By Michael Pierce
INFPs – a general outline:
- Gentle, kind, and unobtrusive.
- Often seem a bit maladjusted to the world around them; something seems ever so slightly ‘off”: odd, eccentric, which traits clearly arise from a reclusive tendency in thought or even habitation.
- They are a bit like a faerie or fey, embodying a contradiction of otherworldly fragility and otherworldly resolution.
- Fascinated by individuals’ inner values and way of working, love to watch and understand them. This is why they are so aware of and adamant about individuality; they don’t like the idea of Te repressing Fi.
- They are terrified of the idea of losing one’s individual values to system or intellect — they hate it when people’s individuality and inner light is squashed. See point 4.
- Are very impressionable — base a great deal on past experiences and feelings; their Si serves as a wealth of experience for them.
- A sense of cleverness and trickiness; they have less compunction about making harmless jests and taking on personas for fun.
- Overall, there is a sense that they are a forest fey: clever, fragile yet resolute, fickle and preferring to follow their heart and desire, individualistic, alien, foreign, curious and odd, and despising the threat of man’s encroaching technology and so-called advancement, and the resulting imposition on their spirit and soul by inhumanity.
In general, and as already sketched in the ISTJ video, the Te/Fi axis functions as follows: Te forms judgements based on facts and data gleaned from their experiences of objects, forming general rules, laws and principles grounded in what they deem externally self-evident. Fi contrastingly forms judgements based on sentiments, values, desires, intensities, and/or feeling tones constellated in the subject from usually external impetuses – this forms its own kinds of rules, laws and principles, but grounds them in what is so internally intense it cannot be ignored – what is subjectively ‘self-evident’ if you will. Either one or the other might start off the process (assuming there technically is a start), but the dynamic is always between what is subjectively desired by the subject and what is objectively demanded by the facts of the situation. As expressed in my judgement axes video, this dynamic can be roughly summarized by the statement: ‘what do you want, and how can we get it?’
The INFP, being Fi dominant, is primarily conscious of the first half of this statement: ‘what do you want?’ Of course, for them the question is far, far more nuanced than simple desire: I have heard INFPs describe Fi as a tumult of emotions, many of them at once and in various shades and intensities, “buzzing, humming, soaring, roaring, diving, and then buried in mud,” as Virginia Woolf wrote. The Fi dominant is thus a connoisseur of emotional states and sentiments. They don’t just know, say, ‘anger’, but a hundred or so degrees and shades of anger and its mixtures with other emotions, as well as the complex instigations and inner workings of these kinds of anger. If the preoccupation of one’s consciousness is the question, ‘what does your subject desire?’ you can bet they’ll be quite the experts on feeling-states and the various ways in which they desire things; for instance, the soliloquies of William Shakespeare, the hierarchy of loves described by Saint Augustine, and the Diapsalmata from Soren Kierkegaard’s work Either/Or.
This is the most prominent feature of the INFP personality: their personal experience of feeling tones. They explore in a far more nuanced way than any other type what precisely they want and desire, and are in the best position out of all the types to understand with the greatest nuance what others, at bottom, desire as well. This lends to what Leon of Type Tips has described as the INFP’s counselling capacity (particularly towards INFJs), as they are so experienced with human feeling, and can thus distinguish and apprehend the sentimental principles of others’ desires with the same categorizing clarity of Ti (as opposed to the more reactive Fe.)
Further like Ti types, the INFP’s constant experience of tumbling feeling tones results in their developing very intense principles which represent their organization, categorization, and prioritizing of the world around them. These judgements are naturally experienced as peculiar to the INFP’s subject, and thus, at some degree of variance with the values and judgements made by society at large. Yet, even if the INFP finds themselves in agreement with the rest of society, it is still suffocating for them to conform or harmonize simply for the sake of harmony – the idea of losing oneself, one’s identity, to the homogeneity of ‘the mob’, is terrifying; hence, the phrases ‘don’t lose yourself’, ‘be true to yourself’, etc. To them, not differentiating or individuating themselves, that is, realizing their values despite whatever the crowd has to say about it, good or bad, is paramount to the Ni type, say, never realizing their visions and insights in the world because people refuse to credit them, or the Ti type being unable to think and question for themselves because of interfering authorities, or the Si type being shunned or marginalized for living according to their wisdom and tradition rather than the next social phenomenon. Of all these cases, the INFP experiences oppression of their values with the greatest intensity precisely because it is intensities and feelings themselves that are being oppressed.
