The INFP's Guide to Finding the Authentic You

Being yourself should be easy, shouldn’t it? You just let go and be whatever you imagine yourself to be with no masks or labels.

That’s not how the world works, though. Societal expectations, parental pressure, even a boss with an explosive temper — these and other external forces can influence our actions and make us act in an inauthentic way, presenting variations of ourselves in order to fit in.

For INFPs in particular, authenticity is tricky to pin down. You tend to see yourself as an abstract entity, quite separate from your physical actions. When you find yourself doing exactly what you want to do in a situation, it’s more often the result of a happy accident than any conscious decision to act out your values. You are far more likely to hide your gifts than express them. In doing this, you risk creating a huge disconnect between the person you present to the world and the person you believe yourself to be.

No one is suggesting that you express yourself without filters. Everyone fakes it to some extent; it’s how we rub along nicely without terrifying each other. But it is important to confidently know who you are and what you value. Otherwise, you risk feeling conflicted between the various facets of your life and a sense of being out of control.

If a different you shows up in every situation, it’s time to reconnect with yourself. Here are some tips for discovering the authentic you.

1. Give in to your craving for solitude

Solitude lets you separate what you want from what you think others want. It gives you the freedom to step outside everyday influences and really hear yourself think.

We all carry so many opinions and routines that have been handed down to us over the years. It can be hard to separate those acquired beliefs from our own true nature. Taking some time alone — whether it’s a walk in the park, focused meditation or just sitting quietly — can really help you pay attention to your own thinking and make contact with who you are.

2. Figure out your motivations

INFPs want to be liked. You have a tendency to do things simply to gain the approval of others, often spending far too much time trying to fulfill someone else’s needs at the expense of your own. But every time you seek that acknowledgement, you move further away from your own internal motivations for acting. You become less true to yourself.

Figuring out the real motivations behind your actions gives you the opportunity to replace actions that feel wrong with actions that feel right. Suppose, for example, that you’re the last one in the office again when you really want to go home and spend time with your family. Ask yourself, are you staying late because it will help your career, or because you think others will think better of you, or because you don’t have the courage to say “no?” How would you act in that moment if no one else could witness your actions?

Understanding your motivations is like a compass that points due north. It opens your perspective to different actions that align better with your values.

3. Accept your flaws

INFPs want perfection in everything and may become disheartened when they realize that their motivations are not as noble or enlightened as they might wish. When you look deep into yourself, it’s common to find that your true self is not reflected in the way you’re living your life. But the most uncomfortable part is realizing that the authentic you is flawed in some way; that you don’t live up to your own lofty expectations.

Before you grow discouraged, consider that authenticity is a process. It is having the courage to explore within, regardless of what you might find. An essential part of the process is getting comfy in your own skin. If you’re not as nice as you aspire to be, then that’s OK because you’re only human. And there’s bound to be more right with you than wrong.

4. Write a personal manifesto

For INFPs, your inner world is your inner strength. You live in a world of possibilities, not facts. If something sparks your imagination, then you’re off, connecting one random dot to the next and the next...until suddenly you wind up in a different place to where you started. It’s exciting for sure. But there’s a risk that you’ll end up chasing an urge or fleeting emotion, only to find out later that it wasn’t what you really wanted.

Writing a personal manifesto minimizes these false starts.

A manifesto is simply a written declaration of the things that are important to you — your beliefs, motivations, opinions and intentions. To write it, ask a few simple questions:

“What, in life, is most important to me?”

“What do I believe in?”

“What kind of world do I want to live in?”

“What do I intend to do with my life?”

With these questions in mind, write whatever you want, however you want, no matter how strange, amusing or unlikely. Your primary goal is to figure out what you stand for, and remind yourself of those values every time you start following those rabbit holes.

