7 Hard Life Lessons for an INFJ

“Superman” vs. A Rainbow

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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.

The INFJ as a Mirror

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

How And Why We Mirror In Relationships

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When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of you as fate. -Carl Jung

As a follow up to my article Mirroring in Relationships: Making the Invisible Visible, I want to more specifically define what it means to be a mirror in a relationship for an INFJ.  Many intuitive and highly sensitive types can undoubtedly relate to the mirror analogy, but the tendencies of an INFJ make it so understanding the reasons, reactions, repercussions, and remedies for mirroring just might make the difference between a harmonious or miserable romantic experience.

What is Mirroring in a Relationship

The term mirroring has a couple different meanings.  It can simply mean mimicking someone’s actions back to them, in a sense copying their behaviors and actions.  It can also be a more complex act like trying to align yourself with a person’s interests, communication style, or personality preferences.  People often mirror one another early in a relationship to establish commonalities and build connections with a potential partner.  Mirroring can be positive.  It can let romantic partners know that the other person is paying attention and interested, and it can create a sense of familiarity and comfort that in turn fosters a willingness to open up.  The problem, however, occurs when the person mirroring loses his or her sense of identity in the process, or the person being mirrored can no longer see who is behind the mirror.  INFJs make excellent mirrors, but they need to consciously work at remaining reflective- otherwise they run the risk of feeling like fragmented shards of glass.

How Do INFJs Become Mirrors

For anyone not familiar with the term INFJ, it is an initialism used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of the sixteen personality types.  The MBTI assessment was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine Myers, from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl Jung.  The individual letters stand for various functions of personality.  INFJ, for example, indicates the following personality functions:  Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F), Judgment (J).  INFJs make up Only about 1-3% of the population, so they are quite rare.  These individuals are intuitive, and they seem to have a way of seeing through people.  They are skilled at recognizing what others are trying to keep beneath the surface, and due to their wise, gentle nature, INFJs live to help others reach their full potential and better themselves.  As I explain in I Will Rain On Your Parade, the INFJ is often misunderstood and seen as being too intense in the continual pursuit of improvement at all costs.  Overall, however, this personality type is accepting and understanding, and they have a unique talent for making people feel at ease.  This in turn results in situations where people are willing to tell an INFJ their deepest and darkest secrets, and these conversations often start the mirroring process for the INFJ.  Here are some of the reasons that INFJs so often become mirrors in relationships:

