INFPs: It’s Hard, But We’ll Be Okay

INFP woman

With the way INFPs seem to dominate the Internet, popping up in hundreds on forums, on blogs, you could almost be led to believe that there are quite a lot of us out there, and we aren’t as rare as the studies say.

But that would be an incorrect extrapolation. Fact is, disregarding the 4% statistic sites like to throw around, we are a minority, in that the way we think, feel and view the world is often markedly different from the majority who aren’t highly introverted, creative and emotive creatures—and I have yet to communicate with an INFP who has met another of her or his kind in real life. Our online presence is merely a reflection of our introverted and reclusive natures; and the fact that we tend to find it far easier to form a relationship through written rather than spoken words.

Though we’re not the only special birds in the flock, and there are other rare personality types, like the ENTJ, no other type possesses a combination of traits so wildly unsuited to survival in today’s modern society. ENTJs are highly social, bold creatures, who are energetic, assertive, good talkers, possess sharp intellects, often run their own companies and businesses, and have no trouble fitting in wherever they go. So their rarity provides them a social and economic advantage, their traits assets, not liabilities.

INFPs, on the other hand, and I speak this from my own experience, as well as the experience of other INFPs I have communicated with, have no end of trouble finding their place in the world. No, actually, forget about finding a place: much of the time we struggle not to get eaten and spat back out by everyday life. In the past, I have had people tell me that my descriptions of INFPs were too soft and weak, and that they, as INFPs themselves, were nothing like what I described. But there is a very clear reason for that. Your MBTI is a matter of percentages. For instance, someone who takes the test might straddle right between extroversion and introversion, and feeling and thinking, yet still come up with “INFP” after taking the test. Sometimes, if they were only a few percentages more extroverted, or more reliant on thinking, they would have tested as an entirely different personality type—say, ENTP. So when you take MBTI tests, percentages are a good thing to keep in mind.

It almost goes without saying that the higher your percentages when you receive your INFP result—and there are different percentages for each letter, Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving—the more difficult a time you will have in life. Just for a quick break down of each of the functions: “Introverted” means you like to spend time alone; “Intuitive” means you trust your heart and gut rather than your head and eyes; “Feeling” means you see the world, and make decisions, from an emotional rather than intellectual viewpoint; and “Perceiving” that you favor spontaneity over rigidity and like things vague and open-ended instead of closed, final, concrete. Mix these four functions, in high concentrations, together in a big, old cauldron, add in a dash of pixie dust, and you get an INFP: a loner who compulsively daydreams, is full of intense feelings liable to burst out at inopportune moments, and disordered and messy by nature. Sounds like just the sort of person an employee would jump at the chance to hire, doesn’t it?

I mean, come on, we can make ourselves cry, on the spot, just by imagining a tragic scenario for long enough, which must be the stuff of nightmares for the sensible and pragmatic. We are the ones with disheveled hair and pencils or paintbrushes in our hands who stare out windows and mumble melancholy phrases to themselves whilst standing in a room that looks as though a hysterical raccoon rampaged through it. We lose and forget things on an astonishingly consistent basis; in the middle of sentences we often trail off, caught by some other fancy; and we see everything through rose-colored glasses, so oftentimes we are unsure whether what we know and see is real, or entirely fabricated by our imaginations. Even though I disagree with the sentiment, let’s face it, to most people, if we showed our true selves while out and about (which we often do not; minorities unconsciously try to mold themselves into the majority in order to fit in), we would seem like slightly insane and unruly creatures who need to get our act together, and “grow up”. The lucky ones among us are dubbed “absentminded professors”, while the rest of us get sidelined into all sorts of unflattering categories: too emotional, too sensitive, too quiet, too fantasy-dependent. To the rest of the world, we are never enough, parts of us always needing to be “fixed”; and being so sensitive, we take all these subtle yet constant denigrations to heart and develop low self-esteem, feel self-loathing, which are then amplified by our powerful emotions, which we then react to very strongly because of our sensitivity, often expressed by weeping in solitude due to our introversion– and as we all know suffering undergone alone is often worse than with someone else–which is why I am certain a disproportionate number of INFPs, male and female, find themselves crying into their pillows late at night around the world, wishing they were someone stronger, better, more thick-skinned and capable.

