Collectively comprising little more than 10% of the general population, the introverted (I) intuitive (N) types—INFJ, INFP, INTJ, and INTP—are rare and unusual birds. If we harken back to humanity’s tribal days, we would likely find only a few INs in a given tribe. At that time, they would have assumed roles such as sage, healer, Shaman or prophet—anything that capitalized on their powers of insight and intuition. Indeed, their rare and unusual gifts would have made IN types a precious commodity. Knowing that they played a critical role in their tribe’s well-being would likely have engendered a deep sense of self-worth in these types.
Fast-forwarding to the present day, INs find themselves in a very different and ultimately more difficult predicament. Instead of being born into a tribe and assuming a meaningful role within that community, INs must now find or create their own tribe, as well as their purpose within it. Unfortunately, many INs discover that the path to doing so is a rough and rocky one; finding themselves and their best-fit niche rarely proves as smooth or easy as they anticipate.
Further complicating this situation is the growing concentration of power and influence among a small subset of individuals. Due to the reach of the internet and other forms of mass media, a single individual can now command the attention of millions. And while this may be a boon for a fortunate few, it can leave many INs feeling as though their own ideas and insights are superfluous or unimportant.
Put simply, the path to a meaningful societal role for IN types is far less straightforward than it once was. Not only are there more perfunctory hoops to jump through, but the sheer number of options and possibilities makes it harder to stay focused on and confident in one’s chosen direction. Even INs who have settled on a career path, for instance, are constantly confronted with enticing alternatives that can engender doubt or discontentment. This forces them to consider whether they should stay the course versus jumping ship and exploring something different.
As introverts, the INFJ, INFP, INTJ, and INTP types are naturally compelled to seek mastery in a specific area. However, they feel it equally important to ensure they are focusing on the RIGHT thing. More than anything, they want to avoid making the wrong choices upfront which could lead to the squandering of many precious years of life. Knowing when and what to fully commit to—this is the key.
Of course, in a world that is changing so rapidly, any amount of sustained commitment or “tunnel vision” comes with a certain amount of risk. If change is the name of the game, those who fail to adapt run the risk of becoming irrelevant or left behind. This can pose a problem for INs who want to deeply invest in something while at the same time remaining responsive to new trends or developments. They may find it difficult to honor their need for inner consistency amid an ever-changing external landscape.
Although keeping tabs on new developments is certainly feasible within a relatively narrow scope of interest, INs are compelled to maintain an accurate sense of reality as a whole, which means exploring and integrating a broad swath of information. To ensure that their worldview and life choices are guided by a proper understanding of the whole, they see it is as their duty to stay informed and to modify their views and actions accordingly. In light of the monsoons of information that bombard us on a daily basis, this is undoubtedly a tall task.
Fortunately, intuition is less concerned with amassing facts and details than it is with seeing and understanding broader patterns. IN types are thus mostly concerned with seeing how new information squares with their general understanding of things. But even then, they can’t help but wonder if they are missing something important—a critical piece of the puzzle—and this may inspire self-doubt and a reluctance to act on their beliefs; they feel torn between their need for accuracy and their desire for purposeful action. How much time should one spend selecting, studying, and preparing to shoot a target before finally pulling the trigger?
INs typically spend far more time engaged in this sort of reflective preparation than other types. It is therefore not unusual for them to worry that life may be passing them by as they spend copious amounts of time introspecting and trying to figure things out. This was exemplified, for example, by the IN philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who remarked on several occasions that he intended to quit philosophy in order to take up a more “ordinary life.” INs may fear that spending too much time in their own minds (N) will prevent them from experiencing or appreciating the simple pleasures (S) of life that other types seem to enjoy in abundance. In type parlance, they worry that investing too much time in their dominant functions may hinder the development and integration of their inferior functions.
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Why INFJ, INFP, INTJ, & INTP Types Struggle in Modern Life (Part II)
In Part I of this post, A.J. alluded to the concepts we will discuss below. However, I believe they deserve to be addressed explicitly since they represent the two essential problems IN types experience with respect to “modern life.” All of the other phenomena he described can pretty much be traced back to one of these two essential problems. Understanding them first and then addressing potential solutions may help readers see their way to more balanced and meaningful lives as IN types.
