It’s widely known in personality circles that INFJ is the rarest of the 16 types. INTJs, who also use Introverted Intuition as their dominant function, are a close runner-up.
Many of INFJs’ signature strengths and values are rooted in their Introverted Intuition (Ni) function. INFJs relish time alone where they can explore the rich inner imagery and perceptions of Ni through art, writing, or other creative outlets. INFJs are also quite sensitive to and perceptive of the world around them. Their Ni picks up on subtle cues and inferences that other types often miss. A hallmark of Ni—the ability to “read between the lines” or see beneath the surface of things—helps INFJs discern underlying themes and patterns in human psychology, relationships, moral / spiritual phenomena, etc.
Considering the relative rarity of Ni as a dominant function (found in less than 5% of the population), it’s no surprise that INFJs feel that others aren’t seeing or attuning to the same things they are. This contrast is particularly striking with respect to Extraverts (E) and Sensors (S), types who take things at face value and resist prolonged reflection. Rather than slowing down to mull things over, ES types are always on the go, immersed in the fast-moving currents of modern life.
INFJs, by contrast, in being disposed to imagining and self-reflecting, often feel like they’ve been relegated to life’s shores. They struggle to know how or when to step into the river of life as it flows at an increasingly rapid and intimidating pace. Staying firmly planted on the shoreline lends a sense of safety and security as INFJs go about their inner explorations (Ni).
INFJs’ difficulty with action—taking external risks, trying new things, putting themselves out there, etc.—is a common source of frustration for this type. Among other things, it can lead to fears of missing out and the sense that life is passing them by. It can also cause INFJs to envy the same individuals they’re apt to be critical of—Extraverted and Sensing types. In particular, INFJs may lament the fact that material prosperity often seems to visit the youngest of souls, i.e., those with relatively little moral, intellectual, or psychospiritual maturity. Rightly or wrongly, INFJs may come to believe that the outside world neither values nor rewards what they have to offer. Who, after all, is hiring for insight?
Feeling “Different”: Blessing or Curse for INFJs?
In feeling at odds with Extraverted Sensing culture, it’s no surprise that INFJs come to see themselves as characteristically “different” from others. And given our individualistic age, it might be easy to assume that INFJs would typically welcome this realization. But this isn’t always the case. In some cases, their differentness may feel more like a curse than a blessing for INFJs.
One way INFJs discover their differentness is by observing others’ responses to them and their ideas. INFJs who are never taken seriously, or worse, are flat out rejected, may at some point start questioning the validity of their intuitions. Some may even question their own sanity. After all, if nobody seems to be corroborating their perceptions, how can they be sure they’re not crazy? Indeed, we can find myriad examples of Intuitive types throughout history whose sanity has come under scrutiny, be it from themselves or others.
INTJs, who also lead with Ni, can face similar difficulties. However, INTJs often have the luxury of fleshing out their intuitions mathematically or scientifically which helps substantiate their validity. Since INFJs’ insights typically fall within the sphere of the humanities, their primary tool for communicating truth is not logical formulae but human persuasion (Fe). They rely on language, metaphor, or other means of self-expression to help others see (or at least remain open to) what they’re intuiting.
Much to their dismay, INFJs find that others are often reluctant to entertain the critical or challenging insights their Ni has to offer. INFJs may thus feel consigned to the plight of Cassandra in Greek mythology: fated to offer true prophecies, but never to be believed.
Viewed more positively, INFJs’ differentness might be viewed as an indication of “specialness,” of their being endowed with a unique set of gifts and abilities. Instead of being hampered by self-doubt, such INFJs may develop a relatively high view of themselves and their abilities. Some may even fancy themselves sages, gurus, or geniuses.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with having high self-esteem, such INFJs are not immune to the pitfalls of egoism. They may excel at spotting psychospiritual shortcomings in others, but fail to recognize their own weaknesses or areas for growth. Although some may be loath to admit it, INFJs are not exempt from having to undergo significant struggle to achieve spiritual growth. Sure, some of their Ni insights may effectively reduce the need to “learn the hard way” (i.e., to experience hardship), but true saints rarely avoid suffering altogether.
So in addition to critiquing and counseling others, INFJs must be willing to take a hard look at themselves—to confront and wrestle with their personal and typological shortcomings, including the challenges associated with their inferior function (Se). To become truly effective teachers, they must first be humble students.
In light of the above, most INFJs find their differentness to be bittersweet—sometimes it feels like a curse, sometimes a blessing.
In their introverted world, INFJs can feel quite incredibly capable. Ni is a powerful function and, given enough time and investment, it can yield remarkable insights. But as we’ve seen, INFJs’ insights, however true or valuable, aren’t always seen or validated by others. This can engender feelings of self-doubt, rejection, and loneliness. Due to these oscillations in self-worth, INFJs experience and exhibit a fair amount of emotional turbulence. Some days they may feel on top of the world, poised to lead and inspire the masses. On other days, they may feel listless and rejected, worried that they’ll never amount to anything.
To reduce this emotional turbulence, others might counsel INFJs to stop focusing so much on their differentness and to instead grant more attention to the ways in which they are similar to others. They may see INFJs as over-inflating their differentness in attempt to bolster their sense of specialness or importance.
In some cases, such advice may be worth considering. But even if INFJs over-estimate their uniqueness at times, it’s also true that INFJs are objectively different in an important sense, and denying that reality would be tantamount to living a lie. While this certainly doesn’t justify INFJs adopting a “higher than thou” attitude, it does suggest that INFJs’ should be given the benefit of the doubt regarding their perceived differentness. More often than not, understanding the INFJ at a deeper level will render these differences more salient and appreciable.
