A person of any personality type can become attached to their wounds in a way that makes them feel safe but prevents them from growing into their highest self. Some may even wear their past pain like armor, protecting them from outside criticism or unwanted feedback.
While this isn’t something that only INFJ personality types deal with, the purpose of this article is to explore what this looks like in INFJs, why it happens, and what INFJs can do about it.
The INFJs Relationship to the Past
Living in the past is not the default setting for the INFJ personality type. INFJs typically prefer to focus on the future. They live for their dreams and ideals. An INFJ is the most at home inside their inner world, observing ideas and patterns that exist within people and society.
Of course, INFJs can feel nostalgic when reflecting on positive memories. For example, an INFJ may experience a warm, sentimental feeling when flipping through a scrapbook or watching an old home video. But INFJs don’t experience nostalgia in the same ways that many other types do.
They may see little significance in, for example, a ticket stub from the movie they saw on their first date with their spouse. For many INFJs, an object is simply an object. The emotional connection forged with another person feels meaningful enough on its own.
Although INFJs don’t see the past in the same way as some other types, they can still be extremely likely to hold onto past pain. It’s often when the INFJ can dive into this pain as a method of self-exploration that they can heal and grow.
But to heal from past pain, INFJs must first face their fear of accepting the past.
Why INFJs Fear the Past
Why do INFJs fear exploring the past? There are a few reasons:
- The past is full of painful memories and mistakes. INFJs can feel as if there is no reason to relive negative memories, or even positive memories that make them long for happier times. They don’t see how these past events fit with their future vision.
- They didn’t feel connected to the past when it was the present. INFJs can struggle to stay in the moment and truly soak in the experience as it’s happening. Even when they reflect on happier times, they may feel a sense of guilt for not being more present.
- They fear vulnerability. INFJs often feel misunderstood. They can feel like it’s easier to avoid thinking or talking about their past, but this is really just a way to protect themselves from becoming vulnerable.
While INFJs can be quick to disassociate from unpleasant past experiences, they may hold onto grudges against people who wronged them.
This is an ironic and paradoxical trait of the INFJ personality. Why are INFJs quick to dismiss their own past mistakes, but hold onto pain caused by other people?
Part of the reason is that INFJs put most of their outer world energy into people. Their auxiliary Extraverted Feeling function is focused on taking care of people and creating peaceful and harmonious environments.
While INFJs are constantly looking at things from different perspectives, it’s hard to forget an experience that is directly opposed to their own nature.
If the INFJ feels like someone did something to them that they can’t justify, they’ll view the action as a direct result of the other person’s values and worth. They may even “door slam” the person as a means of self-protection.
The door slam, in this case, becomes a convenient way for the INFJ to avoid confronting uncomfortable memories. They can move on with life, believing that those who hurt them are just “bad” people. In doing this, the INFJ is relying on their tertiary Introverted Thinking process to come up with seemingly rational reasons for painful experiences.
While common, this isn’t the healthiest way for INFJs to respond to past pain. When INFJs work on developing their Judgment functions, they become more equipped to deal with and heal from the past.
Common Trauma Responses for INFJs
There is a difference between past pain and trauma. Pain can be anything that hurts your feelings or ego. It can be a friend lying to you or someone calling you an offensive name.
Trauma is caused by a significant event that results in a long-term impact on how you function mentally and/or physically. War, a car crash, a natural disaster, and sexual abuse are all commonly considered traumatic experiences.
Because of how INFJs deal with past pain, they’re likely to have similar reactions to trauma. These include:
- Avoiding people, places, or things that remind them of the trauma
- Experiencing fear and anxiety about the outside world
- Blaming themselves for the trauma (guilt)
- Having difficulty trusting others
- Focusing on caring for others instead of healing the self
- Becoming overly critical of others
- Using self-deprecating statements as a coping mechanism
- Stress manifesting as chronic physical pain
Healing from trauma and dealing with past pain requires the INFJ to open up to true vulnerability. This means acknowledging the past — good and bad moments — and remaining open to healing and growing from these events.
Importance of Developing the Judging Functions
INFJs perceive the world through the subjective, abstract lens of their Introverted Intuition function. When the INFJ doesn’t work on developing their Judging functions, they may ignore or be closed off to outer-world feedback and observation.