5. Take action in the real world

As you get a firm grasp on who you are, you’ll need to apply those values to the real world. For many INFPs, this means navigating a job or a relationship that doesn’t mesh with your value system. Faced with a discomfiting situation, it’s easy to slip back into old habits and offer up the less-than-real version of yourself.

It’s tough to be authentic all the time. But what you can do is stop being inauthentic. Notice when you’re pretending to be something you’re not. If something feels wrong, trust your intuition. Stop giving feigned responses. Keep your manifesto close by, and use it to help you make small, but significant, adjustments to your everyday behavior.

When you strip away the inauthenticity with the small things, it will make it easier to stand your ground on the big things. You’ll finally be yourself, and that’s when you can truly start living with purpose.

Molly Owens

Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. Since 2006, she has specialized in helping individuals and organizations utilize personality assessments to develop their potential.

In 2012, Molly founded Truity with a mission to make robust, scientifically validated personality assessments accessible to everyone who may benefit from them.

Molly is an ENTP and lives in San Francisco, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and racing toy cars with her son.

Comments

Sheila Ryan Hara (not verified) says...

Thank you so much for this timely post. It suits me to a T, and I'll put the Manifesto the idea to good use. Number 5 rings true, too. I'm making some major changes in my life next year. This post has given me the encouragement to go forward. Thanks, again!

Blair Hollis (not verified) says...

Brilliant glimpse into the heart of the INFP Molly!

Authenticity for this (me) INFP is a continual pursuit to express those intuitively inspired ideas and connecting the dots to new an innovative approaches to guide others to find meaning in their lives. So, yes we risk going down those rabbit trails but something inside validates that pursuit because a power is motivating us to create a mechanism for others to transformative change.

I use narrative therapy (constructionist approach) that draws out meaning through composing responses to similar questions. We focus on early remembrances that evoke how they were successful in problem solving to how role models reveal vestiges of their "real" self and how to frame a vision of their "ideal" self. The gap in between becomes a visual marker for what they may examine as a goal to discern the motivation (agency thinking) attitudinal and behavioral changes required to meet their personal expectations (pathway thinking). Extrapolating the meaning of that goal pursuit is what drives and motivates individuals to attain that new way of living.

So, the counselor in us seeks to stir with the hearts and minds of others a pathway to actualize their gifts and values to affect change in this world. If this world seeks to shape us, then knowing "who" we are offers a platform to stand in opposition to those horizontal stressors. We then choose to become whole on this journey. This developmental growth through metacognition affirms we are on the right path. That inner locus of control and responsibility becomes that moral compass pointing to what validates our purpose on this earth.

When we find meaning in these endeavors it alters our attitude in the workplace, at home with our children where we can emit loving sounds like "choo choo noises" and just become comfortable in our own skin. This self-authentication tells us quietly inside that we have begun to arrive; to that mental state that confirms our identity. This offers a sense of hope, our inner anchor the offers the resiliency to adapt as life challenges confront us. Nevertheless, that hope is what fuels the motivation to guide others to their inner healing. Ultimately, in this process of self-authentication are transfigured into a well-being that makes life rich and abundant; one that has purpose.

Blair Hollis M.A. GCDF BCCC

Shinnunna (not verified) says...

I have the tendency not to finish what I start and mostly thoughts become unconnected there by failing to come with something. I have been trying for example to write a book but I always burnout before I can even finish a chapter. How can I concentrate on an idea up to the end?

Guest (Vicki) (not verified) says...

Shinnunna,

I have that problem too. I like thinking through all kinds of creative ideas, and then I tire of idea once I've solved all the theoretical challenges and don't take action! I should just write down all my ideas, publish them, and let someone else do them.

Maybe you could map out the subjects of the chapters so that you're breaking the book into topic sections. That gives you small projects to work on and a sense of completion along the way. When you have wandering thoughts that belong in another chapter, you can just make some notes to come back to later.

If it's a fiction, indulge yourself with writing the ending first. That way, in the back of your mind, you are organizing your thoughts to keep working toward that end. Then skip to the middle, do some writing, and then back to the beginning!

