“Superman” vs. A Rainbow
Superman is an inflated ego and a disappearing self. He lacks the spark. What would the rainbow be if it had no dark cloud behind it? ~Carl Jung, Conversations with C.G. Jung, Page 63.
Hello, my name is Michelle Lynn, and I am an INFJ. This isn’t an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting, but I do have certain addictions associated with my personality type I would like to talk about here. Like a lot of INFJs, I have an intense inner drive to help people, love people, be all things to all people, be perfect, be an example, and be serving a greater purpose in the world. I just celebrated a major milestone birthday, and I would say I have spent a good portion of my life trying to be an image of something, as opposed to being a representation of what I really am. I envision myself as a modern day Superwoman of sorts. I have always known my INFJ powers to love, help, and heal, and while I have assisted a great many people throughout my life, the inflated ego of being a “Superman,” as Carl Jung points out, is really only a disappearing self. It’s not something that can last in reality, and when we believe ourselves to be an ideal, we push down our own dark clouds. We push them down so far that they fail to produce rainbows, and they manifest themselves in much more stormy and sinister ways- ways that do more harm than good.
Up until recently, I would have seen nothing wrong with trying to be Superwoman. In previous articles, and on my podcasts, I have talked about being an INFJ and how certain characteristics can lead to some negative consequences, but it is possible I have always done it more from the perspective of how other people need to understand me instead of how I need to understand them, or myself. This is a hard realization for me, painful in fact. I am always challenging others to do ego work by looking at themselves, but in true INFJ fashion, I have a much harder time recognizing, and an even harder time admitting, my own needs and ego. That is my darkness.
Jung reminds us that an unacknowledged darkness can be dangerous. It cannot be taken lightly or ignored. Shadow theory suggests that the harder we fight our true self, and fail to recognize our own flaws and weaknesses, the stronger these negative aspects become. As well-read as I am on Jungian psychology, and as well-versed as I am on the topic of shadow personality, nothing really has prepared me for for my own eruption, followed by the sudden epiphany, that I can’t live the rest of my life making the same mistakes. I’ve always been a bit befuddled by how a person with my intentions, and genuine love for people, could constantly be mucking things up, and I reluctantly admit that I have allowed myself to play the victim, and projected my weaknesses onto others at times in the past. That upsets me greatly in the present. I have painfully watched patterns from the past repeat themselves in various aspects of my life, without the full realization, that I have had some level of control over these moments. I blamed it on bad luck, being gullible, or loving too much, and while in some cases those are also true, I have failed to recognize the role I played in most of these situations.
I am not writing this piece to excuse any past behaviors or to ease my conscience. I am writing this piece for myself and to other INFJs as a reminder that careful monitoring of our ego is needed throughout our lives. INFJs are truly wonderful individuals with amazing gifts that can inspire people and change the world, but to be a bit cliche sounding, with great power comes great responsibility. We have the power to transform, but we also have the power to destroy. The universe is funny like that, always looking to balance everything out. I wish I would have learned this, and some of these hard life lessons, earlier in my life. I could have saved myself, and a lot of people I really love, a lot of pain. I know I cannot dwell in the past, but I can stop trying to be Superwoman and focus on making more rainbows for myself and others.
Without further ado, the 7 hard life lessons I’ve learned as an INFJ:
1. Tough Love Isn’t Always the Answer As an INFJ, we are all about getting people from point A to point B. We want people to evolve and become the best versions of themselves, because we want them to be happy. There is no denying that we love people hard, but there are times when we could be a little softer for other personality types. I will get weepy over an article about perfect strangers or a story about fictional characters. Put me in front of a loved one showing emotional suffering, though, and it’s all strategy and logic. There have been so many times in my life when I missed someone else’s need for my heart instead of my intellect. The advice and logic comes from a good place, but it isn’t always what people need in the moment. Sometimes they just need a hug or reassurance. I can think of a lot of personal examples for this one, but perhaps the hardest hitting reminder of this came from one of my twelve year old students. She was one of my best writers, someone who grew tremendously over the course of the year, and I had a very sincere admiration for her. At the end of the school year, I always ask students for feedback. She gave me great feedback, loved the class, but in the additional comments section wrote this, “Instead of always just telling us how to improve and making us do better, sometimes tell us that we are doing good. Kids need that sometimes.” At the time, it knocked the wind out of me. I remember driving home sobbing thinking I was a horrible teacher. How could someone I admired so much not realize that she was doing a great job in my class? How could she not understand how highly I thought of her as a writer and person? The simple answer was that I kept all the appreciation for her private, and I only outwardly expressed her areas of improvement. This is something I have come to realize I do a lot, not just with students. I do this with relatives, friends, and in relationships. The people I admire most, often hear about my admiration the least. This ultimately leaves people feeling unappreciated, regardless of my appreciation.
