In Featured, Home Featured, Personality Hacker Blog

“That can’t be right.”

I had just completed an Online Myers-Briggs inventory, and the result initially registered as disbelief. I was an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiver (INFP) and I didn’t want to identify with the references to deep sensitivities, daydreaming, and the arts. The individual described was intensely interested in things like feelings, bringing healing to the world, and was idealistic as a rule. To my disdain, the result was replete with pictures of carefree young women and men dancing in the middle of Woodstock-like settings.

“That is NOT me.”

In a sense it wasn’t me or, at the very least, it wasn’t a me I wanted to acknowledge. I had spent the last several years trying to become sensible, strategic, and facts-driven. Though I’d had some success, the success never came with the sense that I was living authentically. Eventually, a bout of significant anxiety led me to explore why I felt so out of sync. That’s when I discovered the four letters that would change my life…INFP.

INFP Insecurities

If you’re an INFP, you may be able to identify with some of what I’ve written. Many INFP’s, especially males in my experience, initially resist embracing their type. The reasons may be numerous, but at the heart of the resistance is the sense that INFPs are soft, meek, and incapable of action. In a results oriented world, it’s difficult to embrace the sometimes overwhelmingly emotional core that characterizes our type. As such, we often end up betraying our personality by trying to become what we are not.

My quest to change type culminated on the day I entered training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. I was two years out of high school, and I felt that I was somehow incomplete; that I needed to develop a “get it done” mindset that I did not already possess. The military seemed like a natural option. I grew up the son of a career military officer, and my dad was my hero. A true ENTJ, he woke up each morning wearing a flight suit, ready to take on whatever threats may come our nation’s way, and he was literally the finger on the bomb-dropping trigger. His world was data, hard decisions, and tough mindedness.

My world was considerably less concrete. When I made decisions, they were open-ended, and I couldn’t help but take in more data. I was surrounded by Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) types. I daydreamed about starring for the Los Angeles Dodgers, saving the damsel in distress, and being the lead actor in a never-ending series of dramatic and romantic roles.

Unfortunately, my fantasies didn’t seem practical. I barely graduated high school and when asked why I wouldn’t assert myself, the answer was usually something equivalent to, “Because I have better things to do with my time.”

Perhaps I could have been doing great things, but I wasn’t doing many of the things of which I daydreamed. I did play baseball, but I was more in love with the fantasy of baseball than the reality. I wanted Field of Dreams, not hours of endless grinding practices, calloused hands, and competition. I dreamed about being the lead actor in the latest Romantic Comedy, but I was too terrified to take the chance of putting myself in front of people artistically. I wanted to write love songs but didn’t want to interact with people to learn the craft. I noticed that what I was doing with my time was imagining all the things I could be doing without putting my dreams to action.

Fantasy To Reality

Fast forward to age 41, and I have happily embraced being an INFP. I’ve enjoyed experiences that prove life as an INFP can be imminently action-oriented, results producing, and fulfilling.

If you’re familiar with the Personality Hacker Car Model, you may have already recognized that in younger years I was quite naturally living out of the INFP Driver process, “Authenticity.” Referred to as Introverted Feeling (Fi) in Myers-Briggs terminology, people who lead with Authenticity experience the world through deep emotional conviction, and we enjoy internally focused worlds that are consistent with our value system. We experience our inner fantasies with intensity and clarity, even as we don’t necessarily project those realities to the external world.

As any undeveloped INFP will admit, however, a world of inner fantasies with no outer accomplishments begins to feel empty. As an Air Force chaplain, I counsel INFPs more than any other type, and I have found two patterns that are consistent with both my personal experiences and the experiences of other INFPs.

First, most of the unhealthy INFPs I counsel have not tapped into their extraverted growth function; a function referred to in the Personality Hacker model as “Exploration.” Exploration, or Extraverted Intuition (Ne), is the Co-Pilot that allows a healthy INFP to bring Authenticity into the outer world. It leads to the exploration of possibilities in any and every setting. It plays in the surrounding environment. Authenticity experiments take chances on new experiences and, for INFPs specifically, can be a great source of fun for social experimentation!

