Who I really am (exploring “the dreamer”)

Why is the question “who am I?” so important to me (because, I can assure you, it’s the primary question of my life)? Why do I put so much onus on tools such as Myers-Briggs? Because I know myself to be more abstract than made of solid materials, which makes it vert hard to see what that “looks like” in practical terms, therefore just so intriguing (even necessary, for a far more fulfilling, comfortable, purpose-made, targetted life) to even try.

An analogy is the way the Invisible Man can only be seen in a “wrapper” (such as bandages or a suit of clothes). MB, and other tools like it, serves as a kind of wrapper that helps me to see my core yet otherwise largely abstract “self” rather better than I might otherwise do. I get to fathom some of the most intrinsic qualities and preferences of my personality type which, far from being some sort of triviality compared to “soul”, is really an unchanging throughout our lifetime representation of that soul that serves as the interface where it meets the physical, circumstantial world we engage with as human beings. Getting to see this interface mirrored back at ourselves is powerful and I have always found it especially so, particularly since I don’t spent a lot of time around other people “reflecting me back at myself” (as all relationships do, unreliable as that can be in any case) or measuring myself according to success, popularity or possessions. MB has got close…very close…to handing me a sort of formula or handbook to at least starting to understand myself better but, here’s the thing, its done that incredibly well, even though I now believe I have been wrong all along about which MB personality type I am!

How could this be? When I first got into MB, I did more than one online assessment “test”, I read all the books I could get my hands on, watched countless videos, the lot…and I was convinced I was INFJ (as I wrote about at the time). So how could this mix-up even happen and what does that mean about all I feel I have learned from the experience since?

Well, it does happen that we sometimes get it wrong from the self-assessments and, apparently, the INFP (which I now believe I am) is more prone to trying on other MB personality types than any other, by virtue of it being part of the INFP trait bundle to “try on” many different personas, like different hats, during the exploratory phase of their life, as they search for the one that feels absolutely the truest fit , such is their curiosity and long-term desire to be authentically themselves when it comes to getting to know what that looks like (I can certainly lay-claim to experimenting with various versions of myself in my earlier years). There is a particular confusion that often occurs between INFP and INFJ and, in fact, it is such a classic issue to mistake one for the other, even though they are very different, that there are countless videos, books and podcasts addressing this very topic. Both are introverted, both are feelers making them human-centric over “ideas” fixated yet they otherwise have quite different operating systems.

Well, I always love a good paradox and here I find out that I am almost the opposite to how I thought I was and yet with no great collapse of who I continue to be in the process; instead, I have only grown in the process!

So, how do I know I am one of those many people that mistook myself for INFJ when INFP, or vice versa? First, I ran a MB test again, just the other day, on the back of a conversation with a new friend who is INFJ. We have been having some very in-depth “get to know you” conversations and, perhaps it was because she and I are so very different in some very fundamental ways, to do with motivations and how we interact with others, even though we share many core interests, that I was prompted to redo the test, because I have never, knowingly, had an INFJ friend before. In fact, one of the first things I did, all those years ago, was join some INFJ communities on FB and, to this day, I have struggled to find very much relatability to their core attitudes to life or motivations for doing things yet still I stuck to my guns because of all the reading and testing I had done. However, the one person I really gel with in this world, as-in we share so many of the same approaches and value priorities, is my husband…the INFP!

So, I did the 16-personalities test the other day and it brought me up as an INFP and, its interesting how, I wasn’t really that surprised or indignant. Normally, I might have assumed “its got me wrong”and held fast to my INFJ label but this time I continued my enquiries with several more tests (there seem to be more around than there were back then, including a very detailed one from Personality Max which is now my favourite). As all of them came out as INFP, I really couldn’t dismiss the result. So then I dived some videos about why this overlap might happen, give some of the core traits are opposite, and started reading some books, including a highly regarded one by Heidi Priebe, “The Comprehensive INFP Surivival Guide”, which addresses this very question in the early chapters.

