Why Do INFJs Hate Feeling Vulnerable?24 March 2019 / By Cianna Garrison Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on March 24, 2019
Have you found yourself wondering why your INFJ friend, partner, or family member has trouble expressing their emotions? Does it feel like pulling teeth to get them to open up to you, despite your close relationship? It seems a little odd that the INFJ—one of the most sympathetic types of Myers-Briggs personality model—has such difficulty voicing their own emotions.
As an INFJ, I’ve had my fair share of these experiences. Over the years, I’ve wondered why I felt unable to be vulnerable with others when I needed it the most. When I began learning about what it meant to be an INFJ, I began to realize why I was having such trouble opening up to others.
Vulnerability and the INFJ
At the beginning of a friendship, I invite people to unload their fears, emotions, and problems on me. I’m the definition of “The Counselor,” the name often given to INFJs. I can listen to other people’s problems all day long, remaining calm and patient. Yet, when I have to face my own problematic emotions, I have a tendency to shut down. Friends and family will ask how I’m doing, but I refrain from exposing my feelings. Instead my response is a disingenuous, “I’m great.”
Like me, many INFJs become victims of emotional stacking—bottling up our emotions to avoid disharmony or conflict. But it can be a little more complicated. There are several reasons INFJs are afraid of opening up to others. If these seem familiar, you aren’t alone; I can own up to each cause without question.
INFJs Fear Feeling Helpless
Helplessness is not an enjoyable feeling. But INFJs are especially disturbed by this emotion. Opening up to others means we need support. I pride myself on being self-sufficient and—like many INFJs—fiercely independent. Even if we know we can’t help ourselves, we’ll give it our all to avoid involving outside parties.
INFJs Fear Being Misunderstood
One of the easiest ways to explain the INFJ vulnerability fear? INFJs can’t stand to be misunderstood. And let me tell you, we spend quite a lot of our lives feeling this way. I have often felt that I live on my own planet. I have tried to describe this to a few people, but haven't had much success. Because I crave a deep connection with others, I adjust myself to each person’s world. I want to understand what makes them tick.
When it comes to finding other people who understand me, I have a difficult time. Some of this is due to the INFJ habit of restricting what we allow ourselves to share. I find myself exposing only the minutest details, even to the friends I have known since childhood. I keep a vice-like grip on my inner thoughts and feelings. But hiding myself has worked against me in some ways, and this can contribute to this feeling of misunderstanding that the INFJ hates.
Furthermore, when we do choose to share some of our outlook on the world, it can be an idealistic and abstract view. This sort of unusual outlook is why INFJs are sometimes labelled as dreamers. It's hard to feel understood when some of our views are so abstract, we don't even quite know how to express them.
INFJ Trust Issues
INFJs are, by nature, trusting. Break the trust of an INFJ a few times, though, and we may develop some hefty trust issues. Being a sensitive type, I have had to learn that trust isn't and shouldn't be a default award. It's finding the balance that counts. INFJ trust issues do keep us from the chance of a genuine, healthy relationship if we aren’t careful.
The good news is, we have our Ni function, Introverted Intuition, which means we often view the world in patterns, analyzing everything we come across. While this can work against us, it can also help us discern patterns of behavior in those we are wary of trusting and weed out those people we know won’t be healthy for us in the end.
INFJs Don’t Like to Burden Others
This one is a big one. As an INFJ, I crave harmony. Disrupting anyone’s peace can feel like committing a cardinal sin. When necessary, I will do it, but otherwise I refrain from burdening others like the plague. My mother, an ENTJ, has struggled with this peculiarity. Yes, even she has felt the mind-numbingly frustrating process of the INFJ's lock down. If we express negative emotions, our whole environment changes. To an INFJ, this is unbearable.
Sometimes We Don’t Even Understand Our Own Emotions
That’s right. Anyone who's ever experienced confusion due to INFJs talent to avoid difficult subjects, you were right to think we had no idea what was going on inside of us. This is a considerable parallel to our emotional stacking tendency. For example, I have been a runner, both physically and emotionally, for several years.
