So you have done the Myers-Briggs test (MBTI) and found out that you are an INFJ.
But what does that mean?
What do you do with your INFJ personality traits?
You have read all about the INFJ profile descriptions, the characteristics, the strengths, and the weaknesses. You know that the INFJ personality type is rare and often misunderstood. But how does that help you with your personal growth and problems?
In this blog post, we are going to explore the INFJ personality type in-depth, so that you are aware of the INFJ cognitive functions and how they affect your actions and behaviors.
What Does INFJ Stand For?
What is INFJ? To put it simply, each letter of INFJ means:
- Introversion (I): Prefer to reflect and direct their energy inwards.
- Intuition (N): Prefer to see possibilities and the big picture.
- Feeling (F): Prefer to use feeling in decision making.
- Judging (J): Prefer to plan and seek order in the outer world.
You get four letters like these when you complete the Myers-Briggs test (MBTI) or similar personality tests online.
However, it’s easy for us to get mistype because of the way the tests are created. The test comprises of a series of questions to find out your mental preferences. Each question forces you to choose between two contrasting preferences.
For some, it’s not so easy to decide on their preferences.
When I was 17, I did my first MBTI test in school and I was given the four letters — INTJ. I was a bit uncertain with the results because when I added up the total for each category, I had like 51% T and 49% F. It’s tough for me to decide if I’m more of a thinker or a feeler. So I always see myself as an IN(T/F)J. It was only years later when I did other personality tests online that I had consistent INFJ results.
Read this blog post series if you are still wondering, “Am I an INFJ?“
Those four letters are helpful because it’s simple to communicate with each other but it can also be very misleading to some people. Just because you receive the letter “I” and you are an introvert doesn’t mean that you don’t have extroverted traits. Just because you prefer to use feelings to make a decision doesn’t mean you cannot think logically.
We use both contrasting functions even though we have preferences for one over the other. That’s why to understand any personality type, we need to understand their cognitive functions first.
The Eight MBTI Cognitive Functions
Cognition is the mental process of acquiring information, perceiving the information, making decisions, and more.
Before MBTI was created, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung established eight dominant functions to explain the differences between people. He concluded that people behave differently because their minds have different innate preferences. The eight cognitive functions are as follow:
- Introverted Intuition and Extraverted Intuition
- Introverted Sensing and Extraverted Sensing
- Introverted Feeling and Extraverted Feeling
- Introverted Thinking and Extraverted Thinking
All of us have these eight dominant functions, however, they are in different order of preferences and this order forms our personality. Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers then further developed Jung’s idea and created 16 personalities which are now known as MBTI personality types.
So why do we need to know all this?
Why Do We Need to Know the Cognitive Functions?
From a relationship standpoint, it’s good to know that other people see the world differently from you and understand their reality through their lens. Most of us have the tendency to project our personalities on others. We expect others to value the same things as we do. However, most of the time, people don’t.
So for an INFJ, we might think that having a meaningful job is important for everyone, but for a more logical and practical type, they might not even care about this. They might just want a job that pays well.
Understand how your cognitive functions create problems for you.
From a personal standpoint, it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. Also, when your mind becomes too extreme and utilizes only one or two functions, it starts to create problems for you. Even though our minds have preferences, we need to utilize:
- both our introversion and extroversion traits,
- both our thinking and feeling,
- both our intuition and sensing functions.
Otherwise, we are prone to be biased, misjudge events and information, make the wrong decisions, and form unhealthy habits. You see having preferences doesn’t mean that your preferred function would serve you well for every circumstance. It feels right for you, but it might not be the best for you in some situations.
What Is Function Stack and How Does It Work?
The function stack is the first four cognitive functions that we prefer to use. The first two functions (i.e. the dominant and auxiliary functions) determine our personality and what we identify with. We are less conscious of and less identified with the next two functions.
For an INFJ, the function stack is as follows:
- Dominant Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
- Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
- Tertiary Function: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
- Inferior Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
If you notice above, the function stack cover all the three dichotomies — introversion and extroversion, thinking and feeling, and intuition and sensing. Even though we have our preferences, we can’t just rely on our dominant function or one extreme to survive.
For example, introverts need to exert themselves in the physical world. They have to develop an auxiliary function that is extroverted in nature to balance their introverted nature. So the introverted and extroverted functions are always alternate in the function stack for all the personality types including INFJ.
Furthermore, if you are introverted in one area for example intuition, then your opposing preference would be extroverted in the function stack i.e. Extraverted Sensing. They work as a pair.
I’m not going to explain how the order is determined or the use of the fifth to eighth cognitive function in-depth here. Let’s just jump straight into understanding the INFJ temperaments now that we have some knowledge of the INFJ function stack.
INFJ Cognitive Function Stack in More Detail
Dominant Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
Introverted intuition is probably one of the hardest function to explain to others, especially to someone who relies mostly on their five senses. Intuition, our sixth sense, is about making connections and seeing possibilities. It’s about seeing beyond what the five senses can gather and reflecting on what could be. It doesn’t require much effort, but you also cannot control when you will have insights.
My students always ask me how do I know which methods to use just by reading the questions. I know because my introverted intuition is making the connection in the background. Words phrase in a certain way tells me that the setter is testing a particular topic or method. So while most students only see the question for what it is, someone with introverted intuition would see the big picture from the setter’s perspective and tackle the problem from different angles.