Stated simply, Exploration is how Authenticity meets the outer world. Sadly, when Exploration is not married to Authenticity, the Introverted Feeling that we associate with our personality becomes a source of pain rather than peace and happiness. If internal convictions and visions are never shared with other people, life becomes lonely. I believe many INFPs have had experiences at early ages that led to a lifelong repression of the Exploration function. A friend once conveyed that as a child he would daydream about being in the shows he would watch and that he did poorly in school because his fantasy world was so much more interesting than the classroom.

“What was the result?” I asked.

“I was put on medication for Attention Deficit Disorder.”

That’s heartbreaking.

INFPs, it’s possible that you carry inner wounds from childhood as a result of the world rejecting what comes so naturally to you. You stopped exploring and sharing your inner world because every time you would try, it would be derided as daydreaming, fantastic, and not based in reality.

Even so, you will be healthiest and happiest bringing Authenticity to the world through Exploration, not by living as a caricature of someone else’s type or expectations. You must be the one who shows the world all the beauty that is inside while accepting that some may not appreciate your openness.

The Difficult Alternative

If you decide not to exercise your Exploration process, there is an ugly habit of which I’ve seen scores of INFP’s succumb, which is how I found myself at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. If you go to the INFP Car Model, you’ll note an Extraverted Three Year Old in the backseat called “Effectiveness.” In simple terms, Effectiveness knows how to get stuff done. People who have Effectiveness as a Driver or Co-Pilot are masters at identifying objectives and accomplishing goals. They deal with facts, data, and concrete realities.

I believe many INFPs feel an unconscious pressure to develop Effectiveness because it is so practical. When you don’t have confidence in your internal visions, and when other people perhaps call your fantasies into question, there might be just enough of a pull toward the “practical” that you seek a career that is purely data and results- oriented. In psychological theory, this is a misguided attempt to find wholeness in a process that you will never be able to develop maturely. Trying to force Effectiveness for an INFP is like giving that 3 Year Old the wheel to your personality car and expecting it to behave maturely. The 3 Year Old will drive poorly, and it will also become exhausted because, well, it’s a 3-Year-Old.

Note, however, that there are two extraverted functions in the INFP Car Model! Very often, INFP’s choose the immature 3-Year-Old process instead of the healthier Co-Pilot, Exploration. Both are extraverted processes, but many INFP’s never test Exploration because they don’t think it can be practical. When an INFP has given up on, or never tested Exploration, her natural tendency will be to find a practical action that gets something, anything, done. Enter the screaming 3 Year Old in the backseat. If you’ve given up on your dreams, or never even attempted to live out your dreams, that 3 Year Old will eventually want you to “do what works,” even if it doesn’t work for you.

I’ve spoken with too many exhausted INFPs to reach any other conclusion; an INFP will never be happy living out of Effectiveness. Exploration is where growth is at for the INFP, and it’s where you will find your happiness.

Practical Exploration Development Steps

When I first decided to develop Exploration, I had some difficulty knowing what to do. Some of what I recommend may seem overwhelming at first, but let this serve as a means for brainstorming ways you can show up in the world:

  1. Pursue low-threat social settings. I’m writing this article from the veranda of my favorite coffee shop in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The view is breathtaking. I see high-desert vistas and cacti. I have also spoken with three friends and enjoyed short conversations with two people I didn’t know before today. I even spoke with someone about this article, which led to insights that I hadn’t previously possessed. Interestingly, though, when I woke up this morning I had to force myself to leave the house.
    Going back to the Car Model, when Authenticity marries itself to our 10-Year-Old Process, “Memory,” we may become reclusive, and perhaps even a bit maudlin. Referred to as Introverted Sensing in Myers-Briggs, Memory for INFP’s shows up as happy memories at best, and angst at worst. Because Authenticity is an introverted process, our temptation is to remain in Introversion and go straight to Memory.
    Despite the temptation to jump to Memory, we will always be at our best in Exploration. Memory isn’t bad, but it becomes bad if it’s your default. A good rule of thumb… Make sure you are living in Exploration at least 50-percent of the time. Get out, experience new things, meet new people. This doesn’t mean you have to become a social animal, but put yourself in settings that will expand your horizons.
  2. Experiment with your surroundings. When I first started exploring the external world, a thought occurred to me that our more extraverted and sensory-minded friends probably just naturally understand: We have the ability to create the reality we want through words, phrases, colors, and even where we place ourselves among other people. I started asking questions like, “How might people respond to me differently if I wear a red shirt rather than my typical gray?” On another occasion, I overheard people talking about a 12-step recovery program and asked, “How could I offer insight that may be of help in their conversation?” Another time I met a biker and asked what it’s like to be him.
    These experiences gave me a perspective I didn’t previously have, and they have collectively allowed me to become much more well-rounded in my observations about life and the world around me. Did wearing the red shirt change anything? I don’t know, but it was a fun experiment that got me into my surroundings and led to interactions that I would never have had otherwise. Have fun, play, experiment, and ask questions. The world is fun if you’ll explore!
  3. Find a way to make your inner world reality. This was the most difficult step for me. As mentioned earlier in the article, I had often imagined myself in various acting roles, but I had never thrown myself into any real acting role. That changed one day, and not by choice.When I was in Officer Training School for the Air Force, my commander took me aside and said, “Lt Roe, I need you to be a little zanier at hall call this week.” Hall call was an end of week ceremony where awards were given out. Think of it as the military version of a pep rally.
    I was literally shaking before going “on.” I had received an alter-ego, “Death Roe,” and I sensed that I was going to fail miserably. Then an amazing thing happened. I got into character. At the time, it felt like I shut off Adam, and simply became Death Roe. In truth, though, Death Roe was in some small part a culmination of all that had remained hidden. By the last hall call, I walked out with a boa, cane, and fedora, led my squadron in song and chant and then performed a mic drop in front of a competing squadron.
    I share this story to illustrate the power of Exploration for an INFP. My squadron commander saw the actor in me, and he forced me into a role that was extremely uncomfortable but rewarding both personally, and in my career! Since then I have acted in Vacation Bible School roles, and I am making plans to begin acting lessons. I’ve never been a lead, and I’ll probably never be in Hollywood, but I am learning to share what’s inside with the rest of the world. Every time I act it’s a little scary because the world is seeing a part of me that I’m most comfortable keeping hidden. There’s no joy in hiding, though; not for me, and not for you.
  4. Ask for help. If you find all of the above too difficult, I might offer that investing in “INFX Unveiled” would be a great start for your growth. The inner wounding of INF-types is often profound, and your wounds may be of a nature that requires guidance to overcome. In INFX Unveiled, Personality Hacker faculty member, Merja Sumiloff, spends significant time addressing the inner wounding INFPs experience in childhood and then leads the student to heal. I and many others have found the course to be profoundly helpful in our empowerment as INFPs.

INFP Strength

After spending time with my personality type, I now believe that there is a tremendous strength and productive possibility within the INFP type. We are people who value ethics, aesthetic beauty, purpose, and deep meaning. Part of the strength of the INFP type, in my opinion, is our conviction of that the world could be. There is a bravery implied in such pursuits, though, and the INFP will only be happy if she is exploring ways to bring those internal convictions and visions to the external world.

I wonder, who gets to tell you what’s “real” and “practical?” While the world of data is most assuredly real, so are the visions, the feelings, and the inner worlds that the INFP naturally experiences through Authenticity. As an INFP, you bring a gift to the world. Develop your Exploration, and the world will benefit as you share creativity, sincerity, and an amazing depth of emotion that truly makes the world more beautiful and compassionate.

