As an INFJ, I crave deep connections with people. Yet at the same time, I fear opening up. We’re rare – only about 1% of the population – and our minds work differently than most people we meet. Intuitive types are more likely to understand us, but they’re in the minority as well at about 30% of the population. Most INFJs grow up feeling misunderstood, and that makes us hesitant to share who we are with other people. But if we don’t share, we can’t find the intimacy we long for.
There’s nothing wrong with being selective about the people you consider friends. In fact, it’s healthy to surround yourself with people who will support and encourage you instead of tearing your down or betraying you. Not everyone deserves your trust, and you’re under no obligation to open your heart up to someone who you aren’t comfortable with.
But sometimes I wonder if my fear of being hurt is sabotaging my quest for deep relationships. If we’re letting fear drive us, then it’s time for something to change.
Accept The Past
Before we can start letting people in, we have to deal with the things that make us want to shut others out. I think many of us have trouble opening up because of something that happened in the past. We’ve all had the experience of trying to share a precious idea with someone only to be told it’s “stupid,” “doesn’t make sense,” or some variation on that theme.
When others devalue our intuitive insights it’s tempting to never share them again so we don’t have to risk another rejection.
INFJs tend to throw themselves heart and soul into relationships. If we’ve done that and then been betrayed by the person we trusted, the emotional scars run deep.
I was friends once with someone who would invite me to share my heart with him and who was attentive when we were in the same location, but otherwise acted like I didn’t exist unless he wanted to talk. My questions went unanswered, my feelings unheeded. Many tears later, I gave him the “INFJ door slam” and thought I moved on.
It turned out that when I shut him out, I shut other people out as well. I would think, “You seem nice, but he did too at first and I’m not going to give you the level of friendship you’d need to hurt me like that.”
It felt like I was protecting myself, but really I was just keeping anyone from getting close. INFJs have a great capacity for compassion and attachment, and we hurt ourselves and others when we turn that off. Journal, pray, get counseling, talk to a friend – whatever you need to accept the past, heal, and let yourself move forward.
Take Little Steps
I struggle to find a balance between sharing nothing and sharing way too much. As INFJs, we have a tendency to hold things in until we feel ready to share them, and then let all our thoughts and feelings out at once. This switch from quiet to intense can scare people, especially if we don’t know them very well (although some personality types find this very appealing, mostly other intuitives).
If we want to develop relationships with people, we need to learn to open up a little at a time. This protects us from getting too deep in a relationship before we know we can trust someone, and also lets the person we’re getting to know feel like they’re getting closer to us. As we deepen our friendships, there will be more opportunity for the deep conversations we crave.
When you’re in a conversation with someone you want to know better, try introducing at least one question that will give you both a chance to open up. If you want a list of topics, take a look at the 36 intimacy-building questions social psychology researcher Arthur Aron used in his research. Some are too personal for most new acquaintances, but others could start an interesting conversation. You could also say something like, “Hey, I was thinking about ____ earlier today/this week. What do you think?”
You don’t have to let everyone into your life who wants to be your friend. INFJs are often very social introverts, but we do have limited social energy and we want to spend it on people we really care about and who make us feel safe. Give yourself permission to let some people be casual friends and acquaintances, and focus on building closeness with a select few.
As you take small steps toward getting to know someone, you learn more about whether or not you can trust them to know the real you. Be selective, but do remember to give people a chance. One of my best friends who I’ve been very close with for over 10 years is an ESFJ (Extrovert, Sensing, Feeling, Judicial) – I would have missed out on a wonderful friendship if I’d assumed she couldn’t understand me because she’s a sensing type.
Be brave, my fellow INFJs. Opening up is scary, but the rewards of good friendships are well worth it. I wish you good luck in your quest for quality friendships.
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.