By Dr. A.J. Drenth
Like other types, INTPs and INFPs instinctively want to marry their dominant and inferior functions. For INTPs, this means reconciling their individual Ti (Introverted Thinking) methods with a broad Fe (Extraverted Feeling) philosophy. Similarly, INFPs, seek to reconcile their unique Fi (Introverted Feeling) preferences with an objective Te (Extraverted Thinking) worldview. What these types often fail to realize, however, is that this reconciliation is unlikely to occur in the first half of life. This is because INPs must first thoroughly consult and develop their auxiliary and tertiary functions (Ne & Si) before they can reach a confident Fe or Te conclusion (see Elaine Schallock’s Maze Metaphor for more on this). In short, they need a great deal of time to test and experiment with a breadth of Ne (Extraverted Intuition) ideas before they can reach a point of J conviction and certainty.
When INTPs and INFPs try to latch onto a single theory or identity, they typically end up changing their mind in a matter of time. This leaves them feeling depressed, disoriented, and directionless. They go from a blissful sense of having THE answer to the dreadful feeling that they know nothing at all; they “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” They don’t rely enough on memory (Si) to recall where they’ve been and what they do know with a good measure of confidence. Instead, they allow their Ne (Extraverted Intuition) to clear the slate of any sense of convergent knowing or meaning whatsoever.
This problem not only manifests in INP’s search for truth, but also in their careers and relationships. This is partly because INPs often look to their philosophy of life as the platform for their careers and relationships. So if they feel lost as far as “knowing themselves” or knowing their philosophy, they can feel paralyzed with regard to selecting a career or relationship. They may feel they cannot authentically function in a job or relationship until having clearly defined who they are and what they believe. They therefore delay action in favor of continued contemplation. INPs have even been known to suddenly abandon their careers or relationships if they no longer align with their current understanding. Again, this is attributable to the extreme thinking involved with trying to quickly appease their inferior function’s desire for a convergent endpoint.
A More Balanced Approach for INTPs & INFPs
In order to avoid this emotional rollercoaster, INTPs and INFPs should first recognize they are not J-types. Their job is not to know or proffer convergent J answers early in life. Instead, INPs are designed to explore and critique Ne ideas and possibilities. Their role more closely resembles that of artist, skeptic, critic, or tinkerer than that of scientist or prophet. Thus, INPs need to be okay with leaving the J theory open-ended. Yes, they will gradually develop and refine their understanding of themselves and the world over time, but they need to resist the allure of the “shotgun approach” where they (or their current favorite theorist) can get everything settled in one day. For INPs who don’t buy into what I’m saying, simply consult your own experience and see if the “one and done” approach has ever worked for you in the past.
Instead of constantly straining to once-and-for-all define themselves or their worldview, INPs simply need a general orienting direction. Like other types, they need some degree of direction in their lives. In order to identify this general direction, INPs might consult the past (Si) (this is especially true for INPs in their late twenties or older) rather than constantly conjuring brand new options a la Ne. They can use Si to recall their historical skills and interests, which in all likelihood are not going to change drastically, at least not in any enduring sense. This holds true for their careers and relationships as well. So instead of dispensing with their current career, INPs are often better off looking for ways to function more authentically within their current field. In doing so, they need to be careful not to allow idealism to enter the picture too strongly, since idealism, when disappointed, can quickly degenerate into extreme cynicism. The general purpose should be to identify/create work that allows for the consistent use of their top two functions in a field that they are generally interested in or believe in. That’s it. No need to keep asking if it is the “ideal” career field. As hard as it may be at first, they need to trust that the J endpoint will take care of itself in time.
Because their inferior function wants convergent answers, it can be easy for INTPs and INFPs to assume that answers are all the world wants from them. They assume the world has no use for their questions, their skepticism, or their endless supply of Ne options or possibilities. But these assumptions are merely projections of their own subjectivity. The truth is that the world needs them to ask probing questions, to poke holes in existing theories, and to provide creative or explorative “food for thought.” We see similar faulty assumptions among INJs who project that what the world really needs from them is more art pieces rather than Te or Fe insights, answers, or analyses. This of course, is why typology can be so valuable, revealing the common stumbling blocks associated with each type’s inferior function.
Helpful Resources for INTPs & INFPs:
The INTP: Personality, Careers, Relationships… (#1 INTP book on Amazon)
Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP (our new online course):