Adam Roe
Adam Roe is an INFP, an Active Duty Air Force Chaplain, and a father of three sons. He is passionate about faith, personality type, coffee, and hot sauce.
Showing 22 comments
  • Sharyn Earl
    Reply

    Fascinating ideas for using our INFP STRENGTHS. Exploration is one of my favorite things. I too grew up as the child of a career military officer. My exploratory nature was well served as we moved to different communities every two years and I was exposed to many kinds of culture, people, arts and landscapes. I’m an artist and have always explored that side of myself. My father was the child of an artist, so he tolerated my artistic interests while he worked as an EOD officer. He lives with us now, and he still walks two miles a day and has introduced me to trail walking in the Pacific Northwest.

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      That is wonderful, Sharyn, and it’s an excellent example of how military life can work really well for an INFP. In another article I reference how INFP’s can be very happy in the military if they find a career field that fits their type (nurses, social workers, mental health providers, chaplains, etc…). I am so glad to hear that you were able to let your Exploration function have fun as a dependent! Thank you for sharing.

  • Hilde Vesaas
    Reply

    Wonderful! My profound gratitude as INFP. What can be more important than self-value, only thus can we contribute to the world in a true way

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Absolutely, Hilde! It’s so easy to think of value as quantitative output, but I think the value INFP’s bring to the world is ethical, aesthetic, and emotional beauty. The world NEEDS that! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Nick
    Reply

    What a fantastic article – it’s like you’re reading my mind in the best possible way. As an INFP that loves the Car Model, I’ve recently realized how often I let my co-pilot (or even driver!) be Memory or Effectiveness. Thank you for giving some advice on how I let Exploration get back in the front seat! 🙂

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      I hope that it is of help to you, Nick! One thing I have found helpful is to spend time with ENFP friends. I have one particular friend who is a natural explorer, and my Explorations is just naturally drawn out when I’m around that type. All the best to you!

  • Miriam
    Reply

    I needed to hear this. My story is very similiar to yours- I was in the Army for 14 years, so I became very effective at things I didn’t really care about. I’m in my early 40’s and still trying to find a way to be who I really am. Thank you.

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Thank you for writing, Miriam! Most of the counseling I do is with NF types who are trying to find their purpose. I don’t think there’s anything less satisfying than trying to make yourself fit into someone else’s mold. I wonder if you would be willing to share how the search for self has gone for you. Thanks again!

  • Shanon
    Reply

    Wow! I feel like this was me when I joined the Air Force for Security Forces and then as an MTL. I thought success meant choosing effectiveness as the driver and I did succeed in times I had to act or play a role but it wasn’t me all the time. I’m not familiar with the driver model but it relates to me a lot. I love exploring I do a lot with improv acting, singing, and basically different creative pursuits but I never realized it as a way of being just a means to an end. I’ve been an esthetician, counselor and now a traveling nurse and it’s hard not to want to apologize for being flaky. I have to get myself in an effective state of mind in order to explore and I can overthink in order to get started. I can see where memory and effectiveness are tripping me up. Glad to have come across this article. Thank you 🙂

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Shannon, thank you for writing! To become more familiar with the Car Model, and the Driver, Co-Pilot, 10-Year-Old, and 3-Year-Old functions, consider giving the INFP resources a look at the following link. It describes the Car Model well:

      //personalityhacker.com/infp-personality-type/

      Thank you for serving in Security Forces. It probably won’t surprise you to know that I work with a lot of people in that career field. 🙂

      Keep exploring, and thanks again for writing!

  • April Blizzard
    Reply

    Lovely! I have a info son going to try help him through this so very glad I read this!

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Thank you for writing, April! I hope you’re son finds this helpful.

  • Elliotte
    Reply

    This was way too close to home.
    I’ve always wanted to write but found the pathway so unpractical even though it soothes my soul.
    I’m now very much struggling through an officer course in the army. I’m 27 and feel like I’m at a crossroad.
    How do you even figure out what sits right? I like bits and pieces of both worlds, but they don’t mix.
    Army bases aren’t in the most cultural of areas so i go long periods of time without being around my type of people. But I have enjoyed being the go-to whilst in charge and the structure has been an ease of a lot of anxiety.

