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INFP Profile by Lenore Thomson

INFPs are the type of whom people say, “Still waters run deep.” Oriented by Introverted Feeling and extraverted Intuition, they’re both highly idealistic and quietly tolerant of others’ ideas.

Although Feeling always determines a form of idealism, the values determine by Introverted Feeling are different from the Extraverted sort. Extraverted Feeling presides over social values – current ideas about how relationships in the communities are best conducted. Introverted Feeling determines subjective values – convictions about how life is best lived.

Such values are trained by direct experience of good and bad behaviors, and they claim us from within. But relationship gradually teaches us that some of them transcend our individual circumstances, linking us irrevocably with other human beings.

Found in only 1 percent of the population, the INFP’s understanding of reality is quite nearly like the one described by mystics, who believe spiritual energy descends to earth by way of eternal ideals – structural patterns that bring order out of material chaos. By aligning their behaviors with these ideals, mystics can, presumably, bring life into harmony with its divine potential.

INFPs may not describe their approach in metaphysical terms, but it’s a rare INFP who doesn’t see in nature’s underlying pattern intimations of a larger purpose. Whether they write, teach, nurture, conduct research, make art, or devote their lives to spiritual service, their work becomes the agency through which they can grasp those “distant deeps and skies” in which “fearful symmetries” are framed.

INFPs yearn to experience oneness with their circumstances, but Intuition prevents them from satisfying this longing as ISFPs do, by losing themselves in a physical activity. Intuition doesn’t push INFPs to act. It pushes to interpret; to see the potential of their thoughts and behaviors in terms of their ideals.

Because their ideals are wholistic, INFPs feel responsible not only for their actions but for their desire to take action, and they have a nearly karmic idea of balance. If they betray their ideals in either deed or feeling, they try to make restitution. When good things happen, they may worry about paying a price.

It’s instructive to compare these types to ENFPs, who share the same two functions but understand life very differently. ENFPs rely on Intuition to gauge the nature of an external context and Feeling to recognize the values of the people in it. The best illustration of how this works is President Clinton’s unrivaled ability to identify with an audience and sympathize with their aspirations. ENFPs generally believe that people will recognize their good intentions, even if their behavior falls short of them.

INFPs approach reality from the other way around. Introverted Feeling prompts them to hold unconditional human values, and they use Intuition to figure out what that means in terms of their existential context. Asked whether he had ever had an extramarital affair, President Carter said no but allowed that he had experienced “lust in his heart.” This is quintessential INFP perspective. Such types feel responsible for their hidden intentions, even if their behaviors exceed people’s expectations.

Given their focus on what it is to be human, INFPs are not always easy to recognize as types. Their outward behaviors vary widely. Some are reserved and prefer one-to-one conversations, but a surprising number of INFPs enjoy performing and may be singers, actors and comedians. In all cases, however, INFPs need a fair amount of time to themselves.

Although they identify strongly with expressions of joy, sorrow, pain, and vulnerability in others and respond compassionately to people who need them, they’re accessible only up to a point. Once that point is reached, they’ve genuinely depleted their social capital and need to recoup.

It’s easy to misunderstand INFPs in this regard, because they relate to others in the same low-key, easygoing way that characterizes ISFPs. They’re often wry, and if they’re comfortable, they’ll contribute a running patter of perceptive remarks and observations. Thus, it surprises people when the INFP abruptly winds down and wants to be alone.

Moreover, these types are sympathetic listeners, genuinely interested in what others do and believe, which encourages people to anticipate a more extensive relationship than the INFP may have bargained for. Until they recognize what’s happening, INFPs may be constantly obliged to extricate themselves from situations they got into simply by virtue of warmth and goodwill.

Along the same lines, these types have high romantic ideals, and express this aspect of their personality somewhat tentatively. This can lead people to believe they’re shy or not interested in physical intimacy. In actuality, INFPs long for communication of mind, body, and spirit, and they envision a partner who can appreciate the nature of their inner world and give them access to it in sexual terms.

However, like all P types, they don’t want to set goals for their relationships; they want good things to happen naturally, to grow out of the situation as it exists. Moreover, their finely tuned Intuitive skills lead them to believe that the right person would see through all the surface nonsense to the inchoate potential within, read it in their body language, their musical tastes, the images that move them, the underlying meaning of their words.

This ideal picture is also a consequence of their wholistic point of view. INFPs have a hard time articulating who they are inside, and they keep hoping the objective situation will give them enough reference points to express themselves in a way that feels true and right. Indeed, INFPs can have a hard time figuring out what they’re called to do in life.

