“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller
As an INFJ, you experience emotions in a complex and beautiful way. Today I want to explore your unique way of experiencing feelings, sorting them out, and understanding them. Diving deeper into how you do this can help you to give yourself more grace, understand yourself more fully, and also understand why the way you handle emotions is different from how others handle emotions.
INFJs and Emotions
Everyone experiences emotions. From ISTJs to ENFPs, emotions are a universal human experience. Nobody can help experiencing them, but what we do with them is very unique. Our upbringing colors our emotional experience – were you raised in a family that encouraged open emotional sharing? Or were you in a family that forced the suppression of emotions?
Personality also plays a part in how you process emotions. Some types process their feelings internally, while others need to process them externally.
But What About INFJs?
As an INFJ, you have a unique mental process called Extraverted Feeling. Everyone in the Myers-Briggs system has both introverted and extroverted qualities – this is what makes each type balanced and capable of introspection and interaction.
As an INFJ, you’re an introvert – your dominant mental process is Introverted Intuition (Ni). But you also have an extroverted side. That side is filled by the “Feeling” side of your personality. Your introverted side is filled by Intuition and Thinking, and your extroverted side is filled by Feeling and Sensation.
What Does This Mean For You?
Have you ever been called an “extroverted introvert”? Were your friends surprised when you told them you were an introvert?
There’s a reason for that!
Because you’re an INFJ, you show the world your feeling side. Your feeling side is focused on understanding people, creating harmony, and getting others’ needs met.
You are wired to notice the emotional atmosphere around you. Your extraverted feeling side (yes, it’s spelled with an “a” grammar police) is like a radar that detects the emotional wavelengths of the people around you. You notice shifts and patterns in people’s moods. When you’re with your friends you’re tuned into their feelings and experiences and needs. In fact, you may struggle with social silences because you sense that there’s an awkwardness in the atmosphere when that happens. Your extraverted feeling side tries to create a harmonious, comfortable mood for others (and, in turn, yourself).
You’re a People-Reader
Has anyone ever called you a human lie-detector? Do you get a sense of what people are like without having to be told? As an INFJ, your feeling side and your intuitive side work together to give you insights into the underlying emotions and motivations of other people.
Your intuitive side asks questions like:
“What else is going on here?”
“What’s the hidden meaning of this?”
“Is there a pattern here?”
“What does this mean for the future?”
“What are the long-term implications of this?”
Your feeling side asks questions like:
“How is this person feeling?”
“What emotional cues am I getting from this person?”
“What does this person need?”
“What are the words and physical signals of this person telling me?”
“What does this body language mean?”
“What are the social expectations here?”
“How might the social expectations in this room be impacting the message I’m getting from this person?”
Because your intuition and feeling work together in this way, you’re able to pick up on clues about people without having to try all that hard. You naturally sense what’s going on beneath the surface and this is what gives you those startling epiphanies and insights about people.
Because of your insightful nature, you are adept at understanding and identifying other people’s emotions. This is probably why INFJs are overrepresented in counseling fields (per the MBTI® Manual). This can also mean that you get overloaded by other people’s emotions or used as an emotional “dumping ground.”
Just like this meme talks about over here…
But What About Your Own Emotions?
This is where it gets a little more confusing. You’d think that since you’re so skilled at understanding other people’s feelings that you’d also be a wizard at understanding your own.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Because your feeling side is directed outward, you have a gift for understanding other people’s emotions and the vibes, values, and expectations of the external world. That’s a great thing! But it also means your inner feelings can be murky, confusing, and hard to decipher.
You may feel a flurry of intense emotions and feel like there’s no way for you to ascertain their meaning.
That’s because you process information internally through Introverted Intuition and Introverted Thinking. While these mental processes are incredible, they’re not great at sorting out emotions. Processing your own emotions through your thinking side is like trying to comb your hair with a spoon. It’s fairly difficult and it would take a ton of time and energy.