As I said before, this kind of description will not match all INFPs, and the “more” of an INFP you are, the more you will suffer, because you will be more introverted, more sensitive, more disorganized, more emotional, all traits society, or at least Western society, does not value. Your suffering is multiplied if you are a male INFP, possessing as you do traits conventionally considered feminine. I, myself, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you see it, am a severe INFP, calculated at over 85% for each of the functions; and INFPs like me, on the farther end of the spectrum, are often at a greater risk of bipolar disorder, which is basically a condition where you have no emotional skin, and every little thing bothers you and scrapes against your heart, as well as social anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Mental illness among INFPs, in general, is disproportionally high; the combination of strong feelings and strong introversion does nothing for our psychological well-being. 

Another problematic trait of ours often overlooked, both by ourselves and personality websites, is that we tend to be quite self-centered creatures, despite our high levels of empathy. This is in part due to our idealism—after all, what is idealism but a focus, facilitated by imagination, on the way you want things to be?–and in part because we use Introverted Feeling in dealing with the outside world, and are thus highly internal, focused on our own feelings, our own reactions, opinions, internal landscapes and fantasy worlds.

So on the one hand, we are creative, highly empathic, kind and intelligent people; but on the other hand, aloof, melancholy, scatter-brained creatures, lost in daydreams and hurt and bloody from the emotional wars playing out across our hearts—and unfortunately, it tends to be only the negative traits people see, or that we, due to our private nature, show to others. More than any other type, INFPs belong to another age, an era when artists and writers and poets were lauded and appreciated, when Art and ideas were at their flux; the Renaissance, perhaps, or some long-forgotten dynasty.

Thus, here we are then, butterflies trying to maneuver our way through a world run by spiders and hulking beetles. We get squashed. We get caught in nets, in webs. We flutter, here and there, fragile and frantic, so full of zest for life, constantly plumbing the depths of emotion and philosophy, yet almost too delicate to withstand our own uncontrollable enthusiasm.

And of all the dissatisfying aspects of life, the problem of work, of earning a living so you can eat and keep a roof over your head, is the most taxing for us. Our personality simply does not fit the modern workplace. The only jobs I can think of which suit our temperaments perfectly (once again, not applicable to all INFPs), are solitary artistic professions, like writing, painting, sculpture, the skills of which take many years to master before one can hope to make a living from them, and sometimes, in a world of instant entertainment where Art that takes commitment and time to savour is less appreciated than it was in days of old, not even then. Many of us, out of necessity, take on jobs harmful for our souls and psyches in the long-term, unable to find an alternative. Others struggle to finish degrees with rigid course guidelines and involving extensive memorisation, and have trouble dealing with insensitive peers, teachers and co-workers. 

What keeps INFPs going, however, what forms the backbone of our being, is a goal, meaningful to ourselves. Without it, we would die. This might be our desire to help people or animals, to create beauty through our Art, to share our imaginations and bring joy, kindness, love to the world; whatever it is, it acts as a talisman against all the pain that assaults us in our daily lives, spurring us on when we would have otherwise already fallen.

A lot of INFP self-help advice centers on us changing ourselves. Sometimes this advice is good, such as the reminder to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, instead of only seeing things from our own perspective, or to lower our unrealistic expectations. A great deal of it, however, concentrates on becoming more objective, less mired in our own imaginations and fantasy worlds, to see the world from a more “realistic” perspective and, in doing so, fit “happily in” with the rest of society–all advice I vehemently disagree with, as they involve changing yourself to make your personality more conventional. And why should you have the obligation to make yourself more palatable for general society (that is, unless you must, in order to maintain a job)? What is wrong with being lost in your imagination? Or daydreaming? Or retaining a child-like, pure view of the world well into adulthood? What is wrong with seeming eccentric, and being avoided by others for seeming strange and odd, if it means you remain true to yourself?

As far as I can see, what we cannot give up, even if it is difficult being who we are, is our own individuality and authenticity. We should never, for the sake of acceptance, give up our own creativity, our unique perspective on the world. Butterflies may be delicate, and hurt and die more easily than other insects, but they are one of the most exquisitely beautiful creatures on Earth, and, as evinced by the faerie folklore present in cultures all around the world, by the power of their delicate wonder, lit the imaginations of thousands of humans throughout history.