The Problem of Scope
When attempting to describe what “modern life” looks like, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “The world has gotten smaller.” We understand this to mean, of course, that the far corners of the globe – people, places, objects and ideas – are more within reach thanks to the advent of technology that has made transportation and communication easier. This increase in accessibility has brought a range of new people, places, and things that was previously very difficult (if not impossible) to reach literally into the palm of our hand giving us the sense that, indeed, the world has “gotten smaller.”
But ask an introvert to describe more subjectively what his or her personal experience of “modern life” is like and you might hear something that sounds exactly opposite: “The world has gotten bigger.”
Objectively speaking, of course, the world itself has neither gotten any bigger or smaller; what has changed, however, is the scope of what is now included in our personal perception of the world around us. How we interpret this, as either an enlarging or shrinking, is essentially dependent on which “world”—either the inner (introverted) world of our own individual mind/body experience or the (extraverted) outer world of the collective ideational / environmental experience—we primarily identify as occupying.
There is no question that the scope of ideas and things available to us in the outside world has increased exponentially. In the case of introverts, that “outside world” has, rather uninvitedly, imposed itself on their inner world, creating a sense that the world is somehow getting bigger. And since introverts by design are wired to focus more intensely on only one or a few things at a time, the rapid increase in the scope of things available to them creates an acute sensation of information overload.
Introverts can surely relate to the findings outlined by Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice wherein he asserts that an overabundance of consumer options actually minimizes freedom and happiness as a result of the anxiety produced in the process of struggling to decide how best to divide our money, time and energy. The theory applies to more than just sales goods; it’s reasonable to assume that everything from Twitter feeds to online job postings to Netflix movies— essentially anything that makes additional demands for our time and attention—is capable of producing the same anxiety.
In the halcyon days, we simply didn’t know what we were missing. Blissfully reveling in the scarcity of information before us, we relished our ability to remain ignorant of our friend’s toddler’s latest experience with chia seed pudding pops. That’s because being bombarded with that kind of inanity is not merely distracting—it’s irritating. The sense that we’ve been robbed of the precious resource that is time, now irreplaceable, to prop up the frivolous ego needs of others leads to our feeling of being used or taken advantage of. Meaning: all of that extraneous information has a very real impact on our overall sense of well-being.
Worse still is when such information has an acute influence on our own sense of self-worth. In a world where it’s virtually impossible to avoid the constant pinging of social media updates, even introverts (despite typically being immune to making outside comparisons) somehow find themselves in the grip of the kind of insecurity and self-loathing that comes from innocently logging onto your Instagram account only to be assaulted by your co-worker’s bikini body or your neighbor’s braggadocio about their latest “business trip” to Cabo.
Of course, the obvious solution would be to simply turn off the social media noise. But, for IN types who are Feelers especially, there is often a sense of guilt that accompanies choosing to ignore or “un-friend” someone—particularly when there is a clear risk of offending someone you have to interact with on a somewhat regular basis. And even if we manage to avoid the trappings of social media, it can be incredibly difficult to avoid going down the rabbit hole, for example, that is “Google Search.” (I’m looking at you, INTP and INTJ types.) Often, our well-intentioned quests for truly meaningful or thought-provoking information somehow end with us being forced to sift through all kinds of internet drivel before we ask ourselves what it was, exactly, that we were searching for in the first place.
In short, modern life has made Extraverted Perceivers (EPs) out of all of us. The increase in the scope of what’s available to us, while thankfully bringing much that is truly good and useful, has unfortunately, by design, also besieged us with the “bad.” Ironically, this has created a situation in which more and more of our time is devoted to sorting out how to spend our time. And that leads us to the next problem.
The Problem of Pace
There are only so many hours in the day. When the scope of what’s allowed to enter into our lives increases, the pace of our lives must also increase in order to make time for everything we’re attempting to fit in. Scope, therefore, has a direct relationship with pace. The two are mutually reinforcing.
