By Dr. A.J. Drenth
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. 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 book, 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-Se 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, the INFJ can struggle with depression. This may stem from feeling chronically unheard, useless, or misunderstood, as well as from dissatisfaction with INFJ careers or INFJ 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 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
Each personality type prefers to use four of the eight functions first described by Jung. These four functions comprise a type’s “functional stack.” The relative strength of preference for these four functions is expressed in the following manner: dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior. INFJs’ first preference is Ni, followed by Fe, Ti and Se respectively. This is depicted in the arrangement of their functional stack:
While we will soon discuss each function in greater depth, for now, we will turn to another feature of INFJs’ personality—their type development. As is true for all types, INFJs’ type development consists of three general phases. These phases roughly correspond to the ordering of the functional stack, with Ni being the first function to blossom, Fe the second, on so on. But as we will see, the inferior function is sort of a special case, summoning INFJs’ attention at an earlier phase than might otherwise be expected.
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 and ISTPs 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)
Life is a continuous quest for psychospiritual development and integration. Typologically, this involves finding ways to successfully integrate the functional stack. Of the four functions, the inferior function—sometimes called the lost, missing, or repressed function—is the most difficult to access and integrate. Because it is largely unconscious, all types struggle to grasp and understand its nature. In dreams, it is often expressed symbolically as being buried deep underground, undersea, or in a dark forest.
Despite its characteristic elusiveness, it is impossible to achieve psychospiritual wholeness without the inferior function, since wholeness demands that all four functions be intregrated. Because we all know this intuitively, each personality type can be seen as striving to integrate its inferior function. This quest has been perenially symbolized in religious and literary myths (e.g., searching for the “promised land” or “Holy Grail”). Some comparative mythologists have even considered it a universal human phenomenon (e.g., Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” or the “Hero’s Journey”). In his book, Jung’s Four and Some Philosophers, Thomas King nicely outlines this quest for the inferior function:
The time comes when the individual feels life is empty; something is missing. The original sense of purpose is gone and one is dispirited and confused. At this point the individual feels called to make a difficult search for the rejected (i.e., inferior) function…The individual sets out on a difficult and unfamiliar journey (e.g., “a sea voyage,” “a venture into the forest”) to locate the missing function.
Here, King describes what we might call “dominant function fatigue,” along with a desire for something new and refreshing. The inferior function is definitely up to this challenge. Engendering a type of experience that is characteristically distinct from dominant, it is commonly described as magical, mysterious, and even blissful. The profound allure of the inferior function can furnish a great deal of life energy and motivation. Indeed, the mere prospect of it often supplies enough energy to sustain us for an entire lifetime.
Unfortunately, pursuing, much less integrating, the inferior is not without its difficulties. Doing so typically entails a protracted power struggle between the dominant and inferior functions (i.e., Phase II of type development), one which is rarely resolved without some measure of pain and suffering. And while religious and literary myths are right in suggesting that the path to salvation is often revealed through suffering (e.g., “refinement through fire”), this hardship can be minimized by understanding the psychological framework upon which the quest for wholeness is founded. This of course includes learning about the inferior function, as well as how to properly integrate it.
INFJs’ inferior or “missing” function is Extraverted Sensing (Se). Generally speaking, the inferior nature of their sensing makes INFJs less naturally attuned to the concrete details or physical elements of life. While their Se takes in plenty of sensory data from the world around them, this information is synthesized and experienced through the lens of intuition (Ni). So instead of noticing specifics about people or the environment, INFJs are more apt to experience what we might call an impression. They get a general sense (i.e., intuition) of people or things, such as whether an individual seems psychospiritually healthy or unhealthy. While INFJs are experts when it comes to these sorts of general impressions, they can be rather oblivious to external specifics and details (Se).
In experiencing the world through the filter of Ni, INFJs often report a perpetual sense of déjà vu or strange alienation with respect to their physical surroundings. One of our INFJ readers described it this way:
I will literally just be sitting at dinner and suddenly realize that I am a physical being in a room surrounded by so many things I didn’t realize for the past hour. This can be a confusing and frightening experience.
This is not to say, however, that INFJs are unaffected by the physical environment. As “highly sensitive persons (HSPs),” their nervous system is highly permeable and sensitive to all sorts of stimuli. This can make them more susceptible to being overwhelmed or overstimulated than other personality types. In some cases, because of their N-S disconnect, they may not realize that they are overstimulated until it’s too late.
I observed one INFJ, for instance, who seemed to be enjoying herself at a rather loud, strobe light laden concert. But not long after it was over, she experienced a debilitating headache and what seemed to be a “crash” of her nervous system. Somehow, she had managed to remain unaware of the sensory overload until she was effectively incapacitated by it.
INFJs report similar experiences with extended shopping excursions. While they may enjoy themselves for a while, sustained use of Se (i.e., browsing), combined with the noise and commotion of crowds, can result in a subconscious sensory overload or exhaustion that eventually catches up with them.
In short, INFJs have a tenuous relationship with the physical environment. Not only can the S world seem quite strange and foreign to them, but if they are not careful, it can overwhelm them. This is why INFJs, especially as children, can be leery of new S experiences, such as trying new foods or physical actions. Intuitively realizing their tenuous relationship to the physical world, they tend to “error on the safe side.”
As adults, however, INFJs may gradually open themselves to new S experiences. I have known a number of INFJs, for instance, who are bona fide “foodies,” seeing every meal as an opportunity to explore and experience new sensual delights. This points to the love-hate relationship that all types have with the inferior function. Depending on the circumstances, inferior function experiences may be perceived as scary, stressful, blissful, or intriguing.
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. This is why INFJs can be so particular about the things they buy or the way their work is done. In some cases, INFJs may be willing to sacrifice everything, even their own health, to ensure their vision finds a perfect incarnation. In such instances, 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 reasonably expect anyone else to? In the words of Jesus, “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.”
Read the full INFJ profile in my eBook, The 16 Personality Types: Profiles, Theory, & Type Development, which includes more on INFJs’ inferior function, perfectionism, paths to growth and development, and in-depth profiles for all the types.
Unsure if you’re an INFJ or INFP?
Famous/Celebrity INFJs: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Niles (fictional from Frasier), Tori Amos, Robert Reich, John Oliver, Regina Spektor, Gael Garcia Bernal, Peter Joseph (Zeitgeist Movement)
*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 my colleague Elaine Schallock who kindly procured much of the material for this profile.