INFPresence + INFPromise

by Christopher Lovejoy on April 18, 2021

Are you a dreamer? Do you care truly and deeply about a few special people or causes? Do you often feel alone in the world? Do these words, “explore and express,” ring true for you? Do you like playing around with ideas, possibilities, and pursuits that align with your core values and interests?

At your best, are you patient, tolerant, warm, kind, sweet, gentle, creative, sympathetic, imaginative? And yet, are you also prone to finding yourself in the grip of critical, controlling, righteous stances, along with a tendency to withdraw from “reality” when things start feeling too strange or intense?

Do you feel drawn to explore and express the dark side almost as much as the light side? Do you pride yourself on being guided by a moral compass found within rather than from without, so that you follow what you know deep down is real, true, good, right, fair, fine, wise, and pure for you?

If so, your personality type might very well be that of an INFP on the MBTI scale.

The INFP personality type is relatively rare, accounting for only 4.4% of the general population. In a town of 10,000, only about 440 would share this type. Male INFPs are even more rare, accounting for only 1% to 1.5% of the general population ~ that is, only about 100 to 150 in a town of 10,000.

Interestingly, in some places, like New Zealand, INFPs represent a larger portion of the population.

As a male INFP, I’ve grown to love and cherish my type, but this has not always been so, nor does this type come without its challenges, which I’ve come to view and treat as catalysts for growth. The literature on the INFP type is quite good, but I find that it’s skewed by other well-meaning types.

In this post, I’ll be addressing INFPs, but anyone of any type is welcome to come along for the ride.

A Good, Sweet, Pure Life

Before I dive headlong into the challenges of being an INFP, I’d like to set the stage with a snapshot of an ideal life for the INFP. In typical INFP fashion, I will do this by scripting it out with a bit of literary flair.

Here’s a script that describes an ideal scene from the future . . .

A few weeks ago, I moved to a remote locale where I could be alone and close to nature, to savor my privacy, solitude, and freedom, not far from a private beach nestled inside a rugged coastline next to the sea. Here, I could contemplate the nature of being and becoming to my heart’s content.

Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, my body was restored to its circadian rhythm ~ vital for relaxing truly and deeply into the moment. I followed a strict diet of mostly fruit, which I had delivered on a weekly basis. My daily exercise consisted mostly of walks along the shore.

In my cabin, which I kept neat and tidy at all times, I spent early morning hours browsing on my laptop or, when I felt called to write or speak, I tapped and recorded on said laptop. In the evening, after dinner, I resorted to my paperwhite Kindle to read, think, and tap at my leisure.

This whole environment, I am happy to report, is conducive to cultivating a keen awareness and innerstanding of myself in relation to a greater whole, affording me opportunities to explore endless possibilities, to meditate continuously on the nature of life, the universe ~ everything.

I drew my inspiration from the most unusual art, music, and literature that humanity had to offer. Here, nothing felt routine or mundane; it all seemed so sacred and divine. I could be left alone with the stars ~ and the birds ~ to explore and express, evolve and ascend, without end.

My life is a dream, and I continue to live and love the life of my dreams . . .

I’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing exceptional about this scenario. No doubt it’s been experienced, in some form, by solitaries throughout time, since the dawn of human consciousness. Nor does this scenario point to a new way of being; for this, one must engage humanity wholly and fully.

If anything, this scenario offers vital insight into how the INFP might live a good, sweet, pure life.

Without a beach or cabin, a savvy INFP could probably replicate some semblance of this scenario almost anywhere; all that would be required is pure harmony: a pure love of self, in a pure space to live at peace with love, on a pure path to grace in awe and wonder, with a pure lust for life.

INFP Challenges as Catalysts: A Dialogue

I find it instructive to mull the shortcomings and challenges of INFPs from the points of view of other types, most notably other NFs, or even INTxs. At the risk of sounding cliché, the lemons that these types offer to INFPs present opportunities to make some very good lemonade.

Lemonade that could be appreciated by anyone and shared with everyone.