In my original INFP video, I described their inner realm as a series of caverns that the INFP explores, seeking after a mysterious light burning in the deepest depth of the caverns and illuminating them all with various glows; meanwhile, the INFP discovers in each cavern fantastic and delightful natural structures as well as ancient treasures and troves from strange, unknown cultures. I hold by that metaphor as a useful way to depict the way INFPs often feel, and would like to add that to harmonize with society is like completely ignoring these caverns, or even dumping the jewels and artifacts into the ocean so as to please other people. Wouldn’t it be far better for oneself and others to sacrifice some harmony in exchange for showing others the beautiful light hidden within? And what if, perchance, another person showed similar artifacts, similar values or loves, and now both people can delight in each other’s genuine work?
It is extremely important to note, however, that it is not, as I’ve implied before, so much a resistance of Fe shown here, as a resistance to Te. The INFP shouldn’t be thought of as struggling with being warm and kind and comforting; anyone who’s met an INFP knows full well that isn’t the case. Their independence isn’t at the direct expense of others’ comfort. Rather, it is often at the direct expense of the facts of the situation: Te. The INFP regards their subjective desires as more real and important than any external structure or law imposed on them, expecting them to obey regardless of their conscience, their values, or whether they like it or not. This is key: it is not so much a matter of disliking harmonizing itself as it is the fear of not realizing one’s individual passions; it is not so much about what is being demanded as how – to put it simply, the INFP prefers that obedience be their idea, or at least partially their idea. They want to do it because they want to do it, and not because it’s merely said to be right, or said to be moral. They want to know very much for themselves whether it is moral or right, and if they disagree with you, they will greatly resent being pressed to contradict themselves. If they must grow themselves into a certain shape, they want to do so entirely of their own volition, and not by means of someone’s cookie cutter imposing on them and severing parts of themselves in order to fit them into a mold.
Of course, as a result, the INFP is loath to ever so impose on others. Especially when dealing with individuals, the INFP is very often warm and genuine and unimposing, letting other people ‘be’. This does not contradict their sense of strong values, however, for the INFP will still express themselves and argue for themselves and defend themselves and so forth – but they won’t impose on others, and certainly won’t propose that others simply give up what they want in favor of what the INFP wants, much less because of some fact or plainly observable principle in nature. What they want is mutual freedom to express values — in fact, INFPs will often encourage people to really express who they are, and don’t want anyone to hold back their true feelings or true nature because they feel the INFP is imposing on them in some way. Generally, they have a great deal of optimism about people’s underlying desire, believing people to be genuinely good, if they would just be themselves rather than what society tells them to be.
This lends to the INFP’s famous capacity for listening, particularly as described by Leon of Type Tips in conjunction with the neural research of Dario Nardi. INFPs are great listeners precisely because they don’t impose in any way on what another is saying; they want the person to feel free to be themselves, rather than hold back important elements of themselves — they always want to help others grow themselves, never sculpt them, and this requires open listening to what is in the speaker, what they desire, what germs or seeds are seeking for nourishing sunlight from within them.
In my ISTJ video, I described the Ne/Si dynamic as, very generally, one of chaos and order, where Si is rooted, stable, and consistent by nature, and Ne is uprooted, unstable, and inconsistent: an explorer, a reporter, a tumbleweed, a migrating bird — these things are necessarily uprooted so as to gather in as much information as possible. The watchwords are creativity, novelty, innovation, and possibility, and while these are shadows in the ISTJ, they are consciously exercised and clearly present in the INFP.
The INFP, then, has a distinct exploratory side to them, which assists the already independent and idiosyncratic function Fi — it is now easy to see why the INFP seems so alien or unusual: their conscious personality is a pair of generally idiosyncratic and boundary-pushing functions. It is primarily this Ne boundary-pushing that distinguishes INFPs from ISFPs: where the ISFP is more directly sensual in their tastes, the INFP is more eclectic and helter-skelter, taking interest here, and here, and over here, as they catch sight of possibilities like a husbandman finding and plucking the ripest berries for later. And where the ISFP’s relationship with the future is more contemplative, mystical, and synthetic, the INFP’s relationship to the future is more lively, energized, immediately observant, and most of all, disparate — that is, non-synthetic. The ISFP perceives a comprehensive, consistent, encompassing vision; the INFP perceives a shattered mirror of possibilities, each reflecting a new angle. In general, the work of ISFPs will have a rather more consistent underlying theme and tone that are difficult to cognate but are always weaving in and out ethereally in the background — INFPs on the other hand tend to appear much more versatile and broad in their tones and themes, isolating and exploring each individually.
