A well-researched article on the INFJ personality type and the significance of the inferior function (anima). It’s a lengthy read, so delve into it with ample time to spare!
Preface: I can’t tell you how excited I am about writing this. However, this entry will be quite a bit longer than the other two personality breakdowns I’ve done for a couple reasons. One, I want it to be a totally standalone post, so it will include some background explanation about the Hero/Anima relationship that appears elsewhere on this tumblr, as well as some extra technical information for those interested. Additionally, the INFJ’s Journey is unique (especially for those who live in the USA) in that it is not nearly as linear as the Journeys of the other fifteen types, and I want that to be reflected as accurately and as helpfully as possible.
INFJ Cognitive Functions:
Dominant/Hero: Introverted iNtuition (Ni)
Auxiliary: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Tertiary: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Inferior/Anima: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
When looking at personality type from a perspective of personal growth and identity exploration, the two most important functions are not the dominant and the auxiliary, but rather the dominant and the inferior. I realize this flies in the face of what most of us are taught about Myers-Briggs, but let me explain. The first and last functions form what Jung called the “Spine of Consciousness;” when a person’s dominant and inferior functions are not in balance, she will feel like she is working entirely too hard to maintain her sanity. While the dominant function will be doing most of the heavy lifting (as it’s name aptly suggests), it can’t do everything. And unfortunately, relying on her second function alone- in the case of the INFJ, Extraverted Feeling- won’t always give you the balance you’re seeking, unless it’s acting as a counter to an overactive Introverted Thinking.
The best way I have found to understand the relationship between the Hero and her Anima is through the Knight-in-Shining-Armor myth. Unfortunately, Western Civilization, for all it’s wonders, has corrupted the true intention of this myth beyond recognition. The idea that women need to be “rescued” by men would be laughable if it didn’t have such dire social consequences. You see, the key player in this myth is neither the Knight, nor the Damsel-in-Distress: it’s the Dragon. The Dragon represents Fear. Cognitively speaking, it is this Fear that keeps us from accessing our inferior function. And the only way to conquer it is to unite those first three functions to quite literally “defeat the Dragon” and break down the wall of fear that keeps us from accessing our fourth function and feeling the sense of enlightenment that we all deeply crave.
Without the Hero, the Anima cannot be rescued. Without the Anima, the Hero has no purpose. But in order to rescue her anima, the Hero must abandon the safety and security to which she has grown accustomed, and venture into the world of the Unknown.
For better or for worse, we never rescue our Anima just once; Fear is a persistent and pernicious son-of-a-bitch. While it’s true that the more often we confront our fears the easier it gets to do so, the more things we experience in life, the more ways Fear finds to rear its ugly head. Your Anima will get captured again, and that’s OK. It’s supposed to, because that’s all part of being human. All it means is that you get to rescue it again, and embark on a whole new adventure.
On to The Hero’s Journey…
The INFJ’s first function is Introverted iNtuition. This is going to be her main driving force in life, and the source of most of her energy. Introverted iNtuition is all about seeing “the big picture,” and this function is on overdrive for the INFJ. She is constantly putting together patterns and principals and seeing the interconnectedness of everything. Unfortunately for the INFJ, most people don’t see the world that way; most people are concerned with the here and now and what’s right in front of them, rather than the system that governs it all. But generally speaking, she’s fine with spending most of her time in her head, because that’s where things make sense to her. Inside her head, things are well-ordered, as opposed to the outside world in which people are impulsive, rude, and arbitrarily follow dilapidated social norms that could be described as “barbaric at best.” However, she learns that she cannot spend all her time inside herself and must, from time to time, engage with the outside world. Her favorite way to do this is through Extraverted Feeling. So the first time she’s met with resistance, her natural impulse is to engage the feelings of those around her. Here is where things can go one of two ways. This outside force (called the First Threshold Guardian) that’s forcing her outside herself and into the Unknown will either be receptive to the INFJ’s predisposition to wearing her heart on her sleeve, or he will not.
We Americans have a very bizarre relationship with our feelings. Our industrialized, non-agrarian, “civilized” culture doesn’t just discourage us from being open with our feelings, it actually goes out of it’s way to make sure we keep them as suppressed as possible. After all, feelings have no place at a typical 9-5 workplace, because feelings undermine productivity; if something can’t be measured, it can’t be improved and made more profitable and if it can’t be made more profitable, then it is a cancer to the process and must be eradicated. Now, for someone like myself who has Introverted Feeling, this isn’t a problem; I’m perfectly happy to keep my feelings to myself and actually feel very uncomfortable when I have to tell someone how I feel, particularly when it’s about them. The INFJ has the exact opposite problem. She has a profound desire to express her feelings, because that’s how she can interact with the outside world in a way that energizes her, rather than drains her. And almost nothing drains her more than being forced to keep her feelings to herself.
If the First Threshold Guardian (usually a teacher, or sometimes a first boss) understands and can accommodate* the INFJ’s need to express her feelings, then that’s great! Unfortunately, this is almost never the case, simply because we Westerners are taught to equate feelings with weakness. So when the INFJ is met with such stern resistance, she uses her Introverted iNtuition to look for other ways to get the job done. And more often than not, this process leads her further inward towards her third function, Introverted Thinking.
(*I realize the judgmental tone implicit in the word “accommodate;” please know, that was no accident. I chose that word deliberately because it reflects how someone who doesn’t have Extraverted Feeling feels like she has to “deal with” someone who does.)
