May 4, 2014
INFP, part one: the spectrum of normal
Disclaimer: While I have encountered many people who are dismissive of me, I am also surrounded by awesome and accepting friends and family. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity and gentleness with me.
Consider yourselves exempt from the “they” and “Americans” used in this blog post…if you’re still in my life, you’ve proved your awesomeness to me.
“That’s just not normal.”
This is an accusation I hear quite a lot; another version is “what a weirdo”.
I hear these from all over, leveled at different aspects of my life: my love of my CNA job, my quirkiness, and my admittedly unusual tendency to “pull away” after a date. It’s not that I didn’t have a good time, usually. It’s just, even if I really liked the guy, I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to spend every possible moment in his presence.
This has been a source of great confusion and frustration for both me and my dating partners. They’d see me as blowing hot and cold; I’d be unable to explain that I still liked them, even though I did not currently wish to see or talk to them. “Space”, to them, meant maybe a day. I kind of meant a week.
The relationship did not continue for very long after this.
And listening to my friends describe their relationships, I could kind of see where the guy was coming from (though I was still mad as hell from being pressured and called a weirdo). It’s just something that’s taken for granted: if you like someone, you spend more time with them. It’s practically a rule of American dating.
So why did I find dating to be so draining? Was it really so not-normal, this desire for space and reflection? And why was my mother, who is always ready to kick my ass if I need it, okay with this tendency? Time to find out.
I already knew my type on the well-respected MBTI personality test: INFP.
Introvert, intuitive, feeler, perceiver. Function stack, from dominant to inferior is Fi (Introverted Feeling), Ne (extroverted intuition), Si (introverted sensing) and Te (extroverted thinking).
I knew the name, time to find out what it meant.
Here’s what I found.
Some common traits include:
•Finds the typical American dating to be draining. Tends to withdraw after a date, even though they are still interested. Becomes resentful when pressured. Check!
•Have trouble smiling in photographs. Check!
•Friendly but does not have many close friends. Check!
•Often seen in health care or caregiver roles. Check!
•May have trouble over expressing themselves verbally but excellent writers. Hello!
•Tends to be “arty”. Okay, this is getting creepy…
•Devotes themselves to specific causes. Will become uncharacteristically harsh and outspoken if core values or crusades are threatened. All right now, who’s my stalker?
•Enjoys alone time and solo activities. Needs time to recharge after social interaction.
•Have a sense of adventure, but loves routine.
•Not driven by sense of monetary gain. Tends toward a Bohemian lifestyle.
•Seen as cold and aloof, but also sought out because they have exceptional listening skills. May feel like they are a “dumping ground” for other people.
•Needs more time to open up than other types.
•Does not like harsh criticism.
•Dislike conflict. Will go out of their way to avoid it unless they perceive that their core values are being threatened.
•While generally serene, they become highly irrational when upset. No transition between the two. Tends to be passive-aggressive.
•Tends to idealize romantic partners.
•Interested in humanities. Places great importance on deeper meanings, self-discovery and self-expression.
•Often indecisive. Has very strong opinions, though they do not always express them.
•Intense emotions. Often will not express what they are feeling until it reaches critical mass.
•Female INFPs not very concerned with fashion. Light on make up. Again, very Bohemian taste.
In short, I saw me on that screen. What I felt wasn’t relief. It wasn’t just finding that there are, in fact, other people just like me.
No, it went much deeper than that. What I felt was validation.
1) to substantiate, confirm.
2) to give legal force to.
3) to give official sanction, confirmation or approval to.
It was like the voice of God reached out through words on my iPad and said, “See here, you of little faith. I made you this way, did you think I didn’t know what I was doing? It’s okay to be who you are. In fact, it is required that you be who you are.”
So who am I?
INFPs are described as dreamers, idealists, sensitive, compassionate, creative, artistic, reflective, disorganized about everything except for our special causes, more concerned with authentic feelings than with hard logic. We are among the rarest of personality types, ranked at 4% of the general population (most rare type is INFJ, aka my mom, at 1%). We are the most misunderstood type. We’re among the most likely to have suicidal thoughts during our college years. We’re the second most likely type to report marital and job dissatisfaction. We’re among the least likely to suffer heart disease. We tend to flood the job markets of counselor, writer and artist. We’re creatures of contradictions: quiet until we’re talking your ear off. Aloof until we’re passionate. Reserved but nice. Perfectionists but incredibly non-judgmental. Extremely empathetic but loners. We don’t care about what people think of us until we suddenly care very much.
All this just goes to say that, no matter how hard we try, an INFP will never completely fit the brash, extraverted American ideal. Whether that is a good thing or a handicap is determined by your attitude. INFPs are not innately awesome.
We start out as stubborn children, quick to judge and eager to please. We go through a hell of an adolescence where our Fi and Te functions take up arms against each other. (Seriously. I thought my teenaged years were going to kill everyone around me.) We struggle to find our own truth, our own voices.
And then we arrive at phase three, where we either find balance within ourselves or we don’t. We either become what I call a victim INFP or a healthy INFP.
The victim INFP focuses on the negative. They look and see only weaknesses. There is a battle warring inside us at all times, a tug of war between Fi and Te tearing at our souls. The victim INFP gets stuck in this battle. They become, for lack of a better term, a Bella Swan: passive, depressed, bemoaning their flaws and blinded to their strengths. They see only what they are not, what they will never be: the American extroverted ideal. I’ve written before on what this, personally, feels like. It’s a dark place, confining but strangely enticing. If you go in deep enough, no beautiful, painful shards of light will ever find you. I think it’d be very easy for an INFP to become in love with pain. Addicted to misery. All you have to do is think “hey, I’m drowning anyway, why not open my mouth?”
But I’m not. I don’t want to become this kind of INFP. We’re the dreamers, so I’m gonna dream. I’m gonna carry a grappling line with me at all times, to haul my ass out of that dark place whenever I fall in. And I’m gonna teach my feet to be careful, so I don’t fall in the first place. I’m gonna be the other kind of INFP. (I feel like I should that No person lacks the ability to change. God gave us free will; we CAN use it to turn ourselves around. Just be because you struggled and lost once does not mean you are doomed and destined to lose again.
The healthy INFP embraces what makes them different. Other INFPs have expressed a great sense of empowerment after “coming out”.
Authentic INFPs learn to cultivate conditions that support our natural strengths: our dominant and auxiliary functions of Fi (introverted feeling) and Ne (extraverted intuition). They learn how to use their tertiary function of Si (introverted sensing) to listen to their bodies, often through a more Eastern, holistic approach to health and well being. They learn to integrate the often insidious Te through the authentic use of Fi and Ne. They find their niche. They’re dreamers, writers, artists, activists, caregivers, counselors, teachers. And yes, they’re loners and outsiders…but us INFPs, we bring the party with us. We might be sitting at a table alone, but the voices in our heads will never leave us. The questions will always keep us company.
P.S. Wow. Authentic truth is like whiskey in a wound: it stings badly but then everything’s okay. Hands down, this was the hardest thing I have ever written…not the best, but the hardest. INFPs, we’re usually so private about our inner-most feelings; putting this out for all the world to see is terrifying and empowering all at once.
Anyways, this is part one of an on-going series about life as an Authentic INFP. Coming up next, function stacks.