How do you see yourself, and where does your self-image come from?
These are questions many INFJs naturally spend a lot of time mulling over. We’re wired to think deeply about identity, both our own and others’. We also tend to care quite a bit about what other people think of us.
No doubt your family, community, and the culture in which you grew up influenced your self-image and the way you see yourself. But what else?
The Role of Temperament
David Kiersey, In Please Understand Me II, explains that our temperament largely determines where we find our self-image.
Kiersey divides the 16 personality types into four groups, or temperaments, as follows:
Artisans or the SPs: ESTPs, ISTP, ESFPs, ISFPs
Guardians or the SJs: ESTJs, ISTJs, ESFJs, ISFJs
Rationals or the NTs: ENTJs, INTJs, ENTPs, INTPs
Idealists or the NFs: ENFJs, INFJs, ENFPs, INFPs
He then goes on to explain that each of these groups of people values certain ideals more than the rest of society. More than that, they measure their self-image by the degree to which they’re able to live out and embody their ideals in day-to-day life.
Four Different Kinds of Ideals
So what are the ideals that each group values most? Here is what he proposes:
- Artisans (SPs): “graceful action, bold spirit, and adaptability to circumstance“
- Guardians (SJs): “reliability, service, and respectability”
- Rationals (NTs): “ingenuity, autonomy, and willpower”
- Idealists (NFs): “empathy, benevolence, and authenticity”
As INFJs, we fall in the idealists category, so, according to Kiersey, we treasure empathy, benevolence, and authenticity.
The Role of Upbringing
If your experience has been anything like mine, you likely learned other ideals and values first. From my SJ father, I learned that reliability, service, and respectability are the noblest of traits. Dad taught me these qualities overtly:
- “Always be on time. It’s inconsiderate to make someone wait.”
- “Finish what you start.”
- “Work hard.”
- “Dress respectfully.”
But more than anything he modeled what it looked like to live out those ideals. He, for example, always turned the lights on for my sister and me so that we could see when we got home from sports, dutifully washed our practice uniforms, and, along with my mother, attended almost every one of our games and extracurricular activities. “Reliable” was his middle name.
Had I been raised by artisans or rationals, I might have valued adaptability or willpower more than I learned to value reliability. Your own parents, friends, and life experience may have influenced you differently.
A Natural Fit
But there was another part of me – an inborn one – that naturally favored empathy, benevolence, and authenticity. While my mother was an INFP and I saw her live out the NF ideals, I’m fairly certain I’d still have been drawn to them if she had a different temperament.
Empathy, benevolence, and authenticity flowed from my personality, and I imagine they do from yours. Why and how does this happen? Let’s examine the INFJ function stack for answers.
Introverted intuition (Ni) enables us to see other perspectives, and extroverted feeling (Fe) inclines us toward others and meeting their needs. It’s no surprise, then, that we routinely and naturally “put ourselves in other’s shoes.”
To empathize, according to Google, is to “understand and share the feelings of another.” We often do this to the extent that we “absorb” other’s feelings, voluntarily and involuntarily. That’s one reason why we sometimes struggle to determine which feelings are ours: We’re sorting through a cloud of thoughts and emotions on a regular basis.
This quality, of the three Kiersey lists for NF types, seems to fit us best – at least in my opinion. It’s the one we do almost without thinking.
To be benevolent is to be compassionate and kind. This is also, in many ways, a byproduct of Fe. When we relate to others, we think about their needs and whether or not they’re being met. We wonder about the good of the group and making everyone feel welcome. Our default mode of operating is to interact with others kindly.
Sometimes, this value leads us to feign happiness or kindness, even when we disagree. We try to preserve the harmony of the group and avoid the attention and criticism that come from disagreeing and objecting. That said, much of the time, we do care for others and want to see them succeed and grow, so we treat them with kindness.
Deep, personal connection happens when two or more people trust one another. And trust requires transparency and authenticity.
We long for depth in relationships. We, like most people, want to know and be known, and we want to be appreciated for who we are. So we strive for authenticity.
Again, extroverted feeling motivates us to reveal our flaws, shortcomings, and true colors so that others can feel free to “let their hair down” and be themselves. We enjoy creating environments that make others feel safe – especially in one-on-one conversations and small groups where we know we’ll also be safe.