Where to begin?

Here are the goads that pique the interest or curiosity of INFPs everywhere:

Is it true what they say, that authenticity means everything to you? Come on now, is it not true that you cringe almost every time you recall a moment in your life when you betrayed a cherished value or a significant virtue by pretending to be someone or something you’re not?

I mean, you do wanna be loved and lauded for who you really are, yes?

Yes . . . and no.

Yes, of course, being authentic and genuine means a lot to us, but being wholly authentic and genuine is an ideal worthy of much thought and reflection, to be cultivated over time with artwork and journal entries, not to mention deep and meaningful conversations that bring us joy.

But we also acknowledge, and appreciate, the role of drama in everyday life, which means playing pretend on occasion, the kind of pretend that serves and protects the public personae of others. This, of course, is a delicate game to play, but it’s worth playing if you’re good at playing.

True enough, on the outside, you’re fluid and flexible, but on the inside, you know you can be as stubborn as mules, if not more so. When you’re hanging with friends or family, you’re the picture of easy-going, but on the inside? Let’s face it: you’re deeply tied to your values and feelings.

Like Joan of Arc (a beloved INFP), will you not go down fighting for a cause that really matters?

Or go straight into the depths of Hell for a heavenly cause?

Hmm, I gotta think about this one . . . alright, we’re busted.

It’s true we’re split between presenting as easy-going, while holding fast to a titanium core of belief and value. Let me put it this way: we’re so close to our values and feelings that we’re hard pressed not to stray from them for long lest we lose our sense of meaning and purpose.

As for dedicating ourselves to a cause that truly matters (please note the dainty way in which I expressed that), we know we must choose our battles commitments with care, only because we also know that once we commit, there’s no turning back ~ we’re in it for the long haul.

So when you sense “this feels bad” or “this feels wrong,” you can feel it in your gut as a sensation worthy of a discerning ear, as a sensation that doesn’t quite fit with who and what you know yourself to be. I’ve heard it said that you grow to trust your instincts and follow their guidance.

Is this actually true?

More or less, yes, but of course there’s more to it than that. At our best, we don’t just rely on our gut instincts; we’re also highly attuned to what you might call our CPS, our Cosmic Positioning System ~ our intuitive guidance, if you will ~ discerned and drawn from a higher plane.

Wait, a CPS?

Sounds weird, I know, but not if you’re well versed on all things post-Life.

Fair enough.

So are you okay with being a misfit, given that (a) you’re cool and comfortable with being different from everyone else, (b) you’re not a walking, talking cliché or copycat of the most popular person you know, and (c) you don’t mind going against the grain with the best version of yourself?

Holy crap, are you a closet INFP?

I might be . . . check this out . . .

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night

Do these words, which are attributed to the poet Edgar Allan Poe, strike a chord with you? Is it not true the imagination is the one place where you can experience the ultimate in freedom and fulfillment?

Strike a chord? How about hit us deep and true? Our daydreams mean the world to us, and yes, we can see, hear, and feel things that many others do not or can not for the life of them see, hear, or feel, which sets us up to be alone with ourselves, even at the risk of being misunderstood.

We would not be ~ could not be ~ who we are without the depths, breadths, and heights of an imagination that transcends this world, constantly reminding it of a bigger, better (not bitter) way, even as we negotiate the pitfalls of intolerance and navigate the sinkholes of indifference.

So then, with no rules and regulations, with no restrictions and lockdowns, you can be and feel as free as birds in your imaginations; you need not conform to anyone’s expectations, nor comply with anyone’s requirements ~ you don’t even need a tap or a ticket to go anywhere new.

That sounds like hyperbole, but yes, in essence, this is true for us: we do like to retreat, more often than not, into our imaginations when things feel too strange and intense for us on the outside. As you well know, we’re highly attuned not only to the good, but to the bad and the ugly.

We do, incidentally, love the idea of travel on our own terms ~ the more remote or exotic, the better.

