Have you ever discovered that one friend who seems to literally feel your hurts and pains as well as your joys and triumphs? While all people, even dominant thinking types, can empathize, ENFJs and INFJs have an especially uncanny ability to step into your shoes. To quote one of my favorite fictional INFJs, Atticus Finch, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
INFJs and ENFJs combine insight and extraverted feeling to absorb the emotions of others. While introverted feelers have an intense awareness of their own emotions and values, extraverted feelers have an intense awareness of other’s emotions and values. All feeling types are prone to some form of empathy burnout; but INFJs and ENFJs seem to struggle with this the most on a day-to-day basis. We will be discussing the INFP and ISFP reaction to empathy and emotional overwhelm in a future post.
ISFJs and ESFJs can also struggle with over empathizing, but because their feeling function is paired with sensing, they tend to have a more practical approach to how they sense emotions in others. They are very aware of how people feel, are touched by it, but then they try to find a practical solution to solving it. If someone seems upset they will quickly try to find a concrete way to help; fixing a meal, getting them out of the house, talking about it, asking if they need help with anything. The NF way of helping tends to be less practical and more insightful; they focus on really mentally immersing themselves in your character, your feelings, the what/when/why/and how of what you’re going through. They may not be the ones to bring you a hot meal when you’re going through a hard time (although they CAN do this) they are the ones who will absorb your feelings, sink into them, and then discover a way to help you that is insightful, therapeutic, and inspiring.
“Every song that I’ve written, it is because of my desire to use music as a way to empower and re-humanize people who are living in a dehumanizing setting. The song is in order to better the human condition.” – Zach de la Rocha, ENFJ
ENFJs and INFJs don’t have to try to absorb your feelings, it’s as natural to them as breathing. Personality Hacker calls their feeling process “Harmonizing”, and say that these types “unconsciously absorb other’s emotions in real time.” Hundreds of times I’ve heard these two types talk about feeling the emotions of complete strangers when they’re in a crowded building. This is one of the reasons that harmony is so important to them. Where there is anger, sadness, stress, or irritation, these types will absorb it all like a sponge. They may not even know why they are suddenly feeling these strong emotions, only that they seem incapable of escaping them while they exist. Being able to let go of the emotions of others and compartmentalize is extremely difficult for an ENFJ or INFJ. Until the environment has returned to a state of harmony these two types will feel lost inside of whatever negative emotions are clouding the atmosphere.
This ability to empathize is a blessing and a curse for the NFJs. On one hand, it gives them a frighteningly accurate ability to understand why other people feel what they do. They will cry with you, get angry with you, feel afraid with you. The solidarity NFJs can provide is staggering. Their ability to combine feeling with intuition means that they can easily understand how your situation will unfold. If you have a desire to change your life or to reach a goal, the NFJ can help you determine what steps to take to get there. They are very driven and goal-oriented people who can easily asses a situation, see hundreds of underlying patterns and clues, and determine why you’re in the position you’re in and how to get out of it.
Another wonderful aspect of NFJs is that they believe in each person’s individuality. They are unlikely to prescribe a “one size fits all” solution to pain. They will listen to you and try to understand your needs, and tailor make a way to encourage you.
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.”
Carl Jung, INFJ
INFJs and ENFJs are renowned in the fields of psychology, counseling, and philosophy. In the MBTI® Manual, INFJs are listed as favoring the fields of religion, counseling, university teaching, and the arts “or any other occupations where they can facilitate emotional, intellectual, or spiritual development.” ENFJs are listed as favoring the fields of religion, arts, healthcare, and design “or any other occupations where they can help others with their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.”
The negative side to the feeling abilities of NFJs is that they can feel overwhelmed with the emotional input of others. Because they are in a constant state of “absorbing emotions” they can struggle with finding any internal peace if there is any external conflict at all. As an INFJ myself I know that I can’t sleep if someone in my household is upset. I’ll lay in bed feeling their pain and trying to imagine some way to resolve the situation and return my home to a place of harmony. Reading the news can be especially difficult for NFJs, as they are so touched by the hardships of people worldwide and find themselves immersing themselves in what it would be like to undergo other people’s hardships.
Don’t get me wrong, introverted feelers are also very capable of empathizing and feeling the pain of others. However, where Fi (introverted feeling) sorts out and works to understand one’s own feelings, Fe (extraverted feeling) sorts out and works to understand feelings in the external environment. For this reason, NFJs have a very difficult time differentiating other people’s emotions from their own. They may take on other people’s pains and anguish until they break under the pressure.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
– Martin Luther King Jr., ENFJ
NFJ personalities tirelessly work towards harmony, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. When this happens, they may seem like they are putting everyone before themselves. The truth is, however, that in order for them to feel at peace, their environment has to be at peace. Their efforts, while partially selfless, are also for their own good. An NFJ can hardly relax, rest, or take care of themselves while they are absorbing any kind of negative mood in the atmosphere. All must be put to rest outside, before anything can be put to rest inside.
ENFJs, because of their extroversion, often have a better ability to handle the emotions of others for a longer period of time. Because extraverted feeling is their dominant function they are in their ‘zone’ when they are dealing with the emotions of others and managing them. INFJs tend to have a little bit harder of a time because extraverted feeling is their auxiliary function, and while they absorb emotions they have to keep their dominant function (Introverted Intuition) stifled. This is one of the reason that INFJs can only handle small portions of socializing before they feel the need to escape into solitude. When they are finally all alone they can delve into their favorite function, intuition, and let the emotions and stressors of everyone else slowly and gradually unlatch from their psyche.
What Can NFJs Do When They Reach Empathy Burnout?
Just like people can overeat to the point of sickness, NFJs can over-socialize to the point of empathy burnout. Alone time is very important, more so for the INFJ than the ENFJ; but important for both nonetheless. They need to be able to extricate themselves from outside emotions every day so that they can take care of themselves and their own emotions. ENFJs may need a short period of time, because when ENFJs are very stressed, they often find relief by talking about it with a calm and trusted friend. INFJs will need a longer period of solitude and quiet to let go of the emotions of others.
Another important thing for NFJs to do is to understand what emotions are their own, and what emotions are simply the influences of other people. They can do this by writing their emotions down (the favored method for an INFJ) or speaking with someone else about their emotions (the favored method for an ENFJ). Putting their feelings “out there” into the external environment effectively helps the NFJ to feed their emotions back to themselves through extraverted feeling. The NFJ, if they choose to write out their thoughts, should read their thoughts back after they write them so that they can channel them through Fe.
NFJs need to make time to access their other cognitive functions to avoid empathy burnout. NFJs can spend quiet time in thought to access introverted intuition. They can also take a quiet walk outside and look around at nature to access intuition and sensing. Getting a change of scenery, engaging in some light problem solving, relaxing in a hot bath or drinking a cup of tea can all give the NFJ a break from overusing their extraverted feeling. The main goal is for them to have a section of time each day to unplug from other people’s emotions and feelings.
I hope that this article helps you to understand what’s happening when you experience emotional overload from other people! Do you have any suggestions or experiences you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!