As an INFJ, do you often burn yourself out from helping others?
Are you too heavily invested in other people’s problems that you feel physically and emotionally exhausted?
INFJs have a lot of compassion and empathy for others but we might not always be the best person to help others.
Early this week, during my usual morning walk at the park, I witnessed a major collision between a cyclist and a scooterist. I immediately rushed forward to offer help to the injured auntie and the guy. But as I stood there, I felt kind of awkward:
I wanted to help but I didn’t know how to help.
I wanted to help them get up but they said it’s okay; they can do it on their own. I picked up the bicycle and tried to help the auntie brake her bicycle, but I couldn’t keep it still. The brake is not the standard kind that I’m familiar with. I tried to fix the chain, but I didn’t know how.
Basically, I’m not much of a practical help. Not surprising since I’m an INFJ and an enneagram type 4w5. I’m better at observation and offering insights. Luckily, the scooter guy knew how to fix the bicycle and all that.
I waited for them to exchange their phone numbers and helped the auntie steered her bicycle back to her home. Both the auntie and the guy were very grateful to me and thanked me multiple times. But the thing is I didn’t even do much!
Then, I realized that:
Being there for other people is already good enough.
I don’t have to do anything else. We INFJs expend a lot of our energy to help others, think about their problems deeply, and try to offer them insights and solutions. However, people don’t always need our help or our insights. Sometimes, just being present with them is good enough. We don’t have to do anything extra.
Why Do INFJs Often Have Compassion Fatigue?
Due to our empathetic nature, INFJs are often found in helping professions such as therapist, counselor, teacher, social worker, coach, and etc. Being in such professions make us more vulnerable to compassion fatigue, especially if we have to listen to trauma victims talk about their traumatic experiences or their problems on a daily basis.
If we are not careful and we don’t take care of ourselves, we might end up hurting ourselves while helping others. This is not limited to INFJs in the helping professions though. Other INFJs can have an empathy burnout too when they absorb their friends or family’s emotions or care too much for others in an unhealthy way.
Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress,
occurs when our compassion for others runs out.
Instead of feeling compassion towards others, we become apathetic, numb, and indifferent to other people’s sufferings. We might even give some people the infamous INFJ door slam. Or if we are in the helping profession, we might end up quitting the job that we are once passionate in.
Furthermore, INFJs identify strongly with being compassionate. Imagine how devastating it is for us to run out of compassion for others. It’s not a state that we want to be in.
But before we understand how to prevent ourselves from empathy burnout, let’s understand why our personality type is so vulnerable to compassion fatigue.
Our Extraverted Feeling (Fe) Is Still Our Second Function.
As much as we care for others and willing to listen to their problems, our extraverted feeling (Fe) is still our second function.
Compared to other personality types such as ESFJ and ENFJ who have Fe as their dominant function, we can’t sustain our Fe for that long. The extroverts might feel more energized after they use their Fe.
But we introverts feel drained when we use our Fe for too long.
After we hit our quota for the day, we need to go back home, be in solitude, and recharge. Other than to focus on my writing, this is also one reason why I don’t want to have so many students as a tutor and I mostly have one lesson a day. I get tired of teaching and helping my students after a while and I need a break.
But if Fe is the main cognitive function you have to use in your job and you don’t have the little pocket of time to rest, then it’s very easy to get yourself burnout from your work.
We Take On Other People’s Problems as Our Own.
How many of you continue to think about your client’s problems after you knock off work? I do.
Sometimes, my students will share with me their problems at school or at home, I will give them some suggestion. But when I go back home, my mind still thinks about alternate and better solutions to help my students. Perhaps even research about their problem on the Internet and read up on it.
Our Fe function helps us to understand other people’s problem and their sufferings. Then, our Ni (Introverted Intuition) function naturally gets down to work to generate deep solutions and insights for them as though it’s our own problem.
I must say it’s not exactly healthy.
Not only are you sacrificing your own personal time to rest for work, but you also risk overthinking about the issues. Many times, when I meet up with my students the following week, either their problem resolves by itself or they aren’t bothered with the issue anymore. So all the energy and time I spent working on the problem was wasted.
