Are you passionate about self-improvement? Are you always striving to reach your own potential, but care just as much about the personal development of everyone else? Creative, caring and curious, you will go to any length to find your purpose in life and help others find theirs. If this describes you, then you are an Idealist.

Idealists are one of four temperaments defined by David Keirsey, which correlate with the Myers-Briggs NF types. Idealists pride themselves on being loving, kindhearted, and authentic. Despite having much to give to the world, Idealists are a rare bunch, making up only 15 to 20 percent of the population.

With their characteristic enthusiasm and empathy, these kind souls can spend a lot of energy trying to meet other people’s needs at the expense of their own. Fortunately, there are things that Idealists can do to maintain the balance between helping people and looking after themselves, without giving up their potential.

Idealist strengths and weaknesses

Of Keirsey’s four temperaments, Idealists are more concerned with finding purpose in life than any other type. They have a natural thirst for learning and meaning, and this gives them a unique ability to bring people and ideas together. Caring and compassionate, Idealists excel at working with people as counselors, teachers or journalists, as they inspire individuals to grow and develop.

For many Idealists, however, their passion for self-improvement can lead to feelings of self-doubt and self-criticism if they feel they haven't reached their own potential or haven’t been sufficiently helpful to others. Their compassion drives them to spend more energy trying to meet other people's needs than their own, and people may take advantage of that. Idealists can lose confidence when others make increasing demands on their time and energy, often with little consideration for the Idealist herself.

Few Idealists will instinctively stand up for themselves in this situation. Any type of conflict and negativity can increase the Idealist’s stress levels and make them highly emotional or excessively withdrawn. Consequently, Idealists must work hard to find a balance between helping people and helping themselves.

Finding Balance

Here are a few ways this friendly type can give without giving too much:

Spend time alone

While Idealists are often at the forefront of charitable causes and fighting for the downtrodden, they also need a lot of time to recharge their batteries. The best way to do this is to spend some time on your own. If you feel you have taken on too much, you may need to lighten your usual schedule and cut back on some activities.


Regular exercise can help to alleviate the tension that builds up when you take on the stresses, worries and anxieties of other people. Solitary walks in nature and gentle stretching exercises can provide a welcome respite from your hectic life.


Since Idealists tend to take on others’ negative emotions, practicing mindfulness can give your mind a break. Studies show that meditation can help to improve wellbeing and your ability to cope with stress.

Learn to say ‘no’

Idealists are givers by nature, but that doesn’t mean you should keep saying ‘yes’ to every request. Establishing clear boundaries is critical if you are to value yourself and your own needs. Without this clarity of purpose, you can do too much and become burned out. Don’t worry that others will see you as confrontational or rude if you say ‘no’ every now and again – a study from Columbia University suggests this isn’t the case.

Surround yourself with positive people

While Idealists are committed to helping others, they also need someone to believe in them. Be sure to surround yourself with supportive people who won’t take advantage of you and who will validate your feelings. As much as you want to help, negative environments and negative people can be damaging for the sensitive Idealist, so try to avoid them whenever possible.

Write in a journal

Taking the time to express your thoughts and feelings in a journal is an excellent outlet for alleviating the stress caused by taking on too much. Research has shown that just 15 minutes of writing about stressful or emotional events improves both physical and psychological health. Writing about your own accomplishments and ways you have positively benefited others can also help to boost your self-esteem and remind you that you are making a difference.

Take up a project

Idealists tend to throw themselves into good causes wherever they go, whether it’s organizing a charity event or being a shoulder to cry on. It’s important to balance this altruism by adopting a project of your own. This will help you to focus on your own needs and use your energy to give something back to yourself. Idealists are often creative people, so consider a project such as painting, writing, photography, gardening or cooking. Anything that gives you an outlet for your considerable energies will help you to become more grounded, less anxious, and clearer about your sense of self.

Learn to accept criticism

Idealists have a tendency towards perfectionism, often expecting more of themselves than anyone else. Over time, these high standards can take a toll on your feelings of self-worth as you berate yourself for failing to reach the mark. Instead of seeing criticism as an attack, try to see it as an opportunity to learn something. Sometimes negative feedback can offer you the insight you wouldn’t have seen yourself. And if the criticism is not helpful, let it go. Remember, no one is perfect and you don’t have to be either.

Look after yourself

Perhaps the most important tip for Idealists is to take time to think of themselves. It’s also the hardest. Idealists automatically look for ways to alleviate suffering; tending to their own needs can feel like they’re being selfish. But, just as flight attendants will tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child, you need to look after yourself before you can help anyone else.

Take the time to think about how you feel, what you want, what you need and what you need to do to fulfill those needs. Focusing on your own needs will make you happier, healthier and in a stronger position to become the powerful and supportive champion for others that you were meant to be.

Deborah Ward
Deborah Ward is a writer and an INFJ. She has a passion for writing articles, blog posts and books that inspire, motivate and encourage people to build self-confidence and live up to their potential. She has written two books on mindfulness, Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness and Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness. Her latest book, Sense and Sensitivity, is based on her Psychology Today blog of the same name. It's about highly sensitive people and is out now. Deborah lives in Hampshire, England, where she enjoys watching documentaries, running and taking long walks in the country, especially ones that finish at a cosy pub.