For an in-depth look at INFJs—their personality type, relationships, life struggles, paths to growth, and more—be sure to explore our new INFJ book:
Beyond Rare: The INFJ’s Guide to Growth & Self-Awareness
INFJ here. I was also an only child. It’s been quite a trip for this old girl. Went from completely dismissing my insights as a young person because everyone dismissed them, to listening carefully to them. Now I know ‘intuitively’ when they are accurate. Love the article.
A.J. Drenth says
I’m glad you enjoyed the post Agatha. Thanks so much for sharing your experience as an INFJ.
Me too Agatha – an infj only child. I think it meant I was even more in my own little world – no siblings to provide perspective/ comparison
I’m INFJ and an only child too. It does seem being an only child is fertile environment for creating INFJs
Almost there says
I love the book. I have read it cover to cover twice and certain sections multiple times. It’s like an owner’s manual for infj’s.
A.J. Drenth says
That’s great to hear! I’ll pass your encouraging words along to Elaine.
Recently, the more I’ve learned about myself, both in general as an INFJ/HSP through reading relevant materials and more specifically about “me” as an individual, I’ve come to genuinely like myself.
It feels almost like falling in love in a way/the realization you have when you making a true friend. I heard the author Elizabeth Gilbert, on a podcast refer to being “with” herself versus “by” herself, an important distinction…as I’ve recently begun being with myself, interacting with “me” through writing, quiet, solitude and other means like meditation/yoga/gardening and those times I’m present/aware of my own thoughts/feelings/consciousness in everyday life, like when I’m watching a TV show and I start making jokes aloud to myself and i enjoy a genuine laugh in my own company.
It’s almost like being a video game character that comes to life , aware of itself as a sentient being, it’s no longer sleepwalking through life.
I’m more aware now (in a chill way) about the attributes I see I’m myself that I like, and it’s brought me to a place of genuine acceptance and curiosity about me and others too .
The initial feeling of wrongness I had when I first joined the world of personality isn’t the same and that makes sense, because I was coming from a place of profound ignorance, if that’s the right word .
It’s like a plant that thrives in the shade living in full sunlight for years on end, it struggles profoundly and one day has the realization that there’s such a thing as plants that thrive in shade, it’s not alone in this distinction or broken, it’s a normal plant and it limps on into the shade and slowly learns how to take care of itself, how much water/light it needs and meets other plants like itself and slowly with time it revives, and finds a semblance of peace, joy and pleasure, it realizes there was nothing wrong with it in the first place, it just didn’t have the right knowledge
I’m not talking like I’m Yoda or those masters from Kung Fu panda, who’ve crossed over to the other plane and have arrived, it’s a journey of making peace with yourself and the world & learning how to exist truthfully and be truly alive versus just existing, so the loneliness of walking off the beaten path is still present, I’m aware of it… so it bittersweet isn’t it?
A living paradox, complex, sad and beautiful at the same time , it’s complicated…but I like me
There was a time I couldn’t say that, so to be here is a profoundly beautiful thing and it’s worth acknowledging, we’re so used to telling other people we love them and having epiphanies about other people’s meaningfulness in our lives, that I think it’s worth pausing to honor such profound realizations about ourselves and our own meaningfulness, living from the inside out
so maybe it’s a journey of learning to manage both the good and the bad? the times it feels like a transcendent experience and the times the grief is real and profound…learning how to deal with both the ” blessings and curses”.
A.J. Drenth says
Beautifully put Edde. Thanks so much for offering us a glimpse into the growth process and realizations that INFJs may experience with time and maturity.
I love the way you explained your journey, it makes perfect sense to me…perhaps because my own journey is so similar.
A. J. is again bombing us with great wisdom!
I saw myself in almost every line of this article especially what he describes the roller-coaster of one we feel like we are the top of the world and then the next day we feel like losers. I would argue that this happens almost every minute in my day!
Blessing yet a curse…
A.J. Drenth says
Thanks so much for commenting AY. I’m glad the post hit home for you.
The INFJ insights that you’ve offered over the years have been some of the most helpful reflections I’ve received. They have been heads and shoulders more insightful than any other personality “system”. As a an only child, and a faith-based documentary filmmaker, I feel like you’ve described me and my inner turmoils to a “T”.
A.J. Drenth says
That’s lovely to hear Reuben. For those who may not know the nomenclature, you’re referring to INFJ-T where “T” stands for turbulent.
Mother of Cows says
Thanks for this insightful article A. J. I find my intuitive knowing extending beyond the human world to the planet and non-humans. I keep these secret until I find the science to back them up. It would sound too insane otherwise.
Also, I have given up comparing my success with others using the typical measures of salary, status and material wealth which would make me seem like an eternal failure. Although sometimes I can’t help but compare and feel like a failure. So perhaps its also important to dwell on the blessings to regain the balance.
But I can’t see how focusing on the similarities with others is going to help though… besides the basic human conditions that we all share… which helps me empathise.
I’m an INFJ. I noticed early on in my Myers-Briggs journey that ESxx types were generally those who butted heads with me the most and understood me the least. The people close to me are:
INFP x 8
INFJ x 5
INTJ x 3 (Mom)
INTP x 1 (Dad)
ENTP x 1
ISTP x 1
ISFP x 1
ISFJ x 1
And you can identify just from the letters above which person I’m close to whom I have the most communication difficulties with. (If you can’t, its the ISTP.)
Feeling isolatingly different has been a defining characteristic of my life, and thus, INFPs have been an amazing ally for me. They’re so good at attuning, listening, and empathizing that they make me feel safe and validated. And because I speak up for their needs in situations where they would be too quiet in a group, I make them feel safe in turn.
Kirstie Brewer says
I too am one. Lonely says it all