In his book, Please Understand Me II, David Keirsey approaches INFP, INFJ, ENFP and ENFJ types collectively (i.e., “NF” types), nicknaming them the “Idealists.” According to Keirsey, the self-image of these types is based on three things: empathy, benevolence and authenticity.
With respect to the authenticity element, Keirsey maintains that “the self-image they present to the world allows for no façade, no mask, not pretense.” Indeed, few would question that authenticity is deeply important to both INFJs and INFPs. These types commonly identify as Enneagram type 4, sometimes dubbed the “Artist” or “Individualist,” for whom authenticity is a central concern.
Because ENFJs and ENFPs are also intuitives (N), they too see themselves as unique and idiosyncratic to an extent that warrants an interest in authenticity. As extraverts, they may be more willing to bend their self-image in the direction of current trends, but this doesn’t negate their concern for authenticity, especially for those who self-identify as artists or creatives.
Keirsey and Enneagram authors Riso and Hudson describe NFs / Fours as engaged in a “search for self.” This search goes hand-in-hand with their desire for authenticity, which rests on conceiving themselves as unique individuals and presenting themselves to the world accordingly. However, according to Keirsey, this is not without its problems:
NFs report over and over that they are subject to an inner voice which urges them to “be real, be authentic”…But Idealists are inevitably caught in a dual role. Instead of the whole-hearted, authentic person they want to be, they are at once director and actor: they are on stage and, at the same time, watching themselves being on stage and prompting themselves with lines.
I think Keirsey makes an interesting point here, highlighting the impossibility of staying true to an abstract, idealized self-image while at the same time responding authentically to an ever-changing outer circumstance. In other words, one can’t be authentically responsive to the moment if constantly wondering whether she is staying true to her abstract self-understanding. This can only be accomplished by effectively forgetting oneself, but NFs worry that doing so will somehow compromise their authenticity. This suggests that there are really two types of authenticity: one involving an allegiance to an abstract self-image, the other an intuitive connection to the present moment.
Keirsey also claims that, more so than other types, NFs experience themselves as “objects of moral scrutiny.” They “feel others’ eyes upon them” and are “sensitive to how they are seen by others.” To this I would add that NFs are always looking to do the right thing and worry about letting people down. This, in combination with concerns about holding true to their core values, makes for a deeply complicated moral and interpersonal picture. As Keirsey observes:
So here again NFs are caught in a dilemma: confident of their integrity, yet at the same time devoted to pleasing others, they must walk on a razor’s edge, with authenticity on one side, and moral approval on the other.
Another Enneagram type relevant to this discussion is the Two, otherwise known as “The Helper.” Twos are less disposed to introspection than Fours, directing the bulk of their attention to meeting the needs of others. Thus, many INFP, INFJ, ENFP and ENFJ types find themselves operating somewhere between the individualistic, self-absorbed seeker that is the Enneagram Four, and the perpetually giving and self-sacrificing type Two. In Myers-Briggs parlance, their intuition (N) beckons them to the realm of abstract ideas, fantasies, values, etc., while their feeling (F) compels them to invest in and meet the concrete needs of others. How can ideals and fantasies be reconciled with the demands of real people and everyday life? Such is the challenge NFs are faced with.
Neither SFs nor NTs are terribly beset by these issues. As sensing (S) types, SFs are generally happy to help others in concrete ways. They don’t worry about whether what they’re doing is or isn’t authentic, but simply do what needs to be done—no questions asked. Like NFs, NTs tend to keep at least one eye on the world of abstractions, but they are less worried about others’ perceptions of them. As Keirsey observes, NTs “typically reserve to themselves the right to judge their own actions.” Hence, the tensions created between concurrent N and F preferences are largely unique to NF types.
One potential means of reconciling these difficulties involves identifying activities that serve to unify N and F in a meaningful way. When NFs help others in purely concrete (S) ways, their N tends to get left behind. Similarly, when they use their N in a strictly introverted or self-absorbed fashion, they are prone to feel disconnected from others. The trick would thus seem to involve finding ways of using intuition (N) to help others (F). Most NFs eventually figure this out on their own, taking interest in careers like teaching, counseling, religion, and non-profit work, all of which effectively marry N and F. Although pursuing such careers won’t cause NFs’ struggles to magically vanish, the unification of their identity, purpose and values in a vocation can be deeply meaningful and encouraging for these types.
It’s important for NFs to feel they are providing real value to the world, but in a way that harnesses their unique talents and abilities. It’s also important to many NFs that others recognize them as different or special. As long as this fails to happen, they are apt to feel misunderstood and dissatisfied with life. They want others to see that they’re not merely another cog in the societal wheel, but that they’re bringing something special to the table, something that requires time and perspicacity to fully appreciate.
Of course, NFs don’t expect everyone to “get them” at a deep level. But they do want some level of recognition for being different. Choosing a suitable career—one that reflects their core values and ideals—is one way of clueing others into what they truly care about. Like so many things in their lives, NFs see their work as symbolic of the deeper reality that is who they are. And if they’re primarily helping others in concrete ways, they worry that this deeper reality will get lost or overlooked. It’s therefore critical for them to find ways of expressing their core values, goals, ideals, etc. Not only will this help them feel more whole, but will ensure that others get a chance to glimpse, even if only occasionally, the part of themselves they cherish most and identify with.
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