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Elliotte, thank you for writing!

      You may have more options for writing than you think. In my experience, artistic work is only as impractical as the limitations we place on ourselves. Perhaps we could look at a few options:

      1. Find an MOS in the Army that better suits your desire to write. Perhaps you could move toward cross-training as a Public Affairs Officer.
      2. Get your time in the Army completed, use your educational benefits, and then apply to some Master of Fine Arts programs and begin networking with people who actually work in writing. This is what my brother did. He now has an MFA in screenwriting. and he has had scripts considered by a few major companies.
      3. Find an audience and write for them. What do you know? What are you passionate about? Write about that, and then perhaps learn the skills necessary to monetize.

      Here’s what I have found with creative types. We have to be willing to take chance on what we are, and trust that what is inside of us is marketable, even as we may need to have supports in our life that provide financial stability while we pursue our passions. So, perhaps you remain in the Guard or Reserve while you develop your network of writing friends. Whatever you do, trust it! You were wired to write, so write, my friend. 🙂

  • Christina
    Reply

    When I started reading your article I thought I wouldn’t find it too relatable, as I react strongly against the routine and indescriminately applied rules I imagine military life is full of. But here I am thinking, hm, perhaps this does apply to me too?

    As a doctor in a highly technical society (England), I have the advantage of being able to work in socialised medicine. But within that, my work life has been all about effectiveness. How to get all these people treated in so little time. My openness to the individual people I treat has been something I have naturally tried to fit into my punishing schedule, with some success. (Its not that you can either be efficient, or humane, it’s in the way you do it, as I’m sure you have found too)

    But this has taken its toll on me physically and emotionally as you imply. I have a very unusual CV in that I have never been able to sustain full time work for more than 3 months in a stretch. I have had multiple breaks enforced by a collapse of one sort or another. I was the first person ever to get specialist mental health licence from a part time temp job. The up side of this checkered career is that I have had plenty of opportunity to see that I take change better than most. In fact I enjoy it. And I now have a great deal of experience in differing levels of psychological help for individuals and groups. I tend to prefer drawing out people’s dreams and help them take steps towards it, rather than using some templated method that is supposed to work for everyone.

    When I haven’t been working, I have been drawn to making high quality unique clothing upcycling thrift shop clothes. Rather than practical, they are definitely on the wearable art side of the scale. This is something that expresses myself better than anything else I do, but I am quite far from putting it out there, only wearing these clothes myself among old friends.

    So, I am left with the question of what I could do that will allow me to use my ethical vision of how things could be better, naturally open hearted support for people, and creativity to earn a living, without just plugging me back into the, to me, unrealistic expectations of medical work.

    Not a lot to ask!

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Christina,

      Thank you for the response! Your words reminded me of a quote by J. Robert Clinton that I recently read:

      “Plan your life as you want it…Go up the steps of fame. But-pause now and then to make sure you are accompanied by happiness. Stop and ask yourself, ‘Does it sing inside me today?’ If that is gone, look around and don’t take another step till you are certain that life is as you will and want it.”

      It sounds very much like you know how you will and want it. I will hope for you that you find ways to live that purpose out.

      Best,
      Adam

  • Johild Justinussen
    Reply

    This article hit me like a tonne of bricks, and I’ve read it three times now! I always knew that it’s healthy to develop our co-pilot, but never before have I thought about the exploration process as a way to bring our authenticity into the outer world, almost like a tool for the driver process. That is so cool! I’ve always thought of the processes as separate, that you’re either in one or the other, but seeing them as being “married” and used in conjunction with one another changes everything. I’ve always thought that we INFPs need to develop our co-pilots just for the sake of developing it on its own, but knowing that it is a way for us to share our inner world with the outside world gives the co-pilot an extremely important purpose and I see now how crucial it is to our own health and happiness that we use our co-pilot alonside with the driver. The two cognitive functions aren’t completely separate, they’re a well-balanced intraverted-extraverted team when the co-pilot is well-developed! Thank you so much for writing this article, Adam! I had a lot of aha-moments and love it when that happens 🙂

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Thank you for your response, Johild! It’s my hope that you can find those places of inner passion, and that you will be able to use your Exploration to make them reality. 🙂

  • Ty Johnson Anderson
    Reply

    I’m an INFP and was an intelligence analyst for 15 years. I hated it, although good at it. It may be our ability to play roles that helped. But eventually reached burnout and started having unexplained seizures.