And, of course, such travel is not restricted to terrestrial travel, which points also to astral travel.

In your travels, are you inclined to seek out those rare birds who are still capable of a deep and meaningful conversation, even if this means excusing yourself from loud parties or big social gatherings? I mean, is it not true you strongly prefer (wait, require?) 1-on-1 encounters?

Ah, to converse at length on matters that actually mean something to us. Pure joy.

In answer to your tendentious question, yes . . . and no. Yes, at times, we do prefer 1-on-1 encounters, and . . . at times, we even require 1-on-1 encounters, but . . . we’re also open to gathering with like-hearted souls like ourselves, and even leading and facilitating said gatherings.

Remember, fluid and flexible.

Got it. Thanks. So whatever do you do when you find so many people invariably, inexorably drawn to your readiness and willingness to embody and express “to thine own self be true” as well as “live and let live?”

That’s an odd, yet interesting way of putting it.

Well, for one, we hold our ground with presence, and for two, we remain highly attuned to any sort of discord, from within and without, highly sensitive to any sort of slight, yet deeply repulsed by any sort of wayward blame or shame, all the while remaining as easy-going as possible.

I have a fairly well-honed sense of who I can trust, of when I can trust, and of when someone is with me, for me, or against me; in this sense, I need not have everything spelled out for me. My inner intuitive guidance is usually spot on, and I’ve learned to trust it more often than not.

So what do you do if you’re dismissed, rejected, or bullied? What do you do if someone else is dismissed, rejected, or bullied? I mean, don’t you hate it when someone you know mistreats you for no good reason?

I think it’s a rare bird who doesn’t mind being mistreated for no good reason. It has been said that if you react to mistreatment, some of what is said or done has some truth in it for you, but I know from experience that this is an oversimplification ~ a bad case of “blame the victim.”

The question, “how would this feel if it were me?” is one that I’ve been asking since I can remember, but for myself, in this day and age, I know what it means to experience compassion fatigue; I also know that the behavior and conduct of a lot of people these days is quite volatile.

And, I might add, quite unpredictable at times, and so . . .

Is it then not true that you tend to keep your distance?

Physically and emotionally, yes, when required or desired, which is not often, as we cannot help but care, and be caring. We usually know when someone is hiding something from themselves, or from others, just as we know when we ourselves are tempted to hide things from others.

So is it true you need some extra time for yourselves to be alone lest you burn yourselves out?

The more attuned we become to feeling within ourselves, the more naturally attuned we become to discrepancies in feeling. In other words, we can only take so much by way of cognitive dissonance before we need to call a timeout on discerning and coping with said discrepancies.

Nevertheless, we know that everyone is as complex as they are unique, and because of this attunement, we detest labels being slapped on us or others. When people try (but fail) to sum us up with a label, we can’t help but feel they’re dismissing a thousand things that make us, us.

Which feels dismissive ~ and not unlike a monumental betrayal of individuality.

Well said.

We know that INFPs prize autonomy, often going to great lengths to secure and preserve a sense of independence, even at the expense of success and happiness, at least for a time. Is it not true that you detest the condition of being confined within the bounds of someone else’s rules?

Personal freedom does mean a lot to us, perhaps because staying in touch with our values and feelings are so very necessary for our emotional well-being ~ there’s something about having an open road, a vast field or panorama, or a novel place to visit that brings out the best in us.

Which is why we so enjoy following our intuitions and inspirations ~ our bliss, if you will ~ without any sense of destination, as the imagination tends to have its own way. At the end of the day, we just want others to accept us for the free spirits that we are, to respect our core values.

The core values that are central to your personality type.

We could never say or do anything just because someone wants us to say or do it; that feels like a profound betrayal. Unless the provocation, temptation, or obligation aligns with our values, we’ll always be and feel hard-pressed to do it just because we’re being pressured to do it.

So the more authoritarian someone gets with you, the more likely you’ll be to rebel.

If not rebel, then at least resist.

Ah yes, I forgot ~ you shy away from conflict and discord.

