In our deep-seated desire to learn more about ourselves, most of us have probably spent too much time taking personality quizzes.
I’m something called an INFJ, the rarest personality type in the U.S., with about 1.5 percent of the population fitting that category.
Being an INFJ means:
• We tend towards being introverts and stay in our own heads a lot, rather than focusing on the outer world like an extrovert.
• The “N” means we’re intuitive, taking in information in patterns and focusing on the future instead of the present like a “sensory” type.
• Because we are “feeling” vs. “thinking,” we make decisions based on values rather than objective measures.
• We are “J” for “judging,” meaning we have a plan and stick to it, instead of being “Ps” for perceiving, who may be better at winging things than us.
In other words, this salad of personality traits supposedly makes us natural-born protectors, empaths, counselors, confidantes, advocates and all-around “do-ers,” not navel-gazers, according to the Internet and its 18.3 million Google results devoted to the INFJ type.
Why is that a rare combination?
The only way to know for sure if you're an INFJ is to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment, which is based on the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung and his theory of personality type. It was formalized into a test by Isabel Briggs Myers, and her mother, Katharine Briggs. The 93-question assessment came into prominent use in the early 1960s and is still used by the majority of Fortune 100 companies and in higher education to help determine, among other things, communication styles.
The assessment uses four pairs of opposites to define personality type: Introvert (I) v. Extrovert (E); Intuitive (N) v. Sensory (S); Thinking (T) v. Feeling (F) and Judging (J) v. Perceiving (P). Finish the assessment and you’re going to wind up in one of 16 possible combinations.
Dissecting the INFJ, or any of the other 15 types, is fairly rigorous because everyone is an individual. But broad generalities can be made by looking at the middle letters called “function pairs,” says Donna M. Ives, an MBTI master practitioner who does consulting work with groups as diverse as international labor unions, IT professionals, scientists and students.
In the case of INFJ types, that’s the “N” and the “F.”
“These pairs tell a lot about a type, and NFs are really viewed as very compassionate, and highly empathetic individuals who like to focus on ideas and people versus say an ST who approaches things more analytically or objectively,” Ives says.
Many INFJs are often mistaken for extroverts
That’s because INFJs are “very warm, interested in the people that they are with, especially on a one-on-one basis,” Ives says. ”Actually, being a reporter is kind of a dream job for an INFJ since so much interaction is one-on-one.”
Ives stresses that although you fall into a category, you are an individual, and the assessment doesn’t measure character or abilities. Plus, it isn’t a diagnostic tool. “There is no bad type or better type, there are just preferences that are shown,” says Ives. “INFJs are really interesting, and you find them everywhere.”
How can we be everywhere if we are so darn rare?
Actually, several types are rather scarce, according to the estimates of the relative frequency of each of the 16 types in the U.S. population, provided by the Myers & Briggs Foundation.
ENTJs, those extroverted, intuitive, thinking and judgement-oriented folks, represent only 1.8 percent of the population. INTJs, just one letter off from us INFJs, show up about 2.1 percent of the time. The largest represented type is ISFJ, introverted, sensing, feeling and judging, at 13.8 percent. Overall, “sensing” individuals are more common than us “feely” types.
Some possible explanations for the relative rarity of INFJs may be due to the fact that we’re just not in situations where the test is offered, or maybe we don’t want to take the test, says Dr. Carla Stebbins, a New-York based certified MBTI practitioner who works in higher education.
Another possibility is that when taking the assessment, people may not be honest, especially if they believe being an extrovert is better than being an introvert, she says.
Which personality type are you?
The MBTI is widely used, but it’s not fully embraced by the psychology community because of its either-or approach to personality traits, among other factors. Plus, some folks can get different results when re-taking a test. (I’ve taken it twice, both in formal settings, years apart, and I still come up an INFJ.)
But true believers say it's an excellent approach to discovering more about your style. “There is something very good and natural about trying to understand yourself,” Stebbins says, adding personality type results should never be used to limit someone or for hiring purposes.
“Any personality type can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do,” she adds.
If you’re curious, an online search will show you a ton of ways that you can take some version of the MBTI for free. Or your employer may offer it during a team-building exercise. You can always plunk over $50 here and do an interactive version. Or you can plunk over bigger bucks and work with a certified practitioner.
Just remember: You are more than a four-letter combo of personality. Stay away from trolls who want to pigeonhole your career or relationship choices based on the MBTI personality type.