INFJs are “old souls.” Many grow up feeling wiser than would be predicted by their chronological age. Having discovered the value of their Introverted Intuition (Ni) quite early in life, INFJs grow to trust its judgments and insights. Even as children and adolescents, INFJs can be found advising and counseling their friends and siblings, and perhaps even adult family members. They tend to feel happiest and most fulfilled when helping and enlightening others through their insights.
Because of their strength of intuition (and commensurate detachment from physical reality), many INFJs report feeling like aliens in the world. One INFJ described her experience as “a perpetual sense of deja vu.” Others report feelings of disembodiment. The fact is that many INFJs (and INTJs) seem to experience the world and their bodies quite differently than other types do. It is therefore not uncommon for INFJs to question their own sanity.
INFJs see two people in everyone. They see the public persona, the outer shell, which everyone else sees. But more important, their Ni provides a deeper sense or impression of people, penetrating appearances and revealing hidden motives and intentions. Consequently, INFJs often feel they can see people more clearly than those people can see themselves.
To fully understand INFJs, it is necessary to recognize the full implications of their dominant function, Ni, being a Perceiving function (see my recent book, My True Type, for more on this). Namely, INFJs are far less serious inwardly than they appear outwardly (ENFJs, whose dominant function is a Judging function, are characteristically more serious). INFJs’ inner world is well described as playful, imaginative, colorful, mischievous, and daring. They love playing with ideas, perspectives, theories, images, symbols, and metaphors.
INFJs also enjoy listening to music, watching movies and television, and engaging with people. Perhaps more than anything, they love spending time engrossed in meaningful conversation, which allows them to simultaneously engage their Ni and auxiliary Fe functions. Talking affords INFJs the opportunity to help and enlighten others through their insights. And because of their loquaciousness, INFJs may at times be mistaken for Extraverts.
A signature feature of INFJs (and INTJs) is a deep concern for quality. They long to see their Ni ideals actualized in physical reality (Se). Consider the following excerpt from My True Type:
While Se attends the appearance of things, Ni is concerned with their deeper qualities and substantiveness…While INJs are to some extent concerned with appearances, they are more attuned to the underlying quality and craftsmanship of things…ensuring that things are substantive, thoughtfully-crafted, and otherwise amenable to their Ni tastes. NFJs, in particular, exhibit the most refined (or what other types might deem expensive or pretentious) tastes of all types. The popular television comedy, Frasier, is a great example. Much of the show’s humor revolves around the sophisticated snobbiness of Frasier (ENFJ) and his brother Niles (INFJ). This includes flaunting linguistic formalisms and a high-brow vocabulary, as well as frequent allusions to fine dining, classical music, designer clothing, and the like.
Like the INFP personality type, INFJs can struggle with depression. This may stem from feeling chronically unheard, useless, or misunderstood, as well as from dissatisfaction with the INFJ’s careers or the INFJ’s relationships. Because Ni perceives the world so differently and profoundly, INFJs often experience a sense of loneliness and isolation, even when they are with other people. Depression may also arise from feeling that their ideals and insights are not being recognized or actualized in the world. They may see the world as deaf to, or unconcerned with, the truths they espouse. INFJs may therefore question their value in a world that seems indifferent to their insights.
The INFJ personality type is among the rarest of the 16 types, constituting only 1-2% of the general population. Unlike the INTJ personality type, in which males predominate, there is greater gender parity among INFJs, with nearly equal numbers of males and females.
INFJ Personality Type Development & Functional Stack
INFJs’ functional stack is composed of the following functions:
Dominant: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
Auxiliary: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Tertiary: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Inferior: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
INFJs’ personality type development can be broadly conceived according to three phases:
Phase I (Childhood)
Early in life, INFJs are characterized by the development and dominance of their Introverted Intuition (Ni). Since they are Introverts, they may also show significant development of their second function, Extraverted Feeling (Fe), which can serve as a useful extraverted tool for navigating the outside world. The Ni-Fe function pair allows INFJs to make and express judgments. INFJs are particularly well-equipped to read and evaluate people, including their underlying motives.
