INFPs, ISFPs and Empathic Mirroring

A lot of articles talk about Fe users (FJ types) and how they use empathy, but there aren’t a whole lot of articles that talk about the empathy of Fi-dominant types (the IFPs). IFPs are known for their empathy and compassion, but it tends to show itself in a way that’s a little different from the way FJs show empathy.

IFPs have dominant introverted feeling (Fi) in their function stack. Fi’s dominant role is to explore and refine personal values, feelings, and tastes. Fi-users have a strong sense of individuality and uniqueness. They strive to maintain internal emotional order and they emotionally invest in a specific group of people, animals, or interests. Unlike Fe, Fi is introverted and intensive in its focus.

Typologist and psychologist Dr. A.J. Drenth says, “Rather than surveying and distributing feelings across a breadth of individuals (as Fe does), Fi focuses largely on one’s own feelings and sentiments…While FPs may invest in the well-being of select individuals (e.g., their children), Fi is not authentically concerned with, nor does it feel responsible for, the overall feeling tenor of groups…FPs empathize with, and form attachments to, things that move or personally affect them.”

It’s important to note that Introverted Feeling is NOT a selfish function. Some people read that it is focused on its own feelings and therefore assume that Fi is self-absorbed or self-involved. The way I understand it is that Fi-users constantly evaluate external stimuli and determine where it aligns with their own emotions and values. Do things meld with what they believe and feel? Does this emotionally feel “right” to them? Fi users also invest deeply into the emotional well-being of their loved ones, friends, or groups they feel connected with. Many IFPs are champions of the underdogs and stand up for people they feel are discriminated against or marginalized.

IFPs mirror other people’s emotions. This mirroring can happen in a hyper-fast way so that it almost feels like the IFP is instantly absorbing the emotions of others. As IFPs mature and grow mirroring tends to happen faster and faster and with more and more skill and accuracy. As a result, they can easily take another person’s perspective and try to grasp how it would feel to be that person. They often think, “what would it be like if that were me?”. Because IFPs are so imaginative and/or creative, they can easily perceive how something would feel to them. When this process occurs, they feel a strong sense of empathy and compassion towards others. In early life, IFPs will have to spend a little more time and effort mirroring others because their experiences are still more limited at a young age. However, as their life evolves and their experiences broaden they become more and more fluent at understanding the emotions of others. This results in them very quickly being able to identify where others are coming from as if they are experiencing it themselves. This is one reason why IFPs are often skilled in the dramatic arts. They usually have no trouble imagining and empathizing with the emotions of people from many diverse walks of life.

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“The thing I get out of acting is … inhabiting the world of the role. … If I can keep losing myself – and finding parts of myself … then that’s all I can really ask for.”
– Andrew Garfield, an INFP

Introverted Feeling and Open-Mindedness

IFPs are known for being open-minded and receptive to others. Because they don’t align themselves with an external value system, they are non-judgmental and willing to hear out anyone’s situation or plight with understanding. Many people take advantage of the IFPs open-mindedness and use them as a “dumping ground” for their emotional baggage. Because the IFP wants so much to understand and relate to the plight of their loved ones, this can leave them feeling drained. On the other hand, in a healthy relationship, the IFP can open the eyes of their friends and loved ones to new perspectives and self-actualization that can result in healing and immense self-improvement.

“We pity in others only those evils which we ourselves have experienced.” 
– Jean-Jacques Rosseau, an ISFP

Because introverted feeling is so value-focused in an internal way (“what is right for me”) Fi users will focus more intensely on a specific group of people. Introverted functions have a smaller breadth but a deeper focus, whereas extraverted functions have a wider breadth but a more shallow focus. So Fi users care intensely for a specific group of people, pulling all their energy into understanding and empathizing and helping them. As I said before, IFPs are very focused on standing up for people, animals, or causes they feel are needing attention. They hate to see injustices of any kind, so they thrive on championing and speaking for small groups of people who need a voice. To people they don’t know very well IFPs can actually seem very cool or aloof. They don’t share their emotions readily unless a great amount of trust is gained. This is why sometimes I refer to Fi-doms as “feelers in disguise”. You have to prove your loyalty and trustworthiness before they’ll share with you their deep emotions and values.

Introverted Feeling and Career Fields

In the MBTI® Manual, INFPs are listed as being renowned in the fields of arts, counseling, social sciences, and writing “or any other occupation where they can use their creativity and focus on their values.” ISFPs are renowned in the fields of health care, business, law enforcement, and skilled trades “or any other occupations where they can use their gentle, service-related attentiveness to detail.”