Even though the heart of the issue might not be resolved, but the other party doesn’t care. As long as the surface issues are resolved, they are fine with it. They don’t care if the problem repeats itself. But due to our Ni and Fe combination, INFJs tend to care more than the person involved and stress ourselves out unnecessarily.
We Feel Disappointed when We Can’t Help Others.
For SF types, they will be able to see the fruits of their labor easily. When they help someone, they can see clearly how their actions help and benefit the other person.
But when INFJs help others, it might be too abstract for the other party to grasp and so they don’t apply what we have shared with them. Or our help might be too ideal or grandiose, so much so that it is non-executable for the other person.
Our good intentions might not be validated by tangible outcomes.
There is a huge gap between our Ni (creative vision about the future) and Se (practical actions at the moment) too. Our Se function might not be strong enough to execute the ideas that our Ni function generates.
When we can’t help others the way we imagine we could help them or it doesn’t give the outcome we desire, we feel disappointed and unappreciated. Especially if you are in a helping profession and you can’t help your client, your job is going to make you feel very hopeless. And you might start to think: What is the purpose of being in this job?
No matter how much passion you have for your job, if your ideas can’t be actualized, it won’t feel satisfying for an INFJ because it wouldn’t be deemed meaningful to our Ni function.
How to Avoid INFJ Empathy Burnout?
To recover from compassion burnout, you can stop, you can slow down, you can withdraw, you can find support, you can practice more self-care, and etc. But there’s something more important than burnout recovery. It is to prevent yourself from getting empathy fatigue and emotionally overload in the first place.
So here are a few ways to prevent INFJ compassion fatigue and empathy burnout.
1. Separate compassion and empathy with the act of helping others.
Compassion is the ability to feel the other person’s suffering and show care and kindness for the person. Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to know what the other person is feeling by imagining what it is like to be in the other person’s shoe. Both are rather similar and both are things that INFJs are very good at.
However, there is a difference between the ability to feel for another and the act of helping others.
You can show care and compassion to someone
without helping them do anything.
Like in the opening story, I didn’t do anything much for the injured auntie and guy. I just show them care and compassion by being there for them. INFJs get compassion fatigue easily because somehow we think that:
- It’s our responsibilities to help the other person,
- We need to help the person who is suffering, or
- We can help the other person.
So we tried to do a lot for the other person, spending a lot of time and energy on their problems. Then, we exhaust ourselves in the process.
The thing is people don’t always need our help. Sometimes, it’s also better for them to learn through their own suffering and experiences than we tell them what to do. You can continue to care for someone but at the same time, allow and trust them to resolve their own problems and figure out on their own. Caring is not the same as caretaking or codependency.
2. Know what’s your responsibilities and what’s not.
Our extraverted feeling (Fe) function is such a gift. But we might not be taught how to use it effectively or we might have been using it in an unhealthy way since childhood. One of the ways we use Fe unwisely is that we take on other people’s problems and responsibilities as our own.
Like in my case, I used to feel that I need to take care of my parents’ feelings. If I did something that they don’t like, I felt a need to change and obey their wishes so that they won’t feel angry or upset. I didn’t know that I was “babysitting” my parents emotionally wise until I grow up and have a career that they oppose.
I thought that is my responsibility to make my parents happy.
But little did I know at that time, a kid is not supposed to know how to handle emotions. They should be learning from their parents. Not the other way round. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t know how to handle their own emotions. So like little children, they got angry and upset whenever things didn’t go their way and I was there to help them reduce their negative emotions by pleasing them. There is a parent-child role reversal.
I thought that I’m helping them by doing what they ask of me. But I’m actually doing them a huge disfavor. Because when I took care of their emotions and took over their responsibilities, they don’t learn how to take care of their own emotions. So they don’t grow.
Now that I realized this, if I make a decision or do something that they don’t accept, I just allow them to sulk, pout, and nag for a while. I let them manage and be responsible for their own emotions, and they learn to get over it eventually.
