What being an INFP doesn’t tell you




I’ve never liked the term personality test applied to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  Each letter of the MBTI signifies a behavior preference. The letters tell me what I prefer to do, not who I am.

For example, I’m a risk taker.  Before I had children, I did many high-risk activities for recreation like rock-climbing and martial arts.  Which letter combination of INFPs indicates that I liked doing activities that have risk of physical injury?  I’m very social with my friends. My wife and I hold dinner parties every other week. We often invite people we’ve just met in order to get to know them better.  Which letters of INFP indicates that I like to be social?

I’ve read many descriptions for INFP.  They’re all very flattering, but they’re also very general.  Many of those descriptions seem to have some archetypal heading like Healer or Dreamer as if one word could encompass the sum of any one person. I value my ideals but I’m not an Idealist. I’m very pragmatic when it comes to daily living.  When I read INFP descriptions, I see the exceptions. I see the parts that apply to some INFPs but not all.  I also see parts that could describe anyone not just INFPs.

INFP type gives a good explanation to what I do, e.g. I value my ideals.  However, INFP type doesn’t explain the why, e.g. why do I have these particular values and why are they so important?  Knowing my behavior helps me in the execution of my goals, but I don’t think behavior should be the instrument used to define what those goals should be.

It’s a discrepancy when the MBTI describes INFPs as having strong values while trying to say that behavior preference should be a basis for making career or relationship decisions.  Shouldn’t the strong values be the basis for career and relationships decisions whether or not that career or person is outside the preferred, “best fit” list for an INFP?  Shouldn’t that be the case for everyone, not just INFPs?

As an INFP, I have certain behavior preferences.  These behavior preferences make certain fields easier and more natural over others. However, I don’t think the INFP in me has ever based decisions on what would be easiest for me to do.

Everyone, not just INFPs, do things based on their perceived values.  They choose jobs, significant others and how to spend their free time based on values.  The MBTI does not assess values.  Here are some of my values in no particular order:  freedom, family, career, health, learning, sense of accomplishment, security, excitement, fun and enjoyment, and relationship with others.  I would challenge anyone to order those values from most important to least important by MBTI type.  I have many INFP friends and their values are very different from mine.

It’s because of individual values that some INFP do become teachers while others become computer programmers.  It’s because of their values that some INFPs prefer hanging out with their friends more than staying home with a book.  However, values based life choices isn’t just an INFP trait.  Everyone makes decisions based on their perceived values and they also make poor choices if those perceived values aren’t actually their real values.

As an INFP, I didn’t look for an ENTJ or ESTJ when I was dating because that personality type would balance my preferences and anchor me in the “real” world.  I wanted to be with someone who valued family as much as I did.  I wanted their values to align with mine.  I couldn’t be with someone who valued career more than family, someone who would choose work instead of going to the park with their family on the weekend.

Also, I was never sure what MBTI type had to do with choosing a career.  Okay, if you won $20 million dollars tomorrow and didn’t have to work, what would you be doing?  Whatever your answer is, you should probably be doing that.  Your answer to that question is based on what you value if making money wasn’t an issue.

However, money is an issue so what if that career isn’t feasible with making a decent living?  Well, there are books, tapes, programs and resources that teach how to balance paying rent while working towards the ideal job.  That’s something the MBTI doesn’t help you with.

I like the MBTI.  I love being an INFP.  However, I don’t let being an INFP define what I should or shouldn’t do.  The MBTI doesn’t tell who I am and it definitely doesn’t tell me who I can be.   Wearing the INFP label may feel good because we’re “one of the rarest” personality types.  However, all those lists of traits and descriptors can also be a confining box that doesn’t quite fit all INFPs.

Many INFPs I know like do things outside the norm.  Outside the norm also means outside the range of the normal, preferred behavior for INFPs.  Just because I have a preference for behavior doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t enjoy doing things outside that INFP comfort zone.  Realizing that defining values comes before taking actions and that the MBTI indicates preferences of action not preferences of values is a big step in getting to my goals.

