I am an INFJ who discovered MBTI as an adult.
For those of you who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs system, that first sentence probably tells you more about me than the rest of this article put together. For those of you who are not, suffice it to say that finding MBTI has reassured me that I am not an alien species, nor should I expect a UFO to come collect me at some point in the future. It’s helped me understand why verbal communication is hard for me, and why I never felt like I fit in with my family, and why finding satisfying friendships has been a rare occurrence, and why my idealism tends to get in the way of practicality. After all, idealism can be a positive force when it motivates people to work to end world hunger, save an endangered species, or alleviate the suffering of the homeless in their town. However, when it comes to relationships, it can be a double-edged sword.
Ideal: existing only in the imagination;
desirable or perfect but not likely to become a reality
After coming across MBTI and learning how my mind works, I’ve concluded that I am neither insane (as I accused myself) nor incompetent (as others have accused me). I’m simply different. MBTI, following Jung’s work, teaches that everyone has two main cognitive functions, or peculiar ways that our brains interact with the world. For me, these are Introverted Intuition (Ni) and Extroverted Feeling (Fe). My Ni means, among other things, that I think in metaphors and images, not words; and my Fe pushes me to maintain harmony and keep the peace, even at great personal cost.
So how does all this affect my relationships?
First, it’s made communication challenging. My whole family are Sensors, which is the opposite of Intuitive (ISFJ, ISTJ, ESTJ). When I was a tiny sprout I used to wonder how they got through life: they didn’t daydream. They didn’t ask “why?” all the time. They didn’t cry when books ended, or when Puff the Magic Dragon came on TV. Now that I’m older, I understand that we are simply wired differently. An intuitive’s brain literally uses different neural pathways than a sensor’s brain. So when they asked how I was doing, and I tried to explain to them how I felt and all that came out was a picture or a piece of music, and they said “Use your words!”, and I sat there befuddled because there were no words in my head to use… Now I know why.
I wouldn’t dream of asking a six year old to discuss particle physics, or call my family doctor to fix my kitchen sink. In the same manner, I cannot expect a sensor to connect or communicate with me on the level that intuitives do. I may as well ask my neighbor’s dog to dance an Irish jig. And this is not to say that I don’t appreciate sensors – they have a lot of great natural skills. They can walk down the street without tripping over their own feet. They pay attention to details like when the car needs its oil changed. They don’t get to the end of the day and realize that they’ve stared out of five different windows (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).
Second – and I think this is a good thing to be conscious of – it’s made me aware of the impermanency and, therefore, preciousness of relationships.
In my experience, INFJs have a tendency to move forward and not look back. We are future-oriented. We love to think about new possibilities and ways of connecting things and people, and when a door has closed, it becomes the past, fixed and non-optional, and somehow slips out of our day-to-day conscious awareness.
I have always struggled with maintaining long-term friendships. I am not in contact with anyone from childhood or high school or college, nor do I have the desire to be. I don’t purposely discontinue contact with people, but if they move out of state or drift away, I’m not going to work my arse off to keep lines of communication open. Part of this is due to my particular wacky circumstances while growing up; but it also fits into the INFJ tendency to move forward and not look back. It is probably also affected by 1) a lack of connections with other intuitive types and 2) hesitancy to impose myself on others, resulting in a habit of waiting for them to initiate contact. (When I was small I vividly remember thinking that saying hello to people while walking down the hallway was sort of rude, because you might disturb them in the middle of a good train of thought. God forbid.)
Is this bad? I don’t know. I travel light.
So, I always try to keep in mind that nothing lasts forever; that people change, and thus relationships are never static; that this exact day lying by the pool and talking about possible commercial uses for elephant milk will never come again (yes, really).
Maybe my idealism keeps me searching for something better and stops me from appreciating what’s under my nose. Again, I don’t know. But in the last few months I have been purposely focusing on mindfulness, living in the Now instead of just dreaming and wishing for the future. Yes, planning is good. Yes, goals are important. But so is the fat robin that just walked into the sunshine on my patio.