A common misconception of MBTI personality profiles is that the string of individual letters can tell you everything about a type.
While there is some truth to that, it’s too simplistic. The letters are called “preferences” and they fall on a spectrum. Some INFPs are more extroverted, for example. (Like me, I fall more towards that introvert/extrovert line.) Our preferences tell us what our natural inclination is, what we would do if it were all up to us. This is nature. Nurture and necessity is what teaches us to channel our strengths when we’re doing something we’d rather not, but can’t avoid. For example, INFPs dislike leadership positions, but in my life I have been put in this spot. I can’t just say “sorry, gentle introvert here!” and dance back into the clouds. I’d be regarded as a flake for sure!
To get the most out of your MBTI profile, you have to look at your function stack. Our function stack is how our individual preferences interact with each other.
My mom is an INFJ; I’m an INFP. In terms of preferences, we’re only one letter off. We must be practically twins, right? But here’s the thing: we don’t have a single function in common. Her stack is Ni, Fe, Ti, Se; mine is Fi, Ne, Si, Te. Not only do they vary as to where they fall on dominant to inferior scale–they are the complete opposite of each other! Her intuition is dominant and introverted, mine is auxiliary and extroverted. My feeling is dominant and introverted, hers is auxiliary and extroverted. My dad, an ESTJ, and I are complete opposites by degree but we share all four functions…though they are reverse of each other. We’re opposites by degree; mom and I are opposites by expression.
So, an INFP’s function stack is Fi, Ne, Si, Te. It’s preferences are introvert, intuitive, feeling and perceiver. What does this mean in ordinary life?
This means I recharge my batteries by quiet reflection. It does not mean I am anti-social or am paralyzed by people. It just means I’ve got limited change to put in my socializing jar. It means that going to the movies by myself is not indicative of a lack of friends…I just enjoy solo activities and I require extensive alone time to function at my best. See Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking for more details.
This means I use my intuition more than my five senses to take in information. I’m more into metaphor than literal meaning. Patterns and impressions are my preferred way of collecting information, rather than facts. I’m more into “the big picture” than the details.
Basically? I’m more subjective than objective in my mindset. I tend to side with the person over the system…especially if that person is an underdog. Personal concerns trump impartial fact; this is my natural bent, the one I revert back to when stressed.
This means I lean more towards flexibility than regimented order in my personal life. Er…basically it means I have to remind myself to occasionally clean my car and personal spaces. I’m more of a free spirit than an ordered soul. I swear I’ll clean my room, Mom!
This means I have extremely intense emotions. I can be hurt a lot more easily than another type, but I’m also deeply moved by beauty. I’ve heard it said that INFPs have a sixth sense: a sense of wonder. This seems about right to me. I place great importance on how stuff makes me feel.
Fi is selective and intensive. It channels our energy in a few choice causes and people. Fi collects a bunch of “feels” and hides them behind walls. I express my emotions indirectly…writing is my outlet of choice, though other INFPs opt for others. I definitely fall under the creative INFP side…the rapport between my Fi and Ne is well-developed.
Fi is extremely personalized; it’s why underdogs resonate with me. It’s less concerned with the system than for those that get left behind.
Of course, Fi is often confusing when seen from the outside. It’s limited nature means I’m either aloof or passionate. Because I do not address my feelings directly (by direct confrontation), they tend to build up to critical mass and then explode, drenching the often innocent bystanders with EMOTION and IRRATIONALITY. This happens most when I’m cut off from quiet introspection and my writing for too long. If I can’t “escape”, I lash out.
So, just an FYI, if I’m becoming visibly upset, please don’t corner me and demand to talk it out. There will be lots of “talk” but little resolution.
Extroverted Intuition (Ne).
Ne functions primarily as either receptive or expressive. It’s the function that takes credit for my listening and writing. Whereas Fi is selective in nature, Ne is more open-ended. I think I said it pretty well in a comment on my previous INFP post:
Ne is divergent in nature, and is quite happy to be endlessly gathering information…the more open-ended, the better. Ne is what makes us second-guess ourselves. I mean, we see so many possibilities, it’s hard to limit ourselves to just one, boring expression.