Introverted Thinking is the function that we typically equate with “smartness.” Someone with strong Introverted Thinking is able to sit down and pick apart one idea and understand it completely. What she may lack in breadth she more than makes up for in sheer depth. Fortunately for the INFJ, this function is one that our culture incentivizes very highly and comes quite naturally to her. And because her first function allows her to see connections and patterns so easily, she can process and fully understand incredibly complex ideas, often times much more easily than a T-type can.
The INFJ bypassing her second function has it’s plusses and minuses. On the one hand, she is able to use functions she already has to complete her goals, rather than trying to make herself use functions that she doesn’t have and don’t come naturally to her. Specifically, she can fit into the “xSxJ World” that values details, tradition, and doing things the tried-and-true way even though Introverted Sensing is nowhere to be found on her function order. Why? Because her Introverted iNtuition and Introverted Thinking let her fake it really well.
But there is a very real danger of the INFJ becoming overly introverted, and detrimentally so. Introverted Thinking isn’t looking for outside input to make logical sense of the world; in fact, outside input is the exact opposite of what someone with Introverted Thinking wants when they are putting together an idea and trying to understand something objectively. This tendency, combined with the fact that Extraverted Feeling is often so easily dismissed, can make it very easy for an INFJ to find herself in an idealogical echo chamber. Whereas a strong Extraverted Thinker won’t always enjoy being around people who think like she does, an Introverted Thinker relishes it. That’s not to say that this tendency can’t be countered, it’s just that the INFJ has to use her other functions in order to make sure she stays open-minded because her Thinking function isn’t built to do that on it’s own. (Introverted Feeling has the same problem, by the way.)
So how, then, does the INFJ break out of this cycle of never-ending introspection? Well, it can happen a couple of ways. One way is that life will forcer her to adapt and quite literally “break her out of her shell.” That way’s not so fun. A more common way is that she will find herself in a community of like-minded thinkers with whom she will eventually feel comfortable sharing her feelings. The more she does this, the easier it will become for her, and she can start to expand her horizons on her own terms and re-confront that First Threshold Guardian with two incredibly robust, well-developed introverted functions under her belt (iNtuition and Thinking). At this point, defeating him will seem like a walk in the park and she can start to engage her feelings and the feelings of those around her in a way that doesn’t leave her so vulnerable because she’s put in so much legwork internally that she can handle almost anything the world decides to throw at her. This is not to say that her iNtuition and Thinking won’t keep growing, but they have developed to the point where they can act primarily as a support function to the INFJ’s fledgling Extraverted Feeling, and reaping a few benefits here and there as it can.
But no matter the order in which the INFJ develops her first three functions, she must still rescue her Anima, her inferior function, Extraverted Sensing. This is a function that lives completely in the moment. It is sensual, appetitive, libidinous, primal, and visceral. When we use Extraverted Sensing, our bodies are fully engaging with the outside world and our five senses are firing on overdrive. Pure instinct, in other words. While this might sound daunting or even downright impossible for you as an INFJ, the fact is that this Extraverted Sensing function is the natural complement and counterbalance to such a dominant Introverted iNtuition. While it’s the job of your iNtuition to “see the unseen” and understand the hidden meaning behind everything, it’s your Extraverted Sensing that lets you seek out those novel experiences yourself. Now, you won’t be able to use Extraverted Sensing all the time (like an ESTP or ESFP can), but all you need is a little bit. Your iNtuition can take care of the rest. But the more you can actively make use of your Anima, the less reliant you will be on life happening “at” you, making you feel like the world is forcing you to adapt against your will. With the help of your fourth function, you can seek out change yourself, rather than hoping that change seeks out you.
We all know that the INFJ is (one of) the rarest personality type(s). The chief consequence of this is that our culture doesn’t really have a positive, balanced template for you to model after, especially when you’re younger. Even the other uncommon types (the ENTJ springs to mind) at least have a couple examples to follow; but the INFJ only ever seems to appear as a wise, old crone, or a cynical, misanthropic teenager. Compare this to the ISFJ; both the ISFJ and the INFJ have Extraverted Feeling as their second function and Introverted Thinking as their third. Why, then, does the world seem so much more receptive to her than to you? Because her first function is Introverted Sensing: not only does she not want to break any rules, she’s actually *energized* by following them! When the world is put off by the ISFJ’s Extraverted Feeling (which, let’s be real, happens a lot), she can fall back on her dominant function of just following the rules. But you’re not built that way. Having such a strong Introverted iNtuition is a blessing and a curse, and you may not see much of a return on your investments right away. In fact, I’m almost certain you won’t. Which is fine, because you’re really, really good at playing the long game. And when you do finally decide to execute your plan, you will have put so much thought and feeling into it that it will be utterly compelling and totally unstoppable.
Epilogue: It’s important to remember that your Myers-Briggs personality type is so much more than just a few letters. Those letters are nothing more than four independent, binary axes that can be arranged in sixteen distinct combinations. We’re all introverts; we’re all extroverts. We’re all thinkers; we’re all feelers. The best advice I can give you, as you work through your four functions, is this: if there is someone in your life that doesn’t appreciate the fact that you don’t want to keep your feelings bottled up, then you need to take a real good look at why he or she is in it. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially if you’re in your teens, and it can be tough when a parent or older sibling doesn’t share one of your first two functions. But at the end of the day, this is your life, not theirs. The sooner you can find a group of people that appreciate your natural inclinations and are energized by them, the easier of a time you will have balancing all four of your functions, not just the ones that are introverted.