A few days ago I wrote a post entitled “ENFJs, INFJs and Empathy Burnout”. In this post I wrote about how the combination of intuition and extraverted feeling create a situation where NFJs “absorb” emotions from external sources and can become overwhelmed as a result. I got numerous responses from INFPs who read this post and said that they do the same thing. INFPs and ISFPs have similar empathic abilities, but they manifest in different ways. Let’s take a look!
NFJs Absorb Emotions – IFPs Mirror Emotions
IFPs have dominant introverted feeling (Fi) in their function stack. Fi’s dominant role is to explore and refine personal values, feelings, and tastes. Fi-users have a strong sense of individuality and uniqueness. They strive to maintain internal emotional order and they emotionally invest in a specific group of people, animals, or interests. Unlike Fe, Fi is introverted and intensive in its focus.
Typologist and psychologist Dr. A.J. Drenth says, “Rather than surveying and distributing feelings across a breadth of individuals (as Fe does), Fi focuses largely on one’s own feelings and sentiments…While FPs may invest in the well-being of select individuals (e.g., their children), Fi is not authentically concerned with, nor does it feel responsible for, the overall feeling tenor of groups…FPs empathize with, and form attachments to, things that move or personally affect them.”
It’s important to note that Introverted Feeling is NOT a selfish function. Some people read that it is focused on its own feelings and therefore assume that Fi is self-absorbed or self-involved. The way I understand it is that Fi-users constantly evaluate external stimuli and determine where it aligns with their own emotions and values. Do things meld with what they believe and feel? Does this emotionally feel “right” to them? Fi users also invest deeply into the emotional well-being of their loved ones, friends, or groups they feel connected with. Many IFPs are champions of the underdogs and stand up for people they feel are discriminated against or marginalized.
IFPs mirror other people’s emotions rather than “absorbing” them as NFJs do. They are skilled at taking another person’s perspective and trying to grasp how it would feel to be that person. They often think, “what would it be like if that were me?”. Because IFPs are so imaginative and/or creative, they can easily perceive how something would feel to them. When this process occurs, they feel a strong sense of empathy and compassion towards others. In early life, IFPs will have to spend a little more time and effort mirroring others because their experiences are still more limited at a young age. However, as their life evolves and their experiences broaden they become more and more fluent at understanding and mirroring the emotions of others. This results in them very quickly being able to identify where others are coming from as if they are experiencing it themselves. This is one reason why IFPs are often skilled in the dramatic arts, because it is very easy for them to imagine and empathize with the emotional state of others.
“The thing I get out of acting is … inhabiting the world of the role. … If I can keep losing myself – and finding parts of myself … then that’s all I can really ask for.”
– Andrew Garfield, an INFP
The difference in NFJ empathy and NFP empathy is that NFJs experience the emotions of others (everyone in the room) in real time, regardless of the relationship, without trying, and without being able to differentiate as easily their own emotions from another person’s. NFPs, in contrast, sense a select number of people’s emotions, imagine what it would be like to experience those emotions themselves, and then in turn “feel” and empathize with those emotions. IFPs are unavoidably aware of their own emotions and feelings, and choose to process other people’s emotions through Fi by mirroring or imagining what it would be like. NFJs are unavoidably aware of other people’s emotions and have to work harder at understanding their own emotions since Fi is not in their primary function stack.
Introverted Feeling and Open-Mindedness
IFPs are known for being open-minded and receptive towards others. Because they don’t align themselves with an external value system, they are non-judgmental and willing to hear out anyone’s situation or plight with understanding. Many people take advantage of the IFPs open-mindedness and use them as a “dumping ground” for their emotional baggage. Because the IFP wants so much to understand and relate to the plight of their loved ones, this can leave them feeling drained. On the other hand, in a healthy relationship, the IFP can open the eyes of their friends and loved ones to new perspectives and a self-actualization that can result in healing and immense self-improvement.
“We pity in others only those evils which we ourselves have experienced.”