Ne is what keeps me awake in the middle of the night when I’d much rather be asleep. “What about this?” “What if you look it from this angle?” “I wonder what he meant by that?” In terms of my story, Ne is always presenting alternate versions of a scene, slight changes to dialogue. Sometimes it rambles beyond the reach of logic or even having a point. “What if you put a comma in here. Ooh, semi-colon! Is ‘cold’ really the word for this? What are some synonyms? Hard? Rigid? Ooh, what about the phrase ‘heart of stone, very like cold’? That’s different.” And the request/rebuke “shut up” does not seem to phase this Chatty Cathy.
Ne is also the driving force behind an INFP’s empathy and quirkiness. It’s open-minded and tolerant. Through it, we look for deeper meanings and patterns and insights in EVERYTHING…intended or not. The most common question I ask myself is not “What happened?” but “Why?” Mom has been occasionally known to interrupt my ramblings with something like “Hannah, I think it’d be helpful if I knew what actually happened. Just the facts, please.”
I freakin’ love using my Ne; I love trying to see people, fictional or real, as they see themselves. Operating in the open-minded, “no wrong answers”, Bohemian Ne is exhilarating.
It’s also frustrating at times. Sometimes, seeing all the possibilities is not conducive to MAKING a decision and STICKING to it. Just ask anyone who knows me.
Introverted Sensing (Si)
I’ve been described as “confusing” because I have a conservative morals but liberal ideas. To put it another way, I look like a Republican and talk like a Democrat.
That’s my Si at work. I was raised in conservative Christian home and Si values past precedent. It likes the familiar. It makes me hesitant about change because knowing the “protocol” is very important to me. While my Ne would be happy to hop on a plane bound for Prague, my Si is frantically waving it’s hand in the air, hollering “Now hold on just one minute there, Miss Wanderer! I don’t know what to expect there!”
Si is also responsible for my tastes in clothes, physical surroundings and minimalist attitude to make-up. Ne is drawn towards a Bohemian lifestyle because it celebrates the tolerance that is so important to me. Si is drawn to it because of it’s simplicity. There’s something about that more natural, less flashy lifestyle that inspires my soul. A good friend calls me a “flower child” and she’s spot on. I’m not very fussy about my appearance reflecting current fashion.
Flat irons, dyes, spray-on tans, high-low skirts in, feathers in hair out. Yikes!
I can’t keep track of it all! It’s cool to see girls keeping abreast of fashion trends, but I just don’t have that kind of energy. It’s more important that my outward appearance be an accurate ambassador for my inner being than I follow someone’s else changing perceptions of beauty.
Not, mind you, that my personalized style of “elegant” and “eccentric” is very…coordinated.
One aspect of Si that I need to develop is a more holistic, Eastern approach to health and wellness. (Not a word, Mother!) Developing this aspect of my being, through yoga or Eastern martial arts, will help reduce the physical stress of being a creature of contradictions. From what I’ve experienced of mediation, it’s the most effective, yet gentle, way of shutting off my Ne so I can maybe get some sleep.
Extroverted Thinking (Te).
Ah, Te. You who are always trying to grab the wheel and steering me straight into a ditch. I understand where you’re coming from, I really do. You like order, you like to occasionally FINISH something. You’re absolutely right about my flaws: I’ve got focus issues, I tend to swallow my opinions in favor of keeping the peace. But you could find a less…all or nothing approach to it? I see where you’re coming from and I acknowledge the validity of your points, but let’s not overcompensate. Going “Can’t focus so let’s make lists and schedules and deadlines and punishments” isn’t helpful. Switching between uber-emotion Fi to overly-rigid you just makes people doubt my sanity. And I’m not convinced being a obnoxious, bossy bitch is the best alternative to “doormat”. Let’s try to let Ne and Si into the next spat between you and Fi, okay?