Since Ni is a Perceiving function, INFJs should not be viewed as closed-minded at any point in their development. But during Phase I, they might appear overly opinionated or closed-minded, at least from without. Even if their judgments are precociously accurate, Phase I INFJs may lack some discernment regarding if and when it is best to express those judgments. Moreover, their Ni-Fe conclusions have yet to be honed and tempered by their tertiary Ti, making the INFJ more reluctant to carefully review or revise them.
Phase II (Adolescence-30s)
Once the dominant function reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, INFJs’ inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), enters the picture and begins to play a more influential role. This can be confusing because the inferior is not next in line for development in the functional stack. The inferior’s undue influence derives from its bipolar relationship with the dominant function. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the inferior function is the primary culprit in unwise career and relational decision-making. Unfortunately, its influence peaks in Phase II of type development, which happens to be the same time INFJs are making life-altering decisions about their careers and relationships.
In addition to the increasing presence and influence of their inferior function, INFJs also begin to open up and hone their judgments by way of their tertiary function, Introverted Thinking (Ti). The logic of their Ti serves to cross-check and refine their Ni-Fe judgments. As INFJs develop their Ti, they also become more interested in exploring their inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se).
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
Phase III, a phase which many individuals never reach or complete, is characterized by an attempt to understand and integrate the tertiary and inferior functions. By bringing these less conscious functions into the light of consciousness, we can better envision our path toward wholeness. Doing so requires understanding the nature of how these functions manifest within our type and becoming more aware of our personal patterns of unconscious behavior. Once these patterns have been made apparent, they can be replaced with healthier thoughts and behaviors. Decisions and behaviors become increasingly wise and conscious, engendering a lasting sense of satisfaction and wholeness. For INFJs, Phase III personal growth entails a deeper exploration of the nature of and challenges associated with their tertiary Ti and inferior Se.
INFJs’ Dominant Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
Intuition is generally considered a subconscious process. It is often contrasted with more conscious types of rational thought. Because Intuition is commonly associated with the unconscious, it is often thought to have a certain magical quality, capable of delivering comprehensive answers or solutions suddenly—“out of the blue.”
One of the central features of Intuition is its capacity to synthesize information. It is sensitive to patterns and similarities, quickly seeing connections among disparate pieces of data. By seeing how everything is connected and interrelated, it is capable of discerning universal laws and structures.
What is interesting about types with dominant Intuition, including INFJs, is that this Intuitive process, which for non-Intuitives is largely unconscious, is more accessible and observable in consciousness. This seems particularly true for INTJs and INFJs, whose Intuition is directly inwardly rather than being fused with the outside world. INJs have the good fortune of witnessing and consciously participating in a mysterious process which for other types is entirely unconscious.
Because Ni affords INFJs a more intimate relationship with the workings of what most people call the subconscious mind, INFJs’ routine existence often assumes a sort of dreamlike quality. For INFJs, there is less of a distinction between their ordinary waking state and the experience of sleep. At times, this can make it difficult to separate dream from reality, making nightmares all the more disturbing for this type. It is little wonder that many INJs, including Jung himself, find dream analysis so intriguing and important.
Because of their ready access to subconscious or subliminal information, INFJs are commonly viewed as profound, insightful, and sometimes even psychic or prophetic. While not diminishing the unique capacities of INFJs, Ni can be rational, non-magical terms.
In order to understand Ni, it is first necessary to understand INFJ’s inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se). For INFJs, Se functions subconsciously and is constantly gathering copious amounts of sensory information from the environment. Meanwhile, their Ni is constantly working to process and synthesize this incoming data, like assembling pieces of a puzzle. Eventually, it manages to construct an impression or vision of what is happening. Because other types are not privy to the workings of this Ni-Se processing loop, it can seem as though INFJs’ insights are magical or divinely inspired. In reality, INFJs cannot see the future, but are simply more skilled than most at accurately discerning what is happening in a given situation. This allows them to better envision what how things might unfold should they continue along their current course. This ability to accurately “see” is why INFJs are sometimes described as prophets or seers.
