Years ago, there was a PBS series hosted by Steve Allen called Meeting of Minds. In this show, actors portrayed a variety of important characters from history. These characters met situated around a table and discussed topics ranging from religion and philosophy to the arts and sciences. Steven Allen got to ask the important questions that he’d always wanted to ask the people who played such significant roles in shaping our world.
I’ve thought about this program over the years and who I would like to see seated at the table. Who would I choose to moderate? Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs come to mind, partly because I’m fascinated with their personality theories, and partly because I have a few pressing questions that I would like them to answer. Number one on my imaginary Meeting of Minds agenda with the mother-daughter team is “What’s up with the fourth preference pair—Judging versus Perceiving?”
Judging Versus Perceiving
I have always disliked the language chosen to describe the fourth dimension of personality type. Introvert versus Extravert makes sense to me. I’ll grant you Sensing versus Intuition, and Feeling versus Thinking is a no-brainer. But Judging versus Perceiving? The language is troublesome, especially when you realize that Judgers can interact with the world, but in no way be judgmental; and Perceivers can interact with the world without being particularly perceptive. The vocabulary has always sounded negative to me. Where the other dimensions seem to seek balance, this dimension’s choice of language seems to ascribe blame.
The fourth dimension in the personality system created by Myers and Briggs has to do with how you establish control with the world. Are you someone who prefers to interact with the world in an orderly manner, characterized by schedules, lists, delineated accomplishments, a need for results and a sense of completion? If so, then you’re most likely a Judging person. Or perhaps you choose not to worry about timetables, preferring instead to create and follow new ideas in your own good time? If your sense of control comes from remaining open and not pinned down, then you are most likely a Perceiver.
Where the waters get murky is that you can prefer to interact with the world in an orderly, methodical, and “Judging” way, but inside feel adaptable and spontaneous—and vice versa, since there are many organized Perceivers in the world. I’ve reached the point in my Meeting of the Minds discussion with the Myers-Briggs duo where I reach for the bottle of wine and refill the glasses.
Riddle me this, Isabel and Katharine: Do you envision your interaction with the world as being the role of the decision-maker, or the role of one who takes in information? Judgers typically visualize themselves as decision-makers — task-focused, goal-oriented and completing work before play. Perceivers connect with the world by taking information in, relating, and interacting with it. Since new information is always around the corner, it’s best to stay open, avoid detailed schedules, allow time for fun, and rely on deadlines to complete projects. After all, who knows where a new spark of creativity or innovative thought might take you?
INFP versus INFJ
I’m pausing here for Isabel and Katharine to clear their throats, squirm in their seats and respond, because my next question is a personal one. In 1986, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® for the first time. I scored INFJ. I wasn’t strongly “J” so my wise friend and mentor who administered the test had me read the two personality descriptions. At the time, INFJ resonated more than INFP. I went about my merry INFJ way for decades, until the early 2000’s to be exact. Then I took the inventory again to discover that I was now INFP. Worldview rocked!
Now I’m gripping the edges of our Meeting of the Minds table. Who am I if I’m no longer an INFJ? Come on ladies, drink up! What’s going on with your test?
J or P: Pretty Common Dilemma
As it turns out, there are a few things at play with my apparent personality shift. While any personality test is designed to measure aspects of ourselves that don't change, the fourth personality dimension of the MBTI® is more affected by external factors than, say, Introversion versus Extraversion. Have you ever felt like your life circumstances were so out of control that you just had to clean and organize your home? Sure, the expulsion of energy was therapeutic. But chances are, you also had an inner voice that said, “If I can’t control the events in my life, it will at least feel good to have control over my immediate environment.”
Don’t worry Isabel and Katharine. I’m not inviting Freud to the table to discuss sublimation. I’ve never been a fan. But your mentor and friend, Jung, might be a good addition to the conversation. Pull up a chair, Dr. Jung and enlighten us.
We can summarise his position by saying that the experience of chaos, the materia confusa, leads to transformation and is essential to transformation. What we will find at some stage in our lives is that the order that we wish to impose upon the world, or on the unconscious, no longer works – it may even produce further disruption – and that this failure portends the possibility of new life – or further distress; there is no sunny unrealism in Jung (Marshall, 2011).
Thank you, Dr. Jung, for joining our discussion and educating us on chaos and disorder. It seems, according to Jung, that the order we seek to impose earlier in life may no longer serve us in later years. In fact, experiencing a little chaos and disorder can lead to new life. Lean in Dr. Jung. Let me fill your glass.
I agree with Jung, but I would add that the people and events in our lives can push us in the direction of J or P. My outward transformation from INFJ to INFP had much to do with my husband at the time. He was a very strong P—a capital P, in bold, and underlined twice. Someone in the relationship had to face the world in a more orderly J-fashion. Our kids needed a homework routine. Our three-boy house needed an organizational system, without it we were drowning. So yes, Dr. Jung, I know that lessons can be learned from chaos, but they were lessons that I was not yet prepared to learn. Those lessons came later. They were painful. I needed my boys to grow up a little more.
INFJ or INFP: Sitting on a Fence
From talking with people over the years, I realize that a lot of INF types get hung up on the P or J dimension. Here’s my advice: unless your J or P is particularly strong, there is a chance that it will change over time. It will change in response to life experiences as Dr. Jung has instructed, and it will change as your relationships and life events work their transformational magic.
Is this too undecided for you? Is your “J” telling you that you’d rather be this or that? Then consider the following synopsis of the differences:
INFJ: This personality type steers through life guided primarily by intuition and introversion. INFJs have compassion and a desire to help others. They can see the future and potential for improvement and change. They are empathetic to the point of experiencing others’ pain. Decisions are made with everyone’s feelings and needs taken into consideration. They want others to “get” them. They value understanding others and being understood themselves. They find that in helping others, they help themselves.
INFP: This personality is guided by their introverted feeling. These are strongly principled individuals who seek to live life in accordance with their deeply held values. They are empathetic and in tune with their feelings but, unlike INFJs, they transform the witnessed pain into a personal knowledge and understanding of the experience. Decisions can be difficult because they must be in concordance with values and how the INFP envisions themselves. They seek affirmation. They find that they can best help others by self-reflecting and making a personal connection with the others’ emotions.
The Wrap Up
Our glasses are empty. Our chairs are pushed back. We’ve reached the same conclusion. Two personalities that are similar yet different. Two personalities that are separated by a single letter characterizing how they each connect with the world. Katharine and Isabel remind us that the last dimension, seemingly minor, creates a major difference between leading with intuition (INFJ) versus feeling (INFP). That difference leads to other differences. And even though some attributes are shared, like empathy, the route to empathy is a different one. Jung holds up a finger and reminds us that disorder, chaos, relationships, and events can impact this dimension. I nod my head in understanding and, like the good INFP that I am, I make a personal connection. My imaginary Meeting of Minds concludes on good terms.
Marshall, J. (2011). The Psychological Significance of Chaos and Disorder. Camberra Jung Society Newsletter, 4.