So check to see if you have taken extra responsibilities that aren’t yours in any of your relationships. For example, you feel responsible for your client’s, friends’, co-workers’ emotions and well-being.
3. Don’t let external harmony dictates your inner peace.
Apart from feeling compassion, one reason why INFJs is so ready to help a person who is suffering is that the external harmony affects our internal harmony. If there is a conflict in other immediate environment or our loved ones are feeling lousy, our Fe function naturally pick up on the disharmony and negative emotions. And we won’t feel good too.
So we want our external environment to be as harmonious as possible and feel a need to please others and help them with their suffering. When they feel good, we feel good.
Allow peace to flow from inside out, not outside in.
However, the problem with this is our external environment is beyond our control. It isn’t always harmonious. You can share your perspectives and insights to your clients or your friends, but if they are adamant with their views, you can’t do anything about it. You can read or watch the news and empathize with the victims’ circumstances but if the news upsets you, don’t read or watch it!
The worst thing that could happen when INFJs empathize with or help another is that we are brought down by the other person. So instead of exhausting yourself from fixing the external environment or let it affects you, focus on inner peace first and then spread peace to others from within.
4. Maintain some space between you and the person you are helping.
INFJs sometimes absorb other people’s emotions unconsciously like a sponge. But if we learn how to deal with the incoming emotions, we won’t get affected by these emotions that we absorbed.
What’s even better is that when you know how to deal with your pain, you know how to help other people who are feeling emotional to deal with their pain. But you can only do that when you have awareness and do not react to their emotions as though you are experiencing the same situation as they were. You can’t think of a great solution or help them when you are too immersed in their problem.
You understand their pain but you are not their pain.
After three years of teaching, I learn to be a source of presence for my students to help them calm down. The more stressful and freak out they are, the more present and calm I have to be. I still empathize with them but I maintain a distance and space between us. If I’m not strong and healthy and get carried away easily by their emotions, they won’t have a solid pillar to lean on.
Also, sometimes people just want to vent. They are not looking for solutions. Whatever solutions you offer (even though if it helps them) would be turned down and rejected because they aren’t asking for help. So don’t bother over-exerting yourself. Just give them the space to express themselves and not get sucked into their problem.
Compassion doesn’t require you to self-sacrifice or drain yourself out. As INFJs, we have to learn how to use our Fe in such a way that it serves not only to the people we are helping but also ourselves in the process.
5. Accept your limitations and let go of your ideal expectations.
INFJs tend to be very idealistic but our expectations can get us into trouble sometimes.
During my first year of teaching, I went all out to help my students. If they have obstacles in studying such as dyslexia, I would spend a lot of time researching ways to help them. I would think of different ways to get them interested in studying maths or create games to help them have more fun while doing maths.
But instead of getting the students more interested in maths, they got more interested in playing. Not only that, I felt physical, mental, and emotional fatigue from planning those games and getting them to do maths. After the first year of tuition, I thought to myself: This isn’t the way to go. I wouldn’t be able to sustain this tuition job if I continue like this. So I changed my approach.
Know what you can help and what you cannot help.
Ideally, I would love if I could get my students motivated, see their own potential, and put in effort in the studies. However, I overestimated what I could do and my efforts went futile. I can’t control how much they study or how they perceive maths and themselves. I can only share my perspectives and strategies to do well in maths but it’s up to them whether they want to listen or not.
Even though I empathize with my students, my role is not to persuade them to love maths or think positively of themselves. My role is just to help them get clear on the concepts and remove any obstacles that prevent them from doing well. They don’t have to love maths or think that they are smart to do well in maths. As long as they feel neutral about maths and themselves, I’ll be able to help them.
Doctors know that they can’t save everyone. When it’s time for the patient to go, it’s time for the patient to go. We have to learn to respect the nature of life and other people’s will. When you have the desire the control what other people think, feel, and do, you will get frustrated when they don’t do so. However, if you accept that you can’t help everyone, you will feel much calmer and help those people who you can help.
If you want to find out more about how to love yourself as an INFJ, be sure to download my free eBook called Self-Acceptance for INFJs.
Featured Photo Credit: Niklas Hamann