INFJ personalities are often seen as those quiet, sensitive types who are easily upset and seem to take everything personally. Why is that? Are they really so fragile, or has society misunderstood them? Perhaps the real question is what we mean by ‘sensitive.’ For many, that word pulls up negative images of weak, shy, cry babies who just need to toughen up. And that is not the INFJ at all.
INFJs are the rarest of all personality types, so it’s easy to see why other types find them hard to understand. And while INFJs do tend to be highly sensitive people, the reasons behind their sensitivities go much deeper than a lack of fortitude.
So what is sensitivity really like for an INFJ? What can they do to help themselves? And what can their loved ones do to help these gentle folks be happy and thrive? Let’s take a look.
What is sensitivity?
Elaine Aron is a psychologist who coined the term “highly sensitive person” (HSP) and she summarizes high sensitivity with the acronym DOES – Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional Responsivity/Empathy and Sensitivity to Subtleties. This description gives us some insight as to why INFJs are so sensitive.
Depth of Processing. Sensitive people tend to process information more deeply. Everyone absorbs information from the world around them, both consciously and unconsciously, but sensitive people’s brains compare that information to what they already know and organize it into patterns that reveal deeper meanings. This takes a lot of quiet, reflective time.
Overstimulation. Sensitive people like INFJs absorb more information than others and are more aware of emotions, so they tend to experience information overload more quickly. They become stressed when they are subjected to too much information, including noise, crowds, bright lights and other people’s feelings and moods.
Emotional Responsivity/Empathy. Sensitive INFJs react more strongly to both positive and negative experiences. Studies have shown this reaction shows up in areas of the brain associated with experiencing strong emotions, as well as those involved in thinking and perceiving. Other researchers found highly sensitive people’s brains showed greater responsiveness to other people’s feelings, so that they feel what other people are feeling as if they were experiencing it themselves, creating highly empathic individuals.
Sensitivity to Subtleties. Highly sensitive people are more aware of subtleties and small changes in their environment, such as temperature, mood or someone’s body language, which they may not even be aware of themselves.
What does sensitivity look like for an INFJ?
INFJs can find everyday life quite stressful as they struggle to cope in a largely non-sensitive extraverted society that doesn’t understand them. Here are just eight of the ways INFJ react to an often overstimulating world.
- INFJs are easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, scratchy fabric or loud noise. This is not simply overreacting. For them, it feels like the volume is always turned up too high, sometimes bringing them to tears or making them avoid people.
- They need a lot of sleep, time to themselves and downtime to recharge their batteries. Time spent with other people, especially large groups in a noisy environment, without any rest breaks is very draining and they can become so tired they lack the energy to go out at all.
- INFJs are easily rattled, anxious and stressed when they have too much to do in a short space of time, when they aren’t given time to reflect on problems or when someone is watching them. They need to withdraw to a place where they have privacy and relief from overstimulation to give their brains a chance to process the information they’ve absorbed.
- This personality type dislikes violent movies, TV shows and finds any kind of cruelty towards animals very upsetting. Telling an INFJ “it’s just a movie” won’t help. They feel the emotions of the characters and the animals on TV as if they were experiencing it themselves.
- INFJs’ sensitivity means they have a deep appreciation for beauty and the arts. They can be moved to tears by music, art, theatre, books, films, food or flowers.
- INFJs are very aware of other people’s moods and feelings and can feel them themselves, leading them to be exhausted. Because they feel so misunderstood, INFJs don’t often share their deep feelings with others.
- INFJs can be very eager to please because they feel other people’s emotions so intensely and want them to be happy. But they can easily take on too much responsibility for people who should be standing on their own two feet.
- INFJs are aware that they are different from other types, which can make them feel like they’re weird or there’s something wrong with them. When people criticise and judge them for being different or too sensitive, they can develop low self-esteem, making them withdraw even more.
The famous INFJ door slam
INFJs are sensitive souls who are easily overwhelmed, but they have their limits. If they feel stressed by their environment, or the people in it, they’ll tend to cry or become very quiet and want to be alone. Some INFJs will be cold, sarcastic and very blunt or speak to someone only on a very superficial level. But when you’ve pushed them too far, taking advantage of their giving nature once too often or badgering them into doing things they don’t want to do, they will resort to the INFJ door slam.