This means that as an INFJ if you don’t have the right coping mechanisms, you can feel tossed and turned by emotions that you can’t understand and you’re constantly trying to rationalize through your thinking side. You try to make logical sense of your emotions (hard to do), you try to guess at whether your emotions are “accurate” (also hard to objectively prove). You may even struggle to find words that fit your emotions properly.
How Can You Process Your Emotions More Effectively?
First of all, stop beating yourself up about not being able to sort out your emotions with your thinking side. Stop trying to comb your hair with a spoon!
Secondly, realize that you need an external way to get your emotions out. Write them down in a journal, speak them out to a trusted friend, or say them out loud to yourself!
When you do this you enable yourself to process your own feelings through Extraverted Feeling. You need to HEAR your emotions to understand them. You need to read your emotions on a page to “get” them. Sure, you might be able to identify that you feel “sad” or “angry” or “happy” but you may not be able to pinpoint why, what to do about it, or what it means for you. You have to extravert those feelings (push them out into the world) in order to process them in an effective way.
This doesn’t mean you should just start yelling at people any time you feel angry (I doubt you wanted to do that anyway). But it does mean that you should realize that when you’re verbalizing your feelings they may be “half-baked.” You may change your mind about how you feel after you’re done verbalizing your feelings or writing them down.
Here’s a Visual Example:
Imagine that your feelings are a broken piano for a moment. When you express your feelings (extrovert them) you are laying out all the broken pieces and examining them. You aren’t going to close your eyes and visualize the broken piano pieces, you’re going to observe them in the external world. Then you’re going to re-arrange the pieces, get your tools, put them back together, and try to decipher why the piano (your feelings) broke and how to fix it (them).
If you, as an INFJ, don’t extravert your feelings you’re trying to fix a piano inside your mind. That doesn’t work! You’ve got to get all the pieces (all your feelings) out there. You need to hear them, visualize them, and analyze them in the external world. Then you can figure out what they mean, what you need, which feelings are true or false, and how to possibly repair them.
The Dangers of Internalizing Your Feelings
When you keep those feelings inside they can lead you into believing false things about yourself or others.
Unsorted feelings tend to be generalized and murky. You may think things like….
“My feelings are stupid”
“I’m dumb for feeling this way”
“That person hates me”
“I’m so angry and this is everyone’s fault”
or conversely, even positive feelings may be leading us down a dangerous path…
“I’m so happy, that means this is good” (in this case, this could mean staying in a bad relationship, doing a risky behavior, etc,.)
Our feelings can trick us because we can’t sort them out internally very precisely. We can only sense them in a general way. And then (usually) we just break them all apart with our thinking side until we’re putting them all in logical categories that don’t even fit.
So get those feelings out, INFJs! Write them down and read them back to yourself, talk to someone you trust, speak them into a voice recorder and listen to them. Let your extraverted feeling side do the job it was meant to do!
If you’re reading all of this and struggling to relate, it could mean that you’re an ISFP or INFP personality type. INFPs and ISFPs use Introverted Feeling instead of Extraverted Feeling. Because of that, IFPs do best when they can internally process their feelings. They pinpoint them and understand them best in isolation and reflection. It’s still good for them to express their feelings, but they usually do that for validation and acceptance. They already know what their feelings are. INFJs, in contrast, often externalize their feelings to get advice, to sort them out, to understand them. Understanding and perspectives are what they are after more than validation (although, let’s be honest, I think everyone craves a certain amount of validation).
You can find out which personality type fits you best in our test: Are You an INFP, ISFP, INFJ, or ISFJ?
What Are Your Thoughts?
Did you enjoy this article? Do you have any insights or questions? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
Find out more about your personality type in our eBooks, Discovering You: Unlocking the Power of Personality Type, The INFJ – Understanding the Mystic, The INFP – Understanding the Dreamer, and The INTJ – Understanding the Strategist. You can also connect with me via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!