Unlike Extraverts, whose primary self-image is tied up with their outward behaviors, INFPs may get at their self-experience only when it conflicts with their external choices. Even those INFPs who have plugged themselves into a career that allows them to do something meaningful and good may not feel sure they’re doing enough. They’re nagged by an impression that something else is supposed to happen, something that will tell them what they’re really meant to do.

Al Capp used to draw a syndicated cartoon called Long Sam, in which a grizzled, pipe-smoking mountain woman dispensed hard-won wisdom about life. When it came to human values, however, all she could say was, “Being nice is better – because it’s nicer.” INFPs can find themselves in the position of saying something very much like that when they try to articulate what they believe and why. Their values have no predictable reference points in law and social convention. They cut through all that to the heart of the matter.

In order to actualize their certainties and ideals, INFPs generally find a place for themselves in the prevailing social system that allows them to focus on human potential. But given the fact that their values are more fundamental than institutional priorities, they’re constantly frustrated with the time and energy they spend on structural maintenance – society’s “edifice complex.”

So they’re in a quandary. Because, apart from jobs of this sort, they don’t have a clear idea of what it would mean to act on their values. The right-brain character of their Feeling goals suggest a life spent in pilgrimage, free from objective attachments – even a sense of home.

And some INFPs do, in fact, give their lives to missionary work or the priesthood or a spiritual community. But most INFPs, by the time they’re wrestling with this question, have established a home and family and/or a place for themselves in the community, and they’re not inclined to hurt the people they love for the sake of an ideal they can’t quite define.

So frustration gradually pushes INFPs into using their Intuition defensively, to protect what feels like their “true” self against the imperfect outer situation they’re living in. They feel guilty about this, too, because they think they ought to be satisfied with what is, after all, a perfectly decent life course.

INFPs who are relying on their Intuition this way usually take one of two directions. Either they become permanent seekers – good at many things but disinclined to stick with any for long – or they become somewhat passive, unable to articulate what they want but dissatisfied with what they they’re doing.

These latter types generally feel that they don’t have enough initiative, but they don’t get much accomplished apart from others’ routines and structural expectations. Left to their own devices, they tend to procrastinate or do unnecessary tasks to avoid more important ones.

When INFPs spend most of their energy protecting their inner realm from attachment to an imperfect outer situation, their least-developed functions, Extraverted Thinking, doesn’t get very conscious. Such types are often excellent at managing time and resources for others but have a harder time structuring and organizing their own lives. In fact, they may become romantically involved with a strong J type, who can anchor them to the objective world, but can’t provide what they actually crave: something to pull them to the surface of their own personality.

NFPs need to use their Intuition in a genuinely Extraverted way. They’re accustomed to using Intuition to figure out how to deal with an existing context; they need to apply it, instead, to the task of defining what an objectively good situation would be like.

This is by no means easy for INFPs to do. When they stop using Intuition to defend themselves, their first instinct is to assert the importance of their Feeling goals. They challenge people, question the aspects of the situation that strike them as problematic. This “feels” like Extraverted behavior, but it isn’t. Extraversion moves us to take the objective world for granted. It’s Introversion that strives to adapt the objective situation to itself.

Meanwhile, the Extraversion these types actually require goes underground. Extraverted Thinking becomes so profoundly unconscious that it floods them with impulses directly opposed to their Feeling aims.

Like all types, INFPs don’t recognize this internal pressure as an opportunity to grow. They feel the influence of their Thinking function, but they mistake it for an outward problem. They feel increasingly thwarted and boxed in, false to their real selves, and they’re sure the reason is their accommodating spirit. Thus, they go back to using Extraverted Intuition as a defense, but more aggressively, because the stakes are higher. They decide to fight some of the things that are hemming them in.

INFPs don’t like conflict, so their rebellion is often subtle and passive-aggressive in form. They grag their feet when someone pushes them to do something they don’t want to do, sometimes until the person gives up, or they “yes” people, then do as they like. None of this helps INFPs to find their own truth; it actually takes them away from the quest, concentrating their attention on all the wrong things.

One might consider, in this respect, the characters in the movie The Big Chill – friends from the sixties who come together, twenty years later, for the funeral of their compatriot, Harold. Harold had been a role model for them, a free spirit guided entirely by Introverted Feeling ideals. His suicide makes them realize how far afield subsequent choices have taken them from the values he inspired.

Thus, they each attempt to prove that they’re not locked into the social roles that appear to define them: the unmarried lawyer decides to get pregnant; the upscale franchise king gives his friends illegal stock information; the society matron has an extramarital affair.

INFPs under the influence of Extraverted Thinking are not unlike these characters. They’re self-conscious rather than idealistic. Their actions aren’t being guided by an inner code, leading them to positive action, but by a need to defend themselves against others’ priorities.