In very short time, I could see how this INFP-FJ confusion might have happened and not only “could” I feasibly be an INFP but it now feels glaringly obvious, like “why didn’t I see this before??” A combination of communication breakdown between the questions (or my interpretation of them) and my answers plus a certain bias in the way I might have answered them a few years ago probably played the biggest part in this confusion. I honestly believe, from long-observation, that the more my health is in the mire (and it really was down in the basement struggling along, three or so years ago), the more withdrawn, “autistic” (by which I mean the social and sensory struggle factors associated with my autism rather than the gifts of neurodiversity) and introverted in some distinctly INFJ ways I become. None of which is not to say INFJ traits are wrong or anything to do with being disfunctional…far from it…only that they are wrong for me. Thus, when I am not doing so well in my health, my personality gets a little taken off its natural tracks and so I fixate on different things, wider perspectives, other people’s problems and generally get stuck into different processing priorities/modalities to my norm, meaning they aren’t my strength. I guess you could say that I notice how “I become more myself” when my health is more stable and, right now, I feel increasingly more robust in my core self, even though health still knocks me about a bit, because it isn’t defining who I am or getting my mood down, so I guess now is a better time to do such self-enquiry than where I was before.

Also, a long-time chip on my shoulder that I am “always the odd one out” might have predisposed me to assume I would obviously be the rarest type of personality, the INFJ, and yet the INFP is also pretty rare at just 2% of the population and, I’ve already read in my book, each of those INFPs tend to be fairly individualistic in and of themselves, whereas what I have noticed in forums is how INFJs can be so similar, or cohesive as a collective, in many ways. My husband is certainly that oddball personality, the likes of which I am unlikely to meet a replica of in this lifetime and I guess I feel that way too (he says so), which has often been that hurdle to making new friends. This expectation of being the rarest kind, the oddity, even the weirdo, can often led to an INFJ assumption according to Heidi Priebe in her book.

There are now so many clues to why I am really an INFP that I would be here all day if I tried to list them and I mostly wanted to flag up that (as ever) the true gift is found in getting it more closely “right” or into a better fit, not in holding on, determined and tight, to an opinion you once had and then guarding it with ferocity. In fact, the biggest growth in our lives can tend to come out of the detours and then the gradual self-correction, making it a core part of the journey towards personal growth to go off track in the first place. So, I’m not about to rewrite every bog post where I called myself an INFJ, as that was then and this is now, but I’m not about to limit the future by refusing to admit “I was wrong” before either.

What I do want to outline are these core differences between two very similar personality types and then highlight why it changes EVERYTHING for me to switch from believing I am one type to the other.

To summarise, the INFP uses Introverted Judging and Extrovert Perceiving and the INFJ uses Introverted Perceiving and Extroverted Judging, meaning that in those ways they are essentially opposite one another. So for an INFP, waking up in the morning, they begin with feeling into things using their primary trait Introverted Feeling (just like they might also feel into a room they just stepped into as their primary assessment, which is is exactly how I operate in the world…feeling my way in). So, they feel…and once they have felt into things, taking the assessment of those feelings inwards to match against their own value system and way of deciding how to proceed, drawing on their authenticity as an individual (that “checking in” with individual integrity is key to their processing, before they decide how to act), then they then use their secondary trait Extroverted Intuition to decide the best method of using whatever they just felt by way of an outward response in the world. In other words, they question “how do I bring my response to that feeling out to people?” using imagination, creativity, gut feeling, new ways of looking at the situation and thought experiments (“lets try thinking about this thing a whole new way”), metaphor, paint, whatever their preferred vehicle and I can identify with all of those, hugely!

By contrast, the INFJ learns about the world and everything that they can possibly glean going on in it, using their primary trait of Introverted Intuition, by watching it closely, tracking the process from the broadest standpoint where they can see everything, observing, questioning, logging all the details. Then, they use their Extroverted Feeling to work out how to deliver this scenario to other people, like a host might rush to the door at a party, meeting and greeting, checking the new arrivals have everything they need, that they know where the buffet is and that they feel welcome (INFJs expend a lot of energy ensuring other people don’t feel uncomfortable on their watch). Even though “meet-and-greet” type behaviours might not be their most natural role as an introvert, this tendency to check everyone else is OK as priority is a fairly strong trait and so they extend themeselves out into what is sometimes a challenging position to be in, wanting to put things right for everyone around them.

I believed, for a long time, that this was “me” (checking in with others, feeling whether they needed anything from me, is a role I learned, to a very high degree, as a survival tactic when I was a child…) and that my role was to be that person who noticed everything and then worked so hard to disseminate “what is” to others whilst protecting them from discomfort, unpleasantness, inconvenience or harm. I have sometimes prevented myself from feeling happy, healthy or fulfilled until I had tended to others’ needs, even when it has meant great personal sacrifices, long ingraining this behaviour as a “learned response” into my life because I practiced it for just so many years to keep the peace and save myself from unwanted attention. When I read about the INFJ Extroverted Feeling trait and the propensity to check in with how others are doing and what they need first, it only reenforced that such behaviour was a “meant to be” characteristic of my personality type and that the best I could do was learn to live with it in the healthiest way. It has even informed the motivation for writing a blog, at times when I have pushed myself to share on certain far-more laboured topics, rather than just allowing the lighter-brighter, less responsibility-laden topics to bubble up in a more casual or spontaneous way, or leaving my more personal thoughts tucked away safely in my journal, treating my blog like a social responsibility or good deed I had to perform to immediately “share what I have found out” in case it helps someone. This has increasingly felt like a wrong avenue or motivation for writing and, also, quite counterproductive to my healing process but it was around for a long time and is a die-hard habit I’ve formed, not helped by thinking it was INFJ-typical.