In addition, technology has helped accelerate the pace of life since we’re no longer forced to travel by horse and buggy or wait to communicate using snail mail; people expect responses to their text messages and emails within minutes—not days—making us feel obligated to do twice as much in half the time. IN types struggling to keep up with the scope of what’s being added to their world find themselves even more overwhelmed at the prospect of being forced to speed up. It’s a juggling act; every minute a new ball is thrown in and, in order to keep up, the juggler is expected to go faster.
Scope and pace are really at the heart of the Introvert-Extravert distinction generally: Extraverts approach life with a “Zoom Out, Speed Up” mentality and Introverts approach life with a “Zoom In, Slow Down” mentality. Modern life has made “Zoom Out, Speed Up” the norm, leaving Introverts feeling as if they’re in the minority. In the case of IN types specifically, this is accentuated even further by the isolation they feel with respect to their desire to focus on things that 75% of the rest of the world considers impractical, esoteric, and generally unprofitable (save for the rare handful of IN genius/entrepreneurs that manage to do things like, say, invent Facebook).
Extraverts, having found a way to capitalize on their ability to multitask and their love of all things “more, more, more” are sprinting ahead, spurred by the momentum that modern life has created with this increase in scope and pace. For Introverts, that increase in momentum actually translates to a feeling of mania that is at best distracting and at worst debilitating, particularly when the result is physical or psychological burn out.
Modern life is like a runaway train and IN types are being dragged along behind it by the hair. What is so distressing about this for Introverts is that they are typically accustomed to feeling like they’re in the driver’s seat and very much in control of the course of their individual lives. INPs in particular, as dominant inner Judgers, may find being swept up in the unmanageable momentum of the modern world incredibly frightening since it tends to engender feelings of nihilism and meaninglessness.
Any attempt to fight this momentum invariably brings with it an inferior function dilemma. As A.J. alluded to in Part One, the pre-eminent fear is that if IN types don’t keep up they’ll be left behind and potentially miss out on something really important. What that “something” is exactly is dependent on the inferior function of a given type. If you’re an INFJ or INTJ, it may be a fear of missing out on Se experiences (visiting an exotic place, eating an incredible meal, owning a nice home, etc.). If you’re an INTP, it’s likely to be a fear of missing out on Fe relationships (finding true love, making new friends, becoming esteemed societally, etc.) If you’re an INFP, it’s likely to be a fear of missing out on a Te accomplishment (a career advancement, a project management opportunity, earning a service award, etc.)
Ironically, many IN types who attempt to keep up with the increase in scope and pace of modern life for fear of missing out ultimately find themselves dissatisfied, despite having decided to opt in. Whatever clarity INs hoped to find by playing the modern life game cruelly ends up pulling a “gotcha” since, like a deal with the devil, it demands that they sacrifice their true nature as investors by divesting their time and energy across the board. It’s a discouraging reality that A.J. honed in on, lending itself to the dispiriting tone in Part One.
Fortunately, there are countermeasures that INs can take in their personal lives to help offset the pressures of increasing scope and pace in modern life. While I can’t optimistically see a general return to simpler, slower times for society in the near future, that doesn’t mean that as individual IN types we can’t do our part to find authenticity in spite of the challenging realities of modern life.
Solutions for INFJ, INFP, INTJ, & INTP Types
First of all, it’s important to remember that this surge in scope and pace is not without consequences. The reality is, whatever Extraverts gain in scope and pace they ultimately sacrifice in depth and accuracy. A cardiologist capable of doing twice as many bypass surgeries in a day as another surgeon but with only 25% of the success rate would generally be regarded as a failure.
Introverts represent the counterbalance to the kind of unchecked speed and growth caused by rampant Extraversion that can lead to critical oversight. For this reason, Introverts need to remember the value of their role as deliberators and restrainers. INs in particular play a unique part since they represent the rare ability to lend theoretical insight and to discern the hypothetical consequences of unchecked Extraverted Sensing behavior.
I therefore encourage IN types to stop trying to beat ES types at their own game. Resist temptation, where possible, to concede to the notion that in order to be valuable or successful you must necessarily “do more, faster.” Consider the alternative: “do better, slower” and focus on quality over quantity. Be prepared for the fact that it may take you longer to get where you’re going, but that you will likely reap as many or more benefits than Extraverts in the long run.
