INFP Personality Type: The Creative Seeker
INFPs are creative, quirky, humane, and individualistic. Like INFJs, they want to understand who they are and their purpose in the world. Curious and restless, they enjoy entertaining new ideas and possibilities. They are rarely content with “what is,” preferring instead to focus their sights on “what could be.” This, combined with their strong idealism, can engender a sort of “grass is greener” mentality.
INFPs are among the most open-minded (and open-hearted) of the personality types. While not to quite the same extent as ENFPs, they bring an experimental attitude to life as they explore a variety of ideas, lifestyles, and experiences. In each new experience, INFPs see an opportunity to not only learn about the world, but about themselves and their life’s purpose.
Their curiosity about the world, including its potential role in clarifying their identity, can inspire INFPs to travel or adopt a peripatetic lifestyle. They may, for instance, choose to explore other cultures, live out of a vehicle, or take to the woods. As long as these sorts of explorations feel stimulating and life-giving, INFPs will continue to explore them, even amid pressures to embrace a more conventional path.
INFPs’ seeking impetus is informed and perpetuated by their critical observations of society and culture. They often see themselves as characteristically different from, or at odds with, their surrounding culture, sometimes feeling like outsiders or misfits. They can be wary of “conventional wisdom” and societal prescriptions, preferring instead to forge their own unique path.
Amassing wealth or material goods is rarely high on INFPs’ priority list. Money is valued only to the extent that it furnishes the time and freedom to explore their deepest passions. Considering the relative unimportance of material niceties to INFPs, the idea of performing uninspiring work for the sake of a paycheck is invariably off-putting to them.
As INFPs proceed in their search for self, they eventually stumble onto something that deeply moves or inspires them. They may even feel they’ve finally found what they have been looking for. But more often than not, their enthusiasm is short-lived, once the novelty of their new discovery has worn off. Over time, this can become frustrating or demoralizing for INFPs, since they so desperately want to find themselves. They don’t want to remain seekers forever. They want know to know their mission in life. They want their seeking efforts to culminate in a sense of conviction and direction for their lives.
INFP Personality Type Development & Functional Stack
Each personality type prefers to use four of the eight functions first described by Jung. These four functions comprise its “functional stack.” The relative strength of preference for these four functions is expressed in the following manner: dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior. INFPs’ first preference is Fi, followed by Ne, Si, and Te respectively. This is depicted in the arrangement of their functional stack:
每一种人格型都会使用四种功能来支配自己的人生，INFP的主导功能是Fi（Introverted Feeling内向情感），辅助功能为Ne（Extraverted Intuition外向直觉），第三功能为Si（Introverted Sensing内向感受），第四功能为Te（Extraverted Thinking外向思考）
INFPs’ Functional Stack
Dominant: Introverted Feeling (Fi)——主导功能：内向情感(Fi)
Auxiliary: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)——辅助功能：外向直觉(Ne)
Tertiary: Introverted Sensing (Si)——第三功能：内向感受(Si)
Inferior: Extraverted Thinking (Te)——第四功能：外向思考(Te)
While we will soon discuss each of the above functions in greater depth, for now, we will turn our attention to another feature of INFPs’ personality—their type development. As is true for all types, INFPs’ type development consists of three phases. These phases roughly correspond to the ordering of the functional stack, with Fi being the first function to blossom, Ne the second, on so on. But as we will see, the inferior function is sort of a special case, commanding INFPs’ attention at an earlier phase than might otherwise be expected.
Phase I (Childhood)
Phase I is characterized by the exploration and development of INFPs’ dominant function, Introverted Feeling (Fi). Even as children, INFPs are often “highly sensitive persons” (HSPs). Sensitive to their own feelings, as well as those of others, they feel unsettled and anxious in conflictual situations. This may prompt them to seek refuge in time alone, finding comfort in solitary activities such as daydreaming, reading, drawing, listening to music, etc. Hence, young INFPs come to enjoy exploring their own interests, free from external disruptions. In time, they develop a unique sense of self through exploring their feelings (Fi) and imagination (Ne).
Phase II (Adolescence-30s)
Phase II involves additional development of their auxiliary function (Ne), as well as heightened polarity and conflict between their dominant Fi and their inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te).
While INFPs do function as seekers as children, in the sense of exploring the world through their feelings and imagination, their seeking tendencies (Ne) grow more intense and explicit as they approach adulthood. This is prompted, at least to some extent, by concerns about adulthood, which cause them to think more seriously about the trajectory of their lives.
Ne is INFPs’ preferred extraverted function and one of the primary tools they use to explore the outside world. These explorations may include things like dabbling in countercultures, experimenting with drugs, starting their own band, traveling overseas, joining the Peace Corps, etc. Through these experiences, they hope to get a better sense of who they are and where they might fit into the world. Through this process of world exploration (which is equally, if not more, about self-exploration) many INFPs will either modify or part ways with the religious and political views they were raised with.