We are, in short, the faeries of the world. Faeries might have it tough, their habitats ravaged by demons and other unworldly beasts, their senses easily influenced by negative energy, by hate and destruction; but they are the healers, the purveyors of magic and delight, and the world would be a much duller place without them. So it is with INFPs: despite, or in spite of, our suffering, we are often the ones who bring kindness, joy, love and boundless creativity to the world; and the people who appreciate what we have to offer, eccentricities and all, are the only ones worth bothering about. Our hearts are very, very strong—and that is all that matters.

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INFPs And Earning A Living

money

Sometimes, I feel as though asking a monkey to build a Ferris Wheel using only banana peels would have a higher success rate than finding an occupation INFPs feel comfortable in – apart from, of course, the quintessential “I want to be a writer” spiel that sends parents all over the world into heart attacks at the kitchen table. Our personality perfectly predisposes us to the task – imaginative, creative, with a natural love for words, for thinking and pondering and spending great periods of time alone – and it’s been a firm belief of mine for a while that a great deal of the books in the world were written by INFPs.

When it comes to making money, however, we seem to hit a wall, against which most of us will beat our fists at for a great deal of our adulthood. I, myself, even if I did not have the anxiety and sensory issues preventing me from pursuing a traditional pathway for the time being, find it terribly difficult to slot myself into the machine. I think there a few reasons for this. One is that we are free-spirited creatures – occasionally a little too free-spirited. This not only spurs us to rebel against authority and tradition, it has other darker sides: procrastination, never committing to anything, flitting through life thinking we are free when in truth we are only sabotaging ourselves by not following a schedule and working steadily month after month in order to become an expert in whatever field we have chosen. But most of all, this means that the thought of someone – be it the government, or a teacher, or boss – monopolizing our time, forcing us to spend our days as they see fit in order to earn “money” we see all too clearly as being a sham, just paper collectively agreed to possess value, doesn’t sit right with us. In fact, it sits so very poorly that sometimes the necessity of earning a living in this world feels like a noose around our neck, tightening by the day.

Though some among us do end up making a living as writers, most of us do not have that privilege, at least not yet, and must “clock in the hours”. Thus, we end up in three possible situations. One is where we work at a tedious and usually stressful job that takes a toll on our hearts and our mind while pursuing our interests, like writing, or philosophizing, in our spare time. Another is that we end up dependent on others to keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs, as is the case with my life right now, living with my mother despite having reached adulthood this year and struggling with some psychological and sensory issues. The final situation is a compromise: we find something in our daily jobs to love, such as the connection or bonds formed with customers, and thus find ourselves able to bear it even if the other tasks involved in the job make us want to tear our eyes out. There is, in fact, a fourth scenario, which is that we end up homeless, extravagant little hippies living out of the back of caravans or in cars, and on the dole (if we’re lucky), despite the deep well of kindness in our hearts and our high intelligence.

However, none of these situations – and I am sure I don’t have to point out that the last is particularly unpleasant – are ideal, and sometimes not even tolerable. First, working at a job that wears away at your soul is going to have consequences, ranging from chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and panic attacks. Make no mistake: you are going to be miserable, and most likely bored out of your mind. Look, we’re quiet creatures who are energized by solitude and quiet contemplation – and most jobs either require extensive contact with people or are stressful, filled with phone calls and paperwork. Depending on someone for your livelihood can be just as miserable, and I speak this from experience. For one, you be plagued by skin-peeling guilt almost every second of the day for not financially contributing to the household and gradually see yourself as a useless, lazy excuse of a human being, even if you suffer from mental issues or have been unable to find or hold down a job due to your natural introversion or inability to tolerate workplaces. Our independence is also important to us, and it is impossible to feel independent if someone else is paying the bills for you – or, in my case, buying the groceries and even helping me borrow my library books. What’s more, INFPs need to be occupied in personally fulfilling work at all times, regardless of whether it brings in an income or not, which is why, although I do not have a job, I am taking free online courses and pretending writing is a full-time job (your imagination can do wonders for fixing your procrastination issues! A favourite of mine is to pretend I am in jail, and all I have is a laptop without internet, or a pencil and paper, in order to get myself writing). As for holding a job we acclimatise ourselves to, teasing out the good parts while tolerating the bad, well, once again, eventually, it takes a toll. Homelessness is the worst option of the lot, though living in a caravan or a car, if you do not struggle with any mental issues, can be, depending on your personal tastes, a viable method of existence.

