INTJ, INFJ, and INXJ (oh my!)

When I first discovered Myers-Briggs about three years ago, I tested as an INTJ and all kinds of things about my life suddenly made a lot more sense. But regular prowlers of my website (hi Mom!) might have noticed that I described myself as an INFJ for over a year. I’ve since reverted to identifying as an INTJ, and the process of getting there has been a fascinating journey in self-discovery.

What I’ve found is that I am a natural INTJ that flexes to INFJ so readily, I’m almost comfortable calling myself an INXJ. For those of you well-versed in the nitty-gritty of MBTI, you might protest this is not possible. After all, am I saying that I use Fi, Fe, Ti, and Te all equally? Well, yes actually, I do. Sort of anyway. The best way to explain it is that I’ve had strong Fe and Ti influences in my life (in the form of my ESFJ mother and INTP husband), and in addition to improving in those functions, I’ve also learned to mimic their behavior with my own functional stack.

Feeling

Take for instance my supposed Fe. I’ve always loved psychological analysis, and for a long while, I thought this was ironclad proof that I was an INFJ. However, I eventually realized that I had acquired this interest from my Fe-dominant mother. My mother is an ESFJ, but having rounded out with age, she now often flexes into ENFJ territory. When I was growing up, she loved to talk to me about people. I remember long road trips where she would tell me all about this or that person, discussing their history, analyzing their motivations, and deducing their character. I still engage in this behavior, but I’ve come to realize that I’m using my Ni more than anything else. When it comes to true Fe, I still fall decisively short.

One way I figured that out was by contrasting myself with my INFJ best friend. Although not a bustling extravert like my mother, she cares deeply about people and maintains what seems to me a staggering number of intimate friends, going to great lengths to visit them and keep up with their lives. This is not me at all: I greatly prefer ideas to relationships, and outside of a very small circle of people that I fiercely love, I don’t bother to socialize much.

I also realized that I’m actually quite mediocre at reading social dynamics. This is so obvious to me now that I’ve begun wondering why I ever thought I was good at it. I think it’s because I’ve often been the most culturally integrated of my immediate family as my parents are immigrants and my husband was homeschooled, and both relied on me for some period of time to explain to them how “normal American people” behaved. This somehow managed to established me as a socially savvy person when I’m anything but.

In fact, in recent years, the tables have turned completely, with me relying on my husband (with his inferior Fe) to guide me through social situations. To illustrate with a story, I recently attended a neighborhood shindig without him. After trying to obey various (assumed) rules of party-going, I found myself in the awkward position of leaving early with a full plate of food in my hand. I hadn’t meant to be rude; I had simply gone from tree to tree and ended up completely missing the forest. When I told my husband, he thought it was a hilarious predicament and not one he would have ended up in.

That was when I began questioning how my supposed auxiliary function could be so much weaker than my husband’s inferior: It does seem laughable that an INFJ would have to rely on an INTP’s extraverted feeling to get through life.

The last bastion of my mistaken identity came crashing down when I read this lovely article by Personality Junkie. It’s actually the scoring guide to Dr. A.J.’s functional stack quiz, and it classified empathy as an Fi trait, not Fe as I had always assumed.

This was quite the revelation because I had long considered my ability to deeply empathize with others as my most compelling tie to Fe. But after some reflection, I realized that my brand of empathy is much more akin to that of the INFP (dominant Fi). Adding in the fact that I’m magnetically attracted to poetry, music, photography, and other artistic pursuits that involve an intense personal reaction, it seems much more likely that what feeling I am working with is actually Fi.

All that said, I don’t lack true Fe — and indeed, I look like quite the Fe prodigy compared to some INTJ’s I’ve encountered online. For example, I’ve played the role of peacekeeper before and have even been praised for it. I’ve also learned a great deal about business dynamics from watching my husband navigate tricky situations at work, and I expect I would be reasonably adept at it myself if put to the test. However, these behaviors exhaust me and I dread them. Contrast this with my mother, who loves nothing more than gathering her friends around her and making everyone comfortable, or my husband, who gets a bit of a rush from figuring out what everyone is thinking and how to integrate with it. It’s clear to me that my Fe is a learned and synthesized behavior and not native to who I am.

Thinking

Once I figured out the big Fe/Fi confusion, the Te/Ti debate was comparatively easy to settle. It hinged on but one faulty comparison: When my husband and I first found out our types (INTJ and INTP, respectively), I understood almost nothing about the functional stack, let alone the nuanced difference between Extraverted and Introverted Thinking. I simply thought, “Great! We’re both thinkers!”

Well, it didn’t take long to see Spencer was the stronger logician of the two of us. Next to his ruthlessly linear mind, mine seemed downright clunky. (And of course, as far as Spencer was concerned, anyone who didn’t think like he did couldn’t possibly be a thinker, so I must be a feeler right? Thus my attempt to be an INFJ …)

Now, I understand that my thinking is extraverted and that many of our differences are due to Te vs. Ti, not thinking vs. feeling. For example, this was a common exchange between us early in our marriage:

Me: Okay, I’d like us to work towards <insert goal>.
Spencer: Alright, I’m on board.
Me: Great! Let’s institute these rules and procedures.
Spencer: What?! Why?! Just tell me what you’re trying to accomplish and I’ll do it my way. I hate being micromanaged!

Or:

Me: Let’s learn this <insert neat activity> together!
Spencer: Okay, that sounds fun!
Me: So, how should we go about finding a class?
Spencer: What?! Why?! Let’s just figure it out ourselves.

(Let me pause here to chuckle. Oh, the newlywed fights …)

So why did I ever think that Ti was in my stack? I think one reason is because my Ti is actually fairly well developed, both from being around Spencer and from my mathematics degree. Another reason is that Ti and Ni overlap a great deal in their relentless desire to order the world and their ability to come to rather unconventional conclusions. In fact, a great deal of my supposed Ti is actually Ni. Even when I try to reason, my mind doesn’t really like to go in straight lines and it much prefers the capriciousness of Ni connections.

A Few Loose Ends

In many ways, I loved being an INFJ (or at least thinking that I was), and the discovery that I am really INTJ was quite the identity change. It was a relief in some ways and a disappointment in others. But in yet others, it was just confusing because it did leave a few loose ends flapping about. For example, I’m a very nurturing person, I’m quite clingy with my significant other, I can be sensitive to criticism, and I can even wax sentimental at times.

I’ve occasionally tried to explain away these tendencies using my functional stack (especially the mysterious Fi) or in the context of flexing to other neighboring types, like ISTJ. I’ve even searched for them online and was surprised to find that, though not typical, they are not unheard of in INTJ’s. In the end, I’m happy to leave them as an existential mystery … and an example of the obvious observation that, while useful as a guide, MBTI cannot explain the entirety of any person.