The liberal and explorative ways of Ne are checked and countered by INFPs’ tertiary Si and inferior Te, which urge them to “be responsible” and follow a more traditional path. INFPs who heed this prompting will function more conventionally (e.g., finish their degree, get a job, get married, etc.) and may look less like seekers. They may, however, be more disposed to a mid-life identity crisis if they conclude that the path they chose was not authentically their own. Perhaps most commonly, Phase II INFPs feel themselves bouncing between unconventional (Fi-Ne) and conventional (Si-Te) paths as they try to discern what works best for them.
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
Phase III represents the well-integrated personality. According to Elaine Schallock, integration occurs when the functional stack is consistently used in a “top-down” fashion. By this she means that the functions are best prioritized and utilized in a dominant-auxiliary-tertiary-inferior sequence. If used consistently over time, she suggests the top-down approach will naturally result in greater development and integration of all the functions.
The first and probably most important step for INFPs seeking integration is learning how to effectively and routinely transition into Ne perceiving. To understand why this is so critical, we must remember that Fi is not only an introverted function, but also a judging function (all the T and F functions are judging functions). Therefore, counterbalancing Fi requires both extraversion and perceiving. And this is precisely what Ne as an extraverted perceiving function can do for INFPs.
Phase III INFPs develop a clearer sense of who they are and how to live authentically and effectively. This allows them to feel more safe, secure, and grounded in themselves as well as, if by some act of magic, in the world.
INFPs’ Dominant Function: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
INFPs are deeply aware of and in touch with their inner landscape. Their dominant Fi is inwardly focused and adept at evaluating and handling their personal tastes, values, and emotions. Because Fi is introverted in direction, INFPs process their emotions and experiences on a largely independent basis. With each new feeling, experience, or idea they evaluate, their sense of self becomes a little clearer. This was nicely enumerated by one of our blog readers：
My inner values and feelings (Fi) are like a building, a structure of affections that inform my worldview. This involves an inner love for certain things, and an inner repulsion for other things. My values and feelings form “blocks” of varying hardness, depending on how strongly I feel about them; the stronger ones are more resilient…I constantly discover more about the structure as I go, and what I should change to make it better. For example, I didn’t have to factually discern a respect for human dignity; I simply found myself in situations where people did not respect human dignity, and it made me angry — I found out that I hate bullying.
By reflecting on the experiences of life, whether gleaned from fiction or real life, INFPs come to better understand themselves. Despite this journey toward deeper understanding, INFPs often feel that their self-understanding remains incomplete. They may still feel they don’t know themselves well enough to wholeheartedly commit to a certain path in life. And they feel it is only through a more complete or definite self-understanding that they will be capable of acting with full authenticity and conviction.
In addition to its role in shaping INFPs’ self-understanding and identity, Fi can develop deep attachments and loyalties to certain externalities. INFPs are particularly prone to empathize with and develop attachments to those unable to help or care for themselves—animals, children, the less fortunate, victims of injustice, etc. They can often be found caring for the elderly, sick, disabled, and disenfranchised. Animal lovers to the core, they shower their pets with affection while also showing deep concern for strays. If sufficiently moved or inspired, INFPs may also take up a niche cause, such as garnering research funding for a rare disease affecting a loved one. Finally, many INFPs want (or will eventually want) their own children. Children can serve as a reliable and rewarding lifelong investment for INFPs’ love and attention.
Due to the introverted nature of Fi, INFPs’ status as feelers is not always evident from without. When immersed in Fi, they can seem a bit cool, aloof, or indifferent. Jung, rarely one to mince words in his type descriptions, described the introverted feeler (i.e., IFPs) in the following way:
They are mostly silent, inaccessible, hard to understand; often they hide behind a childish or banal mask, and their temperament is inclined to melancholy…Their outward demeanor is harmonious, inconspicuous…with no desire to affect others, to impress, influence or change them in any way. If this is more pronounced, it arouses suspicion of indifference and coldness…Although there is a constant readiness for peaceful and harmonious co-existence, strangers are shown no touch of amiability, no gleam of responsive warmth…It might seem on a superficial view that they have no feelings at all. -Psych. Types (Para. 640-641)
Of course, this sort of outer presentation belies what we know about INFPs’ inner world, which is abundant with life and feeling. It is also true that many INFPs compensate for their lack of extraverted feeling by invoking their auxiliary Ne. When wielding Ne, INFPs are more outwardly open, receptive, quirky, and engaging.
INFPs’ Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Ne demands novelty. It craves new ideas, connections, and possibilities. It seeks to understand the world (and the self) through the lens of ideas. It therefore comes as no surprise that Ne plays a prominent role in INFPs’ search for self.
Among Ne’s manifold talents is its knack for sniffing out intriguing possibilities. As we’ve seen, INFPs commonly assume the role of wanderer or seeker. Rarely do they know exactly what they are seeking, which is largely why operating in Ne mode can be exhilarating. Ne can be associated with a sense of blind anticipation and expectation, of not knowing who or what will manifest next in one’s life journey. INFPs relish the sense of adventure, expectancy, and wonderment conferred by Ne. This is one reason they enjoy traveling. The idea of exploring nature or different cultures feels rife with possibilities. A serendipitous encounter with a kindred spirit, the discovery of a life-changing book, finding inspiration through ancient art and architecture, such are the anticipated rewards of following Ne.