Yet when I feel into (note that preference “to feel”…) the INFP type and absorb how the process for them is more a case of making a heartfelt appraisal of the situation, slowly and without pressure (we really need to take that time to evaluate, our own way…please don’t rush us), allowing ample time and space to carry out a value assessment of what is going on…and then charging it with an innovative, creative tendency to work new, positive scenarios out of what we just found out, this process feels much more natural to me and like it is where my skills are at their strongest. Everything else has been an effort, a struggle, an uphill climb and somehow false, because it was basically learned behaviour, a hang-over from the past, but this…this…feels like home and to see it sitting there as the two strongest traits of being an INFP working in tandem is like watching the mists clear. My highest inspiration and least laboured or left-brain researched writing, my best artwork and most lit-up personality, is lighter, far more unique and feelings-led than I was allowing it, much less self-conscious…and invariably comes from this place.

This INFP standpoint reaffirms that I don’t ever “have to” share with others (and not ever, unless it feels light and celebratory to do so) and that just perceiving things for myself, journalling about them or painting them without need for words is quite enough…even just being the person who had the feeling and made something of it internally is quite often enough to feel I put something out there. This is very-much in alignment with some of the themes I have been writing about over the course of the last year….be here now, be yourself, be appreciative of how things are, be present with them, in fact “just be”, its all enough (and feels like coming home to me). We all get creative, as a matter of course, when we leave ourselves alone for long enough…and realising you have been your own, unwitting, task-master is a cathartic thing.

The INFJ simply comes from a different viewpoint of the world and thus gets their kicks in other ways. They have more of a visionary trait, of watching over things in a timeless way, discerning the symbolic implications, the patterns…I love all of that from the sidelines, some of my favourite writers and mentors are made just this way…but it isn’t me or what I am cut-out to do and I was getting that mixed up for myself, giving myself objectives that felt painfully unachievable. Sometimes, I have overstretched myself to a very high degree and it reflects in my health and the state of my nervous system because fixing other people’s problems, always checking-in with them or feeling responsible for explaining highly complex scenarios to others, which means diving informational things far deeper than I sometimes feel comfortable doing, takes me away from my dreaming state, my creativity and true joy right here in the minutiae of this little moment, the very thing I was writing about in my last post. The world needs big-picture INFJs but we can’t all be one and we only find our strengths, and our gifts, when we land where we are meant to be. The INFP has their own pot of gold to explore, as soon as they remember where they buried it.

I love this quote about the INFP personality from the highly useful podcast Geek Psychology (Episode: How to Tell if You are an INFP or an INFJ) –

“Its very active and expressive and its trying to create new things, its trying to enable people to see things from another perspective or exist in a new changed world”.

Yes, this feels like me, especially the “new changed world” factor, which has been the backbone of so many of my topics and a key motivator for as long as I can recall in my life….yet (though I am comfortable with where I have been) I don’t naturally dwell in the past or even the way things are in this time of great uncertainty. Having to keep backtracking to look at where we have been, or how things temporarily seem at the moment, to set the context of some of my writing, has only ever felt like I am being pulled back on a piece of elastic and I had already vowed to make my preoccupations more present-day and onwards centric from now on. I have always had so much optimism, a propensity to see the good in any crisis, to envision a sunrise coming up over the hill, to dream of a golden future.

One of the things I want to do more but in a different way is write, but this time just for me. I happened upon a quote by best-selling author Wilbur Smith just last night and, as I write this post, his echoing words couldn’t be more apt because he never strove to be popular or to deliver what others wanted to read. He said, and I paraphrase, don’t ever write for others or for some imagined audience, write for yourself. When you write for others you don’t even scratch the surface of what you are here to write, and you hardly get any writing done, all you do is talk about what you want to write. Other writers spend years talking about what they intend to write while I was busy writing dozens of books.