The MBTI should be the last step in figuring out where a person should be going, not the first one.

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15 Responses to “What being an INFP doesn’t tell you”

  1. Karita

    Jun 1, 2009

    7:10 am

    The MBTI Step II test is interesting because it shows you where you are “out of preference”, for example, being an introvert does not stop you being sociable.

    Just found your blog today, I’m very interest so far. 🙂


  2. Nick

    Jul 11, 2009

    1:24 am

    I agree with pretty much everything you say. I also tested INFP. Which seems to generally fit me. Ive been looking into the types alot lately especially mine and i think ive been getting too into it. Ive been kinda trying to do what an infp would do instead of doing what i like to do. Indeed i really do alot of the things and act the way an infp would supposedly do in a general way but, its almost like ive been trying to force an exact form (on myself) of what on infp should be. Ive been kinda neglecting what i usually would do just because of the thought that “thats not what an infp would do”.

    This is a good blog post. : )


  3. Ben

    Nov 25, 2009

    6:29 am

    LOL, trust an INFP to get all worried over values rather than behaviours.

    One of the thinks I struggle with is a complete incapability of understanding people without values, or people who’s values are flexible. I get so frustrated when behaviours don’t align with values, and noone other than me seems to care.


  4. Forrest

    Dec 10, 2009

    9:23 pm

    The MBTI doess a good job at telling who you are and how you behave when you are comfortable. For me, I like to sometimes put myself in stressful situations when I’m comfortable. I like to have adventures and be outgoing in public. But after I do those I go back to being comfortable and charge myself back up. Then When I’m charged up, i’ll go back to having adventures and stuff. Somedays i’ll be a social butterfly, but the next day i’ll be by myself, because of the exhaustion that being social brings on me.


  5. ruby

    Mar 29, 2010

    9:19 pm

    hi. infp here too. it’s quite odd to know that i like rock climbing, bungee jumping and all those extreme stuffs and i’m infp too. also, regarding the social stuff, i do like to be social and i’m very social when i’m with friends. is it mere coincidence for INFPs to be like these. my 2 sisters are INFPs too and we’re pretty same in so many ways. I guess the ‘values’ section can probable be based loosely on the kind of environment we are on and not on our preferences but i can say that we have really strong values that despite of external events, we pretty much hold on tight to our values and have not swayed since.

    also, i like the words idealist and dreamer associated with me as an INFP. i guess our INFP-ness depends on the percentage we have for each of the preferences? just a thought.


  6. Catherine Vibert

    Apr 15, 2010

    5:49 am

    Of course I think this is completely true, we are fluid beings and the typology can help us see some of the benefits and pitfalls of our type, but it doesn’t define us. I made a mistake at the beginning of knowing what typology was, and that was that I was like other INFPs. And in many ways there is a continuity, but what a stupid mistake to assume the other INFPs were the same as me. Now that I understand it, I see that I’ve had MANY romantic relationships with other INFPs, I think we were drawn to each other by that very sameness, but again, those similarities DO NOT mean you will actually like or get along with those other folks. I learned quickly tho, and now don’t do that rut anymore. However, I’m also a risk taker. Not always, I do have to confront that nagging ‘I’ that often undercuts the visions I have of wanting to go out and do more extreme stuff, generally getting into trouble out there. But I find it is the ‘P’ that is the part that identifies someone who is driven to cross boundaries. I took a typology seminar for therapists, to help them learn to identify the functions without testing, so as to better help their patients. We spent a lot of time on the ‘J’ v ‘P’ confusion, and it can be very confusing. The test often pins people into the wrong category here, and the words are confusing and don’t really explain much. Essentially it came down to those who prefer systems, boundaries, rules, ‘J’ to those who prefer to explore the world outside the box ‘P’. That P explains how someone like me who is basically shy and often tongue tied (but man can she write) would end up on the stage singing opera in front of thousands, or dragging a suitcase full of audio and video equipment all alone through S.E. Asia and India in order to do documentary work. Count on people with a ‘P’ in their string to be the most adventurous. Or so I learned in the seminar, but it does seem to fit my particular outlook on INF’P’.


