What stresses out an INFJ?
At work, I’m usually most stressed out when I have to juggle a number of responsibilities at the same time. When I’m working on an evaluation, doling out makeup assessments, tracking missed homework, answering the phone during lessons, responding to emails, turning in behavior updates, adding calendar events, and contacting parents – often at the same time – I feel more than a bit overwhelmed. None of the tasks or to-dos by itself is too much, but juggling several at once is too much.
Other times, the major source of stress in my life is interpersonal conflict – or at least perceived interpersonal conflict. To get my point across, I have to get to the bottom line fast and be extremely direct. Otherwise, certain people won’t listen to me. And since we INFJs like to be careful, kind, and encouraging with our words, direct communication can seem harsh and insensitive, so we try to avoid it at all costs.
Why are details and direct communication so stressful for an INFJ? And what can we do about them?
Start with Your Stack
A brief look at the INFJ cognitive functions stack, the core of our personality, can produce logical explanations for why we react the way we do to details and direct communication.
An INFJ’s function stack is comprised of introverted intuition (Ni), extroverted feeling (Fe), introverted thinking (Ti), and extroverted sensing (Se).
These functions occur in a hierarchy, with Ni being the most influential part of our personality and Se being the least influential, despite having a strong appeal as the inferior function.
Details and Stress
The fact that details are stressful can be linked to Se’s location at the bottom of the hierarchy. As the fourth, or inferior, function, it’s a bit of an Achille’s Heel, as the inferior function is for every personality type. Even though Se is also a source of pleasure – when you and I get to enjoy our senses hiking through a sunlit forest, listening to soothing instrumental guitar, enjoying homemade pasta, or visiting Italy for the first time – it’s also a major source of pain. This is especially the case when we’re forced to focus on and manage many details at the same time.
Focusing on the details pulls us away from our core strengths and happiest place – our Ni world. Given the choice, we’d much prefer to think about the future, mull over deep questions, research, synthesize, counsel, create, and work with our Ni in other ways. When we’re doing these things, we’re at our best. Working with details, in contrast, often means having to remember many unrelated, random ideas, and that kind of work is better left to Si-dominant types such as ISTJs and ISFJs.
This isn’t to say that INFJs aren’t good with details. We often are. I know many INFJs who enjoy accounting and wrapping up loose ends. One of my friends works a day per week keeping the books for a local business, and she enjoys the work quite a bit. The key, for her, however, is that she’s working with Se in moderation. Were she to have to do that same kind of work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, she’d be singing a different tune, I imagine.
Direct Communication and the Function Stack
But what about direct communication and potential relational disharmony? Why does that stress us out?
An INFJ’s second cognitive function and primary way of sharing thoughts and feelings with the outside world is Fe. When we talk to other people, we aim to preserve harmony by paying attention – and caring for – other people’s feelings. When a work role or circumstance forces us to be more direct in order to get our point across, we have to step out of our comfort zone and employ extroverted thinking (Te). Unlike Fe, Te doesn’t focus on emotions and relationships. Its main concerns are tasks, efficiency, brevity, and impersonal logic.
So when we have to use it, we often feel awkward, uncomfortable, and ineffective doing so. And INFJs who’ve had to use Te usually waste a lot of time worrying about whether or not they’ve damaged a relationship. This is the result of Ni and Fe at play. They cause us to replay conversations and analyze them from every possible angle and perspective in an effort to discern just how our words may have affected other people. But most of the time, worrying in this way just wastes our time. If anything, the person we talked to probably appreciated our brevity (especially if he or she is a Te user).
A Few Thoughts on Managing Stress
You can’t always stay on top of the details and communicate just the way you want to. Life comes fast and furious, and you have to deal with it. But, when possible, you may find these suggestions helpful.
1. Understand why you do what you do.
Just understanding why we feel the way we do – especially for you and me – can take a load off. It reminds us that we’re not broken or messed up and that there’s a reason we act the way we do. So breathe easier. You’re normal.
2. Plan ahead, create systems, and work with an Si user.
When it comes to dealing with details, try to use your Ni to plan ahead and your Ni and Ti pair to invent creative systems that help you manage and stay on top of the details. At work, I leverage technology as much as possible and train my students to take care of a lot of the work on their own. For instance, when they come to class, I have them place their homework in folders that I’ve stapled to my back wall. There’s a folder for every student, and once the class has handed in their work, I can determine who hasn’t completed an assignment with a quick glance.
If you can work with an Si user (ISTJ, ESTJ, ISFJ, ESFJ), they can also be a tremendous help when it comes to staying on top of all the different responsibilities. Try to delegate as many of the detail-heavy tasks as possible or trade responsibilities so that you can play to your strengths. At home, I handle the calendar while my ISTJ wife keeps our finances up-to-date.
3. Consider other’s perspectives – or just ask them.
Try to remember that many people are quite comfortable with bottom-line, to-the-point, direct communication. They appreciate it when you cut to the chase and leave their feelings to them. It’s not that they’re insensitive, it’s just that they’re focused on achieving practical results in the real world, getting their projects done, and maintaining efficient systems.
If you’re really afraid you’ve hurt someone else’s feelings after being too direct, there’s no harm in asking. It’s often better to come out and ask then to spin your wheels fretting. Most of the time, people quickly forget what we can’t let go, and if there really is something you need to work through with another person, asking is a great way to get to work restoring the relationship.
4. Get some alone time.
When you have the chance to escape from all the details or relax after a tense interaction, make time to be alone. It will refresh and restore you. Read a book, write, go for walk, be still – enjoy your Ni world.
5. Spend time with friends and family.
If you’ve had to be direct, you may want to spend time with the people you care about most. Discomfort in one relationship can sometimes be offset by investing in another important relationship – or at least talking it out with someone who understands.
And to flip the whole matter on its head, hanging out with friends and family will allow you to positively connect with others (Fe) and enjoy the moment (Se). Then, you’ll be using Fe and Se the way they were meant to be used!
Ultimately, cut yourself some slack. We INFJs tend to be perfectionistic and demand too much from ourselves. Fortunately or unfortunately, the ideal isn’t always possible, so don’t add to your stress by beating yourself up.