Sometimes, as an INFP, I am not sure certain whether I am sensitive or if other people just lack tact and kindness.
Perhaps my experiences are only a reflection of our times. In today’s age of cut-throat competition amongst people at workplaces and schools and offices and on sports grounds, where money and success are king, and efficiency prized over intuition, “nice” has become synonymous with soft, or weak, and the quiet and reflective dubbed “meek”. So it would make sense for people to start presenting a more brash and blunt face to the world – but for those of us who are gentle and soft-hearted, we often find ourselves battered left and right, with no safe place to turn to except, well, ourselves. And perhaps the Internet.
More likely it is simply because I am more soft and sensitive compared to the average person, and thus, as a natural consequence, find myself hurt more often. The “feminist” wave, which upholds the ideal of a bold extroverted woman who sallies forth in the world and goes for what they want with as much aggression as men, has not done people like me any favors.
Compared to my soft-hearted and gentle male counterparts, however, I am lucky: at least I can still play relatively socially-accepted the “shy girl” card, while INFP men find themselves up against centuries of masculine ideals favoring the strong and stoic and aggressive, disadvantaging them when it comes to every sphere of life, from work to dating. Stereotypes, especially those gender-based, are powerful, and harmful (suicide statistics amongst young men are a sobering consequence of such preconceived beliefs). If any INFP men are reading this, I hope you remind yourself of your own self-worth in a world that does not find you worthy, keeping in mind that this INFP female at least finds all of you quieter and sensitive and contemplative creatures far more attractive than the “macho” ideals society crams in our faces. At this stage in time, for a long-term relationship, I would only consider pairing up with an INFP male, someone kind-hearted and caring, philosophical and melancholy. Unfortunately you are a rare breed, and I have yet to come across one of you yet.
Now where was I? In life as in writing, I have a tendency to digress. Right. Sensitivity. Yes. To put it simply, being sensitive has withered my happiness, as it probably has for you. From cold teachers and students to boys I idealised, one of whom even ended up playing a practical joke on me in front of the school, to cruel customer service representatives, dealing with the consequences of being too sensitive – namely, having to nurse hurt feelings – has been the single running them in my life, perhaps more so than even reading and writing.
And sometimes I feel hurt even when the person is not being particularly mean, only very distant and impersonal, as if you were an object rather than a person, which tends to make me feel like all the light has been sucked from the world. I have a deep-seated craving for kindness and tenderness, one I expect, idealistically, to be fulfilled whenever I encounter people. An absence of it turns me into an ingratiating and obliging slave, just short of frothing at the mouth, in the hope of obtaining just a little bit of niceness from the opposite party – or, at the opposite of the end of the spectrum, depending on my mood, makes me withdraw, and turn cold and unfeeling myself.
Much as I loathe those who bemoan “I’m just not good enough” without doing anything to get better at whatever it is they find themselves inadequate or “that’s just who I am” when it comes prejudiced views which they can easily change by educating themselves, the fact is, I am just too sensitive. And, to be frank, it’s not something I can control. I have tried, countless times. It would be hard for most people to imagine the agony I put myself through by maintaining a tough, devil-may-care persona for several years. When that led to a mental breakdown and nights spent crying into my pillow from repressed pain, I tried to use reason, wagging a big, fat finger in my mind as I scolded myself.
Now, now, you know very well you can’t make everyone like you, which frankly is a mystery, I know, because who wouldn’t like someone so kind and caring and sweet? Remember that time a girl was crying and you tried to give her a hug and she pushed you away? Right. Where was I, again? Reason. Right. People are selfish creatures, darling, you can’t expect them to accommodate for your feelings every time they talk to you, busy as they are with their own thoughts and lives. What’s more, you don’t need people to be kind and sweet to you all the time. It’s not necessary. All that matters is that you are kind yourself. The tenderness you provide yourself will be enough to make up for the deficit lurking deep in your heart. The world is an angry and cold place, no-one cares if anyone dies, it’s all just a sun rising and a sun setting. Got it?
Yes, I got it – theoretically, that is. Putting it into practice proved far more challenging. In fact, it was downright impossible. No matter what I told myself, I was still getting wounded by the slightest remarks, remarks others more thick-skinned than I might have brushed off without a backward glance. Worst of all, one woman, who is no longer my friend, when I confided to her some of my problems, began using herself as an example of how one should be. At every opportunity she would point out how she wasn’t as easily hurt as I was, how strong and tough she was, flaunting her ability to throw off outright insults with a smile whilst patting me on the shoulder in a condescending “one day you’ll be as good as me” manner. It only made me, who suffers from low self-esteem at the best of times, and soul-plummeting self-hatred at the worst, loathe myself more deeply than I had ever before.
What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be just as tough as everyone else? Face it, in our world, men and women are both expected to be tough and strong. Whenever I expressed my fear or sensitivity, whenever I wept openly or retreated rather than confronted, or simply left the room during a horror scene, I was denigrated. Seen as weak. I was too weak, that was the problem, not strong enough, I had to be stronger, stronger, I had to let the world roll off my back like water off a duck, too weak, too weak…
I say, “No.”
