The INFP functional stack looks like this
Dominant: introverted feeling (Fi)
Auxiliary: extroverted intuition (Ne)
Tertiary: introverted sensing (Si)
Inferior: extroverted thinking (Te)
The problem for INFPs is that society privileges Te and Si over Ne and especially Fi.
This means that focusing on effectiveness and outcomes (Te),
or on past experience and “what worked before” (Si)
is more rewarding than
seeing abstract connections between things (Ne),
or having a deep and mysterious nonverbal inner landscape that tells you what you like and don’t like (Fi).
Yeah, that last one is a bit of a mouthful and I’ll have to unpack it later if possible.
So from childhood most INFPs are taught to put their tertiary and inferior functions ahead of their dominant and auxiliary.
This is problematic because our tertiary and inferior functions are generally weaker, less developed, and require more energy to use than our dominant and auxiliary. Depending too much on your tertiary and inferior functions means you’re not working with your strengths.
For the INFP it also means we’re not being authentic. We’re living according to the imposed values of Si and Te…demands we can meet, but at an awful cost.
The cost is that we feel awful.
Our dominant function of introverted feeling doesn’t go away. It keeps telling us “this is bad…this is bad…” even while we persist in letting our tertiary and inferior functions drive us.
We end up in this unfortunate state because for most of our lives we’ve been asked to justify and explain ourselves in terms that the broader society will appreciate; yet the very nature of introverted feeling is that it’s extremely difficult to describe or communicate to others.
Sometimes the best we can say is “I don’t feel like it”, which is not considered valid by many people.
So we stretch ourselves to come up with “reasons” that actually feel (to us) like excuses. But excuses are the only language some people will listen to. And if you can be reasonable enough, you can convince these people of your position.
They might disagree, but they’ll at least acknowledge that you’re playing their game. At least you’re giving them something to disagree with.
It’s a formative experience for an INFP to be relentlessly pushed for an answer, explanation, or justification, when really we were operating on feeling the whole time.
The people pushing for “reasons” aren’t necessarily bullies, they’re likely operating from a different function. They’re assuming that the INFP has clear and concise reasons for their behaviour, reasons that are easy to articulate and communicate.
So when the INFP struggles to communicate these reasons, the interrogator doesn’t understand the apparent reluctance or resistance. From the interrogator’s point of view, the INFP must be too afraid or too embarrassed or too malicious to share their reasons.
For the INFP, the interrogator’s scrutiny itself comes across as an indictment, an implicit charge that the vague, inarticulate world of introverted feeling is faulty and inadequate. The prolonged and persistent attempts to get an INFP to explain themselves just reinforce the INFP’s sense of being incomprehensible to others.
From what I’ve seen of other INFPs, I’m guessing I’ve gone pretty far down the road of training and depending on my tertiary and inferior functions.
But these tertiary and inferior functions are crippling when they exceed their station. I’ve begun to notice the many occasions in which Si and Te states of mind or impulses surface, to detrimental effect.
In my writing, these manifest as the internal pressure to arrive at decisive conclusions, explain my points exhaustively, be unassailable in the position I take, consider all possible objections, research everything to ensure I make no mistakes, and try repeatedly to communicate my meaning as effectively as possible.
None of these are bad things to aim for. But what happens so often is that my initial burst of inspiration is crushed and suffocated by the sheer burden of these demands.
I might have a meaningful idea I feel strongly about (Fi), that draws on some abstract connections or patterns I’ve noticed (Ne), but a third of the way in I’m already wondering “who cares about this? What’s the point?” (Te), or I’ve researched the issue in question and utterly derailed my train of thought by overloading it with new data (Si), or I’ve tried to adhere too closely to conventions of genre and the light-hearted piece I started with has turned into a weighty, leaden recount (Si).
There’s nothing wrong with Si and Te, but if what really drives you is Fi and Ne, then denying those functions is going to make you feel drained, worn out and depleted.