Do you live with one foot in the physical world and one in the realm of imagination? Are you an empathetic and introspective person but struggle with explaining to others the rich inner landscape of ideas and emotions within you? If so, you may find yourself caught in the INFJ/INFP tug-of-war – two of the most idealistic personality types under the Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) system.
As sensitive souls and visionaries, INFJs and INFPs share some similarities in both letters and outward behaviors, and may appear nearly interchangeable on the surface. However, as we delve deeper into the analysis of their cognitive functions, we find that they have significant yet subtle differences, from how they process information and make decisions to how they handle their own and others’ emotions. Gaining insight into these differences can be a profoundly rewarding experience and help you embrace the gifts of your unique personality.
What are Cognitive Functions?
When it comes to differentiating between such similar personality types, understanding their cognitive functions is the key as they provide a more nuanced and precise understanding of the inner minds of each type.Cognitive functions are the mental processes used by individuals to gather information and make decisions. There are 4 cognitive processes: Feeling, Thinking, Intuition and Sensing, and they can be either introverted (directed inwards) or extraverted (directed outwards), resulting in 8 cognitive functions.
In the MBTI framework, each type is characterized predominantly by the relative dominance of 4 functions: a dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior function. Much like our dominant hand versus non-dominant hand, we have a greater level of confidence and comfort using our dominant function compared to the ones lower in our functional stack. The further we move down the stack towards our auxiliary, tertiary and then inferior function, the less control and awareness we have over its influence on us. To understand better how the cognitive function stack is determined for a particular type, you can read the detailed guide here.
Understanding the cognitive functions of INFJs and INFPs is like uncovering the hidden gears that drive their unique personalities. Each type has a unique stack of cognitive functions, which are explained below.
|Dominant||Introverted Intuition (Ni) – relies on abstract connections, speculates about potential and potential implications.||Introverted Feeling (Fi) – relies on a deep understanding of personal values and beliefs, and a desire to live in congruence with them.|
|Auxiliary||Extraverted Feeling (Fe) – relies on sensitivity to the emotional states of others and feelings of harmony with the world.||Extraverted Intuition (Ne) – relies on abstract possibilities, generates novel ideas about what things can be.|
|Tertiary||Introverted Thinking (Ti) – uses personal framework of technical knowledge and skill to prevent/avoid/solve problems||Introverted Sensing (Si) – relies on sensory details, processes concrete details via comparing/contrasting with past experiences.|
|Inferior||Extraverted Sensing (Se) – maintains direct relationship to the world via physical sensations.||Extraverted Thinking (Te) – relies on knowledge of external systems, uses empirical data to make effective decisions|
For a more detailed explanation and examples for each cognitive function, click here.
Distinguishing Between INFJ and INFP
Now that we have a better understanding of the cognitive functions that INFJs and INFPs use, we can examine how these functions shape their personalities and lead to the following differences in their behavior and preferences.
- Analytical vs Artistic Thinking
One of the primary differences between INFJ and INFP is how they approach the world and process information. INFJs take a more analytical approach, using their dominant Introverted Intuition (Ni) to understand the purpose and meaning of things, narrowing down possibilities to the most suitable ones. They look outside in, searching for the underlying patterns and themes and observing how different parts work together to form a cohesive whole.
On the other hand, INFPs lean more towards artistic and creative thinking. Guided by their values and emotions (due to their Fi), they look inside out, focusing on how they feel about things rather than their intended purpose or meaning. Furthermore, their Ne, which is exploratory in nature, also helps them generate multiple possibilities and ideas, allowing them to approach problems from a creative and imaginative standpoint.
- Decisive vs Exploratory Decision Making
Another difference between INFJ and INFP is their approach to decision-making. INFJs tend to be decisive and efficient in reaching a decision. They meticulously analyze, and pare down all the available options to reach their desired goals (using their Ni, often supported by their Ti) without any perceived waste of time or resources. This makes them strategic, thoughtful, and observant in their decision-making approach.
On the other hand, INFPs have an authentic love and appreciation for exploring new experiences, and aren’t necessarily fixated on finding the one “perfect” solution. They tend to generate a plethora of ideas using their Ne, often throwing every possible option at the wall to see what sticks. Their satisfaction comes from the process of uncovering possibilities that extend beyond the present reality, rather than the decision itself. This approach to decision-making is marked by an open-minded and exploratory mindset that values creativity and imagination.
