. Its undue influence derives from its bipolar relationship with INFPs’ dominant Fi. Phase II INFPs are also characterized by a propensity for seeking and experimentation. In developing their auxiliary function, Extraverted Intuition (Ne), INFPs explore new ideas and open up some of their Fi judgments. They realize that some of their earlier judgments were premature, too black-and-white, or uncritically inherited artifacts from their childhood. This may compel them to embark on a journey of discovering their own truth, including obtaining a clearer understanding of themselves and their place in the world.
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
If all goes well and they are fortunate enough to enter Phase III, INFPs become increasingly aware of the insidious ways of their inferior Te. As they become more aware of their inferior and learn to function more authentically as INFPs, they experience greater balance between their Fi and Te. They learn that integrating their Te happens naturally and indirectly as they go about authentically using their Fi, Ne, and Si. As they cultivate conditions that support their natural strengths, Phase III INFPs come to experience a heightened sense of peace, wholeness, and satisfaction.
INFPs’ Dominant Function: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Introverted Feeling (Fi) is a Judging function. As an introverted function, it is directed inwardly, actively brokering and managing personal tastes, values, and emotions .
As we saw earlier, Fi is more intensive and selective in its focus than Fe tends to be. This is one reason why Fi types seem particularly bent on having their own children, which can serve as a longstanding, rewarding investment for their Fi energies. Finding a niche cause or artistic outlet can also provide an object of focus for their Fi.
While Fe turns to others for emotional support and kinship, Fi deals with emotions more independently. When INFPs do opt to outwardly express their feelings and values, they often do so indirectly—through active (S), creative (Ne), or rational (Te) expressions.
Since Fi judgments are personalized rather than customary, INFPs can be wary of Fe judgments and expressions. To INFPs, Fe expressions can seem generic, predictable, shallow, fake, or contrived. Their distaste for what they might consider the facades of Fe may lead some INFPs to further dampen their own expressions of positive emotions. Some may even repress positive feelings within themselves, often unwittingly, to bolster their ideal of real and authentic Feeling. Others may assume the role of the victim or martyr. These Fi-Fe differences can at times make communication difficult between Fi and Fe types. INFPs may find themselves questioning the Fe’s sincerity, while the Fe may wish the INFP would display a little more good feeling to enhance rapport and emotional resonance. But Fi is more concerned with authentic feelings than it is with good feelings.
Fi also works to mold and shape its own worldview—a personalized system of values—that can serve as a platform for self-understanding and decision-making. In this sense, it is similar to Ti, which also involves a process of building or modifying an inner structure. This Fi structuring process was nicely illustrated by one of my INFP blog contributors:
“My inner values and feelings (Fi) are like a building, a structure of affections that inform my worldview. This involves an inner love for certain things, and an inner repulsion for other things. My values and feelings form “blocks” of varying hardness, depending on how strongly I feel about them; the stronger ones are more resilient…I constantly discover more about the structure as I go, and what I should change to make it better. For example, I didn’t have to factually discern a respect for human dignity; I simply found myself in situations where people did not respect human dignity, and it made me angry — I found out that I hate bullying.”
As introverted Judging functions, Fi and Ti share much in common. Both are intensive and focused rather than broad and extensive. Both involve a more individualized or subjective process of Judging. Just as Ti runs counter to the standardized methods of Te, Fi diverges from the broad, collective focus of Fe. Both can be skeptical of large systems or standardized ways of doing things.
Fi and Ti differ primarily in their focus. As we’ve seen, INFPs feel compelled to help the sick, needy, children, and animals. Ti types, by contrast, are less motivated to directly help or care for others. INFPs are also inclined toward art, poetry, and other means of self-expression, whereas NTPs are more interested in conceptual pursuits than artistic ones. Of course, these lines can sometimes be blurred on account of the inferior function, which, for better or worse, often inspires INFPs to pursue Te sorts of interests.
