The Amused Smirk of the INFP

I’ve occasionally written about personality types and traits. My main focus early on was Myers-Briggs. That interest began way before my blogging, but it did extend into my early blogging.

My most popular blog post of all time is about my INFP experience. It has taken on a life of its own and been reposted around the web. I find that amusing, as there are so many other posts are more worthy.

I was thinking about this again because a post by A.J. Drenth was sending people my way. He linked to one of my posts—in spite of it’s not being about typology, he used it as an example of how INFPs can become obsessed with truth, contrary to stereotype. His description, along with most descriptions of the INFP type, fit me perfectly. Yet I am of a less typical variety of the type, an intellectuality driven by my aspirational Extraverted Thinking (Te).

Jungian typological theory isn’t so important for my thoughts at the moment. My interest is to simply use the ideas to frame certain aspects of my experience that fit the pattern of the INFP type. I was specifically thinking about how others likely perceive me. That comes up a lot online, as self-expression is narrowed down to an extreme degree. But this is true in all of life.

My dad said something about me. He noticed how at times I’ll have a knowing smirk, as if I have a secret insight or am amused at something. I know exactly what he is talking about. It’s my attitude about life. The world seems like a strange place to me and humans are strange creatures. This attitude gives me a certain distance, a standing back and taking it all in.

Added to this, my dad pointed out that he can never capture my smirk. As soon as a camera comes out, my face goes blank. I despise smiling for pictures. I’m an extreme introvert, both in the common meaning of that word and in terms of Jungian typology. Guarded is my default mode. That might be hard to imagine for people who only know me online. Introverts are different online and also more common. An introvert can feel comfortable and even energized by online interactions for a number of reasons, such as it being a way of socializing from one’s own personal space at home.

What my dad observed of me is fairly standard for INFPs. Dominant Introverted Feeling (Fi) does induce a knowing sensibility, a probing and very human view of the world. Combined with auxiliary Extraverted iNtuition (Ne), amusement is just the way this gets translated in actually dealing with the world. INFPs can be such serious people, but there is always a layer of curiosity, wonder, and humor even to the point of silliness. I have to be seriously depressed before I stop being amused at life. Yet this side of me isn’t necessarily obvious to those who don’t know me well.

When blogging and such, I’m often in serious mode. The internet is where I do research, debate, think out loud, and test new ideas. It’s true that online my Ne can gorge on the buffet of knowledge and data. I can become downright obsessive, for there is nowhere for curiosity to end with web searches and link jumping that just goes on and on, until my mind simply collapses in exhaustion. But the most serious side of my personality, although rooted in Fi, turns aggressive and argumentative with my aspirational Te. Still, this is such a small part of my everyday experience. Looking upon the Te side of an INFP’s personality is to look upon the part of them that they know is the weakest and so it always involves conflict, Te being the polar opposite of dominant Fi.

One thing about INFPs is that they are known as being inscrutable. I’ve thought about this often. INFPs are obsessed with understanding others and looking beyond facades. And for that reason, they are talented at and prone to hiding themselves. But seemingly out of nowhere INFPs can be emotionally open and honest to an extreme. In the right mood and moment, they can let their guard down. There is always a lot going on behind the scenes.

As many have noted, Introverted Feeling can be the hardest function attitude to decipher. In explaining this, Drenth offers this quote of Jung (Psych. Types, Para. 640-641) :

“They are mostly silent, inaccessible, hard to understand; often they hide behind a childish or banal mask, and their temperament is inclined to melancholy…Their outward demeanor is harmonious, inconspicuous…with no desire to affect others, to impress, influence or change them in any way. If this is more pronounced, it arouses suspicion of indifference and coldness…Although there is a constant readiness for peaceful and harmonious co-existence, strangers are shown no touch of amiability, no gleam of responsive warmth…It might seem on a superficial view that they have no feelings at all.”

This is what makes the Feeling function so different depending on attitude, Introverted or Extraverted. In its Fi form, it may be deep and powerful, but it can go unnoticed by those who aren’t used to looking for it. To learn to sense it is similar to a river guide learning where the rocks are by keeping track of the water’s surface—the ripples and eddies, the currents and pools.

To a stranger, I probably seem quite open in certain ways, at least online. I don’t hide behind a username. It’s easy to figure out who I am, not to mention where I live and work. I’ll share personal details as if they don’t matter, because they don’t. And I throw out my opinions at a drop of a hat.

All of that apparent openness is deceiving. Those surface details will tell you little about who I really am. In my dominant Fi, I have no fear of anyone figuring me out. You won’t unlock that box. An INFP’s strength is the secrets they hold. With dominant Fi, there is an absolute sense of certainty that is everything. You could know an INFP for years or even decades and never figure out what is this core essence, the rock of their being.

There is a part of me that can’t be touched or changed. It is because of this that I can maintain a detached amusement, even amidst all kinds of events and emotions. Introverted Feeling is a still point, an anchor in an ocean. If nothing else, an INFP knows themselves, who they are and where they stand. So, INFPs have a way of exuding a sense of knowing, a personal truth that is at core of not just their sense of identity but also their sense of reality. From this vantage point, they look out across the world. And when under stress, it is where they retreat.

To Introverted Feeling, everything is personal. Reality itself is personal. It is to feel deeply, a mess of emotion, a vast field of experience. Amusement is a defense against being overwhelmed by it all. In that amused state, the INFP type is acknowledging they are a crazy person in a crazy world. It’s their way of expressing that they are in on the joke.

If you catch that slight smirk, just smirk in kind.