INFJ needs meaning in everything.
This function makes INFJ insightful and good at solving problems, but it also makes INFJ an idealist. To an INFJ, everything is interconnected in a meaningful way, so we need meaning in everything including relationships, work, and even recreational activities. When a task doesn’t add to our overall vision or we find it unimportant, we tend to procrastinate or feel restless.
This is an issue for INFJ because even though we might have a great vision, our execution skills are normally not on par with our vision. Or rather, we don’t enjoy executing as much as we enjoy imagining the possibilities. Having too grand a vision also sometimes makes us feel overwhelmed and disappointed with ourselves when we don’t achieve our vision fast enough.
Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Most people know us through our auxiliary function, Extraverted Feeling. This is true for all introverts and it’s not that we try to conceal our dominant functions. All the introverted functions are directed inwards, unlike the extroverted functions which are directed outwards. So people don’t get to see the introverted functions that much.
Furthermore, my introverted intuition doesn’t work as well when I’m communicating with others. I don’t really have much insight until my mind has the downtime to process the information. In fact, it’s more natural for me to utilize my Extraverted Feeling function when I’m with people. I prefer to listen to what others are sharing before I share my opinions.
INFJ loves people but doesn’t really like to be around people.
INFJ is a complex and contradictory personality type. On one hand, we genuinely love people and want to help them. But, on the other hand, we prefer to withdraw so that we can do some reflection. We might be warm, caring, and empathetic when we are talking with others, but when it’s time to work, we might be somewhat private, cold, and aloof. That’s why INFJs are often misunderstood.
Our extraverted feeling makes us look like an extrovert. But our dominant function is still introverted intuition. We still prefer to direct our attention and energy inwards. We get exhausted easily when we spent too much time socializing with others.
Plus, we might withdraw lending help to others if we see that it doesn’t benefit them in the long run. We INFJs don’t feel that satisfied volunteering our time helping others in a tangible way such as cleaning their house or donating money to others. We need to get down to the root of the problem and help others solve their problem at that level so that the problem doesn’t recur for them.
Stubborn? I know. But due to our introverted intuition, we have a different approach to helping others; we tend to think in terms of the big picture and the long term. This might be confusing for others and they might find us difficult to understand or mysterious. But that’s what we naturally love to do.
Tertiary Function: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Our tertiary function compliments our auxiliary function. When we care too much about others until to the point of extreme people-pleasing and self-neglect, our introverted thinking function kicks in and helps us draw the boundary.
It’s not our preferred function to use, but it’s absolutely necessary for our survival. Our introverted thinking function helps us to analyze the situation and organize information. It provides a different point of view and asks questions such as:
- Why are you helping someone who doesn’t even want to be helped?
- Don’t you think you are a little too selfless?
- Why do you agree to help someone when you don’t even feel like doing it?
We don’t like to be critical, but sometimes we just have to…
for our best interests.
With our extraverted feeling function, INFJs tend to avoid conflicts. We need our introverted thinking to remind us that pleasing others doesn’t always resolve the issue. Sometimes it’s best, to tell the truth even if it hurts the other person and ourselves (we feel the pain when someone is hurt). Our introverted thinking also allows our extraverted feeling to take a break. Always thinking in terms of the group is rather taxing on us.
INFJs also have a tough time making decisions because of this constant tug-of-war between the brain and the heart. Even though we understand logically (Ti) that some decision isn’t the best for us, we are still very concerned about the implications of our decision on other people (Fe).
Inferior Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
One weakness that INFJs have is our sensing abilities. Due to our preference for using our intuition, we love to gloss over details and jump straight into the big picture. When we use too much of a function, we tend to neglect the opposing one and it becomes underdeveloped.
So as an INFJ, you might find it very difficult to be spontaneous. You want to have everything planned out to perfection before you start. But yet when you started planning and dealing with the details, it’s too much for you as you are so used to skipping the details.
You might be so head in the clouds that you aren’t aware of what’s happening around you. When someone asks me: Do you know about the latest news? my answer is usually “no”. I live in my own world (or rather head) so much of the time and I don’t really care about the changes around me.
INFJ feels miserable when their ideas don’t turn into reality.
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on our strengths. In fact, successful people focus on their talents and genius. However, the problem comes when we totally disregard or distrust our inferior functions. Then, they will have to come out in harmful ways. For example, we might have a sudden over-indulgence in sensual pleasure such as food and entertainment or do things impulsively without much thought on the consequences.
It’s important for us to mature our extraverted sensing too. When we focus solely on our introverted intuition, we get so far ahead of ourselves and into the future that it makes us miserable when we realize our vision is just a dream and not reality. We need our extraverted sensing to pull us back to the present and reality. The dominant and inferior functions work as a pair; they need to work together and not in isolation.
You can’t just rely on your introverted intuition to survive in this world.
The Growth Mindset
There are two ways to approach our MBTI type. One way is to have a fixed mindset. We read the INFJ description and profile like a horoscope: This is who we are. We are so rare, we are born to be misunderstood. No one will understand our complexity. It sucks to be an INFJ and so on.
Alternatively, we can develop a growth mindset: Yes, I understand my personality type is rare and different. But now that I understand the INFJ characteristics, my strengths and weaknesses, I’m more aware of how I could utilize my functions to develop and grow myself and help others.
And I hope you choose the latter because you have so much to offer to the world.
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.