Yes and no.

Yes, we shy away from such if they don’t feel all that relevant and significant to us, and no ~ a “no” that resounds through the entire cosmos ~ if said conflict and discord threatens us at the core of being.

I find your response interesting in light of the fact that your type is of the firm belief that “not daring to risk is tantamount to failure.” Could you expand on this declaration in light of your capacity for rebellion?

If we can’t resist or rebel in reality, we’ll most certainly do so through the imagination. Either way, we’ll do what we can to avoid living a safe and traditional life that is devoid of meaning. We sense rather keenly that to live our lives on our own terms, we’ll have to give the finger to conformity and mediocrity. We can’t play it safe and then expect to change the world or live up to our lofty ideals.

And so, in spite of any mistakes you make, you’ll know you lived a full and meaningful life in the end.

That’s the basic idea, yes.

As children, we were fed a lot of crap about what to say or do, or not say or do, often without even knowing that it was crap, as we were just too naïve to know any better, but as we grew into adolescence, many of us came to know better, and that’s usually when the crap hits the fan.

You begin to resist or rebel in your own loveable, honorable ways.

Let’s be clear: we hate conforming for the sake of conforming, and we can see clearly that any sort of mediocrity is an offshoot of conformity. We are extremely sensitive to expectations, especially expectations that would have us bow to the pressures of conformity that serve mediocrity.

While it is natural for us to be warm, kind, sweet, and gentle, and considerate of others, we hate doing so at the expense of our sense of promise and possibility in line with our sense of freedom and fulfillment.

So what if a girl wears a striped blouse with a floral printed skirt?


And yet . . . and yet, you distrust showy, ostentatious people.

True. There’s something about them that puts us on edge, and yes, we know all too well that people of different types struggle with this “something”; it’s just that we feel a bit vulnerable to not knowing, or even caring, whether we can trust anything they say or do.

Are you then at all surprised when you get an irresistible urge to bring their egos down a peg or two?

We do admit, when we feel stressed or distressed, we have a tendency to be a bit of a bad ass.

In other words, no more “Little Miss Perfect” or, in your case, no more “Mr. Nice Guy.”

I think many of us can attest to the fact that, in times of extreme stress or distress, we’re at risk of feeling overcome by a sense of futility in the face of it all, what with its seemingly myriad trials and tribulations. If we’re not careful, we can drown in pools of cynicism and pessimism.

Under the influence of emotional overwhelm, your type can be rather quick in pointing out errors in judgment. It’s almost as if you’re thinking side goes into overdrive, all the while disconnecting from your feeling side. I can well imagine how confusing this must seem to your type.

Ah yes, the so-called Te Grip. Every type has one. Admittedly, ours can be rather intense.

So I’ve heard. Before wrapping this up on a positive note, any tips on how to deal with it?

The Grip, as it’s called, punches its way to the surface on a field of confusion, frustration, and suspicion. INFP children blessed with grace and charm must come to grips, at some point, as they move through adolescence, with the corruption of sinful pride, envy, wrath, greed, and lust.

When they do, if they do, it ain’t pretty: overwhelmed with despair, they see it everywhere. If they’re lucky, if they’re supported and protected, they’ll resist the urge to fall under the sway of a critical, impersonal approach to life, dangerously out of touch with their values and feelings.

Contrary to their usual warm, kind, sweet, and gentle natures, they may come to seem more rigid, cynical, pessimistic, or avoidant than usual, calling out errors of judgment, sometimes artfully, sometimes not, all the while trying with all their might to right the wrongs of this world.

We see this in their arguments: their logic is more biting and caustic than usual.

The “lucky ones” continue on their merry way through adulthood, inhabiting, for the most part, imaginative worlds. The not-so-lucky ones are typically, and hopefully only periodically, plagued by periods of emotional overwhelm, where they lose any sense of meaning and purpose.

On the outside, they seem more introspective than usual; on the inside, they feel stressed, even trapped. They see evil everywhere and everything seems impossible. Even as they become more critical of themselves, they more readily comment on the errors of judgment made by others.