It is often said that human beings rely more heavily on vision than we do our other senses. This seems especially true of INFJs, who often ascribe a strong visual element to their Ni. INFJs often “think” by way of images rather than words. Their intuitions often manifest in the form of symbols, images, dreams, or patterns. This is consistent with Jung’s characterization of the Ni type as a dreamer or seer. There is a distinct visual character to these notions, which is why vision-related terms—foresight, insight, seer, visionary, etc.—are invariably used in describing INFJs. The visual nature of Ni might also tie into INFJs’ inferior Se, which is also a highly visual function. The difference is that Se is attuned to the specifics and details of the environment, whereas Ni is more concerned with forming an impression or theory of what is happening based on the totality of incoming sensory information.
INFJs’ propensity for processing information visually may contribute to one of their signature strengths: reconciling opposites. One advantage of visual processing is it doesn’t have the same rules or impediments of verbal processing. In some cases, problems may be better solved by employing images or symbols rather than by other means. It should not surprise us that Jung himself hailed the value of imagery and symbols. For Jung, symbols were critical for dealing with paradoxes, including the challenge of reconciling opposing psychological functions, which he dubbed “the type problem.”
INFJs’ Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
INFJs use Extraverted Feeling (Fe) as their auxiliary function. As the most interpersonal of all the functions, Fe is attuned to surveying and improving interpersonal feelings and morale. Like other FJ types, INFJs work to cultivate “good feelings” in the interpersonal environment. In order to survey others’ feelings, Fe contributes to INFJs’ ability to read emotional expressions and body language. This, in combination with their Se and Ni, allow them to effectively read, understand, and relate to others.
Interestingly, INFJs can have a more difficult time with perceiving and understanding their own emotions. This is due to the fact that their Feeling function is directed outwardly (i.e., extraverted) rather than inwardly. Unlike INFPs, whose Feeling function is introverted (Fi), INFJs are less equipped to manage their emotions independently. Inwardly, they deal in the currency of Intuition (Ni) and Thinking (Ti). Hence, when INFJs find themselves in emotionally taxing circumstances, they often turn to others for aid and support.
Fe also entails an extraversion of judgment. INFJs utilize their Fe to express their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and grievances. Fe gives voice and shape to INFJs’ feelings and intuitions. In many cases, INFJs do not know fully understand the nature of an Ni insight until given the opportunity to verbalize it. They may have a hunch or a gut feeling, but the content of the intuition can remain somewhat nebulous until it is expressed via their Fe. Assuming they have not been severely censored in their upbringing, INFJs are generally happy to share their feelings and perspectives. In fact, given the right opportunity, INFJs will often talk at length about their feelings and intuitions. Unlike FP types, who generally prefer a more dialogical format, INFJs are inclined toward monologues, which allow them to fully flesh out their ideas on a certain topic.
INFJs’ Fe can present differently among strangers than it does with their intimates. In larger groups, INFJs may seem consistently cheery as part of their attempt to cultivate good feelings. Many INFJs have a good sense of humor and can be funny and engaging. Enlisting their vivid imaginations and knack for metaphor, they can also make good storytellers. In the company of close confidants, however, INFJs use their Fe to be more open and direct with their grievances. Since some INFJs feel like tortured souls, their commentary may take on a characteristically negative tone. They may seem moody, pessimistic, discontented, or restless. They can also seem fairly intense in their communication when infused with the emotion of Fe. Consequently, their expressions can seem exaggerated, dramatic, or irrational, especially to Thinking types. They differ in this respect from INFPs, who are less disposed to melodrama in their verbiage. INFJs can also be susceptible to self-pity and self-loathing, seeing themselves as victims. They may curse the fact that life isn’t fair, feeling that they always end up with the short end of the stick.