  • INFJs observe first and talk later.  Since this personality type loves to listen, people find themselves talking more to an INFJ than perhaps to other people they know.  As a person talks to the INFJ, it is almost like talking to a therapist.  I’m sure many INFJs are familiar with the phrase, “I didn’t realize this about myself until I said it to you just now.”  People typically like conversing with INFJs, because they may feel like it’s the first time anyone has every really taken the time to listen to them.  Being in a relationship with an INFJ is a process of self-discovery through deep conversation.  The INFJ, however, doesn’t remain silent forever.  Early listening is like research.  The INFJ is gathering information about this person, and when the information gets processed, the INFJ often has practical and useful advice to offer.  Some people, however, don’t necessarily want advice.  There are many people that would prefer the INFJ to remain the silent listener, so when the INFJ remembers and uses information in past conversations to help guide the future, this is not always well received.  
  • INFJs often feel other people’s pain more profoundly than their own. If INFJs aren’t careful, they can easily focus more on their partner than themselves.  A lot of INFJs are comfortable listening to other people’s problems, because it is in their nature to genuinely want to help.  They don’t, however, open up very easily themselves, and you will rarely hear an INFJ going on and on about personal issues.  It isn’t that this personality type doesn’t like talking through things with another person.  It is just that they are so intuitive that they know when something is bothering someone.  Most INFJs will feel like their own issues aren’t that big of a deal.  This can backfire on the INFJ, because it forces most of the relationship talk to be about the other person.  Over time, it can make the INFJ feel invisible
    and their partner might feel like he or she knows nothing about the person that’s been quietly listening for so long.  It’s not unusual for an INFJ to come out of a relationship wondering where he or she has been for the past several months or years.  Standing too long behind the mirror will make one’s sense of identity vanish over time.
  • INFJs have a deep need for harmony.  INFJs value peace and balance, and they will tell you that this is achieved only through continual growth and self-reflection.  They are not afraid of enduring pain in the process of growing, as a matter of fact, they kind of expect it.  This personality type has a wonderful ability to see the big picture, and they view a lot of the everyday problems people get worked up about as no big deal. That being said, they still compassionately help their loved ones through even the littlest of issues.  INFJs want their partner to be happy, and they know that their partner needs to find harmony in the day to day in order to do so.  To make this happen, the INFJ might take on roles like personal assistant, trainer, therapist, doctor, or life-coach.  It becomes an intense relationship where the partner is ever immersed in self-work and reflection.  The INFJ sees this as a good thing, which will bring his or her partner harmony in the end, but sometimes this all becomes too intense for the person involved in the self-work.  Other personality types cannot necessarily endure the same level of intensity as an INFJ 24 hours a day, so there may be times when the partner feels like the INFJ is too serious, too harsh, too demanding, or just plain not satisfied in the relationship.  The reality, however, is that the INFJ is just trying to ensure ultimate happiness and harmony for both partners.
  • INFJs process out loud sometimes. Processing time is important for this personality type.  While listening to someone, an INFJ might be inclined to say out loud what is being observed or repeat back what a partner says as clarification.  It is like the INFJ is talking to him or herself in order to fully grasp what is being observed or heard.  This may, at times, feel odd to a partner like they are always being watched, or that the INFJ is describing the behavior out loud as a form of judgement.  The INFJ is rarely apply a judgement or trying to criticize the partner in these moments of processing.  It is just how the INFJ is trying to make sense of the input, but it can make the partner definitely feel like everything said and done in the relationship is subject to the reflection of the mirror.
  • INFJs do not accept anything other than absolute truth.  There is no such thing as fooling an INFJ with smoke and mirrors.  This personality trait is not easily deceived.  Even if a partner wants to ignore something troubling, the INFJ will see beneath the surface and want to expose the truth.  Actually, the more a partner doesn’t want to address something the more the INFJ feels the matter needs to be tended to, the more the INFJ will want to force a partner to take a long, hard look into the mirror.  This isn’t the INFJ trying to be pushy.  This is more likely the INFJ worrying that his or her partner is losing ground in the battle of ultimate self discovery.  INFJs aren’t big on distractions or putting problems aside.  They would much rather deal with the issue, so they can experience harmony as soon as possible.  It is challenging for INFJs to recognize when it might be a good idea to put down the mirror in order to let their partner take a break or recharge.

Signs That People Are Viewing You As A Mirror

Reasons for mirroring in a relationship might stem from a good place, but if the INFJ isn’t working overtime to remain self aware, trouble can arise fairly quickly.  Many INFJs feel like people always like them in the beginning of relationships, but they lose their enthusiasm for them in the end.  Perhaps their partners feel like the INFJ  is too intense to be around all the time.  It takes a while for this personality type to open up if they’ve been hurt in the past, and sometimes by the time the INFJ realizes that there has been a loss of identity as a result of extensive mirroring, both partners are frustrated, confused, and believing the relationship is too far gone to ever recover.  Relationships are not easy for INFJs, and the tragedy is that this personality type is more loyal, lovable, passionate, determined, and strong than anyone could ever desire.  Having an INFJ as a partner can be pretty magical, but too often this personality type doesn’t practice enough self love to maintain the appropriate balance of give and take in a relationship to make the partner feel like an equal.  The partner may feel loved, but they also can get overwhelmed with the whole process of mirroring.  Many INFJs report partners suddenly needing out of the relationship at a point when they thought things were going quite well.  This is why it is essential for INFJs to recognize when they are mirroring too much for their partner.  Here are some common signs that mirroring is beginning to take its toll on the relationship:

