By A.J. Drenth
I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in several close friendships with INFJ and INTJ individuals over the course of my life. One thing that has at times gotten under my skin, however, was their affinity for asking, seemingly out of the blue, if there was something bothering me. “Not that I’m aware of” was my standard reply. Sometimes they would press the matter: “Are you sure about that? Something seems a bit off with you today.” This would often frustrate me even more, since it felt like they were not respecting my first response and were, in effect, presuming to know more about my inner life than I did. It could also feel like they had a tacit predilection for psychoanalyzing me, a perpetual itch that needed scratching. Especially early on in these relationships, I was skeptical of INJs’ excavation missions, often characterizing them as “making mountains out of molehills.”
At some point, however, I started feeling more sympathetic and even appreciative of their perceptions and inquiries. As I worked to understand INJs’ experiences and perspectives, as well opened myself to their psychoanalytic probes, I began seeing the merits of their efforts.
In this post, I will attempt to describe and explain some of the key aspects of INJs’ attempts to analyze and facilitate growth in others, especially in their intimates. I realize that this material may not hit home for all INJs, as it primarily applies to those with pronounced psychological proclivities. ENFJs and ENTJs with a strong psychological bent may also resonate with this post.
“Something Seems Off Here”
In attempting to understand INTJ and INFJ types, we must always keep in mind that their primary function is Introverted Intuition (Ni). Thus, when perceiving that something seems “off” with one of their intimates, they are not responding to specific sensory (S) data, but to a general impression generated by Ni.
At this point in the process, INJs don’t have enough information to know exactly what is going on with their intimate. All they know is their intuition has raised a red flag, marking a deviation from the individual’s typical presentation. This is usually enough to prompt the “Is something wrong?” inquiry from the INJ.
If their intimate proceeds to claim, as I have on many occasions, that nothing is wrong, INJs are left with a rather troubling and difficult decision. Should they double-down on their intuition and offer the “Are you sure?” response, or should they try to let the whole thing go? Opting for the former runs the risk of irritating or offending their interlocutor, while the latter involves foregoing a potential opportunity for growth and insight. With time and experience, INJs can usually determine which of these options is best for a given situation or individual.
Even if their intimates initially try to dismiss INJs’ sense that something is wrong, they may eventually let down their guard and be willing to explore whether the INJ is onto something. We should probably mention that simply being willing to participate in such an investigation is itself a sign of psychological maturity, as it requires considerable humility to concede that another person might be seeing things in you that you yourself are blind to.
To be clear, the decision to oblige the INJ doesn’t always mean one is doing so eagerly. Indeed, the INJ’s intimate will often carry some measure of frustration, resistance, or skepticism into the process. This negative energy may at times ignite a confrontation with the INJ, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as confrontations can liberate repressed feelings which can then be analyzed and integrated. Skillfully-handled conflicts can also engender a surprising sense of relational closeness and intimacy. Although it can be hard to unequivocally know whether the issues comprising the conflict were responsible for triggering the INJ’s initial red-flag intuition, in the end, both partners are often thankful for the renewed sense of closeness procured by the conflict.
The “INJ Hammer”
Another challenging aspect of dealing with INFJ and INTJ types is what I’ll call “the INJ hammer.” Here I am alluding to Abraham Maslow’s famous notion, “If all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” Allow me to explain how I’ve seen this play out in INJs.
A key element of Ni, which we have yet to discuss, is its propensity for achieving theoretical and methodical convergence. Namely, the more INJs see a given pattern repeat over time, the more convinced they become of its theoretical veracity. This is why INJs develop a strength of theoretical conviction that is hard to find among NP types, a point which I unpack in my books, My True Type and The 16 Personality Types.
INJs who are convinced of the validity of a given theory or approach may quickly transition from their initial sense that “something is amiss” to interpreting the problem through their own theoretical lens. If the INJ’s intimate happens to agree with the theory, then it may prove unproblematic. However, when intimates don’t agree or consider the theory irrelevant to their situation, it can feel as though the INJ is imposing an interpretation on them that they didn’t really want or request. Of course, much of the same thing could be said about all J types (although SJ types are admittedly less inclined to psychoanalyze their partners than NJs are). The fact of the matter is simply that J types will at times render unsolicited judgments colored by their theoretical orientation.
We needn’t concern ourselves here with whether INJs’ theories / approaches are objectively valid. What matters most, for our purposes, are the respective perceptions of the involved parties, which are as follows: 1) INJs believe that their theory / approach is valid and worth employing. 2) Their intimates sometimes feel as though they’re being picked on or unduly scrutinized, serving as the INJ’s most convenient nail if you will.
INFJ / INTJ Distrust of Appearances & Superficial Methods
The last thing I’ll mention about Ni is its deep distrust of surface appearances. Of all types, INJs are the least apt to trust that those who look happy are in fact happy. This is another reason why intimates can be taken aback when the INJ suddenly begins questioning their psychological well-being. “If I look happy and feel happy aren’t I, in fact, happy?” they might think to themselves. Some may even see INJs as a bit paranoid because of their inability to take things at face value.
INJs’ distrust of appearances can also have a buzzkill effect. For most personality types, feeling happy or euphoric is a time for celebration, not deep analysis. But for INJs to authentically partake in such a celebration, they first want to ensure that the foundations of one’s ostensible happiness are both healthy and sustainable. If they prove to be illusory or unstable, the INJ may struggle to find a genuine reason to celebrate.
INJs’ preferred psychological approach typically falls under the “depth psychology” umbrella, aimed at “making the unconscious conscious.” I can honestly say that I’ve never heard an INJ recommend anything resembling “positive thinking,” as this is perceived as far too facile to pass muster with Ni’s depth-orientation. I have, however, heard more than one INJ describe his approach in terms of psychology surgery, that is, performing repairs on deep structures believed to impact the health of the entire psyche.
Other types may wonder if such deep repair work is even feasible, let alone a good use of time. Rolling their eyes at the INJ’s inability to leave well enough alone, many would prefer to pop a pill than embark on an intrapsychic wild-goose chase to fix something they can’t even see. This is why NP types can seem like a god-send for INJs. Armed with curiosity and a shared preference for abstract thinking, NPs are the most common enlistees in the INJ’s psychological experiments.
It may seem as though I’ve been a bit hard or critical of INFJs and INTJs in this post. This was not my intention. Rather, my aim was to candidly describe the process and perceptions of the INJ, as well as those of their intimates, as they struggle together toward psychological growth. I’ve enumerated reasons why this process can be difficult for INJ intimates: not wanting to believe the INJ knows things about them that they themselves cannot perceive, feeling like the favorite nail for the INJ hammer, and believing the INJ can never be satisfied with “good enough.”
It is important to recognize that INJs who routinely don the psychoanalyst’s cap typically do so with good intentions. They truly believe it is important and worthwhile to help their intimates become more conscious and to deepen their relationships with them.
Moreover, most INJs have discovered that the vast majority of people simply aren’t willing or ready to hear certain hard truths about themselves. Consequently, INJs are thrilled when they finally encounter that rare individual who is open, mature, and courageous enough to grant them entry into her inner world. So even when intimates feel like they are being unfairly subjected to the INJ’s refining fires, this is typically because the INJ greatly believes in their worth and potential.
To other types, it can sometimes feel like INJs are seeing things that don’t really exist. To move beyond this initial skepticism, one must either have an ample measure of faith or curiosity. As an INTP, I’ve historically been animated by the latter, sensing that something interesting is bound to emerge from the psychoanalytic process. With time and experience, trust can also develop, as one begins to see the benefits of regular engagement with the INJ, most notably: growth, insight, and intimacy.