Well, I have been talking about writing since I was 8 years-old yet, in print, all I have is one short autobiographical story to my name because I have been so distracted by an ingrained belief system telling me that I was here to do good “work” with my writing, or to deliver what others would relate to or thought they wanted, both of which are a mystery to me yet this urge to write won’t go away. Its been a catch-22 since I first lamented, age 12, that I had “nothing relatable to write about” and so I have made do with some sort of second-guess territory, occassionally daring to touch upon something uniquely spontaneous and”me” when, really, that persona is eager to come out and have a play. I have no idea what that might look like but I owe it to myself to try.

Refining who I am I is the core work of this maturing stage of the self-exploratory life I have always led. I am my own life’s primary objective (or, as I see it, we all are but some get more distracted by externals) and this fine calibration process between two highly-similar personality types gets me a long way closer than I was before.

Above all, it liberates me because being chained to who we are not is like a prison sentence. I realise how I was like the host at that party I referred to, always feeling like I had to give up my quiet corner to leap forth, towards the door, to meet and greet and make people comfortable, even when it is not my comfort place to do so…sacrificing my comfort for their’s! I think I have spoken before about my belief that we are leaving the age of sacrifice far behind as we go through the transition from one world paradigm to another. Nobody should have to give up who they are for another to thrive.

Knowing what I now do about my core character blueprint liberates me to be who I am and to put what I want to put out into the world the way I choose to deliver it or, you could say, in ways that are inherenty mine (there can be no other way for me to thrive). In fact when I am being an artist, I realise I already do exactly what it says on he INFP can, as in, when I sit down to paint I feel into “the situation” of that painting and I respond to it by making whatever flourishes of my brush it calls for as a response in that moment. I don’t and, to a large extent, can’t plan ahead or bite off more than I can chew, with grand designs for an outcome (including pleasing anybody with the results), I can only respond to what is and then deliver a creative response to that, which is why it has long been my comfort place to spend hours painting as I do, because it feels so natural to me. It literally comes out of my core instincts, via my top two personality traits, compared to which many other tasks, by comparison, feel like such an effort….but only because I have a propensity to go about them the wrong way for my type.

Behind my very motivations as a writer, let alone as a person, I have too-long felt responsible for disseminating an era of transition and possibility that is also highly over-stimulating and alarming to others who may feel less comfortable with that change-over, trying to offer hints and clues and fragments of hope that it will “all be alright really” through everything I put out there, because this is what I believe. Whilst I may likely continue to write about hope and to paint subjects infused with light, its from a different standpoint and without the same kind of pressure as I was doing it before, seen through INFP eyes. I now realise it is my more-fitting place to feel into things as they are (more so than research the hell out of them or wind backwards in time to examine loads of precedent…) and then be creative, a dreamer, someone who plays with the fanciful, the etheric, the intangible and the distinctly “me”, with no apologies.

I was already doing this quite a lot before…but was also making myself feel guilty for it, like I was taking a holiday when I relaxed, or like it wasn’t ever quite enough. I also, frequently bit off more than I could chew with my output into the world, when it could have been enough to just know something for myself and not have to struggle to find the expression for it, in order to convey it to others (many times, I just don’t have the words or other ability that could do that…but I have tried so hard to find them, wrestling with the task, to the point of exhaustion sometimes). Now, I can allow that by bringing in my ability to feel and then to innovate, in multiple different ways (not always putting something out that can be directly shared by others) I give more than I ever did when I was trying so hard to be an alternative source of “news” or “informational” in a world with too much going on. We all give, just from the simple achievement of being most authentically ourselves and this ripples out to the world in ways that are as powerful as they are sometimes unspoken.

So, I can really concentrate on being the artist or creative writer, or even just me, “just because”, which slots in with a building urge I have had this year to compile a book of short essays on no particular topic, the same way a poet might go off on a fancy, which I suspect is a degree of freedom I have never allowed myself before, and then put it out there with no expectations at all, just the desire to set some form of self-expression free on the wind. The best writing or art has always come from my camp when I’ve spent next to no time on forethought or “working” on a concept but, rather, it has just bubbled up in me, on an impulse, and so I’ve acted on it without all the checking in that it is needed or wanted and then I’ve let it go out into the world without too much angst or editing. I could also say very much the same about times when I have been more successful at being me, out in the world…my best moments invariably come from just being who I am, unplanned and unedited, take me or leave me. At last, with the insight the INFP profile offers me, I get to concentrate on being who I am, for its own sake, and know that is being my absolute best.