Even as they struggle to appease their feelings, they lose themselves in destructive fantasy.

The keys to moving through this overwhelm are fairly straightforward, though by no means easy: back off and make solitude a priority; process feeling and lose the critical commentary; in a sacred space, breathe deeply into relaxation ~ here, a quiet, lovely place in nature helps a lot.

I’ve heard that a canvas or a journal can be an INFPs best friend in times like these.

Sometimes ~ not always. It depends on the intensity and duration of the overwhelm.

For intense and lasting overwhelm, is it not prudent to seek the counsel of a therapist?

This is always an option, but realize, too, that not all therapists and counselors know how to handle the INFP Grip. Start with someone you trust, with someone who can handle the Grip, who can validate your feelings, but avoid those who try to rationalize away your most intense feelings.

Regardless of who you consult, try not to indulge the feelings; process and release the feelings.

Like with a journal.

Journal what you feel, and why you feel it, and then pause to assess. If you feel it’s necessary, inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of three, and expel on a count of seven; this induces a deep, delicious relaxation and helps you focus, assess, process, and release on peace.

If it helps, picture a memory or fantasy that brings on hope and peace. Tap and tune into your sense of nostalgia to recall with fondness your favorite childhood memories of lovely people and places, books and songs, encounters and experiences. Recall the beauty and the magic.

God, that sounds good; is it really that easy?

Hell no, but it sure beats jumping off a cliff. Just remember: where you are is not who you are.

Yes, where I am is not who I am. Sounds good to me.

Also, you’ll feel a lot better if you lose the drugs and alcohol, the junk food, and the addictions to social media so that you can sleep. A lot of good information has been coming out on how to generate high energy. Google “energenesis.” Daily exercise also comes highly recommended.

Dude, you sound like a Masta! Any other sage advice?

Curate and collect works of art, music, movies, and narratives that speak to the heart of your soul; hold them in reserve so that you can access them when you need them. The songs and stories you’ve grown to love and cherish connect deeply to your values, feelings, and experiences.

So when do INFPs know when they’ve lost their Grip?

When the Rush supplants the Grip ~ the rush of finding yet another inspirational idea with which to love and play. We know that playing with such an idea gives us a rush of pure joy. When we feel the spark of inspiration and can’t wait to run with it, we know we’re no longer gripped.

We love sparking inspirational ideas in friends and having them do the same for us.

It is also said that INFPs have a tendency to notice connections in random events . . .

We tend to see and hear connections that other types miss. We can’t help but go through life and notice when things connect in odd, strange, and interesting ways, in ways that span past, present, and future, in ways that “connect the dots” of understanding how things evolve or devolve.

Is it true that many people lack the patience to listen to your profound thoughts?

Not if they’re presented in ways and by means that capture the imagination. You need to understand that creativity is the very air we live and breathe; a life without opportunities to noodle, creatively or not, would be like a living death for us. We need sparks of inspiration galore!

But what about all those half-finished projects?

A natural byproduct of everyday interruptions in creative flow.

Nicely played.

Before we go, please talk to us about bubbles of personal space.

I don’t think many INFPs fully appreciate just how close they are to their feelings in everyday life ~ and the consequences this proximity has for them when they attempt to negotiate and navigate everyday social relations ~ and so the first thing I’d say is this: be mindful of your bubble.

It’s one thing to be centered in self, quite another to be self-centered. Just be mindful of those who seem intent on filling you up with expectations and obligations, and beware of those poor souls who seem bent on rubbing you the wrong way, especially those with “the best of intentions.”

Now it is true that we need our peace and our space, especially when we suddenly find ourselves in a struggle to selectively welcome and process wayward sensations and emotions in physically crowded and chaotic spaces, but it is also true that we can learn a lot from mixing it up a bit.

Enter a loud party and be a mirror; join a large social gathering and be a shepherd.

You just might learn to be or do something new and different.

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