For INFJs, expressing themselves through their Fe is critical to their psychological and physical health and well-being. Even if doing so does not provide them with immediate solutions to the problem at hand, they tend to feel better once they have expressed their feelings, whether through words or tears. This is especially important for the mates or friends of INFJs to recognize. While not necessarily looking for others to solve their problems, INFJs value emotional support, empathy, and reassurance. Without such an outlet, INFJs can begin to feel isolated and depressed, turning to their inner fantasy world as a means of escape. And while fantasizing may seem helpful in the short-term, it can make the real world seem even less tolerable and exacerbate existing frustrations toward life.
Even if not to the same extent as EFJs, INFJs can be warm, welcoming, loyal, giving, and self-sacrificing. At the same time, as Introverts, they need time to themselves to recharge their proverbial batteries. This creates an ongoing, even lifelong, struggle for INFJs, trying to balance their own needs and desires with those of others.
INFJs commonly experience a conflict in values between their Ni and Fe. For example, they may be asked by a friend or relative to donate to a cause they don’t believe in. This puts them in the difficult position of deciding between honoring their own perspectives (Ni) or maintaining the harmony of the relationship (Fe). Since INFJs can having difficulty saying no, they will often opt to oblige others, even while inwardly regretting doing so. INFJs may experience similar issues in school. INFJs are disposed to questioning the veracity of what the teacher or other students are saying, not to mention issues of character. At the same time, however, they want to please the teacher and maintain external harmony. This can leave them feeling torn between allegiance to truth (Ni) versus Fe people-pleasing.
Because of the strength of their Fe, INFJs need to be careful not to abandon their Ni in the face of outward pressures. Since Ni is their best and most reliable compass for navigating life, when they lost track of it, INFJs can easily feel lost, restless, and frustrated. Hence, when it comes to decision-making, INFJs are wise to listen primarily to their own inner voice.
INFJs’ Tertiary Function: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
INTPs use Introverted Thinking (Ti) as their dominant function. For INFJs, Ti is tertiary, and is used to logically scrutinize and hone their Fe judgments. Ti can help INFJs think more critically and analytically. It can serve as an aid and check to their Ni-Fe, helping them discern where their ideas might fit into existing categories and frameworks of knowledge. It adds an element of logic that is less apparent in the earlier phases of their type development. For instance, INFJs who grew up in a religious home may be disposed to interpreting their insights through the lens of their childhood faith tradition. As they develop their Ti, however, they might come to question whether that wisdom might better understood in psychological terms.
What INFJs may perceive as a negative or difficult feature of their Ti is its tendency to generate self-doubt. As Ti butts up against the insights offered by their Ni, INFJs may temporarily distrust their most cherished and utilized mode of knowing—their Intuition. But personal growth is never easy, not for any type. With time, INFJs settle into a healthy balance between their Ni and Ti, intuitively knowing how to apply their Ti without spoiling the insights proffered by their Intuition.
Less developed INFJs may see little need to use or develop their Ti. Since their Ni-Fe pairing provides them with strong convictions about truth, taking an additional step to Ti may seem unnecessary. With time and maturity, however, INFJs can grow increasingly comfortable with their Ti and recognize its inherent value.
INFJs’ Inferior Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
For those unfamiliar with the powerful influence of the inferior function in personality, as well as common strategies for dealing with it, I encourage you to explore my post, Understanding the Inferior Function.
As is true of other types, INFJs can be blinded to the degree to which their inferior function impacts their decisions and behavior. As discussed in my INFJ careers post, INFJs may be enticed by their inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), to pursue careers for which they are ill-suited. Or relationally, they might pair off with an ESP in attempt to secure, even if unwittingly, what they are lacking and striving to find in themselves (i.e., Se). To avoid being subconsciously controlled by their inferior function, INFJs seeking self-knowledge and personal growth must work to understand the ways in which Se manifests in their personality.