INFPs’ Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
INFPs use Extraverted Intuition (Ne) as their auxiliary function. Ne can function either perceptively or expressively. The verbal expression of Ne amounts to something like “brainstorming aloud.” When orating, NPs may not always seem to “have a point” as they haphazardly move from one idea to the next. Even ideas that seem inwardly cogent to the INFP may suddenly sound incoherent when they attempt to convey them through their Ne.
In its receptive role, Ne prompts INFPs to gather information. Ne does not merely gather overt information as Se does. Se is more straightforward, involving a direct apprehension of information through one or more of the primary senses. Ne is different in that it goes beyond or looks behind sense data. This allows INFPs to discern otherwise hidden patterns, possibilities, and potentials. Their Ne is constantly scanning for relationships or patterns within a pool of facts or experiences. INFPs commonly employ the receptive side of their Ne in activities such as reading, researching, and conversing with others. They enjoy asking questions that allow them to gain insight or knowledge from others, often making INFPs good facilitators of conversation.
Its extraverted nature makes Ne more divergent, extensive, and open-ended than its introverted cousin, Ni. Ni is more intensive and convergent, conferring a greater sense of conviction and closure. Once Ni has done its work, INJs are more apt to feel there is a single correct solution. NPs, on the other hand, because of the divergent nature of Ne, seem to disposed to multiplying rather than reducing the number of options or possibilities.
INFPs also use their Ne to sniff out intriguing possibilities. They commonly enjoy and assume the role of wanderer or seeker. Rarely do they know in advance exactly what they are seeking, which is partly why they find operating in Ne mode so exhilarating. Ne involves a sense of blind anticipation and expectation, of not knowing who or what will manifest next in their life journey.
Ne also confers an open-mindedness. It helps INFPs see truth on both sides of an issue without forming unwarranted judgments or premature conclusions, including an openness to alternative or Bohemian lifestyles. INFPs are among those most likely to suddenly become vegetarians, join a commune, or decide to live out of the back of a van. They often fancy the notion of a “raw” or organic lifestyle.
Like INTPs, INFPs have a love-hate relationship with their Ne. They love the fact that it helps them remain open-minded, to see the bigger picture, and to see the value of different options or perspectives. INFPs also enjoy the sense of adventure, expectancy, and wonderment toward life’s mysteries that their Ne confers, of not knowing who or what will manifest next in their life journey. But living with Ne also has its challenges. For one, it can make it difficult for INFPs to arrive at firm conclusions or make important decisions. It often seems that at the very moment they are feeling good about a given conclusion or decision, their Ne steps in and causes them to start doubting it again. This has obvious implications for INFPs who are trying to find their niche in the world. It can cause them to feel discouraged and restless, worried that they may never find what they are looking for. They may feel frustrated by their seeming lack of progress toward anything substantial.
INFPs’ Tertiary Function: Introverted Sensing (Si)
Unlike, Ne or Se, Introverted Sensing (Si) is a conservative function. It involves a strong attachment to past precedent—to the routine, familiar, and predictable. Those with Si in their functional stack often eat a relatively bland or at least consistent diet. Since Si types “eat to live” rather than “live to eat,” they are less likely to overeat or consider themselves “foodies” than Se types. Si types are not only conservative with regard to their diet, but with respect to the material world in general. They are less apt to lather on make-up or concern themselves with current styles and fashions, opting for a more “natural” and less embellished appearance. Many INFPs end up as vegetarians, eat organic or whole foods, and sport a bohemian lifestyle. Like other Si types, they have less of a need for novel physical pleasures, lavish surroundings, or material comforts.
This tendency toward material conservationism can also be seen in the creative and artistic approaches of NP types. Their approach often entails creative reuse or recombination of (Ne) existing resources (Si) to make something new. While this commonly involves the use of organic or natural materials, they are also known to supply their creative projects with items from thrift shops or garage sales.