Compounding this problem is the fact that our natural skills and abilities are not prized by the modern workforce, and are sometimes even liabilities rather than assets. We are highly empathetic, highly independent, highly scatter-brained, highly idealistic, highly imaginative, highly melancholy and highly introverted – almost the exact antithesis of the kind of person society values: extroverted, charismatic, charming, bold, a go-getter, cheerful, good social skills. All we have really going for us is our creativity and writing skills – hence why so many of us gravitate towards writing as a possible career path – but, as we all know, getting good at writing takes time, and you often need to support yourself in other ways as you build up your skills. So basically, what you have is a group of people who are creative, philosophical, sensitive and kind who find themselves without a place to call home in the world.

Granted, some INFPs do end up landing in jobs which are the right fit for them, such as roles in non-profit organisations perhaps involving writing, or as a freelance writers – but they’re rare, and those INFPs who are successful today in a field they enjoy often went through similar struggles due to their personality type before they hit their sweet spots. So what do we do? Where is this elusive home that everyone else seems to find and for which we seem to be forever seeking?

It’s different for every INFP, but I believe that our only true homes are our own minds and imaginations, the one place in the entire universe where we can be entirely free – yet another reason why writing is so natural an activity for us. What this means, however, is that anything which exists beyond the boundaries of your mind – basically, the rest of the world – will never live up to your expectations, and never satisfy you (this is true for everybody, on some level).

Thus, the only solution to living the life we want (once again, not applicable to all INFPs) is to find a way to live inside our minds as much as possible, where we are the happiest and often find the greatest fulfillment. Now, there are probably people out there who will disagree with this conclusion, because it seems to suggest that INFPs should, instead of going out there and truly “living”, retreat into their imaginations and escape reality. But they do not understand that it is only in the realms of our mind do we feel truly free and happy, nor the joy wandering through the labyrinth of our own thoughts brings us. The true reason why we find it so hard to find a place in this world is because we are internal rather than external creatures; we are organisms of the mind and the heart, rather than the body. Therefore, as dreamers, centering ourselves more in the mind and the heart, where we naturally feel the most comfortable, is the truest path to happiness.

I don’t know exactly what you would find most fulfilling – it doesn’t have to be writing, not all INFPs are natural-born writers or love writing, we’re all different – but chances are, it’s connected to the heart or the mind in some way, in that it is something that engages your creativity, imagination, and natural empathy for other living creatures. As long as you make sure whatever you are doing comes from either of those two spiritual organs, you’re on the right path.

The good thing is that your mind and your heart can be engaged no matter what task you are doing or where you are in life. If you are working at a job you dislike that burns your soul a little more with each day that passes, then use your imagination to free yourself. Escape during meetings, while waiting in line for the photocopier; it will be enjoyable, and make the time fly by much faster whilst also exercising your creativity. This will be easier if your job does not involve much higher-order thinking. Pretend you are a djinn, forced to do tasks for your unbending master, trapped by shackles made of crisp dollar notes. You can also use work time, as surreptitiously as possible, to write, or engage in whatever task that fulfill you. For example, write on used office sheets, or finish the work you do very quickly and write during the rest of the time while pretending to be doing company work. Be creative: write in office diaries, on Post-It Notes. It’s not unscrupulous – much of the workforce is set up to waste your time on meaningless, dull tasks just to spool some extra numbers into your bank account and keep you occupied, and if it’s possible for you to find a loophole, a rambling little path away from the highway, then, by all means, take it. No matter what your situation is, use your creativity to try and make life fulfilling for you, while still allowing you to keep a roof over your head.