Of all types, INFJs (and INTJs) are the most disconnected from their own bodies. Not only is their S function inferior, but INFJs use Se rather than Si, and Si is the function that confers an internal sense of one’s own body. INFJs commonly report a sense of disembodiment, as though living in a perpetual, dream-like state.
Relatedly, INFJs commonly have nightmares about unforeseen declines in their health. They may also worry that they could develop a serious disease without registering the common warning signs. Others may fear that their obliviousness to physical reality might compromise the safety or well-being of their children. INFJs may also forget to eat or, at the other extreme, overeat, because of their lack of attention to their level of fullness or the amount they have eaten.
In trying to compensate for this mind-body disconnect, INFJs may subject themselves to strict regimens of diet, exercise, and medical check-ups. Without this consistency, they fear their bodily obliviousness could result in potentially serious health consequences.
Sensory & Material Novelty/Security
Despite being the most otherworldly and abstract of the types (along with INTJs), INFJs have a curious thirst for sensory novelty and material comforts (Se). They often develop refined and sophisticated tastes for food, art, design, architecture, and the like. Not only do they love the fine things that money can buy, but also the experiences. INFJs enjoy travel, attending the opera or symphony, or savoring a fine meal.
Because of their inferior’s concern for material comforts, INFJs also tend to struggle with subsistence-related fears. They may worry excessively about losing their jobs, being forced to relocate, or not having enough money.
Despite their love of worldly things, INFJs display an equal propensity to discount or downplay the importance of “things” in their lives. They tell themselves they aren’t supposed to be concerned physical matters (Se), but metaphysical ones (Ni). They can be quick to criticize Sensing types for their materialism or superficiality while secretly envying them. INFJs may also balk at conventional practices, such as marriage, seeing the marriage contract as superfluous to their metaphysical union with their partner. At the same time, however, they may themselves envying their friends who are getting married, having children, living in nice homes, etc.
This tug-of-war between their dominant N and inferior S also surfaces when making decisions about careers or relationships. INFJs may struggle to choose between a partner (or job) who promises material security (S) versus one who connects with them on a metaphysical plane.
Ideal (Ni) vs. Actual (Se); Perfectionism
Envisioning a more ideal world isn’t necessarily bad or unhealthy for INFJs. The fact is that they wouldn’t be INFJs if they didn’t routinely receive new impressions and visions. The issue is not with their dreaming per se, but with the degree to which they become attached to or insistent on the perfect materialization (Se) of their ideals (Ni). This is where INFJs’ perfectionism comes to the fore.
All dominant Intuitives can be perfectionistic, driven to see their N ideals perfectly translated into S reality. The issue of quality is extremely important to INFJs, which is why they can be so particular about the things they buy or the way their work is done. Some INFJs may sacrifice everything, even their own health or sanity, to ensure their vision finds a perfect incarnation. They can be obsessive and “in the grip,” locked into a narrow mode of existence they cannot readily escape. In such a state, any deviation from their ideal may feel like the end of the world.
INFJs are also perfectionistic when it comes to themselves. They are often much harder on themselves than they are on others. Their Fe makes them more than willing to forgive the offenses and shortcomings of others. But since they see themselves as “knowing better,” they may fail to grant themselves the same degree of grace. They may reason that if they cannot perfectly embody their ideal of the moral life, then how could they expect anyone else to. And if their ideals have no real chance of being actualized, then why should the INFJ even exist? Without the ability to maintain hope in their ideals, they may feel they have no reason for living. This is partly why it feels so important for them to act perfectly. This notion is well-captured in the words of Jesus: “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48, NIV)
For a more extensive look at each of the INFJ’s personality preferences and functions, check out my latest e-Book:
Famous/Celebrity INFJs: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Jung, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Niles (fictional from Frasier), Robert Reich, Tori Amos, John Oliver
*INFJs commonly test as Enneagram Fours (4w3, 4w5) or Ones (1w9, 1w2). Male INFJs, in particular, may also score as 5w4.
I would also like to thank and acknowledge Elaine Schallock, INFJ, who was kind enough to gift me with much of the information in this profile.