2. People Aren’t Projects As good as our intentions may be, it is not our job to shove everyone we meet kicking and screaming to their greatest potential. Don’t get me wrong. It is truly a beautiful quality to see the good in people, to be able to recognize hidden talents, and to even be able to identify why a person may be struggling in his or her life. It is not okay, however, to forcefully help little old ladies cross the street that aren’t even looking to go in that direction. It feels good to help people, and helping people as an INFJ can become like an addiction if not monitored. Always requiring the people in your life to reach that next step is exhausting. It’s especially hard for loved ones, if like in my previous example, you aren’t fulling recognizing the progress they have made, and you aren’t telling them “good job” every now and again. Life isn’t a marathon, and you are not everyone’s life coach. There are times, when you need to remind the people in your life that there is nothing wrong with them. That you actually do like them as they are. INFJs don’t dislike people for their flaws. We do accept people as they are. The issue arises when someone close to us starts casually mentioning something they are unhappy about with themselves, and we think we can just fix it. I don’t like seeing people suffer, and I always see there is a way to solve anything. I know I am hopeful, but also very clueless. I will focus in on a problem, and disregard everything else going on around me, and I get tunnel vision for that one aspect that person needs help with. Recently, someone wrote into The Captain’s Pod telling my co-host that he’s doing such a good job taking the “mental roastings” I give him every episode. I had never looked at what I was doing in that way before, even though comments have been made during, and after, recordings that the content was being specifically created to “help” The Captain with whatever he was struggling with in his life that week. It wasn’t until that moment, however, that I fully realized that maybe there are times when I could really lighten up on him. In my attempt to help him, and other HSPs, I became very hyper-focused externally on problems. INFJs are problem-solvers, but I think we sometimes lack a little of the finesse that goes along with encouraging others to willingly embark on the self-improvement journey. There often needs to be a little more give and take. In retrospect, I know that some of the shows might have been enhanced by allowing my co-host more room to “mentally roast” me, or to at least for me to share from my perspective the ways that I have been helped by him instead of just discussing problems. Always helping people, never pausing for more than a millisecond to celebrate success, and refusing to give others the power to help, are all definite ways to make other people feel of very little use in your life. This is certainly the last thing any INFJ wants, and it is something we need to carefully watch out for.
3. Timing is Everything You may think the world should operate on your schedule, but the reality is that not everything needs to happen the minute you want it to happen. This one may be my Achilles’ heal. I have a very warped sense of time. When I see something that I think can help a situation, I want it to happen yesterday. If there is even a minor issue that needs discussing, it needs to be discussed this second. It doesn’t matter if the person I want to talk to is an air traffic controller, and he needs to get that plane with hundreds of people in it safely landed. In my mind, this conversation needs to happen right now! I am sure other INFJs can relate. Most of us hate waiting to make things better. We don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around us, but what we don’t realize is that our intense desire to handle everything our way, in our time frame, creates more tension than potential solutions. Even when I want a simple project done, I might ask someone to help me, but if it takes them more than an hour to start working on it, I’m already trying to find someone else to do it, or online trying to figure out how to do it myself. What I have missed is that by doing this, I am robbing people of an opportunity to do something nice for me. I inadvertently make them feel useless when I can’t wait for their assistance on a task, and I make them feel like their lifestyle pace is inferior to mine when I try and have a conversation at an obviously bad time. I know as hard as it may be for me, there are times when things can wait.