For those of you who are unemployed and on the dole, living in caravans or cars, or dependent on another for food and shelter, the same principle applies. Just because you don’t have a proper “job” doesn’t mean you can’t keep yourself busy. It’s easy for INFPs to fall into procrastination and laziness, as we’re easily distracted by anything that flies by our way, and, with the Internet, the air is now filled with swarms of interesting flying things. Reading books is much easier than writing them; thinking about philosophy much easier than putting philosophical concepts into practice; imagining a flourishing garden easier than getting your hands dirty and planting one. Often for us, like most people, the more time we have, the more we squander it. So don’t. If you’re not in traditional employment, make sure you are still constantly engaged in productive and meaningful tasks, whether that is writing, or reading up books on Psychology, building your own freelance writing business, planting some spring onions in pots along the grimy windowsill of your caravan – anything other than being idle and wasting your time. Doing so will also help beat back the guilt that will swamp you for not working and contributing to society, because technically you are working, working very hard indeed, only you are not being paid for it yet.

Also, I would recommend you try and save your money and not purchase unnecessary items – not only will it help the environment, but the less money you spend, the more money you save, and the more money you save, the more freedom you will have. Don’t eat out, buy second-items and less-processed foods, save up for items that truly contribute to your well-being like books. This shouldn’t be particularly difficult, as most of us are quite content with very little, and have little desire for extravagances or luxuries. Pinching pennies doesn’t make you a cheapskate – it makes you smart, and environmentally aware. Consumption in the world is at an all-time high, flushing the environment with our toxins and wastes, and the consumerism model of a constant cycle of using and discarding just isn’t sustainable in the long-term. Besides, the best things in life, like friendship, literature and the imagination, are free, anyway.

What’s more, the more money people like us have, the better of a world it will be, because, being kind folks, we’re more likely than any other group of people to donate to charities and help people if we have the resources to. If more of the world’s wealth and power was concentrated in the hands of INFPs (unfortunately most of us only seem to make our fortunes through artistic fields, like writing and film-making, notorious for their low entry-rates), there would be less suffering on Earth. Take J.K Rowling, for instance, a famous INFP – she is no longer a billionaire because she gave away so much of her money. In that sense, we almost have an obligation to try and accumulate as much wealth as possible (out of all MBTI types, we tend to earn the least due to our natural skill sets – bankers earn more than psychologists – so it’s a tough call), to the best of our abilites, in order to help the people who need help, rather than let wealth pile up in the bank accounts of the greedy, selfish and less philanthropic, where it sits there, an untapped resource, doing nothing and helping no-one.

There are no easy answers, but armed with our hearts and our minds, our imagination, creativity and kindness, we can fight back, and carve out lives true to ourselves and make the world a better place in the process. We are often intelligent and discerning, able to see easily into the workings of society, the shams of the modern-day world (the crowning jewel of which is the economic system), yet powerless to change the terrible things we see, and often the most oppressed group of people by the system itself. You are not alone, however; a small percentage though we may make of the world population, we do actually number in the millions if you take the total world population into account. So, in reality, there are millions of good people, idealists and dreamers, INFPs, out there, who all feel alone, and like they are the only pure and good souls in the world, the last moral bastions of society, when it’s just that we’re a little spread-out – and it is this dispersal that reduces our power.

With the Internet, however, that no longer has to be the case. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true: alone, we are weak; together we are strong, stronger than our wildest dreams. Can you imagine what it would be like if we formed a global network of INFPs through the internet, leveraging our combined strength to help each other and do good in the world? INFPs are, in essence, an untapped resource of kindness in humanity, and have been up, until now, being soft, shy, retiring, unseen, brushed under the carpet, our voices drowned out by louder ones. You must stay strong – for yourself, for other INFPs, and for the world (and really, when I say “INFPs”, I am in actuality referring to anyone who is extraordinarily kind and idealistic; the MBTI just allows us to find like-minded people more easily). Take heed my advice on making money so you will be able to survive in society whilst maintaining your sanity. I will do my part, continually honing my writing skills so that one day, when I am a published and established writer, I will be able to leverage my economic and social power to help you, to help any suffering people in the world, and to help and bring joy to as many human beings as I can over the course of my life. That is what making money means for INFPs: to allow us to survive so we can seek personal fulfillment and improve the world.

If you need any help or support in life, no matter what the issue is, please feel free to contact me at dreamerrambling@hotmail.com. In the past, I’ve not been the best at replying to emails on time, but these days I am making a conscious effort to check it more often, and to try and reply to every message that I receive, especially from INFPs who are struggling. Please, however, do not be disheartened if it takes a few days. You are NEVER alone; every single INFP existing in the world today, including myself, suffers along with you, and understands you. Let us support each other, and, in doing so, support the world.