Gender Roles, Parenting and the Conflicted INFJ

As an INFJ personality type, I understood at a young age that there were “rules” in society that people were “supposed” to follow. Through intuition and observation, I learned that men and women had different roles to play. And while I understood that these rules existed, what didn’t make sense to me was “why?”

Growing up, I never thought of my gender as a defining part of my identity. I didn’t necessarily feel like I was more masculine than feminine, or more feminine than masculine. I just felt like me. So adopting stereotypical gender roles seemed unnecessary and confusing.

My parents grew up in the post-World War II United States. Although they came of age during the period of second-wave feminism, they still adopted many stereotypical lifestyles and behaviors commonly associated with their genders at the time.

I saw my dad as the head of the household and my INFJ mom as the homemaker — a role she never seemed fully content with. She always talked about wanting to go back to school to finish a degree, but she never did. This decision, I believe, was influenced in part to environmental and societal pressure.

The world has changed tremendously since my parents were young, but the societal expectations set back in the old days still linger.

I struggle to this day to separate my identity as a strong, intuitive, and emotional woman from the type of woman that I’m “supposed” to be. And in speaking with many other INFJ men and women for my book, The Complete Guide to Understanding the INFJ Personality Type, I was relieved to learn that I’m not alone.

INFJ is the least common personality type in men, and the third-least common type in women (INTJ and INTP types are rarer in women). So it’s no surprise that INFJs confess to struggling when it comes to living up to gender-based expectations. This may also be one of the reasons that INFJs report the most dissatisfaction in marriage out of all the 16 personality types.

In this article, I’m going to break down some of the reasons INFJs may struggle with traditional gender roles when it comes to relationships and parenting, and suggest some steps they can take to break the trend of conformity to thrive.

Gender Roles: Masculine and Feminine Personality Traits

Since this article is discussing gender roles based on societal expectations, I thought it would be useful to define what personality traits are stereotypically associated with men and women.

Masculine personality traits include:

  • Authoritative
  • Confident
  • Boastful
  • Physically strong
  • Ambitious
  • Motivated
  • Action-oriented

 Feminine personality traits include:

  • Sensitive
  • Compassionate
  • Friendly
  • Passive
  • Fragile
  • Submissive
  • Graceful

Carl Jung, who developed the cognitive functions of which the 16-type personality system is based on, had his own theory of masculine and feminine energy. Many personality type experts speculate that Jung himself was an INFJ.

Jung called the masculine side of a woman the animus and the feminine side of a man the anima. Jung theorized that it is essential for all people to grow both the masculine and feminine sides of their personalities to become wholly developed.

Discovering these characteristics in our psyche, Jung believed, could help us recognize our authentic selves, apart from gender expectations. In doing this, we also breakdown the cultural polarization of men and women and can accept a more gender-neutral and equal society.

Gender Conformity and the INFJ Men

While both men and women who identify as INFJs express struggles with gender-specific expectations, it’s perhaps the INFJ man who feels the most external pressure to conform.

INFJs are incredibly intuitive when it comes to the emotional states of other people. They often feel like they can sense positive or negative emotional energy as soon as they step into a room. They do this not by hearing what a person is saying or by reading body language, but by picking up on subtle energetic patterns in a person or group.

This natural skill causes INFJs to be sensitive to the emotions of other people. INFJ children, particularly, can feel the weight of taking on the emotions of their environment.

INFJ men are naturally quiet, curious and empathetic. The INFJ men I spoke to said that they find it difficult to live up to gender-based expectations. It’s not natural for most INFJs to be action-oriented and assertive, which are traditional masculine behaviors.

In an attempt to repress what may be perceived as feminine behavior, the INFJ man may appear especially cold, detached and unemotional. They will likely tap into their tertiary function, Introverted Thinking, and inferior function, Extraverted Sensing, rather than work on developing their auxiliary Extraverted Feeling function.

This approach leaves the INFJ man feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and especially hard on himself and others. This is a result of not leaning into his natural strengths.

INFJ men will feel frustrated in relationships with partners who prefer they conform to traditional gender roles in marriage and parenting. The INFJ man needs to feel safe enough to tap into and develop his creative, empathetic and nurturing side.

Gender Roles and INFJ Women

On the surface, it might seem like INFJ women would have it easy when it comes to gender roles. There are many traits of this personality type that are traditionally feminine — sensitive, compassionate and empathetic, to name a few.

It’s true that INFJ women don’t face the exact same struggles as their male counterparts. But this doesn’t mean that women of this personality type don’t also struggle with gender roles in relationships and parenting.

Since INFJs are so in tune with emotional energy and social expectations, it can feel like taking the socially-acceptable path is a more comfortable choice.