It’s time for the quiet and sensitive and shy and soft-hearted, the ones who notice what others do not notice, feel when others do not feel, who huddle in our rooms unseen, unheard, to start embracing our sensitivity. It’s time for us INFPs, the supposed “children of the MBTI”, to take a stand. Few and far between though we may be, that does not make us anything less worthy of those who already have their groups, their people, their support network, who can easily love themselves in a world that rewards them for who they are.
Without us, the world would be a lesser place. We are the healers, the counselors, the humanitarians, the artists and writers and philosophers (though this is not to say other personality types cannot hold these occupations; we must also account for variation amongst humans, not all INFPs are the same). We may take the slow lane in life, and seem stupid and sloth-like to those speeding ahead of us, but it only means we are aware of things those in the fast line can never understand. Yes, we can be moody, petty, seem odd or eccentric, “off with the fairies”, but we are also loving, caring, kind, imaginative, playful, and creative. I can nearly say with absolute confidence that very few cruel acts throughout the history of mankind were committed intentionally by INFPs, and that if there were more of us in the top positions in the world, such as the governments and the businesses and the companies, society would be a far more considerate, harmonious and loving place. Unfortunately those very fields often reward the very qualities we lack – ruthlessness, aggressiveness, valuing efficiency before emotions, money before people – thus often relegating us to the fringes of society, often with little money and little power. Idealistic, moody and fantasy-prone loners aren’t hot on the job markets, last time I checked.
Let me tell you right now: no matter how famous or rich or insignificant you are, as an INFP, you will never feel like you fit in with the rest of society, and never gain the approval and understanding of most people. So it is up to us to approve of ourselves and band together to make each other feel less alone. But we can do more than that. Each of us, with our deep feelings and deep hearts, our intelligence and oftentimes creative talent, can be forces for great social good in the world, only sometimes we are so scared and shy, and have such low self-esteem, that we sabotage ourselves, and barely step outside the door before we scuttle back inside.
Therefore it is important for us, above all, to link our hearts with a cause. Any cause, as long as you truly care about it. This is especially important for us idealists; without something to strive for, we can only stand by, hollow and empty, horrified by the world are witnessing. To make a stand, for once, we have to take action, to get out of our heads and fight. Forget about the money. You and I both know we can survive on very little of it, and still be happy: we’re not sensualists, good food and good clothes mean nothing if our ideals are not being met. For INFPs especially, we must find something to believe in, and funnel every ounce of our energies into our chosen cause. Only then will we feel worthy, only then will we begin to appreciate our unique gifts rather than deem ourselves “defective” – only then will the world, after we have done what we have done, appreciate us – and even if the world never so much as gives you a smile, you will be able to die happy, knowing you did what you had to do.
I, personally, intend to fulfill this creed as a writer, though my goals aren’t confined merely to getting books published. There are greater goals inside my goals. In my books, I plan on featuring characters, male and female, who are cautious and sensitive and atypical and plain; literature, especially Young Adult fiction, has enough of the bold and the brash and the beautiful. In addition, my characters will be predominantly from various minority backgrounds, to help those, like myself, who grew up reading books without seeing their own ethnic background reflected in the characters, feel seen, and represented. I plan on fighting my own fights, through the best sword I have – my pen – to enrich the lives of others, and make thousands around the world feel less alone.
And I challenge you to do the same. Your sensitivity is a gift. Trust me when I say I know how powerless you feel in a world so big and cold, where you do not even have a strong personality to shield yourself against it all, to help you weather the rains and the storms, and sometimes even not a single friend, because you are strange and quiet and no-one understands you. Sometimes, it just feels easier to escape – into books, into films, into pointless philosophizing and fantasies.
But what you do and achieve during your life matters, even if it touches only one person. As the saying goes, “To the world, you are just one person – but to one person, you may be the world.” So go out there and make yourself someone’s world. Go out there, and let your heart burst open, splattering the world in the form of love and art and aid and kindness, even if you risk rejection, risk getting hurt. Dig deep inside to find out what you want to do, what you were meant to do, what feels you with burning fervor, and go do it.
Then it won’t matter whether you get hurt, or if people push you around and misunderstand you and look down at you, for you will be fighting for something bigger than yourself, and that you will lend you strength some can only dream of possessing in their lifetime.
Scattered all over the world, we may feel lonely and misunderstood and useless, but if we remember that we are together in this, that there are other Dreamers out there who can understand us more deeply than any of our family and friends might be able to, we can use that to give us more strength. Strength to make the world a better place. To improve the lives of others. Kindness and big hearts are just as useless as cruelty and cold hearts if they are not mobilized and used as engines to power action. Do what you have to do. Create what you have to create. Be who you must be. Listen to your heart, the little compass-shiver deep in your chest that tells you when something is true and good.