  • Partner doesn’t want to be looked at. If you used to stare lovingly for hours into each others eyes, and now every time you even glance at your partner you are asked, “Why are you looking at me?” this might be a sign you are mirroring.  More likely than not, partners feel guilty or overwhelmed from constantly viewing themselves so clearly through the INFJ’s observations and reflections.  Even if an INFJ is not openly criticizing or judging them, they feel uncomfortable confronting something they have kept beneath the surface so long. 
  • Partner communicates inability to think clearly in INFJs presence. Because partners of INFJs are still trying to have a relationship with an INFJ while the INFJ is mirroring, they rightfully get confused when they feel like every conversation somehow goes back to what is going on with them.  They may be trying to connect with the person behind the mirror, but all they can see are constant reminders of themselves.
  • Partner repeatedly reacts to INFJ in a way that does not match how the INFJ is feeling.  People react strongly to what they do not like about themselves, or when they feel like they are being criticized.  It may seem like partners are having a lot of emotional ups and downs when the INFJ is mirroring.  Maybe they are fine one minute, and then the next minute something seemingly small sends them spiraling.  A simple question like asking “what do you want to do tonight?” could turn into an argument about the INFJ never being satisfied and bored.
  • Partner tells the INFJ that it is impossible to make the INFJ happy. Serious self reflection is not easy.  When partners are able to see all of themselves through the INFJ, they don’t always like the reality of what they see.  They might initially feel like the INFJ is just picking apart all their flaws, but over time partners cannot help but see the truth. While the INFJ may be perfectly content in the relationship, the partner may not be able to believe it during the mirroring process.  If they are only seeing their flaws, then they can’t understand how they can ever make someone happy.
  • Partner appears frustrated and pressures the INFJ to speak his or her mind.  This happens when INFJs become overly focused on their partner’s needs and neglect their own.  When INFJs hear this, it is time to make sure they have not lost touch with themselves in the mirroring process.  This is said when partners feel like they have no idea what the INFJ is looking for in the relationship or needs.  This should be interpreted as a sign of love from a partner, as it is an expression of wanting to know and honor the INFJ’s needs as well as their own. 
  • Partner tells INFJ that he or she may be happier with someone else.  When INFJs continue to mirror, without taking the proper steps to ground themselves and establish clear boundaries with their partners, people often feel a great need to escape.  It could be that they need to just break free from the constant reflection of the INFJ, but it could also be that they need to just break free from themselves.  They may feel not good enough for the INFJ, or they could just feel like the INFJ can never be pleased. 
  • INFJ begins to feel confused, unappreciated, desperate, and lonely.  In the final stages of mirroring, partners try and break free from the constant mirroring.  They may become angry, frustrated, or confused with the INFJ, and they may even lash out at the INFJ.  All of this typically blindsides INFJs, and it is difficult for them to understand how their partner could be so upset with them.  This is the point where a lot of relationships end for INFJs.  There is a sudden moment where both the partner and the INFJ wake up so to speak and wonder how they even got to this point.  The partner definitely feels like something needs to change.   It could be that they need to just break free from the constant reflection of the INFJ, but it could also be that they need to just break free from themselves.  They may feel not good enough for the INFJ, or they could just feel like the INFJ can never be pleased.  Regardless of the reason, the INFJ gets that all too familiar feeling of being alone and misunderstood.

Ways to Reflect & Retain A Sense of Self 

Learning to recognize and manage the mirroring aspect of the INFJ personality, as well as understanding how it impacts loved ones, is an important relationship skill for INFJs to master. INFJs don’t need to deny who they are, but it is important for them to look at themselves from a different perspective.  INFJs are really good with figuring out what is going on with other people a lot more than they are about figuring out what is going on with themselves.  These mirroring skills can be quite useful, and there are times when it can help others.  It is just a matter of staying grounded and remembering not to lose sight of one’s self.  Here are a few items for an INFJ to keep in mind when it comes to their relationships:

  • Make sure your partner wants help before you help, and if he or she does, then set clear boundaries. Just because you can see what’s beneath the surface, that doesn’t necessarily mean your partner wants you to grab a shovel and start digging it all out.  With loved ones in particular, it makes a lot of sense to set boundaries.  Have a limit to the “therapy” sessions.  Talk about subtle ways your partner can let you know when they need some time or space.
  • Hold partner accountable for his or her own feelings, and make sure you clearly know how you feel separate from your partner.  If you notice a partner projecting his or her feelings onto you, or you don’t feel like your partner has an accurate understanding of how you feel, speak up.  Have this conversation when you both feel more at ease, and approach it in a loving manner.  Also regularly check yourself for a clear understanding of your own feelings.  It isn’t uncommon for an INFJ to absorb the feelings and emotions of loved ones.  It is just as easy for the INFJ to get confused about individual needs when mirroring becomes excessive in the relationship.
  • Take breaks.  Remember to take time off from the deep analysis every once in a while for a little fun.  Do things together that are lighthearted, and don’t forget to participate in activities independent of one another.  It is also necessary to take breaks from each other.  Stepping away from a misunderstanding to regain focus is often helpful.  It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the relationship to pause every now and again.  It is just something that you may need to do in order to remain happy.
  • Respect your partner’s processing style.  We all have communication style preferences.  Even if you are ready to talk about something, that doesn’t mean your partner feels the same.  Make sure to discuss communication preferences before you are in the heat of a heavy conversation.  If processing styles are extremely different, discuss healthy compromises you both would be willing to make in order to ensure the lines of communication stay open.
  • Remember it is not your responsibility to heal the world.  Someone else’s self work is not your self work.  INFJs will take it too far, neglecting their own interests, in the name of “helping” someone else.  A loving partner, does not like seeing you exhausted or frustrated.  They don’t want you getting so worked up about their issues.  If they are struggling, this can sometimes make it worse.  They also don’t want you taking away their control over their own situation.  Offer a helping hand when asked, but respect when your partner firmly tells you that they don’t want you to get involved.
  • Step out from behind the mirror so that others can really see you. This is probably the most important action an INFJ can take.  More likely than not, your partner fell in love with you not your mirroring abilities.  A suitable partner will appreciate your intuitive capabilities, but they will also recognize the need for you to allow yourself to shine and be nurtured as well.   A loving partner wants you to be as happy as you want them to be, and if you are always hiding behind a mirror, they will never be able to see you and understand you in the way you deserve.