A most overlooked feature of Si is its perception of internal bodily sensations—the body as felt and experienced from within. More than any other function, Si perceives a raw and basic sense of “being” that exists apart from thought or outward stimuli. Historically, Eastern philosophical and religious traditions have done a better job exploring this aspect of human experience than those of the West. This dimension of Si is engaged during activities that direct attention to one’s internal bodily state, such as yoga, Tai-Chi, or meditation. INFPs interested in exploring this element of Si may find great delight and benefit from these sorts of practices.
INFPs’ Inferior Function: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
As is true of other types, INFPs can be blinded to the degree to which their inferior function impacts their decisions and behavior. Without sufficient awareness and integration of their inferior, INFPs will continue to feel incomplete and be prone to unwise decision-making in their careers, lifestyle, and relationships.
As discussed in my INFP careers post, INFPs may be enticed by their inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), to pursue less than ideal careers, such as computer science, mathematics, or the hard sciences. Or, in their relationships, they might pair with ETJ types in attempt to quickly obtain, even if unwittingly, what they are lacking and striving to find in themselves (i.e., Te). In order to avoid the potential pitfalls of their Te, INFPs can work to understand and be aware of the ways it manifests in their personality.
For INFPs and ISFPs alike, the Fi-Te pairing creates a tension between individuality and subjectivity (Fi), on the one hand, and standardized ways of doing things (Te), on the other. Consciously, INFPs tend to emphasize the former, championing the unique values and preferences of the individual (Fi), while less consciously, they are drawn to broader, “objective” truths and standardized ways of doing things (Te).
Since Introverts’ inferior function is extraverted in direction, it is attuned to externalities. For INFPs, their Te is sensitive to perceived problems in external systems, systems that allow Fi injustices like hunger or homelessness to go unmitigated. This is one of the primary ways in which Te works in tandem with Fi. Te subconsciously evaluates external circumstances and uploads its findings to Fi, which can then provide a subjective response. So when INFPs experience “negative feelings” toward a given situation, they are using subconscious information from Te in making that appraisal. In many ways, the world relies on INFPs to use this Te-Fi process to identify potential injustices and dehumanization, ensuring that the individual (Fi) does not get lost in or swallowed up by the system (Te). On the reverse end, it depends on ETJs to ensure that systems don’t get tossed out for the sake of individuality.
Te may also inspire INFPs to organize their immediate environment. INFPs can derive guilty pleasure from ordering and organizing, granting their Te the sense of external control and order it seeks. Te may also inspire them to “be responsible,” follow the rules, or “do things by the book.” INFPs caught up in their Te may be so bent on being responsible that they fail to spend time sufficient time empathizing with others (Fi) or functioning creatively (Ne). And since being responsible is culturally endorsed as a positive virtue, they may miss the fact that it can actually be unhealthy for them, causing them to forfeit some level of open-mindedness (Ne) and compassion (Fi). In the grip of Te, INFPs can extremely rigid, particular, and dogmatic.
The inferior nature of their Te can also contribute to a lack of assertiveness and a propensity for conflict avoidance. INFPs often feel they have little control or power over the outside world. So when it comes to expressing their judgments, they often avoid doing so directly. They may simply swallow the judgment and try to deal with it by way of their Fi. Or, they may handle it more obliquely through jokes, quips, questions, or actions. Like other P-types, INFPs have also been known to express themselves through various forms of passive-aggressive behavior.
Healthy functioning for INFPs requires regularly partaking in Ne activities and explorations. Like other IPs, INFPs are prone to getting locked into Judging mode—alternating between their Fi and Te—while effectively bypassing their Perceiving functions (Ne & Si). Those who regularly employ their Ne auxiliary are able to remain more open and flexible, avoiding the potential pitfalls associated with their inferior Te.
For a more extensive look at each of the INFP’s personality preferences and functions, be sure to explore my latest eBook, My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type, Preferences & Functions.
Celebrity INFPs/Famous People:
Camus, Kierkegaard, Luke Skywalker, Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Lennon, Bob Dylan
This INFP description may also resonate with Enneagram Threes (3w4), Fours (4w3, 4w5) & Nines (9w8, 9w1).