Good luck!

Laura VanHook (not verified) says...

I love it and it "fits". I do like #4 - and will complete it as I find it will be very useful.
Thank you !

Tonwa (not verified) says...

Funny...I'm reading this while i snuck off for much a desired morning of solitude

Bard says...

Molly, thank you. I feel like I've been given a hug. (A very INFP response, of course.) How do you understand us so well? :-)

Right now I have to get to bed. Tomorrow I'm going to give this excellent piece another, more leisurely read.

Barikwa Deeyaa (not verified) says...

I can relate to being inauthentic to please other people. A lot of it stems from my parents expectations. They want me to do something as a career that I'm not too thrilled about. Beside this I feel that around social events I always feel very inauthentic because I feel that I must act polite and say the right thing. If I'm feeling sad or frustrated I often hide it because it would be an inconvenience to others.

JennyGump76 (not verified) says...

I realize this is an old post, but I had to respond.  The last year and a half I've encountered so many personal challenges, many of which I can attribute to my own failure to keep my core values front and center in my life.  As a matter of fact, I can safely say those core values became buried in a relationship with a very needy, self-centered, sponge of a person.  Living out my days as his caregiver, personal assistant, surrogate mother and accountant (in the guise of a wife) made me lose complete sight of what I really am all about.  

I ended up in therapy last fall because I just couldn't deal with what I had become in order to try and maintain some kind of balance in this relationship.  I am a certified INFP-keeping the peace became my primary goal in this relationship, and it cost me so much of myself and my own personality.  I knew I was completely unbalanced and couldn't find my center, no matter how hard I tried.  The dear lady who navigated me through this told me very plainly, "You need to re-evaluate what really matters to you.  You need to get back in touch with your core values."  So I made it my goal to do just that, in the wake of the ending of this relationship.

It has helped me tremendously over the last 8 months or so.  Recognizing that, yes, my peace of mind does matter more to me than pretty much anything else and that stepping away from things/people that steal that from me is not horrible-it's necessary for my health and well-being; that has been an eye-opener.  I am not always able to steer clear of people or situations that mess with my "zen state" (LOL) but I do recognize those things now, and I know how to balance it in a healthy way, rather than just knuckling under to whomever or whatever it is that is running roughshod over me.

Learning how to look out for myself is an on-going lesson.  I deal with a lot of fear over standing up for myself and what I believe to be best for me.  I'm so afraid of letting others down or coming off flaky or weird (although, I've been weird as long as I can remember...) that I really have to step back from things and ask myself what is motivating me at those moments.  If I know I'm being driven by my fear of others' opinions, I have to push myself hard to proceed.  But, it's been worth it when I do.  I find that there is a lot of joy and contentment that I have miss all because I am afraid to do what I know I should do for me, rather than putting someone else's desires/expectations/requirements before what is best for me.  

INFP's, as a rule, are usually pretty selfless and generous with whatever they have.  We have long fuses and can take a lot of crap before we hit our limits.  However, I have learned to protect the good things in me from those whose motives aren't "authentic" by being true to my authentic self.  By identifying the "phony" in others (which as an INFP is almost a sixth sense) I am able to more easily and willingly fall back into what is "real" for myself.  It's like one state reflects the other, in some way.  Hopefully, in the coming months while I'm recovering from the Big Drain (as I have termed it) I can build up resistance to the need to please and begin to more frequently focus on those core values that I really do hold dear, and find confidence, joy and balance again.  It's like discovering the wonderful things about me I forgot were there...I will stand up for those things.

Assertiveness can't be all bad, can it?

John T. (not verified) says...

Thank you Molly. =D

Your article hit home for me.

As I read it, I really connect with it.

I really appreciet the advice (I'm going to try to apply them).

I wish you the best. =)

Note: I almost NEVER comment on like anything....but I couldn't resist this time...great article.

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