A lot of angst tends to come up between the sometimes-conflicting styles of Extraverted Feeling or “Harmony” and Introverted Feeling or “Authenticity.” This conflict is unfortunate because, as an INFJ Harmony user myself, some of the most important lessons of my life were inspired by the positive example of Authenticity users at their best. Although, maybe the conflict is not unfortunate because, as uncomfortable as it is, conflict spurs growth, understanding, and more profound harmony, which is the perfect description of my flow state.
In this article, I’d like to share an insight I came to recently about Authenticity and Harmony styles of boundaries and generosity. This lesson has been impactful in my own life as a psychiatrist and might be of interest to others trying to make peace with the world of the Feeling functions.
INFJ Boundaries vs. INFP Boundaries
During my psychiatry residency, I cringed as I observed how some of my mentors would go beyond the standard of care for their patients. They gave some patients their cell phone numbers and returned frivolous or manipulative calls after the end of an already long and draining workday. Not wanting to get too friendly with these practices, I watched from a distance and didn’t ask many questions about how it worked out for such mentors and their patients in the long run. Expecting eventual validation of the boundaries I held dear, I was waiting to see the giving of inches turn into an expectation of miles. Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t. Either way, these Authenticity users seemed mostly unperturbed.
Still, observing their type of practice always pained me because, though I respected these mentors, I knew it wouldn’t be psychologically feasible for me to follow their example. Partly because it would set a precedent that wouldn’t be reasonable to follow consistently, and it wouldn’t feel fair to patients who might feel rebuffed for similar requests of me. But mostly because I need confidence in firm boundaries so I can delineate my self-care and avoid a meteoric descent into becoming a resentful, burnt-out wreck – no good to any patient, to anyone I care about in my life, or to myself.
I realized that most of my colleagues who went out of their way consistently in select facets of patient care, or sporadically on a case-by-case basis, were Authenticity users (INFP, ISFP, ENFP, ESFP). As an aside, the ones who tended to go out of their way for patients in almost every way asked of them, often at the expense of their well-being, tended to be Harmony users (INFJ, ISFJ, ENFJ, ESFJ) who had poorly developed boundaries and tended to burn out intensely.
This selective self-sacrifice made sense to me in terms of the subjective nature of Introverted Feeling, which gives the Authenticity user an easier time of taking individual circumstances as they come. If the happy place for Authenticity is detecting the nuances of subjective feelings and values, then it is hardly troublesome for them to take up that magnifying glass to each facet of patient care. It would be practically imperative to their nature to determine what kind of action each unique case warranted, regardless of blurring the lines of policies and standards.
My priority, on the other hand, is to find an objective standard that I can rely on confidently. Come Hell or high water (both of which come up in patients’ lives), each tragic case is treated fairly in my practice, just like every other tragic case, without exception. That prevents hard feelings, right? At least none I can’t cope with by resting into my objective standards of care – and sitting with intense discomfort. Somehow the Authenticity users don’t seem to experience the torturous feelings I do of having my objective professional values wrenched around by each outside-the-norm expectation leveled at me by a patient.
Choosing Generosity to Offset Misunderstandings
My next level of insight into this tango of Harmony and Authenticity boundaries came after listening to a recent Personality Hacker Podcast episode #298: Which is More Selfish – Harmony or Authenticity? This podcast helped me see further into the murkiness of why it isn’t sustainable for me as an INFJ to weigh individual patient circumstances as potential instances for bending the rules like my Authenticity mentors. And, why they never seemed to come to the point of exhaustion and regret I would have expected from going all those miles that started as inches.
It comes down to another imperative for Harmony users in my experience. Where Authenticity weighs circumstances for what level or type of action is required to satisfy their value system, Harmony weighs situations to prioritize what action will best serve the social construct as a whole. This often comes down to pretty much every decision I make as a Harmony user. I am actively weighing my self-interests against others’. Unless there is a strong justification to put mine first, or I have a need so great that it would harm me (and by extension the others who rely on me) not to, then I put others’ interests first. Everything from where I stand in a crowded room, to the temperature I keep the office, to which seat I choose in a lecture hall, to whether I speak up at a meeting. I am always weighing whether or not I should assert my self-interest and how that might impact everyone, even when I remind myself that “I am part of everyone.”
