INFJs often feel misunderstood. Perhaps it’s because they’re quiet and reserved and tend to share their deepest thoughts and feelings only with select people. Or maybe it’s because they are so rare—personality test research shows they make up less than 1% of the population.
More likely though, it’s because they are walking, talking contradictions. As Introverts who want to help people, and feelers who love logic, they can seem confusing, even to themselves.
These contrary characteristics are not due to a lack of conviction or an intent to mislead. We all know that INFJs value personal integrity very highly. No, the reason INFJs are confusing is because they are complex people who are struggling to understand themselves. But once they do, they can use their plethora of paradoxes to truly make the world a better place.
Here are the top 10 contradictory traits of the INFJ. See how many you recognize in yourself!
1. Introverted and people-oriented
The dominant function of INFJs is Introverted Intuition, which means they focus primarily on their internal world of ideas. But their auxiliary function is Extraverted Feeling, which gives them a focus on people.
In her book, What’s Your Type of Career? psychologist Donna Dunning calls INFJs “compassionate visionaries” because they have a values-based focus that emphasizes the needs and feelings of people. This contradiction means that INFJs are torn between their need to socialize and their need for time alone to think.
As an INFJ, I enjoy spending time with people, but if I’ve spent too much time around others, I feel exhausted, burned out and I need several days to recuperate. Doesn’t stop me being a shoulder to cry on through!
2. Crave connections and feel overwhelmed
Unlike many other types, INFJs need more than just company. An evening spent chatting is a night out from hell. What INFJs really need from their interactions is a meaningful connection. They want to get to know other people—their passions, desires and motives— and they want other people to know them. But this process is exhausting because we’re forever seeking a level of intimacy that other people don’t often share.
For INFJs, it’s quality that counts, not quantity.
3. Stand up for others and neglect themselves
INFJs have a passionate desire to help people, so much so that it can take over every area of their life, including their relationships with friends, colleagues and in romance. But it is very easy for this sensitive type to give way too much and put other people’s needs before their own.
Have you noticed how you steadfastly stick up for another person’s rights while struggling to speak up for yourself? That’s the paradox. You need to set clear boundaries about how much you will give—and remember to keep some of that compassion for yourself.
4. Creative and rational
The combination of introversion, sensitivity and empathy in INFJs creates a person who absorbs lots of information from the world and the people around them. INFJs are constantly processing this steady stream of details. Consequently, they need a way to release all that energy and express what they’ve learned in a meaningful and creative way.
But INFJs are more than just dreamers. They are also practical, organized and logical people who enjoy thinking, analyzing and studying complex ideas. As an INFJ writer, I love playing with words and using my Introverted Intuition to create stories. But I also love learning and have discovered a passion for science.
I often felt torn between what appear to be opposite interests, but they don’t have to be. INFJs can be both creative and rational, artistic and logical, writers and scientists.
5. Detail-oriented and big-picture thinkers
The minds of INFJs are always busy making sense of information, seeing patterns, forming theories and creating ideas. As intuitives, INFJs are focused on the big picture. They like information that is abstract, conceptual, and future-oriented. They see possibilities everywhere and become absorbed in the way that disparate elements can connect.
But they also care about the details of their vision and work hard to get it right, whether they’re writing a song or preparing a presentation. However, sometimes they get so caught up in the details of their ideas, they forget about the details of everyday life. Consequently, INFJs can spend hours tinkering with a sentence while forgetting to pay the electricity bill.
I’m always thinking about ideas, which means I’ve learned to write myself reminder notes so I don’t forget my dentist appointment, or my lunch, while I’m planning my vision.
6. Perceptive and gullible
Ah yes, the “G” word! As sensitive, intuitive people, INFJs have a sixth sense about others. Our finely tuned empathy means we can feel others’ feelings and we know when they’re not telling the truth. We have this ability to see through people’s outward persona to the real person underneath. We are also experts at body language and can detect subtleties in tone of voice and language. This can make us appear almost psychic—okay, weird— to people who don’t have these abilities.
Problem is, once we get to know someone, we can be stupidly gullible and overly trusting. As one of Keirsey’s Idealists, we tend to see the best in people and can be fooled into believing someone is trustworthy when they are not.
7. Quiet and passionate
In his book, Creativity: the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes ten antithetical traits of creative people, many of which can be applied to INFJs, who are themselves creative. One of these is the tendency for creative types to be both full of energy and requiring a lot of rest. INFJs often appear as quiet, shy and withdrawn individuals, but underneath that reserved exterior is a cauldron of ideas and passions, quietly bubbling away.
INFJs are always thinking about their next project, and feel a fiery enthusiasm about the causes that are so important to them. So while their dedication to the common good combined with their sponge-like ability to pick up information gives them an enormous source of energy, it also means they need long periods of rest and quiet time to reflect and recharge.
8. Smart and naïve
According to Csikszentmihalyi, creative types are usually intelligent people, who also tend to exhibit a childlike manner. Children are often creative and yet many of us lose that creativity when we get older and perhaps that’s because when we’re young, we’re given the freedom to play. Creativity is really about looking at things as if you’re seeing them for the first time and making innovative connections between things.
Creative people, including INFJs, have the ability to see things in this childlike way, free from the constraints, judgements and criticisms that often stop people from being creative as adults. A keen sense of curiosity, wonder and fun can make you appear naïve and immature, but it can also mean you’re a highly creative person.
9. Playful and responsible
Related to the previous point, INFJs who are creative tend to have a playfulness about them. This quality leaves their minds open to experience and consequently, to further creative endeavours. But this sense of play works in tandem with a dedicated responsibility to their work and to people they work with. INFJs are committed to working hard and doing their best, especially on the projects that are part of their creative vision.
The INFJ Judging preference also gives them a drive to finish what they start and to be neat and organized. As an INFJ, my Judging preference has given me the self-discipline to write books and articles. But I also have been known to laugh out loud while watching The Muppet Show, especially episodes with my favourite character, Pepé the King Prawn.
10. Conservative and rebellious
Despite the stereotypical image of the rebellious artist, INFJs are like many creative people in that they embrace both tradition and novelty. According to Csikszentmihalyi, it would be difficult to be creative without appreciating what has gone before. But it’s also important to take risks and try something new.
It’s often said that INFJs are hard to pick out of a crowd because they try to fit in and look like everyone else. But they are silent rebels, always working behind the scenes to change the status quo, to create works of art that will make people think and to use their empathy, compassion and vision to make the world a better place.
INFJs are unique for many reasons, and not just because they’re rare. They are also quiet, sensitive people who are full of contradictions and can seem like several different people, even to those who’ve known them for years. But integrity is always at heart of the INFJ as they quietly, methodically, passionately and creatively work to express themselves and bring people and ideas together.