Ne can function either expressively or receptively. The verbal expression of Ne amounts to something like “brainstorming aloud.” When speaking, INFPs may at times struggle to make their point, as Ne bounces from one idea or association to the next. Even ideas that seem inwardly cogent to the INFP may scatter when expressed, like a ray of light passing through a prism.
On a more positive note, INFPs often capitalize on the divergent and diversifying effects of Ne through inspired works of art or innovation. Whether they realize or not, INFPs are among the most profoundly creative of all types.
When operating receptively, Ne prompts INFPs to gather information. It scans for new patterns, associations, and possibilities. INFPs commonly exercise this side of their Ne through activities such as reading, research, entertainment, and conversation with others.
In engaging with others, INFPs enjoy asking probing questions. They find it interesting to explore the unique qualities of every individual, as well as the life story that explains or gives context to those characteristics. Hence, INFPs are typically viewed as good listeners as well as facilitators of conversation. Others sense and appreciate that the INFP is authentically interested in understanding them for who they are as individuals, and that they are doing so in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way.
Like INTPs, INFPs have a love-hate relationship with their Ne. They relish the sense of wonder, curiosity, and anticipation it instills, as well as its creativity and openness. Without their Ne, they would not be the seekers and creatives that they are. But living with Ne is not without its challenges. For one, it can make it difficult for INFPs to arrive at firm conclusions or make important life decisions. It often seems that at the very moment they feel confident about a given conclusion or decision, Ne finds a way to inject doubt and uncertainty. This can be frustrating for INFPs who feel they are working so hard to find their rightful place in the world. At times, Ne may even cause them to worry that they have made no real progress toward anything substantial, or worse, that they may never find what they are looking for.
INFPs’ Tertiary Function: Introverted Sensing (Si)
Introverted Sensing (Si) is a conservative function. It engenders a concern and respect for the past—for what is routine, familiar, or traditional.
While INFPs may appreciate some amount of routine in their lives, such as devoting a certain time of day to creative work, they are less inclined to wholeheartedly embrace traditions or conventions in the manner of SJ types. For INFPs, a full embrace of tradition can only emerge authentically after they explore it (and its alternatives) through the lens of Fi and Ne. So even when a given tradition manages to pass muster, it is only after INFPs have personalized it and made it their own, interpreting it in a way that resonates with their deepest values.
The influence of Si may also be reflected in INFPs’ attitudes toward money and material goods. INFPs are often minimalists with respect to possessions. Many opt for rather simple living arrangements so they can devote more time and energy to pursuing their true passions. This tendency toward material minimalism is often discernible in their style of dress and artistic preferences. Namely, their approach often entails the creative reuse or recombination (Ne) of pre-existing resources (Si) to fashion something new. In this spirit, many INFPs supply their wardrobes, homes, and art rooms with items from thrift shops, antique stores, or garage sales.
An oft overlooked feature of Si is its role in the perception of internal bodily sensations—the body as felt and experienced from within. Si can be associated with the raw and basic sense of “being” that exists apart from thought or outward stimuli. Historically, Eastern philosophical and religious traditions have led the way in exploring this domain of human experience through practices such as yoga, Tai-Chi, or meditation. Because of INFPs’ openness to new experiences (Ne), as well as their desire to explore the mind-body connection and enhance their sense of well-being, many are drawn to these sorts of holistic practices (especially yoga).
Finally, what may be the most important benefit of Si for INFPs is its role in consolidating and recalling past experiences and life lessons. It can therefore keep INFPs from repeating past mistakes and help them clarify their future direction. Exploring evidence from the past can instill greater confidence in who they are and what they care about, aiding the consolidation and crystallization of their self-concept.
INFPs’ Inferior Function: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
Whether they realize it or not, INFPs’ life quest is well understood as one of discovering and integrating their inferior function, which is sometimes called the “lost” or “missing” function. There is something indelibly magical and mysterious about the inferior function, which makes it a powerful source of energy and motivation for all types.
INFPs’ inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), approaches and structures the world in explicitly rational ways. It may do so for the sake of acquiring knowledge (e.g., science), developing new tools and technologies, or maintaining order by ways of explicit rules, policies, and procedures. As an extraverted judging function, it also serves as a tool for verbally asserting, in a deliberate and rational fashion, judgments and directives.
However, because Te is largely unconscious for INFPs, its powers are difficult to directly and consistently harness. This elusiveness contributes to its allure and mystique, which is illustrated, for instance, in INFPs’ frequent attraction to characteristically T-oriented careers such as math, science, law, economics, computers, engineering, etc. But the elusive nature of Te can also prove to be a source of great frustration and hardship for INFPs. Because it seems so out of reach and difficult to reconcile with their dominant Fi, INFPs may wonder if they will ever find lasting peace and contentment.