Just as an example of how this draining thought process infiltrates everything that I do, take the mental gymnastics I did earlier this week: I was having some insurance documents drawn up by an advisor. The final contract they gave me wasn’t the same as we had discussed and would cost me over a hundred dollars a month more. It crossed my mind to consider whether I should sign this more costly contract – because I’m sure the person worked hard on preparing it, I didn’t want to go through the hassle for both me and her of contacting her again, and I didn’t want to be a nuisance. Even though it was her mistake, which could have cost me thousands of dollars! Now, mind you, this never came to the point of me signing this document that wasn’t what I wanted. But, I did think about it. I did put some of my mental and emotional energy into weighing the cost to her vs. me.
Every single decision passes through this process of weighing the impact on my own experience vs. others, and the result is that it decreases my capacity to be flexible with other things that feel justified. Even the justified ones (which the insurance contract was) get weighed, they just get concluded more quickly and confidently than more ambiguous situations.
To use the example from the PH Podcast episode mentioned above: Society sanctions that couples getting married set some expectations of their guests in terms of things like dress code. In the podcast, Antonia observes that a Harmony user might feel distressed and resentful if a guest were to let their freak flag fly at the wedding (paraphrasing here), drawing attention away from the couple and the intended atmosphere, standing out like a sore thumb in photos, etc. The Harmony user has likely put many of their preferences aside to accommodate others for this occasion, not to mention deferring their desires in the ways I described above. So, when someone can’t let them have this one day as they would like, it is incredibly angst-inducing.
Professional boundaries are like my “wedding day.” In that sphere, I count on defined standards that protect not just the patients’ rights and safety but also my own. And when a patient asks me to go beyond the standards of care, they are expressing entitlement to more than their fair share, like the extra slice of pizza referred to several times in the podcast. They don’t realize they are “asking too much of me.” After all, a philosophy I try to live by is that people have a right to ask for anything; they just won’t always get it. As a professional, it is my responsibility to know and communicate the professional limits. However, I still feel resentful having to continually put energy into enforcing these boundaries, especially when other professionals are undermining objective standards.
It seems that Authenticity people can more readily go “out of their way” with patients in the situations I described because they don’t regularly weigh the calculation of me vs. others, or me vs. the collective. They are more inclined to permit themselves to go their own way, even in ways that might inconvenience others, without second-guessing. So, when they do go out of their way for someone, it is on their terms, because they didn’t go out of their way the rest of the time. Or, if they did, it fed their sense of self by honoring a value intrinsic to them. They do seem to come out ahead energetically when it comes to saying “yes,” or “no,” to demands on their time, effort, and sympathies. When they do say “no,” they don’t carry with them the pain of everyone who didn’t get their needs or expectations met.
What Can INFPs & INFJs Learn From Each Other?
Let me bring this back around to the lessons the two feeling functions can glean from each other, or at least what I have learned from Authenticity users in my life. With the help of positive examples of healthy Introverted Feeling, I am always working on integrating the lesson not to take on full responsibility for the feelings of others. Realizing that they will feel whatever they need to feel and manage it okay in the end, I don’t put as much energy into second-guessing and de-prioritizing myself. So, I can free up some energy for self-care. Perhaps Authenticity users can appreciate that if they make choices that serve a social standard at times, they can bolster a positive sense of self more significant than a single interaction that might be perceived by their tribe as crossing a line.
I realize a lot of this narrative I’ve laid out is influenced by my Harmony Copilot, which is an energy-draining function for me. Unfortunately, weighing the dozens of decisions a day to minimize the cost of disharmony doesn’t energetically feed me. I suspect a Harmony Driver might not be as tortured as I am.
Authenticity has its own cost to ExFPs who have it in that challenging Copilot position. I don’t doubt that their ability to take a stand by drawing a line in the sand one minute and make a difference in someone’s life by crossing it the next, comes with a cacophony of inner voices that are not always pleasant to hear. Maybe at some point, it does cause them to question how they see themselves based on the moral choices they’ve made. That would be the part I don’t see as I peer around at my mentors who are Authenticity people.
I’d love to hear from people with Harmony and Authenticity in other positions or other Harmony Copilots with different experiences than mine. Please share and keep this conversation going!