Not long ago, someone commented on my blog and asked, “Is there any way to get just a casual INFJ friendship?” We INFJs have a reputation for approaching relationships with an all-or-nothing sort of attitude. Either we pour ourselves whole-heartedly into a relationship, or we keep the other person at a distance that might qualify them as acquaintances, but not friends.
It’s a stereotype, but like many stereotypes, there’s a kernel of truth at its core. INFJs crave deep connection. When we hit it off with someone new, there’s a temptation to share our souls with them and try to deepen the connection. For many of us, this has led to heartache when you realize the person you opened up to can’t be trusted, and we react by shielding our hearts and not letting new people get close. We sort people into levels of trusted and not-trusted and interact with them accordingly.
An all-or-nothing attitude towards relationships is not a sign of a healthy, mature INFJ. If we want to develop meaningful relationships, we have to learn how to let people get close. We also have to learn how to block damaging people from our lives.
Our tendency to sort people into categories based on whether or not we trust them and how close we’ll let them get can actually be a good tool for this, if we use it consciously to guard ourselves and to develop healthier relationships with people.
These are the people we’ve just met or those who we’ve known for a while but still interact with at a “shallow” level. At this level, INFJs pretty much treat everyone the same, whether we like/agree with them or not. We don’t encourage deep conversations with acquaintances, we nod and smile when they’re talking to minimize risk of conflict, and we answer their questions in a brief, friendly way before making our escape.
Even people who we see frequently can stay on the acquaintance trust level indefinitely. It would include people we have to associate with but don’t agree with or trust. This might be the relative who argues and shouts whenever you see them at mandatory gatherings, your best friend’s emotionally draining mother, or an in-law who imposes their rigid political views on everyone else. These are people you have to be nice to but don’t necessarily want to be around.
A step up from acquaintance is the casual friend, a category INFJs might be tempted to skip. We either want people in the friend category or keep them at arms-length as acquaintances. The people who I think of as casual friends usually have to contact me if they want to get together. I enjoy seeing them when we run into each other, but don’t go out of my way to make that happen.
INFJs actually have a good reason for limiting our interaction with most people. We have a limited amount of social energy so we usually spend it on the people we’re already close to or people we want in our close friend circle. This can, however, hold us back as we pursue deep friendships.
Cultivating casual friendships can be a good way to start deepening relationships with people and learning whether or not you can trust them. It’s also a good way to give people a second chance and not fall prey to judging them too quickly. You might find that someone you weren’t interested in talking to at first becomes a good friend upon further acquaintance.
The true friend category is where we INFJs keep people who we care deeply about but don’t feel like we can share all of our true selves with. It includes family members and friends who we have decided we cannot really confide in but still love deeply.
I’ve even heard from INFJs who feel their spouse falls into this category. Cultivating these friendships is one way to help fill your INFJ need for connection with other people. These people already care about you and you should be able to share your thoughts with them. Try opening up and see what happens. They might actually understand you more than you think they will.
This is the inner circle, the people we trust and who we have let get close. It’s the type of friendship we’re searching for; the place where INFJs find the intimate emotional and intuitive connection we crave. Many INFJs only have one person in this category and some have yet to find this connection. It’s always a very small number of people.
I, personally, am blessed to have more than one soul-friend. They are the people I contact first when I get good news that makes me dance around the room or when I’m slammed by grief. They’re the ones I can tell anything and they’ll listen patiently as I try to sort my tangled thoughts out into words that make sense. It’s a beautiful thing and, for me, they’re relationships that developed and deepened over many years.
INFJs who are looking for soul friends can make the mistake of investing foul-friend levels of commitment in people who aren’t worthy. This often happens when we try to skip the “lower” levels of friendship and jump right to an intimate soul-connection. If this goes poorly, that’s when we feel like we have to do an “INFJ door slam” to disconnect from them. The closer someone gets, the worse it hurts us if they betray us.
The effort to develop friendships on every level exercises your co-pilot extroverted Feeling (Fe) process and gives you opportunities for cultivating the deeper relationships you crave. Taking charge of getting people together by hosting a gathering at your house or organizing an outing can also have the added benefit of making socialization less awkward since you’re doing it on your own terms and have a better idea of what to expect.
Cultivating healthy friendships is a challenge for every personality type. For the sensitive, introverted INFJs, it can also feel intimidating or even dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be. We can choose to intentionally cultivate friendships at many different levels, eventually trust people and open up our hearts to them.
Marissa Baker is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in web and print publications including eHow, Modern Mom, Boundless.org and Living Education. Her first ebook, The INFJ Handbook, is available in the Amazon Kindle store. Marissa’s passion for connecting with people through writing fuels her personal blog, where she shares thoughts on everything from psychology to Star Wars to religion.