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.

 

 

Mirroring in Relationships

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

Making the Invisible Visible

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Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. -Jonathan Swift

We had been together for almost six years that rainy November afternoon he pulled the car off to the side of the road and began weeping uncontrollably.  I had known for over a year that things had gone off course, and the man that once looked at me with love and admiration could no longer look me in the eyes, let alone have a meaningful conversation.  This sudden stop and outburst were completely out of his character, so I sat quietly waiting for him to speak.  He wanted to tell me that he had been lying about going to grad school for the past three months.  He had dropped out of class, but he couldn’t tell me.  He knew I would overreact and be disappointed.  It didn’t upset me that he had dropped out of school.  It didn’t matter to me what he ended up doing professionally.  I was more upset that he felt like I wouldn’t understand his decision, or that I would in some way think less of him for this decision.  The conversation continued, and it ended with him telling me that our relationship was the very reason he didn’t want to become a psychologist anymore.  He couldn’t imagine having conversations as emotionally intense as ours everyday for the rest of his life.  It was at this moment, he also stated a need for a separation.  I was just too much for him to deal with.  I was blindsided by the reason of the breakup, but not so much the breakup in itself.  I was surprised at how angry he was at me for a disappointment I had never expressed and that he never even gave me a chance to explain my actual thoughts.

Later that evening, I stood for three and a half hours staring at myself in the bathroom mirror.  This was my first major heartbreak, and I was having a difficult time making sense of what I had done wrong.  I felt completely misunderstood and voiceless in the final outcome, and I could not fully process the hurt.  Standing there on chipped linoleum, I wanted to look into myself.  I wanted to understand myself, see myself as others saw me, and hopefully identify what it was about me that made people always want to escape me.  I stared so long that I could no longer distinguish the individual features that formed my appearance.  I don’t know what I was waiting for, or what I wanted to happen, but after gazing at my reflection for over three hours, all I felt was invisible.  Continuing to look at myself in the mirror could not remedy my confusion one bit, so I stopped. 

That was over two decades ago, and I’d like to say that was the only time I found myself so lost in a relationship, but it was actually only the start.  I have noticed a pattern of people enjoying certain aspects of my personality initially, but growing tired of my intensity over time.  I have experienced more than one person telling me that he loves me more than he has ever loved anyone else in his entire life, but I am probably better off with someone else.  I have been told that I am angry, disappointed, jealous, bitter, resentful, judgmental, too demanding, too intense, unstable, and self-centered from the same people that tout me as the most understanding, loving person they have ever met.  Sometimes these mismatched descriptors come within minutes of one another, and I am always left at that point where I am standing alone staring at myself in the bathroom mirror wondering if I really am this difficult to love.

I am not writing this to air my dirty laundry as a forlorn lover.  I am writing this to reach out to other HSPs, INFJs, or empaths that might have ever felt this way in relationships themselves.  I inadvertently came across something not long ago that helped me understand what might be going on a little more clearly.  It helped me feel a little less unlovable, so I want to share that feeling among friends.

A shift in perspective occurred when I came across two images I found while talking in various groups online.  One said, intuitives are like mirrors that people can’t bear to look into too long, and the other said INFJ love story?  Everyone will hurt you. My response was less than enthusiastic at first, because let’s be honest, sometimes the truth hurts.  The everyone hurts you comment seemed like a harsh reality I wasn’t quite ready to accept, and the being a mirror concept was one I had to toss around in my mind a bit before fully grasping what it fully meant.