Before I got married, I decided that I wouldn’t change my last name after marriage. It was a choice I made for myself years before I ever met my husband. But as the wedding day approached, and I realized how important this tradition was for everyone around me (besides my supportive husband), I started to doubt my choice.

I kept asking myself, “Am I doing something wrong by not conforming?” It was challenging for me to separate my own feelings and opinions from the outside voices questioning me. And I came close to changing my long-held belief — just to make the guilt I associated with “being different” go away.

It was my husband who reminded me I wasn’t being true to myself. Without his support, I probably would have taken his last name and convinced myself I wanted it. This decision-making pattern is so common in women who use Extraverted Feeling. And it can be especially harmful to INFJ women when we don’t listen to our intuition.

I think back to my mom, who never seemed entirely fulfilled as a homemaker and who always wanted to go back to college. How much of her lifestyle was her choice? And how much was influenced by the expectations of other people and her environment?

Unfortunately, I see these scenarios frequently in INFJ women. Because INFJ women possess some traditionally feminine characteristics, it’s often assumed we’ll happily conform to gender roles. But this is not usually the case.

Unlike INFJ men who can have an under-developed Extraverted Feeling function, the INFJ woman may over-rely on this function to fit in with her environment.

She may find herself in situations that don’t truly fulfill her because she’s seeking to be part of a group or to make other people happy. If this desire to fit in becomes more important than listening to her intuition, the INFJ woman can also become deeply unsatisfied.

How Does This Affect INFJ Parents? 

When talking with INFJs for my book, the topic where gender-based challenges came up the most was parenting.

My INFJ friend Catie said: “The role that society places you in as a mother has been at odds with my introversion and need to regulate my inner world. Motherhood demands that you’re always outputting. Especially in the first year. For [my child], I was always outputting love and patience even when I was running bone dry in energy and self-love.”

If an INFJ is with a partner or in a cultural environment that encourages conforming to gender norms in parenting, they can feel extremely self-critical and overwhelmed. Before blaming their environment, the INFJ will blame herself or himself, asking “What am I doing wrong?” The truth is, INFJs weren’t designed to fit perfectly in societal round holes.

INFJ parents need to find roles and routines that work for them. It’s OK if the advice you get from other people doesn’t work for you — find what does. You can regret help from someone if their energy drains you. You can parent in a style that’s different from other people around you.

Parenting is hard enough on its own. If you’re constantly trying to conform to social expectations and gender norms as an INFJ parent, it’s likely you’ll constantly feel even more exhausted than usual.

Dealing with Expectations

Gender roles are something that both INFJ men and women struggle with in relationships and parenting.

The biggest risk INFJ men and women face when it comes to gender norms is the environmental pressure to conform to expectations. INFJs need to take time to reflect on what feels the truest to them versus what they’re doing to fit in or to please other people.

I’ve found that journaling, meditation and dreamwork are all tools that help me get in touch with my core desires and beliefs, and ultimately help me make better decisions for myself. Finding tools that help you separate your personal needs from social expectation is essential for INFJs seeking a lifestyle that’s more authentic to who they are on the inside.

If you’re an INFJ and find yourself resonating with parts of this article, know that you aren’t alone in your feelings and experiences. You’re navigating through a world that’s not designed for you to succeed as your natural self. But that doesn’t mean failure is imminent.

Stay true to yourself and work on forging an authentic life — that’s the INFJs path to happiness.

Megan Malone

Megan is a freelance writer and INFJ personality type whose mission is to help people improve their relationships, careers, and quality of life using personality psychology. Megan graduated from Texas Christian University with degrees in Strategic Communications and Psychology. She founded INFJ Blog, an online publication for the INFJ personality type, in 2014. Megan lives quietly in Fort Worth, Texas with her cocker spaniel pup. You can chat with her on Twitter @meganmmalone.

Comments

Kristen LeFevers (not verified) says...

I'm an ENFJ, but I could relate to a lot of what you said in this article.  Growing up, I was always a people pleaser, and even now I still experience guilt sometimes for not conforming to societal expectations.  I've always felt like I disappointed people in my community because I chose to further my education instead of settle down and have a family (not that there's anything wrong with that, if it what you truly want).  But now that I'm older, I am so glad I finally chose to follow my dream.  

yamabeth (not verified) says...

I have three twenty-something children and one teenage child and this article resonates with me. I have experienced the same feelings expressed in this article multiple times over 27 years of mothering. From the time my children were tiny until they all graduated from high school and became independent I have felt a lot of guilt over trying to pursue my interests while also being a mother. As a result I make sure that I support them in whatever goals, dreams and interests they have. I will never expect any of them to live according to whatever societal expectations they may experience. And I think that they approve of the parenting job I did as their mother (it will take a few more years for my teenage daughter. Ha!). They recognize that I have interests and needs above my parenting responsibilities.

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