3 Ways INFPs are Misunderstood (and What You Can Do About It)17 June 2021 / By Diane Fanucchi Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on June 17, 2021
We’ve all felt misunderstood at times, especially by personality types different from our own. But if you’re an INFP personality type, you likely have had that experience a lot. INFPs have so much going on inside, but we tend to keep most of what we think and feel hidden, at least until we know someone well. And as introverts, we don’t always express ourselves easily.
Add in the fact that our thinking differs greatly from most other types, and we’re bound to be seen differently than we really are. Sometimes we know what’s happening, but don’t know how to change it. Other times, we’re surprised when we find out how others see us.
Let’s explore a few ways INFPs may commonly be misunderstood, and what we can do to make a conscious effort to bridge the gap between what we are inside, and how we’re perceived.
1. We appear cool and aloof
INFPs usually have very deep feelings, but these can be so deep that they stay buried within us and don’t make it to the surface and show on our facial expressions, or in our words and tone of voice.
Sometimes we’re just shy and reserved. Other times we’re lost in our own thoughts, ideas, and feelings and don’t take much note of what goes on around us. But often we really do care and want to express ourselves, but we just don’t know how, or don’t even know that we haven’t.
What you can do about it: If you like someone, try to show it. Smile when you see them. (And yes, even in this time of masks, a smile shows in your eyes.) Try to put what you value about them into a few words. Show a little more interest in what they’re doing.
We tend to be more understated than we realize, so trying to be more expressive could feel a bit over the top, but probably won’t seem that way to others.
And if something is important or interesting to you, say so. Sometimes we think people know what we’re interested in or good at, but we don’t overtly express it. You could be just the right person for a certain project or opportunity but not even hear about it because others don’t know you’d be interested.
It’s the same if we like or respect someone. We might assume it’s obvious, especially since for us, merely sacrificing some precious alone time to be with someone shows how much we value them. But it isn’t necessarily that obvious to them. Again, we may have to express it a little more directly.
This takes some practice, and we don’t have to be “on” all the time, or for everyone. But when we make selected efforts to reveal a little more of our personality and feelings, this can help others see us, and let them know that we value them too.
2. We may not be taken seriously
I’ve seen comments calling INFPs “childlike” and “cute,” apparently because our idealism makes us seem naive. But most of the time we’re none of these things. Though we are idealistic in that we believe things can and should be different or better, and we try to look for the best in people and see their potential, we are all too aware of the way things actually are.
If anything, we’re more serious-minded than most. And we’re perfectly capable of functioning as adults (except maybe when it involves housework). We just approach things in our own way.
And sometimes we seem to have few boundaries. Since we tend to be easygoing and kind, we’ll put up with a lot from people, especially if we care about them or feel that we’re needed. But that doesn’t mean we’re willing to be taken advantage of.
Other times, some people disapprove of the boundaries we choose, and try to ignore them. Because we’re sensitive introverts, we need time alone to recharge. And we’re often deeply involved with a cause, an art form, or a passion project, so boundaries are especially important to us.
Some mistakenly believe our boundaries are not important and they don’t have to respect them, or, consequently, us.
What you can do about it: Stand your ground. While not relinquishing the kindness and politeness we value, we can and should clearly state our boundaries and show we expect them to be taken seriously.
The other person doesn’t have to understand or agree with our choices, and we don’t have to explain in depth. Just show where your line is, and don’t let it be crossed unnecessarily.
With a close friend you could explain a bit more, so they won’t see your limits as a rejection of them. We also need to make it clear that we expect to be respected for the person we are. And when it’s necessary to show your substance, speak up so it's clear that you’re not as naive or wishy washy as you seem.
3. We seem like we’re not very interesting
One time I showed an acquaintance of many years some of my writing. After telling me how much she enjoyed it, she said something along the lines of “I didn’t know there was that much to you.” She didn’t mean it at all unkindly, but I was surprised. Apparently I seemed a bit bland, with not much more going on under the surface than what I showed outwardly.
Showing her my writing, which is both an important part of my identity and my most comfortable way of expressing myself, gave her a deeper glimpse into who I am and how my mind works.
“Calm” is a word I often hear used to describe me. Usually it’s meant as a compliment. I’m seen as a calm, quiet presence in the workplace and elsewhere, and have even been told that my calm demeanor and willingness to listen patiently have a calming effect on others.
That shows me that our efforts at self-development do pay off, because as a Highly Sensitive Person with rather tightly wound nerves, calm is something I have to constantly strive for. But this is one time when being perceived rather differently from how I feel is usually a good thing. Plus, by making an effort to show a calm demeanor, I’m often able to achieve some degree of calm on the inside as well.
But I’m a lot more than ‘calm,’ and you probably are too. Outside our circle of close friends we don’t often make the effort to bring our strong feelings, deeply held passions, and well-thought-out ideas to the surface and actually express them in words or show them on our face. We may assume who we are, and what we’re thinking or feeling is obvious, since it is to us. But sometimes we can be too subtle to be read correctly.
What you can do about it: Let your light shine. Choose some situations where you want to show more of what’s under your placid surface. If you write or paint or play an instrument or do volunteer work, talk about that, or even selectively show some of your work.
Let people know what you’re interested in, and a little more of what’s on your mind. Sometimes this involves talking more than is natural to us. Don’t assume people know what you’re really like. When you want them to know you, show them or tell them. This doesn’t need to involve “performing” or showing off -- just sharing your authentic self when it feels safe to do so.
The bottom line with all these areas of misunderstanding is that we sometimes need to make an extra effort to give people a glimpse into our complex selves that we usually, without realising it, keep hidden under the surface.
Aravindh (not verified) says...
My friends are still actually trying to figure out me in any given situation (of course they aren't aware of personality types) and I usually answer them in my own (probably any INFP) way...'A Smile' !
Diane Fanucchi (not verified) says...
Thanks for commenting, Aravindh.
The mixed blessings of our enigmatic type.
Tracey Lee (not verified) says...
What a pertinent article! Those of us who identify as INFP know how tough and often lonely it is, to be us. On the one hand, we care about the planet, humanity, the environment, social justice... yet all to often we blur into the shadows, our voices unheard and our opinions disregarded. I've struggled with this on every level, for over 40 years. Even my family don't 'get' me. I've found I tend to navigate away from human relationships to find my happy equilibrium, where I can satisfy my love for nature and make a difference in horticulture.
Adrienne lidicky (not verified) says...
the older I get, the more misunderstood and alone I am.....