4. You Aren’t The Only One With Intuition INFJs have excellent intuition. Our loved ones will ask us for our first impressions and general “feelings” about people and situations regularly, because they know 9 times out of 10 we are going to be spot on. That kind of trust and accuracy can go to your head after a while, and while it may be rare, there are times when someone else might have a better handle on a person or situation than you. Yes, it is true! Other people can also have good intuition and sense things that you might not be able to pick up on. I know. That’s a major ego blow. I hate it when my instincts are off, but INFJs have to remember that we are only accurately in tune with the world around us when we are ourselves in balance. I have recently been under more stress than usual. I have been dealing with some slow selling real estate, financial struggles, anxiety related to transitioning to a much more structured work schedule, and a variety of other everyday issues we all have to deal with. Having anxiety, I do not deal well with a lot of external pressures coming in at me unexpectedly all at once. I know this is my issue, but I too often don’t recognize just how much my mood and behavior changes when I am feeling stressed. I sleep less. I eat less. I am more emotional, and I can project my negative feelings onto the people around me. Just last week I was having a conversation with a very dear friend of mine that happens to be an INTP, and I kept giving him a hard time for how he was responding to me. I was accusing him of being impatient and sarcastic, and I was mad at him for having plans already when I wanted to have a conversation with him. Now, this is a friend that is almost always willing to hang out, or talk, when I need him. I consider him one of my best friends, and I was mad at him for having plans the “one time I actually needed him.” I may have a flair for the dramatic when out of balance. He has been there for me more times than not, and my response to him was completely unfair. In the moment, all I could see was that I wanted to talk that minute, to potentially solve the problem right then, but he was already doing something with his brother-in-law. I was completely unaware of how I was projecting. Luckily my friend is very blunt, and he is also skilled at reading between the lines, and reading people. He very matter of factly told me that I seemed a bit off, and perhaps a little introspection might do me a little good before continuing the conversation. Well, the conversation ended, but not because I was taking his advice. The conversation ended, because my ego was hurt. I foolishly didn’t trust his perception of what was going on with me, and I relied on my own faulty perception that he must be really stressed to talk to me like that. This was not a wise decision, because I just continued to have tension, and conflict, with everyone else I encountered until I actually did take the time to recognize my own feelings and short comings in those interactions. INFJs have amazing intuition, but we are not always great when it comes to reading ourselves. It would behoove us to occasionally rely on the insight and wisdom of the people we trust, otherwise we end up pushing away the people we need the most.
5. People Need Space We recharge when we are alone. We value personal space, and we can become very protective, sometimes controlling, in our own environments. We are champions for quiet, alone time, so it is a bit perplexing that we don’t always recognize that other people have this need as well. INFJs are the most extroverted of the introverts, so while we revel in being alone, we also have a tremendous desire to connect with people. Like mentioned before, we sometimes forget that the world isn’t operating on our time schedule, so when we want to hang out with people, we want it to happen exactly when it works out for us. It’s not that we are trying to be impatient, unreasonable, or demanding. Most of us do have some awareness of the fact that we tend to push people away when we need alone time, and we do fear that we will push so many people away that we are ultimately going to be left all alone. We have this strange delayed processing thing going on where we see how we might have come off as rude in past interactions, so when we want to make things right with people, and spend time together. It’s almost like a strange sort of panic attack. If a friend is busy, or wanting to be alone instead of with us, we might totally assume it is because we have offended them in some way, or that they don’t really like us. Again, we will feel this more when we are out of balance, but when it happens it can result in some very confusing behavior for our friends and loved ones. I had a day last week where I really wanted to be around people, mainly because I know I have been keeping to myself a little bit too much again. I had ignored some messages, didn’t return some emails, and cancelled a couple of engagements, because I just really needed to recharge. I got up that morning, and I sent messages to just about everyone I knew. An hour went by, and I hadn’t heard from anyone. Then another hour went by, and I just got a short response from a friend telling me he was at work. An hour later, I got a smiley face emoji from my brother. At 5pm, my mother still hadn’t emailed me back. My conclusion was that everyone hated me and didn’t want to hang out with me. I let my thoughts go negative, and I assumed because other people weren’t getting back to me right away, that it was about me. The reality, however, was that some people were busy, some people weren’t feeling well, and some people just needed some time to themselves. I have been told in the past that I have different rules for other people than I do for myself, and it sounds so bad that I hate to admit it. If I really take a step back, however, and look at the situation from other people’s perspectives, that is exactly how it appears. If I want people to respect my space, I can’t bombard them with multiple messages and jump to the worst case scenario every time someone just needs a little down time or they are busy.