Physically, running helps me hash out some of those neglected thoughts in my head. Emotionally, and oh boy, it’s going to come back to bite me. Like emotional stacking, we bury things away, refusing to acknowledge them until a later time. It can be baffling for onlookers who recognize this. Later, they will find we had no idea we were experiencing a particular emotion.
Choosing When To Be Vulnerable
INFJs crave human connection in every way. We want to have people who understand us and friends we can share anything with. That even includes those pesky vulnerable moments. The one thing stopping us is ourselves. The good news is, it’s fixable. That doesn’t mean to share everything with everyone or change who you are. But it does mean you have the choice to better yourself by knowing when to share, what to share, and who to share it with.
Allowing Ourselves the Privilege of Sharing
I’ve come to realize that sharing with others is a privilege. Although I don't enjoy feeling uncomfortable, keeping things to myself 99 percent of the time doesn't do me any good. Opening up gets easier and it feels much better than keeping it all inside. INFJ fear of vulnerability isn't something you get over right away. I feel as though it's a constant tug-of-war. But thanks to allowing myself the privilege of sharing, I have gained deeper and stronger relationships.
Choosing Who You Open Up To
This task seems easy, but sometimes it isn’t. Since everyone has a different outlook, it’s best to have a few different people you can go to for different things. Try to get an idea of how each person's temperament is. It sounds odd, but if you consider each person’s demeanor equal to a specific level of tolerance, good advice, or support, it’s immensely helpful. And the more obvious approach here is to choose the people closest to you. These are the people rooting for you. Odds are, they are going to listen and offer support when you need it.
Knowing When It’s Okay to Take Care of Your Own Needs
INFJs are sometimes caught up in this all-or-nothing attitude. If we are comfortable with the status quo, why take the risk right? It’s an odd little paradox to have, especially in terms of vulnerability. Sometimes, since we've closed ourselves off for so long, we open up a little too much. The main thing is to find a balance that works for you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable when you need to, but it can also be empowering recognizing that sometimes, you need to take care of you alone.
Sometimes You Don’t Need to Share
No rule says you need to share. Being vulnerable is a part of the human condition, and it’s up to you how you deal with it. Everyone has something they need to do alone in order to recover. In my case, that’s grieving. I don't grieve well with others around me, and though I do open up, it's a personal vulnerability I prefer to keep to myself. Knowing when you draw the line is as important as letting yourself overcome your fear of vulnerability.
Acknowledging Your Emotions and When To Share With Others
Knowing the difference between necessary and healthy sharing versus needless sharing is important. When it feels like you need to talk to someone, then you do. Ignoring those feelings will make you feel worse in the long run. An overloaded INFJ will become stressed unless they find relief. If you have something you can’t handle by yourself, without the advice or comfort of a friend or family member, then it’s time to challenge your fear of vulnerability and embrace sharing.
ErikaH (not verified) says...
Love this article. “Allow yourself to be vulnerable when you need to, but it can also be empowering recognizing that sometimes, you need to take care of you alone.” This is one of the trusest things that is so easy to understand but most difficult to achieve.
Cianna Garrison says...
Thank you very much, ErikaH. It's certainly difficult to achieve, but something that most of us can learn over time.
ShawnS (not verified) says...
the words lept off the article and really gave me a deeper understanding to this particular type. My partner is a INFJ and this is definitely gonna give me better look into understanding everything about her.
Cianna Garrison says...
I'm glad this is going to be helpful to you! I know INFJs can be difficult understanding in the various types of relationships. But then, there are always challenges in any of the 16 type mixes.
Stephan (not verified) says...
I absolutely love this.
The way everything is explained and broken down with personal detail is beautiful and realistic.
Cianna Garrison says...
Thank you for taking the time to read the article. I'm happy to hear that you found it to be a good mix of information and personal detail:)
Jaime_P (not verified) says...