    People never understood why I was so unhappy. High paying career etc, but I couldn’t get them to understand that my ideals weren’t being met. I was forsaking my daughter to brief the general at 530 AM

    It was simply a means to an end.

    I’m now trying to start life outside of “the only thing I knew” and crafting a life more in alignment.

    Thanks for the insight.

    • Adam Roe
      Reply

      Ty,

      Thank you for sharing. I too wanted to be an Intelligence Analyst, but lack of sufficient color vision kept me out. I wonder if that’s an attractive career field on surface because it seems very introspective and analytical. On the whole, however, I don’t suppose it would do much in regards to our people-centric nature.

      Increasingly, I see an important dichotomy between people-centric and process-centric work. The sweet spot for the NF is usually people-centric work that pays sufficiently well enough for us to remain in alignment with our priorities.

      I wonder, what might you do if money were not a concern? That might be a place to begin exploring options.

      All the best to you!

      Adam

  • Jordan
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing and encouraging fellow INFPs like myself who feel misunderstood or even invaluable to society. It is so tempting to compare myself to others and see the inefficiency in business, socializing, and even day-to-day activities and feel less worthy. It was a breakthrough when I realized that I was viewing my success based on how the majority of society measures it- in quantitative data (efficiency).

    All of my life, I have surrounded myself with INFPs or INFJs. It’s actually kind of funny how I’ve been able to find them in groups of people…. it’s like I have a radar for them. 🙂 They are naturally similar to me in mindset and empathetic to my needs. It has kept me safe from feeling invalid.

    About a year ago, I started seeing an ESTJ and it was a new whirlwind experience for me! Lots of smiles and laughter.

    However, in time some situations I found myself in with him started to take a huge toll on my self-value. I saw that I didn’t have as many friends as my ESTJ partner and wasn’t able to sustain small talk as easily as him. He tried to teach me how. I am a teacher with a small circle of friends, and he works in management with a large circle. He tried to bring me in to a larger social group (not so easy). When we go out, he takes the lead and I sometimes have trouble finding my way into the conversation. His family are all prominent members of the community and have trouble relating to me sometimes in their conversations about football, politics, or church activities.

    It has driven me to do some inner soul-searching and find out- are INFPs just as valuable with all their inefficiency? From the perspective of quantifiable output- we won’t measure up to STJs. They’re going to produce more and fulfill more duties in society. Some personalities are more easily understood too so they’re going to be able to make friends more easily.

    But you posed the idea that an INFP’s value is not in quantity- but in quality. Our strength lies in the quality (not quantity) of our friendships, the quality of our conversation, and the quality of our work. It may not look like much. However, INFPs develop a depth of emotional and ethical insight that is truly able to change people’s hearts. Thank you for helping heal some of the broken thought patterns that have pervaded my perspective for a long time.

  • Adam Roe
    Reply

    Jordan,

    May you find peace with who you are in life and relationships! I think NF types tend to struggle a lot in both, because what they value isn’t objectively measurable. I was speaking with someone recently who stated that her gift is making the workplace happier and lighter. That’s a wonderful gift, but a gift that is unfortunately not measured in results-driven industries.

    It’s not much easier in relationships, either. The NF/ST relationships I counsel tend to be toughies, not because either is a bad person, but because they see the world in such fundamentally different way. All is not lost in such relationships, but they do require a great deal of perspective shifting, compromise, and in my worldview, grace.

    I hope that you can find the place inside of you that is real and authentic, and that you can trust it. Do that, and you can find your peace in all areas of life.

    Peace to you!
    Adam

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text.