- Absorbing vs Mirroring Emotions
INFJs are highly attuned to the emotions of others due to their Fe, which makes them expert social chameleons. They have a remarkable ability to read the room quickly thanks to the input from their Extraverted Sensing (Se), discerning subtle changes in others’ tone, body language, and behavior, and adapt their own behavior to promote social harmony. However, this ability to absorb others’ emotions can be overwhelming and often leaves INFJs struggling to differentiate their own feelings from those of others.
On the other hand, INFPs’ Introverted Feeling (Fi) is more focused on their own values, morals, and emotions. They are not likely to alter their behavior to please others, as they prioritize their own feelings and authenticity. INFPs can still very well understand what others are going through by putting themselves in their shoes, but they only mirror the emotions of others rather than absorbing them. This makes it easier for them to maintain a healthy emotional distance and not get overwhelmed by the emotions of others. This emotional clarity also allows them to remain true to themselves and their values, often leading them to pursue creative outlets where they can express themselves freely.
- Community-Oriented vs Individualistic Relationship Orientation
INFJs and INFPs approach their relationships with others in very distinct ways. INFJs, due to their Fe, are community-oriented people, guided by a vision of how relationships and society ‘ought to be’. They tend to take on a more active and assertive role in relationships, seeking to build connections and harmony, and facilitate communication. This, combined with their ability to value shared experiences of the group, often also leads them to be chosen for positions of authority and leadership roles by others, even if they do not actively seek them.
While INFJs have a stronger desire to build community, INFPs prefer more intimate connections. INFPs lead with their hearts, following their personal values and beliefs (due to their Fi). INFPs approach relationships with an idealistic and personalized focus. They prefer intimate one-on-one connections, built on profound emotional understanding and shared values. However, they may struggle with setting clear boundaries and asserting themselves, which can lead to difficulties in expressing their needs and built-up resentment.
- Developing a “Sensor’s Eye” vs a “Thinker’s Mind”
Personal growth and development are important to both INFJs and INFPs, but their paths to achieving it can be quite different. Due to their inferior functions, they may struggle in certain areas and experience unique challenges. Inferior functions represent an aspirational but weak or “tip toeing” part of one’s personality. People rarely notice their inferior functions under normal conditions. However, when stressed or fatigued, these weaker functions emerge in unintended and disruptive ways. People are said to “be in the grip” of the inferior functions in this situation. Healthy INFJs and INFPs see their inferior functions not as weaknesses but opportunities to grow. Through conscious dedication, what was once a liability can be transformed into a source of strength and depth.
INFJs pursue growth through cultivating their inferior Extraverted Sensing (Se) function. In the grip, the dark side of Se takes hold, inducing escapism through overindulgence in sensory pleasures. INFJs may binge watch TV, overeat, or become shortsighted in pleasure-seeking, which they regret later when the stress subsides. To strengthen Se, INFJs must gain awareness of this unconscious tendency and learn control. Moreover, INFJs prioritize their personal insights and “gut feelings” over concrete details. Healthy INFJs aspire to strengthen Se by cultivating awareness of the external world, and being more present and responsive to external sensory stimuli. What seemed abstract must become visceral. Through practice and patience, INFJs can develop a “sensor’s eye” able to see beyond concepts to practical realities.
In contrast, INFPs nurture their Extraverted Thinking (Te) to develop mastery. When in the grip of Te, INFPs tend to get hyper-critical of themselves and others, frantically solving problems or nitpicking processes. They must tame their urge to organize or “fix” everything when stressed through hypercriticism or forced efficiency. Healthy INFPs aspire to strengthen Te through developing a pragmatic “thinker’s mind.” Te demands analyzing information objectively, stepping away from personal values to evaluate options rationally and decisively. For INFPs, it means moving away from imagination to implementation by formulating feasible strategies and evaluating resources effectively.
Now that you know the key differences between INFJs and INFPs, where do you stand? Take some time to reflect on which tendencies feel most natural and authentic to you. Remember, self-discovery is a lifelong journey and determining your personality type is just the beginning. It can be a powerful tool to help you embrace your strengths and chart your own path in life. For INFPs, recognizing your idealism and depth of caring can help you set boundaries when needed and express your authentic feelings. Similarly, if you are an INFJ, understanding your empathy and desire for harmony can guide you towards finding balance and connecting with your own needs.
If you still feel conflicted, take the next step and read the detailed descriptions of both the INFJ and INFP personality types. It will provide you with a framework to explore the depths of who you are – and who you want to become. Use this knowledge as a springboard to continue your growth, follow your purpose, and build authentic relationships where your gifts are truly appreciated.