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I think our outside the box behavior comes from our Self Ideal. If our Self Ideal has behavior outside the box then eventually as we work to become that Ideal, we start taking actions outside the behavioral preferences of “typical” INFP.

    I’m always interested to see the Personality Self-Portrait scores of INFPs. Some score very high on the Adventurous personality type and some are mid-range (relative to their other scores), but I’ve never run across any who are low on the Adventurous personality type.


  7. another INFP

    Sep 22, 2010

    8:49 pm

    I’m an INFP training to be a school bus driver. It’s a job the MBTI says I shouldn’t be in that kind of career. lol I really don’t understand why. It’s not all about being a strict disciplinarian. The company I’m training with encourages a more psychological way of dealing with issues instead of barking out commands. I think I’m pretty suited for that…. that and I love to drive.

    Maybe I’m different? *shrugs* Back when I took the test in college it came out INFP but the diagram of where I was at on the scale was almost in the center for 3 out of 4 of the traits. Can someone be kind of extroverted, sensing, etc? haha I do notice I’m different around different people. I can’t explain it, it’s a feeling.


    Corin Reply:

    I don’t think the MBTI is a good tool for career guidance. The right job has more to do with your values and the lifestyle you want to build for yourself. Since INFPs have a range of different values, you find INFPs ranging from teachers to computer programmers to lawyers.


  8. a different infp

    Aug 14, 2014

    3:08 pm

    categorizing personality traits only manages to sum up what is categorized, this is more to life than category’s.


  9. Relieved INFP

    Jul 17, 2015

    2:32 am

    I just happened to stumble across after weeks over obsessing over the fact that INFPs are “discouraged” to go into engineering and medicine (both fields I wanted to base a career upon). And I just wanted to say thank you for this article. For some reason, reading this from you has reassured me far more than the advice of friends. It may be because you neither completely ignore the INFP traits nor completely overgeneralize it.


    Eva Reply:

    I am in a similar situation, I spent years in education and thought I would train as a teacher. Then I found out that INFPs will struggle with teaching as it requires a lot of J and today I stumbled across another blog where they suggested teachers need a lot of E.
    I saw many teachers do a great job being Introverts or Perceivers. I thrived working with children and had a class under control when in charge.
    It only shows that ‘our letters’ are preferences.


  10. Eva

    Nov 9, 2015

    10:52 am

    What a great article and blog. I have been looking into MBTI quite a lot lately to help me identify best job options.I am currently at the crossroads with my career and have no idea what to do. I only ended up frustrated to realise INFP are not well suited into the modern working world which seems to value extroverts, thinkers and judgers more even in financial aspects. Identifying myself as an INFP has limited my options and discouraged me to consider certain careers I thought would be a good fit. Also, I couldn’t find a clear answer as what to make out of myself as the descriptions are generic and there are contradictions between websites. The MBTI will not give you the receipe for success. I totally agree that one should not stick a label on themselves but look into their natural skills, abilities and preferences to find an answer as suggested by the author of ‘What colour is my parachute’. We need to make an inventory of ourselves.
    I will not take my MBTI results so seriously any more, these functions are preferences only and we are all complex, very able, clever, adaptable beings. Some just need more time then the others to find out what is best for us.

    This quote for Idealists I love “Idealists make the world go ’round, since everything starts with ideas. Yes, ideas! Everything comes from them and everything begins there” M. Gorbachev.


  11. blitzkrrieg

    Dec 7, 2015

    5:08 am

    I am starting to relate and love your blog!!! <3 <3


  12. Saahiti

    Mar 30, 2018

    11:43 am

    Hey, I love your blog a lot. And really makes a ton of sense! But one thing i can say is, a lot of INFP descriptions are based on enneagram type 2,which fits with the cinnamon type stereotypes of INFP. If you want the descriptions to be less general, look into Enneagram and Tritypes, it really helps! Mbti is only half of the equation. Typology is far wider!


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