Of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types, INFPs are among the most “right-brained.” They see the world through holistic lenses, grasping the “big picture” while skimming over what they might deem as inconsequential details. INFPs are often gifted both intellectually and artistically, excelling in whatever avenue they opt to channel their talents and energies.
Because of the diversity of presentation among INFPs, this type can be particularly difficult to capture in a single personality type description. Some INFPs fit the bill of the optimistic peacemaker, others the melancholic artist, and yet others the rescuer the disenfranchised. In addition to these differences, INFPs, like other types, function at different stages of personal growth and development. Those in their younger years of life will naturally appear quite different from those having worked at self-development for many decades. Emotional stability is yet another differentiating factor, with some INFPs displaying greater volatility and moodiness than others. All these things (and more), make the INFP one of the more challenging personality types to provide a “one size fits all” description.
While it is important to acknowledge and preserve the diversity among INFPs, it can also prove valuable to identify some commonalities. If we take a bird’s eye view of this type, it becomes possible to trace some common themes that will hold true for a majority of INFPs, at least at some point in their development. In the description that follows, I will try to capture some of the key qualities and attributes of this intriguing personality type.
While ISFPs and INFPs display important differences, both types are right-brained perceptive types. In fact, many ISFPs may be perceived as “intuitive” because of the interplay of their introversion, feeling, and perceiving functions. INFPs are among the most intuitive, sensitive, and perceptive of all types. Their intuition serves as a source of inspiration and a well-spring for new ideas, the driving force behind their artistic and creative propensities. Their intuition also leads them to seek experiences that go beyond superficial interaction and impact them at a deeper level. Such experiences may entail a profound sense of oneness or unity, what might be considered religious, spiritual, or mystical in nature. INFPs also seek experiences that stir their emotions, evoking strong feelings of love or compassion. It is because of their spiritual/emotional make-up that INFPs often seek careers in music, the arts, holistic medicine, or ministry; whatever they feel best engages their values and ignites their passions.
While their intuition represents one of the INFP’s core strengths, it may also fuel an underlying restlessness and contribute to difficulty with following through on what they start. This is particularly true of those who regularly experience large fluctuations in their mood or emotions, perhaps feeling exuberant and inspired one moment, only to be dejected and disenchanted the next. Such emotional volatility may quickly undercut the INFP’s sense of inspiration, leading them to feel paralyzed in their work toward their original objective. If this occurs frequently, these types may appear dilettantish, failing to display the perseverance necessary to achieve the highest level of excellence.
INFPs are among the most open-minded of personality types. Many are willing to try anything once, hoping to encounter something that will strike a magical chord in their spirit. Consequently, some INFPs may be well-described as restless wanderers or seekers, frequently switching from one interest, passion, or activity to the next. These types are not intentionally fickle in their interests or relationships, but are merely intent on finding the person, place, or activity that consistently inspires them.
It is often said that INFPs want to “find themselves” or achieve “self-actualization.” What this means, in less abstract terms, is they set-out to identify what inspires them and, after doing so, seek to develop their talents and abilities within that context. INFPs may find their inspiration from numerous sources, such as relationships, religion/spirituality, nature, music, literature, poetry, art, or helping others. At the end of the day, they want to be involved in activities that they are passionate about and coincide with their values and self-identity. They also want to feel valuable and admired by others for their unique attributes and contributions.
While often talented in many areas, INFPs, like their INTP counterparts, are not always the most gifted orators. This may partly relate to their reliance on the right side of the brain, as well as their introspective focus. Considering the fact that ENFPs are among the most gifted communicators, it seems most likely that characteristics associated with introversion and of self-confidence may be more determinative in this regard. Regardless, INFPs often find themselves more comfortable communicating through art, writing, music, or religious expression.
Although body types do not always closely correspond with personality types (especially in women), there is sufficient evidence to suggest that INFPs are generally of ectomorphic build.1 If mesomorphs are construed as square and endomorphs as rounded in shape, ectomorphs are linear. The same is true with face shape, as INPs tend to display a more elongated and narrower variety than other types. They may also display poor posturing, such as a rounding of their shoulders and upper back, which is not uncommon among introverts. Many INFPs choose not to spend a great deal of time and energy on their appearance, possibly viewing it as a vain or superficial endeavor. Others, however, will use their appearance as a means of making an artistic or social statement.
Like INTPs, INFPs often struggle in highly structured environments, which leave them feeling trapped and without opportunity to express themselves authentically. They usually dislike bureaucracy and hierarchy, preferring bottom-up governance that puts the onus on the individual. With strong beliefs in the inherent worth and goodness of humanity, INFPs feel that morale and inspiration are far more important to organizational success than developing more policies and procedures.
INFPs and INTPs may also experience similar problems when it comes to life satisfaction. Both types struggle to balance their idealism with reality and to discover their rightful place in the world. INTPs may struggle because they’ve deconstructed things so thoroughly that they are left with a world without meaning. Though INFPs typically don’t approach things as analytically or skeptically as INTPs, they may experience a similar frustration when their life experiences and feelings fail to coincide with their ideals. Frustration and fatigue stemming from idealistic searching are common to both of these personality types.
To experience more consistent satisfaction in their lives, INFPs often need to come terms with their idealism. Specifically, they may benefit from accepting the fact that their highest ideals may never be entirely satisfied. This is not to say that INFPs should relinquish their most deeply felt goals and dreams, but only that they should be tempered with some degree of realism.
In addition to assuming a more realistic approach to life, INFPs may benefit from developing more effective personal and work habits. Rather than acting purely according to whim, moods, or feelings, some of the most impressive INFPs commit to a course of action and learn to be disciplined in mind and action. In MBTI parlance, INFPs may benefit from tempering their perceiving function and developing their judging side. This may include quieting their tendency to wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else, recognizing that at some point in life, it may be necessary to commit themselves to certain trajectory. This does not mean that life from that point forward will be inescapably mundane, perfunctory, or monolithic (a recurring fear for INFPs). Rather, commitment to sustained action can help INFPs feel more purposeful, engendering a deeper level of satisfaction than is typically experienced if enslaved to whims or desires.
INFPs may also benefit from tempering their idealism with regard to traditional careers and vocations. In many instances, it is perfectly okay, perhaps even necessary, to create their own career path. Of course, many INFPs do this instinctively, especially those pursuing work in the arts. INFPs may also enjoy careers as writers, scholars, musicians, designers, therapists, or holistic health practitioners, vocations which satisfy their penchant for independent work that accords with their values and interests.
Famous INFPs: Ralph Waldo Emerson, J.D. Salinger, Soren Kierkegaard, William Shakespeare, Sarah McLachlan, Jean Jacques Rousseau