Gender Roles, Parenting and the Conflicted INFJ

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on April 21, 2020

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 brand marketing consultant at Truity. She is passionate about helping people improve their relationships, careers, and quality of life using personality psychology. An INFJ and Enneagram 9, Megan lives quietly in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband and two pups. You can chat with her on Twitter @meganmmalone.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.

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.

John BOBBITT (not verified) says...

If you see my name, you might imagine how I'd have started out having a rough time of socialization. The Bobbitt incident made international headlines when I was 8, and 40 miles away. It was tolerable, however, with the companionship if my childhood girlfriend I'd had since preschool- we'd later go to college together and become engaged, only for her to come up pregnant 4 months the before graduation and the wedding. I say "only" because she'd always insisted on waiting, and ai hadn't much choice but to agree. That's what a good man does. Well... I found myself stranded a virgin at 21, and smack dab in the middle of casual culture. And a heartbroken INFJ male. 

 

I'll say this.... There might be some good women out there. But after 20 years of assaults, humiliations, loosing jobs, property damage and vandalism, moving to 6 states, online dating, and tons of research... Any exception to the rule "after age 17, no attractive and well-reguarded women will EVER entertain the idea of association with a virgin" has herself well hidden. And Ive got an interrupted suicide attempt under my belt. 

 

Being an INFJ freakin sucks. I've wished 100 times I could change my name, throw my heart out the window, and start all over again as a Grade A bastard. Did be married with kids by now.

 

 

GoTeamSlugs (not verified) says...

 Thank you with all my heart for bravely writing this article Miss Malone!

One article I read stated that female INFJs are 1.5 % (1 in 66) while male INFJs are 0.5 % (1 in 200). We are independent thinkers as well, and independent thinkers are non-conformists. That meaning we refrain from being bound society's stereotypical beliefs. I wanted to share the thoughts I wrote on genderal stereotypes:

"Gender isn't the only variable that determines an individual's ability. Society is founded on stereotypes. Of course there's a reason for these stereotypes. But they're just traditions that have become ideal mindsets. It's an ideal tradition to have three meals per day—but of of course it doesn't have to be that way. Likewise, I don't believe a man should should have to feel compelled to do better than a woman just because he's male. How frivolous. If you're ever defended by a brave female – there's no shame in needing to hide behind her. Just be yourself. I don't like to see people forced to be someone they're not. Because, well . . I suppose simply because I'm a nice person.

 

Again, I understand there may be some truth to stereotypes. I just wish they weren't . . arbitrary.

 

It seems as though no one ever thinks to consider the other variables . . . skill, experience, talent . . and most of all personality. Extroversion and introversion. There are other factors that make up a person besides just physical strength, testosterone, and estrogen.

Because they're used to it; everyone just conforms to arbitrary stereotypes and arbitrary tradition. But not me. I'm an independent thinker. Like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and his friend Hermie. And independent thinkers are non-conformists. That meaning they refrain from being bound by society's stereotypical thinking.

 

Another aspect to note is that people may at times find it easier to be black and white than to rather consider any gray area. Too much of a complication. Or hassle.

Truth be told—it's become somewhat of a broadened term. Where gender can be mentioned regarding scenarios that aren't even necessarily affected by it. Such as art, music, and even the quantity and rate of food consumption. Are any of these really able to be done “better” by one gender over the other? I think not.

It's just the ideal mindset that a male has to perform – or should feel compelled to perform better than a female in any scenario. Only in marriage is this the case according to the Bible, at least when it comes to decision-making. As a husband is the head of his family.

 

I wanted to believe that there exists some males who care not for proving themselves more capable than females, and care not to follow the stereotypical belief that they should. Everyone—both male and female, desires to be “capable”. But not everyone desires to be . . “macho” as they seem to call it. Or—a “knight in shining armor” if you will.

 

I do apologize if I seem like I'm going off on a tangent. I like to think matters through deeply in a logical and tangible way while avoiding personal opinion – so as to only state what is factual.

 

As you might suspect, I'm not in favor of stereotypes. I always felt bad for both females and males when I heard “You play like a girl.” And how does a girl play? You mean the “average” girl? The “stereotypical” girl? It hurts both both the girls and the boys because it causes the girls to feel obsolete compared to boys when in reality there are multiple variables which form a person's behavior, while the boys are led to believe that it is imperative that they always perform better than girls – instead of just being themselves.

 

Because I never favored stereotypes—I could also never find humor in in gender-based jokes, even if I tried. Anyone who told me such a joke – would be met with a blank stare. So males never grow up . . oh? Does anyone ever proceed to explain “why” that is? Or at the least – explain that “never” is just a way of saying; “a really long time”? (Eleven years to be precise.) Instead of supporting that stereotype – as well as potential harm, why not seek to justify the causes for this and discover the biological components responsible?

 

Ability and capability should be classified through personality type – not gender! As what's considered to be masculine and feminine qualities can be shared by both genders depending on their personality. Feminine qualities should be valued just as highly as masculine qualities. To be caring, loving, supportive . . are those not admirable qualities?

 

Don't let the arbitrary stereotypes and traditions of our baloney-based society control who you are or what you do! Just be yourself! =)"

 

To be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”e.e. cummings

(I am curious if anyone might be able to tell whether I'm male or female based on what I've written.) Thank you, God bless and have a nice day! :)

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