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.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.