The INFJ may prefer instead to shift their ideological perspective in a way that reaffirms or supports an existing worldview. Anything that is not in line with this view doesn’t hold meaning or significance to the INFJ.
In Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual, Lenore Thomson says, “[INJs] spend so much time avoiding external influence to protect their evolving Intuitions that they learn to use their Judgment largely to dismiss others’ opinions and to maintain their self-determined path… It takes deliberate effort for INJs to use their Judgment for self-criticism, and not just to analyze the limits of others’ ideas.”
For the INFJ, accepting outer world feedback requires a level of self-awareness and openness that can feel extremely painful and frightening.
Thomson goes on to say, “INFJs, who can be seriously wounded by a rift in a relationship, are unlikely to take another’s opinion of them at face value. A position that conflicts with the INJs own is, after all, just somebody else’s point of view.”
It’s essential for INFJs trying to heal from past pain to recognize their own tendency to protect their inner world, and how in doing so, they can actually lose their ability to stay open and hold empathy for other people.
Without focusing on developing their Judging functions, Extraverted Feeling and Introverted Thinking, “their vision becomes a psychological castle and they stand in the highest parapet, warning people that aren’t worthy to come in.”
However, when an INFJ focuses on developing these functions, they actually develop a stronger sense of self, improve their communication and interpersonal relationships, and learn how to set healthy boundaries that consider their needs.
All of these things can help the INFJ become more open to vulnerability and, in turn, more open to accepting and healing from the past.
Finding Ways to Heal From Past Pain
So we’ve determined that one of the first steps for INFJs who want to heal from past pain is developing their Judging functions. But what does that actually look like?
Here are a few tips to develop these functions and heal from an unhealthy relationship to past experiences.
1. Practice mindfulness.
A few months ago on a friend’s recommendation, I had a dream work session with a Jungian psychologist. I found myself struggling to do the work, which required understanding and accepting deep inner truths and desires. The psychologist recommended that I focus on mindfulness before attempting deeper inner work.
He recommended 30 minutes of meditation per day. I reluctantly adopted this habit, and with time started to experience a deeper sense of inner peace, both with myself (past and present) as well as with other people.
Mindfulness techniques like meditation can help us connect more deeply with ourselves and realize that our past hurts don’t control us. We discover a sense of freedom knowing that we can choose how we respond to the things that impact us.
2. Be kind to yourself.
INFJs may hold onto or avoid pain because they feel guilty for their part in it. They may be unwilling to accept or acknowledge their own flaws and refuse to listen to feedback from others.
It’s important for INFJs to understand that they can have compassion toward themselves while also acknowledging their own struggles.
INFJs should make a conscious effort to view and treat themselves in the same way they view and treat their loved ones when they experience pain — with compassion and understanding.
3. Talk about what you’re going through.
While it can be scary for INFJs to talk about past pain, this is an essential key to healing. They may feel like they’ll be misunderstood or that the other person won’t want to hear about it. But this is often not the case.
A few years ago, I needed to have a difficult conversation with a loved one about something that was important to me. I worried this person wouldn’t understand where I was coming from and would judge me harshly for it. I even made up unfair and untrue assumptions about this person, all rooted in my own fears. I stressed for weeks about how to address the topic. And I avoided any conversations with this person for as long as possible.
When I finally had the conversation, I quickly realized how unwarranted the fear and stress were. I felt relieved and comforted that my anxieties were unnecessary. And I realized the assumptions I made about the person were rooted in my insecurities and not in their character.
Talking about past pain with a trusted and accepting friend or family member can help INFJs heal.
When dealing with trauma, it’s also helpful for INFJs to find a therapist whom they trust and can open up to. A therapist can also provide additional tips to help you heal from past hurts and guide you through the healing process.
The INFJs relationship with the past can be complex. Fear of vulnerability and acknowledging past hurts can prevent the INFJ from personal growth and healing. Understanding how their past influenced who they are today is a scary, but rewarding experience.
Healing from past pain isn’t an overnight experience. It takes conscious desire, effort, and persistence from the INFJ. But once they’re open to the process, the result is more peace, freedom, and self-love.