This is a beautiful and well-written article that I can really relate to! It even causes me to feel empathy for myself - which is something I often reserve only for others. Thank you! I could REALLY relate to the "Fear Being Misunderstood" part. I don't like being misunderstood at all! I also don't like it when I open up to someone and they turn around and start treating me like I'm a child who doesn't know anything. I know it isn't their fault, but, in more cases than not, I know more about emotions and dealing with them than the people in my life, and it doesn't feel good to have someone who truly has big issues in life talking down to me about what I "should" be doing. That is why I use a therapist or another trusted professional to talk through and about my feelings. Most of the time, when I have feelings/emotions, I'm just looking for a supportive "it'll be okay", "you're not alone", or "this is normal" - not a sermon on what I can do differently. (The truth is, I already know - lol!) Great article. Thank you again. I also want to say the articles on Truity on INFJs are on-point and helpful for me. They are some of the best I've read on INFJs and I get a lot of comfort in knowing I am not the only person in the world who feels or deals with things in INFJ-ways, which seem to be unique at times! XO Jaime
Jane Allo (not verified) says...
Wow, Jaime I completely relate to your comment! It is so refreshing to hear someone else say what I think.... Thanks! Jane
Cianna Garrison says...
I am so glad to hear that you were able to relate. It's difficult to explain yourself to other types sometimes as an INFJ, especially for the reason you mentioned. Although sometimes we do want advice, this can often be a deterrent. If we simply want reassurance and someone to lend an ear but know we will be getting a form of well-meaning criticism, it can make us put the brakes on before we even let ourselves open up. So I understand what you're saying completely.
Thank you for spending the time to read my article. Truity is definitely a very good source of information—in fact, this is where I have been coming for INFJ posts for some time now. It's reassuring to know that as an INFJ, we are not the only ones who think like this. Thank you for comment, Jaime and take care!
Antoine (not verified) says...
It's so hard knowing when to share and when not. As you described in the article, my natural proclivity as an INFJ is to not share. But then I will self-reflect and hear wise people talk about the importance of community and I will muster up the will to share. But then I do it in the wrong fashion or at the wrong time and am not truly heard. This then starts the cycle of the fear of being misunderstood, etc
Cianna Garrison says...
I think we have all experienced what you just described here. Unfortunately, sometimes we will share and it will fall on deaf ears or end up contributing to our future hesitation. It just can't always be controlled and try as we may, we may not always be able to correctly judge a situation. It's still entirely possible to get a better grasp on it, but I believe this is an ongoing battle for every INFJ.
Shaun B (not verified) says...
Lovely article, thanks Cianna. I think the picture up the top sums up how I feel quite often! I predominantly get an INFJ result from tests but occasionally INFP. My daughters' introduced me to the 16 personalities site and after I took the test, INFJ became an intriguing thing to look into. I am (for the moment) stuck in an office job (for 15 years!) in finance but have a BA in Health Science (Nutritional Medicine) which clearly is a perfect fit for an INFJ - I find myself staring out the window at work, longing to leave and do some good out there...one day, I am sure, God-willing, that it will become a reality! Sorry to go on about myself, but your article was really encouraging! God bless
Cianna Garrison says...
I am sorry it took me so long to see your comment.
I'm sorry that your work does not quite fulfill you but I'm sure you'll get there one day as well. I think we all struggle with finding that ideal place for ourselves in the world, but maybe INFJs do a bit more than other types.
I'm glad to have encouraged you! Thank you for being so kind.
I love an INFJ (not verified) says...
Hello. There's one sentence I don't understand but would really like to. What does this mean?
"If we express negative emotions, our whole environment changes. To an INFJ, this is unbearable."
Kate S (not verified) says...
Thank you so much for the article! It's like reading about myself :) Really helps to see things from aside and understand them better. To understand myself better.
Lee-Ann (not verified) says...
My father passed away this week. I am a highly sensitive person but I hate to feel vulnerable. The idea of going back to work this week and face people and knowing people will want to talk about his passing makes mu stomach turn. I literally googled "why am i highly sensitive but have to show emotion?" And this article popped up for me. And to be honest it makes absolutely sence as I am a INFJ on everything single personality test I have ever done. The article made me realize I am not so "strange" after all and I found it super helpful. Thank you!