Over the next couple of months, the pieces of my past began to fall into place, and both phrases began to make sense.  The premise of the conversations where these images were originally posted was that people love highly intuitive and emotional people intensely, but because we are so good at unearthing what is holding people back, and exposing it, we become too much for people close to us to cope with at times.  We become a mirror, and people cannot look at us without seeing a reflection of themselves.  Our personality type does not necessarily focus on negative aspects and draw them out of people, which is why people are drawn to us initially.  We always start by illuminating the good, because we see the beauty in people when we first meet them.  If they are down on themselves, we reflect back what is good about them.  Over time, and repeated exposures to the mirror, however, we get a glimpse into the onlooker’s eyes and what is causing them to see themselves in a negative light.  With strengths, we see weaknesses.  A mirror is honest.  If you have a blemish, the mirror reflects it.  The mirror doesn’t tell you that the pimple is ugly, but you might make that connection and begin to feel self-conscious upon seeing it.  You might then choose to avoid looking at yourself in mirrors for the day or longer until the image of the imperfection has faded from your mind. 

That analogy for me explains everything I have ever misunderstood in every relationship I have ever had, including the one with my own mother.  There was a time, for example, when my mother had been drinking too much, and without me saying a word, she knew I was aware of what she had been doing behind everyone’s back.  She looked at me and said, “I will be so happy when you get out of my hair next week, so I don’t have to keep being judged by you.”  I wasn’t judging her.  I was actually keeping quiet, because I could sense the severity of the situation for everyone involved.  She, however, was judging herself in that moment.  My silent, reflective eyes produced so much shame that all she could do was lash out at me, but really it was the reflection of herself that upset her the most.  At the time, I hurt so much that I sobbed for days.  I was about to move out of my childhood home of 22 years, and those were her parting words.  I have always had this sense of people being relieved when away from me, which is a big part of why I keep my distant until I am sure people are ready for me. 

I have a history of mismatched experiences and emotions with the people I love.  When I get really close to people, they are forced to look at themselves more than they would like to I guess.  They in a sense, are being forced into a relationship with themselves by me, because I have a way of seeing the less visible aspects of most people’s personalities.  I consciously, and sometimes unconsciously, bring the invisible to the surface.  It is as if I am standing there holding up a mirror, forcing them to look at themselves, refusing to tell them what to do, trying to be supportive and understanding, and the reactions aren’t always what I expect.  I guess that’s because I am still thinking in terms of their reactions in relationship to me.  When someone I love tells me that they need time away from me, that can be a hard pill to swallow.  I dislike that I cause people I care about such distress, even if I know it is what needs to happen for them to grow. 

I have tried to be less intense or real, but telling that to someone like me is like telling water not to be wet.  You can throw a towel over everything to hide, or dry off the situation, but everything is going to get absorbed eventually.  Does this mean that I can never have a meaningful relationship with another person, or that I am better off from a distance?  No, but that does explain why I am cautious with my feelings and sometimes build walls.  It’s not just to protect myself, but many times it is to protect everyone else around me.  Will everyone hurt me?  Probably yes, but that’s because people respond unpredictably sometimes to being exposed to what they have worked hard to keep hidden.  I think the hardest thing for me is when someone leaves me, or thinks I am better off without them, because they believe they are hurting me.  I am just holding the mirror, but I see the hurt in others.  When they leave me, I feel like they are leaving at the most crucial moment of their healing, so I become desperate to bring them back to the mirror. 

I have to realize, however, that everyone needs to heal at their own pace.  I am used to holding hurt, and I recognize the interconnected relationship between hurting and healing.  It can be scary, and I have to remember that for the people I care about.  I have to work harder at helping myself, as well as my loved ones, to see where they end and I begin.  There is someone standing behind this mirror, and that’s the person I want people to ultimately see.  I think deep down that’s what every INFJ, HSP, or empath wants, someone to really see them.  People do see me sometimes, and I think when they do, they realize what’s been going on.  They do start to see their own parts, as well as the parts that have all along been mine.  Perhaps this is why, every time a relationship has ended for me I’ve been told that I’m better off without that other person in my life.  When I hear that, I hurt, because I don’t honestly feel that way myself.  While I hold other people’s pain sometimes, I rarely keep it as my own.  The hurt isn’t from what that person thinks he has inflicted upon me.  The hurt is that this person can’t recognize how much I have learned and enjoyed our experiences together.  How much I value the light, as well as the dark.

A person really close to me once explained why sad songs are the most beautiful, and that was one of the first times I ever felt like someone could reflect something of myself back to me.  Hurt is acknowledgment, concern, and care for how things should or should not be in this world.  Even when people are hurting, and they choose things you do not agree with out of love for you, or themselves, that is far better than apathy.  Every hurt has taught me a great deal about myself, as well as forced me to continue along my path of healing.   As an INFJ everyone I love hurts me, but everyone I have ever loved has also helped to heal me.

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.

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