In fact, such types usually find that ignoring others’ expectations doesn’t give them enough protection, and they turn to Introverted Sensation, their tertiary function, to keep their Feeling values intact. They literally avoid situations that don’t accord with their primary self-experience, forfeiting relationships rather than experience inner conflict.

Ironically, the more unconscious Extraverted Thinking becomes, the more INFPs call attention to themselves in their attempt to keep their environment congenial to their values. Their objective preferences become idiosyncratic, forcing others into unusual accommodations in order to relate to them. Given the fact that they’ve projected their STJ impulses on to the impersonal structure of society, they feel morally vindicated. What can they do to change a whole system? What’s important is to be true to themselves; others have to take responsibility for their own choices.

It should be emphasized that INFPs aren’t wrong about this. They do need to be “true to themselves.” However, Introverted Sensation doesn’t help them do this. It keeps them locked into things as they are. It turns their ideals into an external value system that defines some situations as congenial to their needs and others not, leaving them no choice but to stay out of the ones that aren’t.

When INFPs develop sufficient Intuition, they stop focusing on things as they are and begin to see new possibilities for action. One might consider, again, the characters in The Big Chill. Among the mourners at the funeral is a young woman who was living with Harold when he committed suicide. She strikes the old friends as shallow, a silly adolescent, unable to appreciate who Harold really was.

When INFPs first make contact with the Extraverted character of their Intuition, they see it in the same terms – as a shallow approach to life, without meaning. It invites them to give up their expectations, live in perceptual harmony with anything that happens. This strikes them as irresponsible. As the song says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

The more they wrestle with this perspective, however, the more they see that their values have nothing to do with their comfort or discomfort in any situation. They constitute a way of seeing life, a way of relating to any situation. When INFPs use their Intuition to figure out how to make this relationship manifest, they see that they have many options to take positive action.

It may be noted that at the end of The Big Chill, one of the friends, the one who had been resisting a social definition, decides to help the young girl finish a house Harold has been building in the wilderness. This is the sort of thing that happens to INFPs who wake up to the wholistic nature of their inner life. They realize that being responsible tot heir values isn’t about fighting what exists; it’s about building, recognizing that they can do things, want to do things, that might not even occur to others.

INFPs who reach this point don’t ignore the problems of society or betray commitments they’ve already made. They simply play from their strengths. For example, an INFP social worker of my acquaintance, after much reflection, left his position to design a unique company of his own, which helps corporations restructure their organizations in terms of human values. He no longer feels quite at home in the world, but he’s at peace with himself, working on things that truly drive him.

Sometimes INFPs simply need to make room in their lives to give their strengths a chance to grow. For example, they may take up creative pursuits – writing, composition, design art: something that allows them to give their ideals material form. Sometimes they volunteer their services to take care of homeless animals.

In general, however, well-developed INFPs live lives that don’t look much different from anyone else’s. What’s different is their perspective. They strike others as unassuming, even deferential, because they treat people with unconditional love and compassion. In consequence, their actions, their choices, their way of life can awaken others to human values the community has not acknowledged.

For example, a small Midwestern church has hired a pastor from the New York area, and there were many discussions on the church board about the difficult transition for the congregation. An INFP board member saw the situation from the other way around, empathizing with the minister and his family, uprooted from their home and friends in the East to make a new life for them.

When the family arrived, a day ahead of the moving truck, picturing themselves eating pizza on a bare floor, they walked into the parsonage and found a table set with flowers and good china, a refrigerator full of dinners and staples, and soap and towels in the bathrooms. Such actions see through external distinctions of role, background, and status to focus on our common human links.

INFPs sometimes underestimate their strengths because there are so many problems in the world that they can’t be solved by changing people’s hearts. But they shouldn’t. the effects of their decisions are often incalculable, renewing people’s faith in human nature.

220 Posts
Lenore Thomson's INFP type descriptionAmazing INFP description! Lenore's last paragraph- it spoke to me. Despite how I continuously minimize my contributions, ultimately, I sleep well with the intuitive understanding-,as Lenore stated in the last paragraph here-that- "the effects of [my] decisions are often incalculable, renewing people’s faith in human nature." Very nice, indeed.

36 Posts
They’re nagged by an impression that something else is supposed to happen, something that will tell them what they’re really meant to do.
So true... I relate to this a lot. I'm 17, 2nd term at college and willing to find the purpose of my life. I hope I can start building my own future right now.

20 Posts
I'm not trying to be nitpicky or miss the point of this article--but Alex was the friend in The Big Chill who committed suicide and whose funeral brought them together. Harold was the businessman, his company sold shoes, and he was married to Sarah.
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