The INFP, like all MBTI personality types, is full of fascinating contrasts. There is introversion that looks for quiet, comfort, and safety, mixed with a need for exploration. There is also emotional sensitivity paired with emotional grit. As an INFP, I realize that I regularly work with emotions within myself that others wouldn’t dare touch.
The tendency INFPs have of working with their inner darkness shows up often in fictional INFPs. I think of Luke Skywalker facing the dark side or Frodo dealing with his desire for the ring. Even in Greek mythology, Persephone is a female INFP who is kidnapped to the underworld and learns to be the queen of it all. She becomes a person who successfully unites light and dark.
What stands out to me about these stories is that as the INFP character honestly faces their inner darkness, their personality becomes more whole. They reaffirm their current gifts while reclaiming the abilities they had lost sight of while gaining loving awareness and acceptance of their deepest personal pitfalls.
However, this intense inner growth isn’t purely the stuff of fiction. It matches the process of psychological integration, which Carl Jung called Individuation. Individuation corresponds with the concept of Self-Actualization introduced by psychologist Abraham Maslow.
Individuation is important because it’s through this process that we begin to see the flaws not only in the stories we’ve created about ourselves but also in the stories others have created about us. It’s about no longer letting our fears and the shape-shifting opinions of others form our identity. It also involves approaching the rejected parts of our inner selves (AKA the Shadow with love and care.
Individuation is about becoming more of yourself and being intentional about which external influences and memories you will allow to mold who you are.
Individuation is also necessary to create boundaries between where you end, and others begin. It’s essential for building healthy relationships that aren’t tainted with codependency. Overall, this process makes us better at taking care of ourselves. Self-care fails when we don’t know who we are, especially our shadow sides which are a struggle to stay aware of.
Unlike in fiction, the process of individuation can take many years, maybe even a lifetime. However, the results are that little by little we learn how to understand and accept our conflicting personality traits and integrate them into our identity.
This often involves working with repressed emotional experiences, and cultural archetypes and integrating parts of these into oneself. This also means coming to terms with the masks we wear, accepting our inner “masculine” and “feminine” energies, and working with our shadows and blind spots.
But why are INFPs sometimes attracted to working with psychological material that others may find threatening?
It could have to do with how INFPs have introverted feeling as their primary function. Introverted feeling is always asking, “How do I feel about this?” For INFPs, looking within is happening all the time. So when others fear looking at their inner landscape, for INFPs it’s just part of everyday life.
Also, INFPs have extraverted intuition as their secondary function. Extraverted intuition is all about exploration, creativity, and discovering new connections. So when the first and secondary functions are paired together, this creates a tendency towards self-exploration.
Personally, my drive to make sense of my inner experience forces me to look at not just the physical effects of my emotions but the reasons for them. When I think back to when I was going through severe depression and anxiety, I wanted to know why I was feeling these things–beyond the biochemical. I wanted to dig into the roots of my emotional experiences and memories and examine how they were affecting how I interpreted my life.
My determination to get to the bottom of it all has helped me to heal emotionally many times, even if it meant dealing with unpleasant things from my childhood, learning about my triggers, or taking an honest look at the parts of my personality that I’ve tried to ignore.
And each lesson learned moves us further along the process of individuation and self-actualization.
So what does this process look like for the INFP?
For a while I’ve been wondering if personal growth for INFPs had a plot-line, what would that look like? So this month and next month, I’ll be sharing a series of posts outlining how I imagine it, based on what I’ve learned about archetypes and the process of going into the darkness and coming out of it, which I’ve experienced many times myself.
In case you’re wondering, archetypes are universal inborn models of people, behaviors, and personalities. Archetypes are the foundations for characters in movies, literature, and art. As humans, it’s important to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves and the characters we play in those stories. So I use archetypes to illustrate the different roles we take on as we grow into self-acceptance.
This isn’t always a linear journey, and you may end up repeating it many times throughout your life, but making progress towards individuation is still the result.
The Beginning: The Innocent
At the start, the INFP will most likely embody these archetypes:
- The Innocent
- The Maiden
- The Explorer
- The Child
(UPDATE: If you would like to get a better idea of which of these archetypes are you right now, there’s a test for that! Check out the free Discover Your INFP Archetypes Test and Workbook)
There is an emotional naivete, and maybe even blindness not only towards the negative intentions of others, but also the negative aspects of oneself. At this stage the INFP may also be the Explorer, feeling like something is missing in their life, but having no clue what. There is the sensation of looking for something that’s out of reach.
The common description of INFPs being “gooey cinnamon rolls” really fits here. This makes me think of how back in middle school, there was a girl who was always making fun of me, and I would laugh along with her. But then one day, one of my friends was like, “Hey, do you like it when that girl treats you like that?”
I thought about it for a moment. And then I said, “No. I don’t.” Believe it or not, I was totally out of touch about how I felt about her teasing until it was brought to my attention. It was like I was blind to that girl’s meanness until it was pointed out. I’ll never forget how my friend said, “You need to tell her to stop.”
And that’s what I did. And fortunately, the teasing immediately ended the moment I stood up for myself.
At this stage, what the INFP needs the most is to connect authentically with their inner world. This involves learning how to identify emotions accurately and knowing how to separate how you think you “should” feel from what you honestly feel.
This is also a good time to journal regularly about your dreams and desires, no matter how fantastic. Getting in touch with what you want is essential at a stage where you may be quick to ignore your needs. The Innocent bends easily to the will of others and may forget to take care of themselves. The Innocent can fall into saying “yes” to everything too quickly and struggle with separating their needs and desires from those of others.
The Innocent archetype also tends to think that life should always go the way they want. They are naive to the concept of flowing with the unpredictability of life.
By the way, you can embody these archetypes at any point in your life. The Innocent archetype was me two years ago before my life-altering experience with chronic pain. You can embody multiple archetypes at the same time as well.
So what happens to the Innocent that rocks their view of the world? How does that ignite the personal growth of the INFP? I’ll answer that in my next post!
Also, you may want to check out some of the archetypes I mentioned here and see if they resonate with you. Pinterest is a great place to start your research.
And if you feel ready to go even deeper into the magic of working with your archetypes you may also enjoy taking my simple, yet insightful INFP Archetype Connection Workshop.
How has the Innocent, Child, Maiden, or Explorer played a role in your life?