The INFJ door slam is when an INFJ cuts you out of their life permanently. This may seem drastic, but it’s usually the result of months or years of someone hurting the INFJ and their trying to mend the relationship to the point they become drained and exhausted. INFJs tend to be there for other people, caring about their feelings, forgiving their shortcomings, being a shoulder to cry on, and giving of themselves. As sensitive Introverts, INFJs unfortunately often attract toxic, narcissistic or emotionally needy people because they want to help them, some of whom take without giving much in return. But INFJs need kindness, harmony and mutual support in their relationships and they won’t be taken for granted forever.
INFJs may not tell you that they’ve slammed the door on you, but will simply cease all communication or shut themselves off emotionally. People may assume that the INFJ will feel bad about the door slam and come back, but they don’t. This is the last straw for them and when they shut that door, they feel relieved that the struggle and the hurt is finally gone.
How INFJs can help themselves
Being an INFJ isn’t always easy, but it’s important for this caring personality type to take care of themselves as well as other people. Here’s a few tips for looking after your sensitive self.
Appreciate your sensitivity. It’s easy to see sensitivity as a negative quality, but there are many benefits to being sensitive. Highly sensitive people are compassionate, caring and creative individuals who can use their awareness to help others.
Avoid stressful environments. Learn to say no to invitations to theme parks, shopping malls, noisy restaurants or any situation that could potentially overwhelm you. These kinds of activities may be fun for other types, but you’ll feel better doing things more suited to your personality, such as a nature walk, reading, or an in-depth discussion with a friend.
Be creative. INFJs need a creative outlet for all the information, energy and emotion they absorb. Their minds are always busy processing and sorting, and it can feel like a great relief to express all those ideas in an artistic way, whether it’s drawing, writing, sculpting or cooking. Creativity is also an excellent way to build your self-esteem. As you learn and develop, you can take pride in the work you’ve done and the beauty you’ve brought to the world.
Look after yourself. The last person INFJs think of is usually themselves, but you need to remember that you need and deserve love and compassion as much as anyone else. Care for yourself by getting enough sleep, taking breaks, spending quiet time alone to recharge and do the things you enjoy doing.
How to help your sensitive INFJ
Have an INFJ loved one in your life? Anyone who knows and cares about an INFJ may feel helpless when it comes to supporting and caring for their sensitive loved one. But there are many things that other types can do to help INFJs.
- Accept them. Remember that being sensitive is a trait that’s part of their personality, not a disorder or a problem to be fixed. Sensitivity is not just about emotions. It’s the way people absorb sensory information from their environment. Accept them for who they are.
- Avoid labels. Just because INFJs are quiet, sensitive people, doesn’t mean they’re shy, socially anxious or insecure. Many INFJs are strong, confident people who simply prefer solitary activities to group events.
- Avoid stereotypes. Men of all types are usually expected to be tough, rugged and love team sports, but don’t force your male INFJ into this mould. Sensitive, compassionate men are more likely to prefer solitary sports like running or golf and activities like cooking and gardening. They will also feel better about themselves if you avoid gender stereotyping.
- Don’t judge. Avoid saying things like “Don’t take everything so personally!” or “Don’t be sensitive!” or “Just relax!”. These are judgmental statements that are meant to try to get the INFJ to change who they are. The more you pressure them to behave like you, the more they will feel bad about themselves.
- Don’t take it personally. INFJs need a lot of time to themselves, and they enjoy spending time doing solitary activities like reading and writing, so don’t take it personally if they want to be alone. INFJs cherish their close relationships so give them some space to recharge and they’ll be back to give you their undivided attention.
- Listen. INFJs are often private people who only open up to those they love and trust. When they do share their feelings, be sure to listen, empathise and show you care and respect their emotions.
The bottom line
As sensitive Introverts, INFJs are quiet, reflective individuals who are focused on their internal world of thoughts and ideas. They are constantly absorbing and processing information, so they need to spend a lot of time thinking deeply about patterns, meanings and how things fit together.
But when they get overwhelmed by noise, crowds or other people’s needs and emotions, they can become stressed, upset and need to retreat or even resort to the INFJ door slam!
There are many benefits to being this personality type, including compassion, empathy, creativity and kindness, so treat your INFJ, and encourage them to treat themselves, with the love and respect they deserve.