Even still, it can be incredibly difficult not to get caught up in the momentum of modern life since its scope and pace constantly surround us. This is compounded by the fact that, while often overwhelming IN types, modern life paradoxically also has a way of enticing and luring INs in with the promise of payoffs for the inferior function. To avoid this, INs need to be aware of signs that they’re falling into the “grip.” Grip behavior is marked by obsessive, compulsive tendencies that eventually lead to feelings of anxiety, emptiness, and dissatisfaction. Grip behavior is avoidable by becoming more in tune with the triggers of your type’s inferior function (see A.J.’s 16 Personality Types book for more on this), as well as bringing general consciousness to your overall personality type.
Ideally, INFJ, INTJ, INFP, and INTP types should try to implement strategies that will set them up for success before they reach the point where they feel themselves falling into the grip. This is achievable in a variety of ways. First, INs should spend time evaluating their true priorities and passions, making the decision to put those first. In light of the fact that INs want to “deeply invest in something while… remaining responsive to new trends or developments” (as A.J. said in Part One) without developing the kind of tunnel vision that puts them at risk of becoming irrelevant in a rapidly changing modern world, it makes sense to start with a broad area of interest and let time and experience whittle that down into something more focused in due time.
It’s also important that IN types consider what about modern life does not give their lives true value and meaning, and then make a conscious effort to reduce time and energy wasted on those things (e.g., spending excess time on social media). Doing so may require IN types to do something that is totally counterintuitive to them: choose willful ignorance. Be prepared for the idea that you may risk losing a kernel of value in a cornfield of crap, but know that that’s okay. Given the cost created by the time and energy it would take to find that kernel, the better decision may be to let it go uncovered—particularly when you know there are more reliable sources of value (even if somewhat lesser in amount) available to you.
Make a decision to carve out media-free, distraction-free time, and stop questioning what you might be missing. Avoid falling victim to a “grass is greener” mentality, compulsively seeking out new or potential options, particularly where they involve your inferior function. Harnessing the gift of focus as an introvert is one of the most powerful ways that IN types can stay the course. Recognize that as an Introverted Intuitive, value and meaning is more probably something that you create for yourself, rather than something that you discover out there by joining the extraverted rat race, despite what modern life tells us.
Be aware of the ways in which you may reduce your sense of “smallness” or insignificance in the modern climate by choosing to connect with and invest in your local community rather than constantly trying to compete globally. Despite the need to “see the big picture” as an N type, there may be times when, for your mental and emotional well-being, it becomes necessary to focus on a smaller scale. Remember the value of face-to-face communication and choose to connect with fewer people but on a more intimate level, reinforcing the “quality over quantity” mentality that is more authentic for IN types.
Additionally, learn to make elements of modern life work for you, not against you, as an IN type. Particularly where mandatory Sensing matters are concerned, the benefits of modern technology can be incredibly helpful for saving time and energy (hooray automatic bill pay!) so that IN types can focus on more authentic things. And if you must concede to the realities of modern life, try to allow for an increase in either scope or pace, but not necessarily both at once.
It has been my observation that INP types, with their authentic penchant for capturing as broad a range of ideas as possible thanks to their Ne function, tend to handle an increase in scope better than an increase in pace. Conversely, INJ types, with Ni’s preference for focusing intensively on an overarching theory, tend to handle an increase in pace better than an increase in scope. While an increase in either scope or pace (with a corresponding decrease in the other) can be invigorating for IN types, be aware that things quickly become overwhelming when scope and pace are turned up simultaneously.
Lastly, it bears reminding that IN types are important to the world. Read it again: You, dear IN type, are important to the fabric of society. At the risk of sounding cliché, your individual contribution ultimately creates a collective, counterbalancing force that improves the functioning of the community as a whole. Being outnumbered does not make you any less important, it simply makes you less abundant. In fact, the relative scarcity of IN types arguably makes them more valuable than ever in modern society since they bear a larger share of responsibility in counterbalancing the pitfalls that come with life’s increasing scope and pace. INs can use that awareness to feel invigorated as they pursue their authentic purpose in spite of the challenges that modern life brings.
