INFPs: It’s Hard, But We’ll Be Okay

INFP woman

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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.


Things People Say To INFPS – and The Answers INFPs Would Like To Give (But We Usually End Up Saying Something Polite Instead)

INFP girl

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Person: Oh, hey! What are you reading?

INFP: Oh, goodness, please disappear; I am busy reading, as you can evidently tell, and what I am reading is none of your business, even though you only mean to be friendly. The next time someone interrupts my reading, I shall pluck out their heart and feed it to the fishes, and skin them to make bookmarks.

Person: Well, somebody got on the wrong side of the bed today, didn’t they?


Person: You’re weird.

INFP: If I pointed out the weirdness of other people, there would such an immensity of weirdness to point out that I would have to transmogrify into an extrovert just to accommodate for the strain of the task. Which would be highly unpleasant, to say the least.

Person: That was weird. What you just said. You’re weird.


Person: It is only a documentary, why on Earth are you crying?

INFP: Because I, unlike you, have a heart.


Person: You know, he doesn’t like you. He does not know you; the two of you have never even spoken; in fact, the only reason he knows you exist is because you tend to walk in the opposite direction or ignore him whenever you are in his presence, which is, frankly, counter-intuitive, as it conveys an air of haughty dislike rather than interest.

INFP: I know. And I do not care. The Heart has spoken.


Person: How did you even come up with that? It’s ridiculous!

INFP: I naturally find associations between things. Possessing an imagination helps. A bird makes me think of cages which makes me think of prisoners which makes me think of war which makes me think of blood which makes me think of Death – and therefore I get depressed, just by spying a pigeon whilst walking down the street. A man wearing a hat is sometimes shielding himself from more than just the sun; every time I see a flower, I hope that it will speak, just like the flowers in the Alice in Wonderland books; and I think it is a beautiful thing, rather than outrageous or stupid.


Person: That is illogical.

INFP: What do humans really know of the world, the universe, and even ourselves? To me, it seems like we are discovering, using our little toys, only things which fit into a model our measly brains are capable of understanding. Or, to put it metaphorically, a caterpillar, crawling over a softball, might deduce shape and texture, but never utility. I think humans are the same. So what we term “logical” only makes sense from a human perspective, and sometimes not even that, whereas what is termed “illogical” may well be the caterpillar getting a vague inkling of a large object hurtling through the air for the purpose of amusement, the way eating leaves amuses it.

Person: I did not understand a word of that, which only proves my point.


Person: Where did you last leave it? I swear, you had it in your hand only a second ago!

INFP: It has vanished. Unbeknownst to myself, when I turned my back to sing a song and ponder the life of a squirrel in its tree hollow, a portal opened up above my cupboard, out of which sprung a team of tiny green aliens that picked up my pencil case, held it high above their tiny green hands in a line, and disappeared back through the portal with it. Even now, perhaps they are using the pens as signposts on their tiny planet, and prodding confusedly at the erasers.

Person: …I think you just misplaced it.


Friend: I cannot imagine you getting married; the man would either have to possess a level of craziness equal to yours, or greater (unlikely), or be able to tolerate your madness. Frankly I am of the opinion that, clever and beautiful as you may be, you will remain both celibate and single until the day you die. You’re just a little, well, odd.

INFP: Not to worry – I have my books, and my brain is populated with an assortment of interesting characters, who I can talk to for hours on end, so I will never be bored or lonely.


Person: Why are you so sensitive?

INFP: Because I, unlike you, have a heart.


Person: You spend too much time by yourself.

INFP: It is excellent company, you should try it some time. And that statement is incorrect, for I have characters existing between the pages of books and the lobes of my ears to keep me company that are often far more interesting than the people one meets in everyday life – though I do stumble upon some interesting ones, now and then.


Person: Why are you always attracted to assertive, logical and confident individuals? They are obviously not the kind of people that would be most suitable for you to enter into a relationship with.

INFP: Probably because people are attracted to what they lack in themselves, and though I am getting more confident day-by-day, conflict is still scary, and being assertive is tiring, and I tend to be more emotional than logical, so I guess I am attracted to them as someone standing in the rain might be drawn to an umbrella.


Person: You are too quiet. You need to be more outspoken.

INFP: I am an introvert, which means I gain energy from being alone rather than being in the company of others. I have a fascinating, internal landscape – perhaps if you tried to get to know me instead of criticizing that which I cannot change, I would give you a glimpse or two of it. Treat me as an individual, not a silent shop dummy, and I will respond as an individual.


Person: You are a people-pleaser, a doormat, and lack personal boundaries.

INFP: Yes, it is hard for me not to cater to the needs of others, as I am adept at picking up the emotional states of those in my vicinity, which can be viewed as a gift than a burden. I am not a doormat. I stand up for myself when the occasion requires it. Only, a lot of the time, it is simply easier just to be the more lenient one. Conflict drains my energy. Just because I try to go with the flow, and create harmony, does not mean I am meek or submissive.


Person: They’re just people! Go talk to them!

INFP: They’re just dinosaurs! Go slip your hands into their reeking, blood-stained maws!


Person: You think too much.

INFP: You think too little.


Person: On the one hand, I think you’re a great person, very humanitarian, kind, artistic, etc; but it’s like you have all these dreams to help the world, but are too shy and reserved to express or put them into action. Kindness is useless when coupled with weakness.

INFP: Thank you for that curious mixture of an insult and compliment, it was very interesting. Yes, I can be shy, and reserved – once, I was too afraid to give a homeless man a chocolate and whisper to him some caring words. But that does not mean I cannot help, in my own way, through my words – and I also plan on donating every cent of the proceeds from my books after my death to charities. The act of helping others does not always have to be loud and extravagant. I do things my way, you do things yours; and perhaps let us not judge one another, in the process, my friend.


Person: You idealise those of the opposite sex too much, and come across as weak and needy.

INFP: That is true, but only because I have a habit of seeing the good in people rather than the bad. And yes, I do have a habit of getting infatuated easily – but the moment I speak to them, and their true self slips out, I can instantly gauge their character, and if I find it unacceptable, I have no qualms about detaching myself from them. I will always believe in love, and no matter how many times I am disappointed or get hurt, I will still love, because loving is who I am – and that, I think, is not always a bad thing.


Person: You are going to die alone! You are a sad, lonely, loser, with only her dreams to keep her warm at night! No-one understands you! And I hate it when you stare at me with those stupidly deep eyes of yours, like you are literally peering into my soul, and the way you turn a hot dog into a metaphor for life!

INFP: I am not alone. Last time I checked, at least 4% of the population shared my personality type, and though we are scattered far and wide, and are not all the same, our hearts are joined by ethereal links of love, hope and kindness. We are the dreamers, the philosophers, the humanitarians, the psychologists, the writers; and we will contribute to the world, in our own way, and if that means taking the lonelier path, then so be it. I care more for those that I touch than those I offend.