On the 16-type scale, I type as an INFJ. This is one of eight introverted types, and it’s not a common type of Introvert. Yet do an internet search on “INFJ,” and you’ll see that it’s promoted as the holy grail of personality types. The way some commentators describe my personality, you’d think it transcends humanity itself!
It’s not just INFJ, either. Many types have this hyperbolic appeal to them. It’s their relative rarity that gives them their appeal.
Now, don’t get me wrong, reading descriptions of your personality type can be a huge ego booster! Especially for Introverts like me. But when personality theory becomes an “internet culture of personality” instead of an academic finding; when it gives someone a fairytale narrative that doesn’t really line up with reality, then something’s going wrong. I think it’s a destructive distraction from the many useful ways typology can serve us and help us to become better people.
I use my own type as the primary example here, but almost any type could be used.
Problem #1: Beware the mistype
When I first learned my type, I was intoxicated with the attention and validation it offered. But I quickly learned that not only is my type overhyped, there are also lots of mistyped people out there adding to the hype. I’m willing to bet that most of the blog posts and YouTube videos promoting “12 Surprising Secrets of INFJs That They Wish You Knew . . .” etc are not produced by INFJs at all.
When article (or video) titles include a phrase like, “the world’s rarest personality type,” that’s usually a clue that it’s overhyping the type. But the real problem comes when there’s a mistype, that is, when people type as INFJs when other types are more accurate descriptions of their cognitive tendencies.
Mistyping can happen for many reasons. It can be intentional, and it can be accidental. Mistakes are an unfortunate part of self-testing. When someone is challenged with depression and/or anxiety, for example, they are more likely to mistype themselves and should consult with a typology professional to get a better handle on their type.
Feeling misunderstood is a common trait of the INFJ, but it’s also a common trait for anyone experiencing depression. You can see how overhyping these traits, and then glorifying them, can led someone to think they’re an INFJ when really there are other things going on.
Problem #2: Personality is not the same as behavior
Ever noticed how the grandiose identities of the internet compete to distinguish themselves as special? Two examples have really stood out for me, confirming this problem. One was a Facebook page by a woman typed as INFJ. Many of her posts were bragging about the INFJ Door Slam, in which she threatened her reading public not to “mess with me or you’ll get Door Slammed.” Another example was a video promoting the power of INFJs, in which a photo of Hitler was flashed with a warning about crossing INFJs.
These types of public threats and chest thumping are not indicators of people with the INFJ preference. Public displays have nothing to do with typology which after all, describes someone’s innate preferences, not the way they choose to act on those preferences. It’s a misuse and sometimes abuse of typology to suggest otherwise. Personality is not the same as behavior.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that INFJs are benevolent and incorruptible or incapable of making public threats. Quite the opposite, in fact. INFJs are flawed human beings just like everyone else. But personality type alone doesn’t predict behavior. The Door Slammer I mentioned seems to be using personality type as a psychological weapon rather than a self-discovery tool. Such people are less likely to care what their actual type is, than what’s the most useful tool to justify their poor behavior. They can’t be typed easily since most personality assessments are not designed to prevent biased participants from pushing the result they want.
This causes typology fans, struck by the similarities in their own behavior, to mistype themselves. Some might do it intentionally, most will just not be aware of the biases.
Problem #3: We all need validation
There are people that misuse and abuse typology because they are attracted to the popularity of the idealized narratives.
Enter the idealization of the INFJ. The narrative can attract people who prefer to validate themselves by using psychological warfare against others. People with these tendencies want to have the mystique and respect that the INFJ personality seems to attract in typology circles. The reputation and understanding of the type is being corrupted by people who want to be honored as “INFJ chosen ones.” They exaggerate the INFJ into superhero narratives to promote their own claims of being the type.
The danger of idealizing any personality type is that the narrative becomes a weapon of psychological warfare for those that seek such things. Such behaviors are co-opting the type and corrupting its definition. This is not only toying with people’s emotions in an unhealthy way, it’s also misinforming the public about personality type in general. Eventually, there will be no psychological safety in a subject matter meant to help people better understand themselves and others.
Like Gandhi, or Like YOU?
For the INFJ narrative, there’s great power in equating yourself to Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. What most people miss, is that these historical figures had more going for them than their personality type. Typology only describes the broad strokes of personality, the general and nuanced differences in the way people make use of their brains. For any given type, you have a 1-in-16 chance of sharing it with any given historical figure or celebrity – that doesn’t mean you’re anything like them.
Typology does not and cannot pinpoint the complexity of the individual. Who you are is unique. Driving a race car doesn’t make you Dale Earnhardt, just as using the same cognitive function stack as Martin Luther King, Jr. does not make you a social change leader that will alter humanity and transcend time. Your type doesn’t make you special; it just helps you explore yourself with some context and meaning.
What makes you special? You do. To be great, you must study and practice a skill that distinguishes you. Great people are great because they rolled up their sleeves and earned it, not because they took a test that indicated how they use their brain. Anyone can work hard, regardless of their personality type.
The INFJ isn’t anything special, it’s just rare. And perhaps for good reason. All 16 types have roughly equivalent attributes of pros and cons. None are the end-all of who you are. Let it be, and please turn off the spotlight.