My sister Emily and I had a really long phone conversation a couple weeks ago that’s been popping in and out of my mind ever since. In between deep and heartfelt discussions about boys, family matters, the Kon-Mari method, and friends, we ended up discovering that we’re the same Myers-Briggs personality type, INFJ.
For some reason, this surprised me. I guess I’ve always thought that Em and I are polar opposites, but talking for nearly two hours made me realize that we’re fundamentally similar in a lot of ways I never perceived. Meems informed me that INFJs are the rarest personality type per the Myers-Briggs assessments, comprising anywhere from 1-3% of the overall population (stats vary, sources here and here).
While I don’t put a concrete amount of credence in any personality test or metric, I do think there are things that can be learned from being aware of how I supposedly perceive and interact with the world. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about INFJs primarily because I always kind of go on a self-improvement kick this time of year. Call it spring-cleaning for the soul, if you will. Some choice quotes or traits:
From here: “(INFJs) tend to be perfectionists who fear they aren’t living up to their potential. INFJs can always list the things they’ve left undone but have a hard time counting their accomplishments.”
Me: Um, hi. Anyone who knows me knows I am the queen of to-do lists and I don’t half-ass. I’ve been known to beat myself up for things I’ve said, done, or failed to do, literally years after the event or incident in question took place. Along with that, I’m reluctant to discuss my own achievements or accept when I’ve done well/deserve praise/should give myself some credit. It’s a double-edged sword I fall on way too regularly.
Also from here: “When INFJs move into their extroverted mode, as they sometimes do, they can express a range of emotions and opinions quite effectively as they have excellent verbal skills. However, they tend to be cautious about revealing their positions. Like other feeling-judging types, they frequently feel caught between the desire to express their opinions and their reluctance to offend people. Some INFJs vent their private feelings to a few trusted friends. The friends are chosen with care, and the relationships are usually characterized by affection and trust.”
Me: One hundred percent accurate. I’ve had formidable communication skills since I first learned to talk (way early). These days, between writing here and elsewhere for fun, teaching trainings and writing policies at work, and starting to take on more active external leadership roles in the community, I’ve gained credibility and position almost completely through my ability to verbalize effectively. That said…I’m really hesitant to truly confide in people or to pick a side and stick to it publicly. I don’t discuss religion, politics, sex, or money with pretty much anyone, and I can count the people I share personal details with on one hand.
From here: “(There) is something of a conflict between the inner and outer worlds, and may result in the INFJ not being as organized as other Judging types tend to be. Or we may see some signs of disarray in an otherwise orderly tendency, such as a consistently messy desk.”
Me: My mom once described my mode of existence as “organized disarray.” To outside observers, my desk at work or through school, or my closet or personal files, appear chaotic and completely entropic. That said…I can find what I need anywhere within moments. I blame the fact that I tend to get abstracted; turns out I can blame being an INFJ instead.
From here: “INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large. They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people -- a product of the Feeling function they most readily show to the world. On the contrary, INFJs are true introverts, who can only be emotionally intimate and fulfilled with a chosen few from among their long-term friends, family, or obvious "soul mates." While instinctively courting the personal and organizational demands continually made upon them by others, at intervals INFJs will suddenly withdraw into themselves, sometimes shutting out even their intimates. This apparent paradox is a necessary escape valve for them, providing both time to rebuild their depleted resources and a filter to prevent the emotional overload to which they are so susceptible as inherent ‘givers.’”
Me: Reading this gave me goosebumps. Lately I’ve been feeling really off in some aspects of life and friendships, and the way the article identified that as being “depleted” resonated deeply with me. I often feel like I end up being the one who gives and gives, but when I get tapped out I retreat almost completely and with very little explanation as to why I do so. It’s something I’ve always struggled with, but it’s so true…I do care deeply about the people around me and sometimes that becomes just too much when it doesn’t feel reciprocated. See here for a vintage Minneapoliz rant on pretty much this topic exactly.
Bottom line: I blame Emily for forcing me to identify, research and accept that I’m part of the 1%...of INFJs in the world. Knowing all this, I think it’s easier to work around some of the less positive aspects of the personality type, and to embrace the great things about officially being weird.