The Radical Empathy of INFJs
Hi, everyone. My name is Keona, and I am an introvert. More specifically, an INFJ.
Thanks to the wonderful people who run this amazing website, I’ve been given the humbling and somewhat daunting task of recounting to you my specific experiences growing up as one of the rarest personality types. Particularly as an even more rare male individual of said type.
*Gasps from the audience*
Yes, it’s true: like unicorns, we do exist; we’re just really hard to find.
*Crickets chirping, silence*
Okay, see, that was a joke, because the unicorns… never mind. Anyway, as the illustrious and talented Kirsten Moodie has already pointed out in a previous piece on the struggles of being an INFJ male–which everyone should go and read because it’s an awesome and accurate article; don’t worry, I’ll wait right here–I’m here to tell you that it ain’t easy being an INFJ. We are the walking personality paradoxes, and a lot of us seem pretty contradictory at first glance, even to ourselves. When you add up our western society’s arbitrary “rules” and codes of appropriate conduct and place those on top of our own inner mental and emotional chaos, well… That can be a recipe for disaster.
This holds true for us INFJ males, particularly in the way we deal with the world and our interior emotional lives. Being an introverted male child can seem a bit off-putting to the casual observer because our idealized American view of manhood is one that often places extreme importance on dominance, strength, certainty, and charisma, which are primarily extroverted traits. Naturally, our social order dictates that anything outside the norm is to be labeled and exiled, so childhood introverts are often ostracized or teased, and some of us rarely fight back, for fear of hurting the other person.
At least, that was my experience as a young INFJ. Back then, I had no idea what personality types were, so I just figured something was wrong with me. Why didn’t I fight back? Why did I feel things so deeply? Why did the teasing hurt me? I was an overweight child (and still have weight problems to this day), so I was relentlessly mocked and called a “fat slob.” I don’t know why, but I internalized all of that hatred and mean-spirited name-calling and took it as the gospel truth of how others saw me. My family loved me, sure, but that’s because they HAD to love me. Same with my friends, of which I had but a few.
You see, here’s the downside to being an INFJ who is strongly in tune with that secondary extraverted feeling (Fe) function: sometimes you can lose perspective. Feeling things as deeply as we do can be tremendously exhausting and overpowering. Being in touch with the emotions of others as well as your own often means that even when people hurt us–inadvertently or not–we will often take whatever the other person throws our way, because we’d rather not escalate the situation or hurt the other person back. We choose to suffer in silence, even though it isn’t fair to us. It’s a radical empathy we experience, and to our internal thought process, it makes perfect sense.
On the other hand, this no-holds-barred empathy is also a beautiful thing, in the right situations. It enables us to find common ground with those whom others would just as soon call their bitter enemies or rivals. It helps us see the humanity in the “other,” which is something the world could use more of in this day and age. Finally, it allows us to function in our role as peacemakers in this troubled time. INFJs feel a great compulsion to attempt to make the world a better place, but we’re not naive idealists. Rather, we utilize our primary (introverted intuition, or Ni), secondary (the aforementioned Fe), and tertiary (introverted thinking, or Ti) functions in order to identify key aspects of the people, places, and events where such an achievement is likely to be found.
Of course, the most important thing is to make sure we take a balanced approach in attempting to succeed in our quest to improve the world, no matter how small those successes may be. While our Fe leads us to understand how the current situation may affect those around us emotionally, our primary function, Ni, helps us to intuitively predict where the situation may go next, thanks to certain cues in the attitude and actions of the people with whom we’re dealing. Patterns do emerge, which can help us to adjust our approach in order to bring about the optimal result.
Personally speaking, I didn’t know or realize any of this as a child, and because of that, I allowed myself to feel all of the petty insults and cruelty that people threw at me without a filter. I believed that taking all of that abuse and internalizing it was better than escalating things. Now, as an adult who is still attempting to rebuild my own self-esteem, I can say that I was wrong to do so. I should have stood up for myself. I should not have taken all of that mean stuff in, or allowed it to impact my own self-worth. This is why learning that I’m an INFJ has been so meaningful to me, and why it has helped me face things about myself and learn things that I never would have otherwise known.
I hope you all have enjoyed the first piece in what will hopefully become a series spotlighting the personal experiences of an INFJ. I’m so grateful to Kirsten Moodie, in particular, for introducing me to the various personality types in such a deep and thoughtful way (she pegged me as an INFJ before I even understood what that meant), and for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the incredibly stimulating and intriguing tapestry that is Personality Growth in some small way. Her articles have helped me through many trials in my life, and her friendship has saved me on more than one occasion. I wholeheartedly appreciate her, and I hope you all do as well.
See you on the flipside!
Keona Tang is a geek. Yes, we said it. He enjoys science-fiction, movies, comics, books, video games, and loves talking about superheroes. He does not, however, own the Tang powdered orange drink empire. Sadly. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and say hi!