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K. Spain says
Great article. As an INFJ I can relate though, now at age 42, I am in a different place. I chose a career and worked it for ten years, although it took me until age 30 to do so. Working in mental health as a counselor that wanted to “help” people ended in disillusionment. Fighting unethical business practices and bureaucracy left me drained; not to mention the daunting task of licensure upkeep. I let it all go, took on simple work, and now focus on poetry and music as a passion. I am much happier, though with less money, and more satisfied with my sense of self. As an INFJ I had to realize that I am not here to help others change for the better, but myself. If someone reads my poems and it sparks some thoughtfulness, then great, if not, so be it. I had to learn to accept this, though our society would be healthier if they heeded their “shamans”.
“If we follow the truth, it will bring us out, safe at last.” -Emerson
I love that quote, Suzyyne. It has encouraged me to continue my quest in a subject that has puzzled me for a long time now.
It helps to find the humor in things. After having lived a ‘serious’ life with !purpose! Haha, I now often just find myself observing my surroundings creating situational cartoons in my mind. Its hilarious! Ease up and let go….(female Infp 52yr)
Great article! Really hits the nail on the head! The sentence, “How much time should one spend selecting, studying, and preparing to shoot a target before finally pulling the trigger?”, really struck me. Where are all the sage, healer, Shaman, and prophet job openings on Indeed.com?? Haha!!
I think self-acceptance is the best antidote (you do not have to pretend you are an SJ or an SP or an extravert to be of value, no matter how much culture/others attempt to insist otherwise), as well as acknowledging that just because other INs are beating you to the punch, putting their insights out there, doesn’t mean that your insights are meaningless or unneeded. One IN doesn’t equate another IN. We are all unique individuals with our unique perspectives, insights, thoughts, and values. Not to mention, is our influence now only felt via the internet? What about one on one relationships? What about real human contact? What about intrapersonal understanding, as in your relationship with yourself?
Thank you for the article. What helps me personally in dealing with perfectionism is reminding myself that what I am doing right now could be the my last doing, without being even brought to fruition.
This article is hilariously well timed for me. I am prepping to go back to school for a Master’s in School Counseling now that I have – finally – pin pointed a job that will encompass all facets of my INTJ/P personality. This will be my second time through grad school and it feels like it’s taken me forever to come to the pivotal “ah ha” moment that has gotten me here. I’ve been researching, reading, studying about the field for six months now. My intuition and logic are both pointing in the same direction – for once. It’s been a long, hard road finding my niche, but I think it’s finally found it. It’s nice to read this and know that I’m not alone in how arduous of an adventure this can be.
I joined a small local yoga studio and some Meet Up hikes to help with socialization and being part of a tribe.
So true. I’m a therapist, and I’ve often thought that my primary reason for choosing that profession is because I am meant to be a shaman/healer, and therapy is the socially acceptable way to fulfill that role in the modern world.
Being an INFP, specifically, I also feel that part of my struggle is that my innate empathy requires me to try to understand every perspective (whether or not I agree with it). That’s a much taller order in a world glutted with information―a world where anyone can make their voice heard―than it would have been in a small, close-knit tribe. Combine that with a deep suspicion of groupthink (very much an enneagram 4 here), and it often leaves me feeling isolated and misunderstood.
Very insightful…I certainly don’t think the author should be apologising for this article! Our incisive intuition can be used here to glean insight into our own subtle psyches. The world needs us now more than ever… but we have to go out & apply our knowledge…applied knowledge (that works) = wisdom. Even though there are lots more distractions, nowadays, there are correspondingly more ways & means to disseminate our knowledge/wisdom. Drop your wise seeds wherever you can!
Until you have a mental breakdown at some point because you are trying to fit in with the peasants.
This article resonated with me so very strongly and really hit me in the heart. I am a living, breathing example of a person who has squandered much of her life “selecting, studying, and preparing to shoot a target”… and I’ve yet to pull the trigger. I just hope that I can figure out how to remedy this before it’s too late. I’m not getting any younger.
I’m an INTJ studying programming and web development, too. As far as being a practical way to make money, the career prospects are bright. But my brain naturally wants to focus on bigger issues, like why am I doing this? Why is this being programmed this way? Why am I here on planet earth?
Greg Chalik says
Congratulations. Its not how you run the race, but how you finish it ☺