– Jean-Jacques Rosseau, an ISFP
Because introverted feeling is so value-focused in an internal way (“what is right for me”) Fi users will focus more intensely on a specific group of people. Introverted functions have a smaller breadth but a deeper focus, whereas extraverted functions have a wider breadth but a more shallow focus. So Fi users may care intensely for a specific group of people, pulling all their energy into understanding and empathizing and helping them. As I said before, IFPs are very focused on standing up for people, animals, or causes they feel are needing attention. They hate to see injustice of any kind, so they thrive on championing and speaking for small groups of people who need a voice. Conversely, they may have a more difficult time empathizing with people who are outside of that “group” because their motives and emotions are so different from their own or because their passions conflict with their own. This does not mean that IFPs are “cliquey” types at all. Far from it. It merely means that they won’t be able to as easily empathize with people who are walking on a very different road from their own and in a different direction than their “group”. They are selective with whom they choose to share their intense feelings with, yet they are always willing to lend a listening ear to anyone who needs it.
Feeling Emotions in Group Situations
An IFP in a one-on-one conversation with a close friend may very easily “feel” what their friend is feeling. However, they are unlikely to absorb the feelings of a complete stranger who’s just entered the room.They will put all their energy into fully understanding one person at a time and connecting with them. The NFJ, in contrast, may suddenly absorb feelings from someone on the other side of the room while simultaneously absorbing the emotions of the person they’re talking to. This is where introverted feeling can be more focused in its depth but have less breadth, and extraverted feeling can have more breadth but less depth.
Introverted Feeling and Career Fields
In the MBTI® Manual, INFPs are listed as being renowned in the fields of arts, counseling, social sciences, and writing “or any other occupation where they can use their creativity and focus on their values.” ISFPs are renowned in the fields of health care, business, law enforcement, and skilled trades “or any other occupations where they can use their gentle, service-related attentiveness to detail.”
The Beauty of Introverted Feeling
Introverted Feeling is so authentic in its nature, that IFPs are driven to be honest in all their dealings with people. Yet alongside this honesty is a deep urge to care for others. IFPs are gentle souls who rarely, if ever, will intentionally hurt another person’s feelings. They have an innate sense of compassion for people and an ability to see everyone as unique and capable of goodness. IFPs are known for their incredible listening skills, the ability to listen with their “whole brain” and shut out other distractions. In an IFP friend you will find someone who not only listens to you and respects you but who is also willing to give you tough words of wisdom and advice when it’s needed. Of course, most of the time they will do this in the gentlest way possible because they don’t like to force their views on other people and they are very aware of the power words have to hurt or offend.
“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
– George Orwell, an INFP
How IFPs Can Avoid Empathic Overwhelm
IFPs need to make sure they take time for self care so that they don’t overload their senses with the emotional cares of others. IFPs are extremely generous souls and will be unyielding in their efforts to help people they care deeply about. This can cause them to overwork and tire themselves to the point of exhaustion. It’s important for IFPs to make time to be alone, to recharge in their own space, and to get in touch with their own emotions without the demands of others weighing down on them.
Finding ways to be creative helps the IFP to avoid getting overwhelmed emotionally. They are greatly influenced by artwork, and can find relief and solace by seeing their emotions in the arts of other people. This can be artistic expression in painting, music, film, or poetry. IFPs long to find solidarity and validation for their feelings. Many times they can feel a sense of peace and understanding if they can find some creative way to have their own emotions “mirrored”.
IFPs also find relief from writing their emotions down and expressing them in a creative way. They love to read literature about people who stand up for their values, who fight for their beliefs, and who have that same strong sense of right and wrong that they hold within themselves.
Other ways for the IFP to avoid emotional overwhelm include getting in touch with their other cognitive functions. It’s important not to always rely on the dominant function and overuse it to the point of exhaustion. IFPs should look for inspiration through their auxiliary function, either intuition or sensing. They can do this by getting outside and exploring nature, reading books, or listening to music. These activities can also put them in touch with their sensing side.
What Do You Think?
Do you experience empathy overwhelm? Do you have any suggestions? Let me know in the comments!