The Beauty of Introverted Feeling

Introverted Feeling is so authentic in its nature, that IFPs are driven to be honest in all their dealings with people. Yet alongside this honesty is a deep urge to care for others. IFPs are gentle souls who rarely, if ever, will intentionally hurt another person’s feelings. They have an innate sense of compassion for people and an ability to see everyone as unique and capable of goodness. IFPs are known for their incredible listening skills, the ability to listen with their “whole brain” and shut out other distractions. In an IFP friend you will find someone who not only listens to you and respects you but who is also willing to give you tough words of wisdom and advice when it’s needed. Of course, most of the time they will do this in the gentlest way possible because they don’t like to force their views on other people and they are very aware of the power words have to hurt or offend.

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
– George Orwell, an INFP

How IFPs Can Avoid Empathic Overwhelm

IFPs need to make sure they take time for self-care so that they don’t overload their senses with the emotional cares of others. IFPs are extremely generous souls and will be unyielding in their efforts to help people they care deeply about. This can cause them to overwork and tire themselves to the point of exhaustion. It’s important for IFPs to make time to be alone, to recharge in their own space, and to get in touch with their own emotions without the demands of others weighing down on them.

Finding ways to be creative helps the IFP to avoid getting overwhelmed emotionally. They are greatly influenced by artwork, and can find relief and solace by seeing their emotions in the arts of other people. This can be artistic expression in painting, music, film, or poetry. IFPs long to find solidarity and validation for their feelings. Many times they can feel a sense of peace and understanding if they can find some creative way to have their own emotions “mirrored”.

IFPs also find relief from writing their emotions down and expressing them in a creative way. They love to read literature about people who stand up for their values, who fight for their beliefs, and who have that same strong sense of right and wrong that they hold within themselves.

Other ways for the IFP to avoid emotional overwhelm include getting in touch with their other cognitive functions. It’s important not to always rely on the dominant function and overuse it to the point of exhaustion. IFPs should look for inspiration through their auxiliary function, either intuition or sensing. They can do this by getting outside and exploring nature, reading books, or listening to music. These activities can also put them in touch with their sensing side.

What Do You Think?

Do you experience empathy overwhelm? Do you have any suggestions? Let me 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, and The INFP – Understanding the Dreamer. You can also connect with me via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!

Other Articles You Might Enjoy:

10 Surprising Truths About INFPs

10 Surprising Truths About ISFPs


Explore the empathic nature of the #INFP and #ISFP personality types! #MBTI #Personality

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  1. I am an INFP. I am really enjoying this exploration of the mirroring idea. Here are some of my own observations inspired by the conversation.

    I don’t know what it is that makes an interaction initially stick out but I have noticed that some interactions replay in my mind over and over again. I have wondered what exactly is going on because I find myself doing it automatically, or subconsciously. There is no immediate conclusion or judgment formed (at least consciously) but for some reason I keep repeating an interaction and feel out the bigger picture, or the story behind it. It is something like a smell perhaps. A scent of the nuance in the combination of eye movements, voice tone, word selection and an immediate association of what it means. I remember things like the subtle tremble in the voice, the eyes slightly glazing over, the direction they look and when, shifting of body weight, etc. i am not taking a firm mental note of it at the time but my brain records it and replays it. I don’t know why I replay it other than to figure out the connection between all those things. they are like variables that I insert different possibilities into until I find why they go together. My brain role plays out different possibilities but I am the one behind their mask trying to figure out why I would move or speak like they did. It’s like an actor perhaps finding his motivation for a scene.

    Like it was said earlier in the thread there is an immediate felt response, a feeling based off of an immediate read of the patterns. Like entering the room and smelling something and then wondering what’s in the oven or who has body odor and what have they been doing. There is a mental evaluation and exploration of the initial read to see if it was right or if I missed something and since there are so many possibilities it can become an overwhelming, compulsive process with no resolution or way of knowing which interpretation is correct.

    I don’t know if that makes any sense but the comments on here got me thinking about it.

    Thank you for writing this article and helping us to understand ourselves better! 🙂

  2. Hiya☺
    My name is Melissa….like many of the other articles i have read from psychologyjunkie on INFP types i have found this one to also be ‘bang’ on right.
    Personally i have found that my ‘mirroring’ skill has unfortunately helped with me becoming even more of a hermit/shutting myself out from the world to the extent that i even avoid going out and only do if i have to…..
    With me being an overthinker aswell
    (not to mention taking into consideration of all the experiences…lessons i have learned in life) overwhelm me so so much to the point where i dont feel right…even in my own skin.

  3. This article made me tear up 😂 no surprise huh?! Thank you. It’s very validating and helpful. My personality type has actually shifted in the past 20 years as I’ve really become ok with who I am and have had more life experiences. Being emotionally exhausted is almost a daily battle!

  4. I’m an empath and an ISFP and have many times
    experienced emotional overload when listening, working with or being around others. To get past this, I have to tell myself that the heavy emotions I’m feeling aren’t mine, but someone else’s. I generally feel emotional overload in my stomach as it tightens up and is uncomfortable. Once I realize it’s happening, I mentally and physically release these intense emotions. I know they’ve been released when stomach is relaxed again.
    Thank you so much for sharing your articles with us. They’ve helped me realize so much about myself.

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