INFPs and Work-Related Stress

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Well, I think—I think—I may just have perhaps over the last week induced a fever through work-related stress.

Yes. An actual fever. A low-grade one of 37.5°C (99.5 °F), to be exact.

I mean, I knew I was wildly stressed-out; after all, not only did the job  entail plenty of draining chit-chat in the form of customer service, but it was also quite physically strenuous, as I was on my feet all day, with only one break in-between, walking around the store. I knew, as the weeks passed, that my stress levels were building. That I was pushing myself too far. That dealing with people non-stop, day after day, would take its slow, but terrible toll, on me, especially wrangling with less-than-polite and sometimes downright sweetly-mean customers.

The signs of stress started off innocently enough. A painful pimple here and there, which I put a little cream on and hoped would go away. Some small, devilish canker sores on the inside of my mouth. Then things started to upgrade themselves, and I woke up one morning with a searing, throbbing pain on either side of the back of my mouth, and discovered my gums had swollen there, become red and painful and inflamed.

By the next sunrise, the fever came on, and I found myself bedridden and calling in sick for work, my body aching all over and a headache pounding at my temples like a hammer.

That was Wednesday. It’s Saturday now, and I have finally recovered enough to be able to sit at my laptop (after buying an extendable keyboard, since the letter “t” has stopped malfunctioning on the laptop’s keyboard) and write. I still feel pretty bad, to be honest—my gums are still swollen and painful enough for me to feel as though my body is quietly torturing me, and I still feel a little shivery—but the need to write came upon me like an insatiable urge, and I had to do it.

Look, let me just say it: INFPs are fragile creatures. What I just wrote about is a clear example of just how delicate people like us can be. And I’m not the only one. Lots of INFPs I’ve read about, or who have reached out to me through this blog, suffer from career dissatisfaction and unbearable, work-related stress because of our gentle personalities and fragile souls. That’s a fact.

We are not as strong as other people, not mentally or physically. And by physically, I mean our constitutions, our immune systems. We are soft, and sensitive. Stress can strike us down just as bad as any virus, and a spiteful word or look is enough to cut us to the bone, or make us feel physically sick. There’s simply no way of getting around it—trust me, I’ve tried.

Actually, you know what, I don’t think I’m making it clear just how fragile a lot of INFPs are. Sure, we have our books, our big, powerful imaginations, but all of that is spiritual, cerebral. Everything else that makes up a human being, in us, is soft and delicate beyond belief. Fear of the meaninglessness of life is enough to exhaust us. In case that still isn’t clear enough—if we just spend too much time thinking about life and death, we get tired. Our souls get tired. Our will to live, and be happy and animated, shrinks. As a highly sensitive person on top of that, places like brightly-lit shopping centres or loud and busy roads add extra stress, bombarding my senses until I want to just curl up under some blankets somewhere and hide, and lose myself in a daydream.

A quiet, simple and slow life is the healthiest life for us to lead. I, for one, when allowed to at my own pace, take everything simply, slowly and quietly. I do not type these words with the crazed fervor of someone struck by the creative muse—in fact, even when struck by the muse, which happens rarely, I still type at a relatively steady pace. When left to my own ends, I am the tortoise, plodding and slow, gentle and soft, in everything I do. Wolfing down food too fast makes me feel ill. Too much high-intensity cardio exercise contributes to stress build-up in my body (which is why I always jog for short intervals, never run at high-intensity for a long period of time). Sunlight after a bad or average night’s sleep is horrific, which is why I much prefer the night, and rainy or cloudy days. I don’t race through books. I read them slowly, savouring the words, sometimes re-reading sentences because they’re just so pretty. I am quite skinny, pale, and perpetually absent-minded.

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Whereas the modern workplace? Bright, artificial lights. Loud voices, raised in chatter and talk. Constant verbal communication, and, if you’re working in customer service like I am at the moment, never-ending false cheeriness. Physically strenuous marching up and down the store, to tackle customers, move from one display shelf to the next. Long hours spent standing on my feet at the cash register. No-one there understands me, so I have to employ my acting skills and pretend I am talkative and robust just like the other employees or run the risk of being told by my boss to “to put in more effort”. Really, if it wasn’t for the money, I would have tossed in the towel long ago. Probably my first week. But I gritted my teeth and stuck with it—I needed to help cover living expenses, and pay for upcoming nursing school fees—and sort of muddled through the whole thing in a kind of painful daze, and then everything just blew up and I found myself lying in bed, feeling like a corpse, and staring at the ceiling.

Am I going to go back to that job after I’m better? Yes. Probably. I don’t know. For a while, I was on government benefits, but that was a pittance, and getting the money involved applying for job after job, engaging in interview after interview, and it was simply not a good way to live for the long-term. I don’t think anyone would want to live on government benefits for an extended period of time. Not only is the money not enough to cover basic needs, not to even mention school fees or supplies, but you feel rotten while you’re on it, with the sense that the government is breathing down your back everyday, nudging you to be a good, hard-working citizen like everyone else, you lazy “dole bludger”. I want to contribute to society like everyone else.

It’s just difficult to find a proper job suitable for people like me, INFPs, that allows us to be both compensated for work and not severely taxed by the requirements of the position.

I am seriously re-thinking my long-term goal of becoming a mental health nurse. At the very least, if I do continue pursuing that path, I can only work part-time. After this job, at a busy pharmacy in a customer service role, I have become all too aware of my limits.

Which brings me to the question: what should I do with my life? How should I earn a living, when all I really like to do is daydream, write and read?

Obviously, being a professional writer comes to mind, but that’s out of the question for now—I’m still writing, but none of the books I’ve sent out have received any replies from publishers. As for this blog, well, while it has built itself up over the years, traffic isn’t high enough for me to warrant buying a domain name and getting any money from advertisements.

I did consider starting a Patreon for my blog, dreamerrambling.wordpress.com, so that people can choose to donate, if they want, for each blog post I put out, even if it’s just a dollar. To somehow try and become self-employed, through the expertise and knowledge I have accumulated over the years about the INFP personality, based on research, personal experience, writing on this blog, and talking to other INFPs. In my imagination, I fancy myself a kind of INFP guru, or fairy godmother, who whisks a magical wand and—writes about secrets inside the hearts of INFPs, the daydreams, the struggles and tears, the love and joy.

These are all possibilities, Tenuous ones, I must admit, because I don’t know if I have the readership to do such a thing, or if anyone would be interested at all in donating or supporting my blog posts. Or how exactly to go about offering services—maybe advice columns?—that would be enough to create my own business and become self-employed. Really, I have no experience in anything of the sort, and kind of find myself expecting it to fall over on its face if I try, like a puppy taking its first steps.

In the end, as with everything in life, and in the healthiest possible way for INFPs, I will take it slow, and steady. I will be quiet, and gentle about things, as I naturally am, and we will see what comes of it. I hope you are all in good health, and doing much better in your lives than I am.

—Dreamerrambling

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.