For example, take the musical work of Enya Brennan vs. that of Regina Spektor: both rather shy and gentle and Fi heavy individuals — but in my estimation, Enya’s songs all retain an underlying current of mysticism that is, above all, difficult to describe; meanwhile, Regina Spektor’s work is much more eclectic in subject matter and mood, each song representing its own mirror shard insight, albeit from the same mirror. INFPs have a certain susceptibility to boredom, just as INTPs do, and thus too much consistency or routine is stifling to them. They need creative space and freedom to explore, to experiment with new perspectives and styles — which naturally leads to iconoclasm and clashes with authority that threatens to restrain their self-expression. Impositions on the INFP’s Fi values is bad enough, but combine it with a repression of their Ne curiosity and you have the INFP nightmare: a society of obedient, unquestioning, identical, robotic zombies — strongly reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984.
Nevertheless, the idea of consistency and anchoring is not itself repugnant to the INFP, as it is represented by a distorted ISTJ shadow.
Si is the more clearly visible shadow in the INFP personality, which is why I relate them closer to the ISTJ than the ESTJ. For all their fundamental and often artistic iconoclasm, the INFP is first concerned with their values, and only second with exploration, meaning that the INFP does accept, more than the ENFP, conscious manifestations of their underlying Si processes, namely, the internal perceptions, ideal forms, and concretized traditions described in the ISTJ video. Si is all about solidifying and synthesizing perceptions, rather than constantly collecting new ones, which is why it lends to forms of consistency and conscientiousness.
To put it poetically, one could imagine that the INFP is sometimes exhausted by their auxiliary Ne, which insists they go from here to here to here without rest, and the INFP, to protect themselves, resorts to certain Si capitulations. A fuller degree of experimentation or exploration is sacrificed to the relative certainty of Si and its concretized ideals. The INFP more willingly settles in kinds of ‘Truth’ than the ENFP or ENTP; by which I mean, the INFP more willingly accepts its set, concretized perceptions of things. The INFP is thus more grounded and anchored than the ENFP, more willing to be at home and relegate their Ne to intellectual or fantasy exploration rather than any actual travel.
In any case, regardless of how developed the INFP, there will always be that same naive fascination and striving for the tertiary function; in the INFP’s case, Si. Just as the ISTJ fears they are too focused on getting things done and not on what they desire, the INFP fears at times that they are too focused on chasing quickly wilting dreams, rather than settling into and savoring life one quiet day at a time. ‘Maybe I’m going too fast?’ the INFP wonders. ‘Maybe I’m too caught up in cool new things, and I need to get back in touch with the past, with some kind of grounding, or some kind of tradition.’
An excellent example of this is provided in Soren Kierkegaard’s book Either/Or, which can be interpreted as his own self-examination and dissection into the conscious INFP personality (represented by ‘A’), and his unconscious ISTJ personality (represented by Judge William). An analysis of the work would take too long in this video, so suffice it to say that Judge William is a caricatured ISTJ, the one lying inside the INFP and simultaneously scorned and longed after: a rigid, upstanding, somewhat uninteresting but certainly admirable, stodgy, self-satisfied defender of traditional values. It is this defense of tradition and fascination with the detailed image of a grounded, simply lived person, a homely person, which mainly composes their tertiary Si (e.g. Tolkien’s hobbits, Blake’s “Songs of Innocence”, Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’, Milne’s ‘Winne the Pooh’.)
Finally, a brief discussion of inferior Te in the INFP: while unimposing they strive to be, with their focus happily on expression of feelings rather than accomplishment of them, it should not be thought that INFPs are generally unaware of their difficulty in accomplishing things efficiently, and of some of their own silliness. On the contrary, INFPs can be just as cleverly self-depreciating as INTPs, and especially of their Te/Fi axis. Bill Watterson, for instance, who during legal battles over the commercialization of his comic strip, made a number of comics mocking his own stubborn, Fi principles; and as a another example, A.A. Milne, who said “sarcasm, directed into the blue in the hope of hitting the person you want, may not be effective, but it does relieve the feelings.”
What is of particular interest for us, however, is the manner that Te is nevertheless expressed, for the INFP is all too aware that they lack it and may begin expressing, consciously or unconsciously, certain capitulations or reconciliations with Te as they perceive it. It’s been remarked by many fellow enthusiasts, as well as contributors to CelebrityTypes.com, that the inferior function has a rather ‘black-and-white’ nature to it. I agree with this idea and find it particularly evident in the INFP, whose attempts to express Te effectiveness are overtly blunt, without any consideration at all for feeling-tones, but for getting the thing done that is desired. The INFP, when capitulating to Te, whether in theory or in practice, isolates a logical goal and strides towards it with exaggerated forcefulness, as though trying to compensate for their perceived lack of Te. An INFP friend of mine, with exaggerated brusqueness, defended a reserved seat. Another, already under a great deal of work stress, found error with everything I did, even when he had done similar things on other occasions, and sought rather forcefully (yet ineffectively) to correct me.