Drawing on another great quote from “Geek Psychology”, I get to lean into one of my favourite skillsets, the “enchanter style” that belongs to the INFP…as-in, we get kicks out of offering intangible. maybe quite small, abstract or ethereal ingredients, almost like magical charms, to other people (rather than solid, demonstrable, pieces of advice) that may yet help them live their lives better…I truly love doing that, whether I’m writing or talking to people face to face and yet I could never explain exactly what it is that I do or where it comes from, only that its a strength of mine and it feels like it often makes things better. Above all, it gives me a lot of pleasure to reclaim this as a skillset I possess and which I was preciously undervaluing because I honestly couldn’t see that I had it.

Imagine if we all got much closer to who really are and where our true strengths lie and acted accordingly, without all the layers of contortion and distortion, forcing ourselves and being forced or coerced into being what we are not…how the world’s problems would unravel organically.

I also look back and notice how the idea that I had to “meet people at the door” of every broadest experience I ever had, being there waiting on the threshold to reassure them “I got here first and I’ve checked it out for threats, it will all be OK”, resulted in my highly sensitive nervous system being unfurled very far and wide into a world I then, unsurprisingly, find too much most of the time. By trying to check in with people and things, everywhere I went, I left my nervous system feeling distended and raw, like a stomach that is permanently bloated with too much to digest. Working so hard to be “the advocate” left me in tatters at times, My high sensitivities can be put to far better use as part of my skillset of feeling into how I am and how things are in my immediate environment, from which start-point I get to navigate my days feeling more centred and grounded-into my own experience, which is where the gifts of being fully present lie. None of which is to imply “I decided” to become an INFP (we can’t do that!) but that I was previously trying to be what I was not and that I had allowed life to reaffirm my misunderstanding again and again, until now.

What a journey this has been, so I share with enthusiasm for the gifts of it. Sometimes, getting very close to where we are meant to be and yet still feeling as though we do not quite fit (often making do, telling ourselves its “good enough”) can be the richest learning territory of our lives. The very “rub” of things that that don’t feel quite right, so very close to home (which you can almost see through that white picket fence…but you can’t get quite get to it or move in) can vasty accelerate the self-development process and “bring us on”. Like a seedling placed under glass to concentrate the heat when the growth-spurt is most ready to occur can suddenly take off.

My last few years of deep-diving the MB system and yet being a little “off” centre in my own assessment have been like that. They make landing home feel all the more potent as I am there now, ready to dig deep into my roots, where the pot of gold lies buried. Or, you could, say, its where the real self-development work starts…a beginning, not an ending.

Photo by Kevin Young on Unsplash

Though I wasn’t always going about it the right way before, I still really want to impact the world and I suspect most INFPs also do (though many struggle to work out how to offer up their unique gifts, feeling the world is “not made for us”, “I feel too much to cope”, “there’s no way I can thrive being this introverted/different from mainstream”, etc.). I suspect the best way to do that is to be inherently myself, not to strive so hard to be all these other things that I’m really not or where my strengths, and my joy, don’t lie. To thrive, we all need to change any negative beliefs we harbour about what we have to offer to the world or how it will be received but the most powerful thing of all is to be ourselves, and to offer whatever it is our own unique way. Maybe we get to impact the world the most by simply thriving as an INFP; enjoy playing with that!

The world needs dreamers (the INFP is known as “The Dreamer”), perhaps now more than ever. Getting too practical, too responsible-feeling (or trying to…) never suited me or brought me joy and was a distraction from the dreaming-states where my hoard lies. Now I get to dig it up and explore what is in there, expressly for me, at my own pace, using whatever tools I feel inclined to pick up at the time and no need for fanfare, just being who I am a little more each day.

Related post: The healthy INFP: What might that look like?

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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2 Responses to Who I really am (exploring “the dreamer”)

  1. cathytea says:

    I’m INFP, and I would have guessed you were, too. But Perceiving and Judging can often depend on context. I used to have to develop and exercise J skills when I was working as a web editor. INFPs do tend to identify with everyone, too, as you point out, so it’s easy for our sense of self to feel more fluid. Glad you’re finding joy in finding your type!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen White says:

      Am loving it…so can tell this is right! I remembered that you were INFP. Like you, I think I worked at developing J skills in certain contexts, probably because they felt necessary or even more applicable/acceptable in my family and the life I subsequently set up, based on unresolved childhood dynamics. In which case I have been waking up from the INFJ misconception for the past few years. It feels like such a relief to finally put it down..whereas if J traits really were “my” traits I doubt this would be the case or even possible. Interesting stuff! I just published another one on this topic in my other blog.


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