6. Your Love Needs Boundaries Love is important, and you are definitely capable of loving without limits. It is wise for an INFJ, however, to realize that our kind of love does need boundaries. As difficult as it may be to accept, there are some things we do in the name of love that can actually hurt people in the long run. We have to constantly make sure that our unconditional love doesn’t come off as conditional. When we fall into some of the negative patterns of behavior mentioned above, our love can feel like it is based off of an ideal person in our heads instead of the person standing right in front of us. We also need to recognize when we are loving others more than ourselves. When we put the self-improvement and happiness of everyone else ahead of our own, we are creating a potentially explosive situation. As INFJs, we can be chameleons, but we should never lose ourselves in love. INFJs are really intense. It can be love letters at 2am. It can be driving 200 miles just to put a heart shaped note on a lover’s car. Maybe it’s spending weeks finding that perfect gift, or searching hundreds of music videos for the perfect expression of your love in a song. It doesn’t matter. If we love someone, we tend to really go all out- not just at the beginning, but all of the time. What most INFJs don’t get, however, is how overwhelming and intimidating this can be for their partners. It can make some people think it’s all an act, but our partners usually realize after a couple months of dating the we really are this intense. Other people might try and match our level of loving, but just feel like they can’t keep up or measure up. There is always this feeling that we are expecting more. We say we aren’t, but we do have to be very careful with how we respond to our loved ones when they show us their love. We can make our loved ones feel inferior at times with our lack-luster responses. As INFJs, we aren’t always as skilled at receiving as we are at giving. On my birthday, my thoughtful companion wanted me to have a very special day. He had selected a beautiful spot to walk around, but he wanted to ask me first if I wanted to go there. I was worried that the day was going to be too hot, and I had been having issues with my asthma. I didn’t want to go, and then have an asthma attack and ruin the day, so I asked him if maybe we could do something else. My intentions were good, but looking back on it, I know I did not communicate my response in the best way. I honestly just wanted to spend the day with him. That’s really all I wanted, but I didn’t recognize that he had a need to make a special day for me like I would for him. Long story short, I asked him to take me to the mall. Yes, this guy was trying to plan me a romantic day, and I had him take me to a mall. I did have a very nice time, but it wasn’t until he said to me, kind of defeated, later in the day that I had no idea how much pressure it is to plan something for someone like me, that I realized it was a big deal. In his words, “Not everyone is like you. Not everyone can just think of the perfect thing to do always.” Never wanting to be a burden, I immediately felt bad and failed to recognize the truth behind that statement. We don’t mean for our gestures of love to seem so over the top, and there are times when maybe we should eat or sleep instead of driving those 200 miles to deliver that love letter. We don’t need to be a superhero of love all the time, and we could definitely allow our partners more opportunities to express their love in their own magical ways to us.
7. People Understand You More Than You Give Them Credit For “No one will ever understand me!” is the INFJ battlecry. A lot of people do misunderstand us, but there are many people who do get certain things about us. INFJs don’t let people in easily, and when we do let people in, we reveal ourselves in stages. INFJs can always surprise people, because there are just so many ever evolving layers. This is part of what makes us unique, but it is also part of what makes us so hard to get sometimes. It’s not everyone else’s fault that we are so complex. Complexity is neither strength nor fault, but when you have a bit of a mysterious nature, there are going to be times when people just can’t figure you out. We hold a lot in, and we spend a lot of time focusing on other people. It is truly what makes us happy. We don’t see it as sacrificing our own needs, until we haven’t been good to ourselves, and we are out of balance, and we are hanging from the rooftops lamenting, “no one will ever get me!” I know that I have used that statement repeatedly in my life, and I have recognized over time that that this is a really hurtful thing to say to other people that have taken the time to get to know me. It’s a statement that can instantly make another person feel like all that hard work they’ve put into sorting through your many layers was for nothing. The truth is that your loved ones probably try really hard every single day to determine what makes you happy. They may not always get it right, but then again, neither do you. Understanding is an ongoing process, and no one person is ever fully understood by another. I’ve found it helpful to think about what people do get about me when I’m feeling really misunderstood. If I am in the right state of mind, I am truly grateful for all the hard work and effort they’ve put into trying to get to know a “crazy” INFJ like me.
In closing, I just want to say that I am not sharing my recent reflections here to make any INFJs feel bad about themselves. Of all the personality types, I think INFJs do get to hear their praises a bit more than other types perhaps. We have many great qualities that draw people to us initially, and we definitely know how to excel in our jobs and special interests. People do admire us, and we tend to have a pretty good level of confidence in the self we present to the world. My goal here, is only to paint an honest portrait of my own downfalls, and to give other INFJs permission to not always present an inflated sense of self to the rest of the world. If we are always trying to be a “super” version of ourselves, we aren’t spending enough time on the ground admiring our life and the people in it. We are also probably hurting and pushing away the people in our lives that we truly love. It’s about recognizing some of the potential reasons that INFJs feel misunderstood, or why we are sometimes bad at relationships with people. It’s about what we need to watch out for. It’s about not always pretending to be perfect and allowing ourselves to be human. After all, I’d much rather rest my feet to look at rainbows with people I care about, than spend the remainder of my life flying around, pissing people off, and hiding my flaws.
Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts. Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.