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Famous INFJs—The Good and the Evil

 

INFJs are the rarest Myers-Briggs personality type—found in only one percent of the population. The combination of introversion, intuition, feeling and judging make INFJs insightful, persuasive, charismatic, and passionate. When famous INFJs worked for good, they were positive forces in the world. When they turned evil, they became dangerous and desperate people.

INFJs whose childhood influences nourished their desire to do good in the world include Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. INFJs turned evil include Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and David Koresh.

Here are their stories.

The Good

Nelson MandelaNELSON MANDELA

Born to the royal Thembu family in rural South Africa in 1918, Nelson Mandela spent his early boyhood tending cattle in the countryside. He grew up with two sisters in his mother’s village. At the age of seven, he was sent to a Methodist school where a teacher gave him the English name Nelson.

As a young man, Mandela studied law in Johannesburg. Because of his legal efforts against apartheid, he served over 27 years in prison. He was released in 1990 only after international organizations campaigned for his pardon. In 1994, he was elected South Africa’s first black leader. During his life, he received more than 250 honors, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He died in 2013 at the age of 95.

Among the most influential leaders of the 20th century, Mandela exhibited the best traits of the Myers-Briggs INFJ type. He was eloquent and had a sharp sense of humor that defused many touchy situations. He was confident enough to laugh at himself frequently, endearing him to followers.

Mahatma GandhiMahatma-Gandhi-Gandhiji-300x250

Born in 1869, Mahatma Gandhi was the spiritual and political leader of India from 1921 until 1948. Gandhi was raised in a prominent Hindu family. When he was 19, he traveled to Britain to study law. Returning home, he led a nonviolent national struggle for India’s freedom from British rule, which was finally granted in 1947. It was his greatest achievement. He became famous for his many fasts to protest social injustice.

Gandhi was a true INFJ. Even at an early age, his value system was so strong that no one could talk him out of his convictions. Although deeply committed to social change, he achieved his goals without violence. He was a visionary who infected others with his dreams.

October 2, Gandhi’s birthday, is celebrated as the International Day of Nonviolence.

Martin Luther KingMARTIN L. KING

Born in 1929, Martin Luther King was leader of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. He used Gandhi’s nonviolent methods to combat racial injustice. King organized numerous peaceful protests U.S. cities, including the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

As a child, King attended church regularly. His belief in the church’s mission led him to study the ministry in college. After earning a PhD degree at Boston University, he decided that church work helped him satisfy his “inner urge to serve humanity.” In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent protests against racial inequality.

In 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots followed in many U.S. cities. After his death, King received numerous posthumous awards. In 1986, Martin Luther King Day was declared a U.S. holiday.

Martin Luther King showed the best traits of an INFJ. He was committed to his ideals and ready to put himself in peril to defend them. He was a brilliant speaker, articulate and forceful. He was able to convince others of his beliefs and pinsire them to action.

The Evil

Adolf Hitleradolf-hitler-2

Born in 1889, Hitler was the leader of Nazi Germany from 1934 to the end of World War II. He was responsible for the deaths of at least 5.5 million Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Like many INFJs gone bad, Hitler had an unhappy childhood. He got in trouble at school, and his father beat him regularly.

Hitler’s only love was art, which his father considered a waste of time. Adolf was sent to a technical school where he performed poorly and dropped out. After his father died, he worked as a watercolor artist to make a living. His hopes for the future were dashed when he was rejected by Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts because of his poor academic record.

Hitler had an idealistic streak typical of many INFJs. He was a vegetarian, often trying to persuade friends to give up meat in their diet by describing the inhumane slaughter of animals. He quit drinking and smoking, as well. He was kind to a select few people around him and to his dogs, which he loved. Some of Hitler’s extreme behavior has been blamed on his amphetamine addiction during the war.

Osama bin LadenOsama

Born in 1957, Osama bin Laden was the founder of al Qaeda, the terrorist organization that destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Bin Laden also claimed responsibility for other deadly attacks against civilian and military targets.

Bin Laden was raised a devout Muslim. As he was growing up, his main interest was religion, charitable work, writing poetry, and reading. In these respects, he was a model INFJ. Colleagues described him as gentle and soft spoken. However, like many INFJs, he was considered a mystery even by family members. He was known to be opinionated and severe in many situations. In the Muslim tradition, bin Laden had five wives and fathered over 20 children. Most of his wives were educated women, not subservient females as one might expect.

Bin Laden’s career as a jihadist began when he joined Muslim forces in Pakistan against the Soviets as a young man in 1979. His life ended in 2011 when he was killed in a covert military operation carried out by U.S. Special Forces and the CIA on the orders of President Barack Obama.

David Koresh220px-David_Koresh

David Koresh was the charismatic young cult leader whose “Army of God”—the Branch Davidians— had a 51-day stand-off with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Waco, Texas, in 1993. The siege began after the cult stockpiled weapons to prepare for the apocalypse. The ensuing firestorm left 76 cult members and 4 federal employees dead. Koresh shot himself in the head.

Born to an unwed teenage mother in 1959, David Koresh was raised by his grandparents in Houston. He was a lonely child, often ridiculed by kids his own age. He did poorly in school and eventually dropped out. Finding comfort in the Bible, he memorized long passages by the time he was twelve. A high school dropout, he moved to Hollywood at the age of 20 in a failed attempt to become a rock star.

At 22, Koresh moved to Waco, Texas, in 1981 to join the Branch Davidians. Taking over the cult after the death of its leader, Lois Roden, he instituted “spiritual weddings,” which permitted him to have sex with female followers of all ages. As a result, he had 12 children with women other than his wife.

With a sense of misguided idealism, Koresh exalted his own ego at the same time as his Christian bliefs. A powerful orator, he transmitted his ideals to others, as other INFJ cult leaders have done. His Myers-Briggs traits went unchecked and eventually expressed themselves in extreme, destructive behaviors.

 

How INFJs Can Lose Out

INFJs walk in the footsteps of such illustrious figures as Carl Jung, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Eleanor Roosevelt, to name a few. The path can be challenging. But for INFJs who struggle to evolve throughout their lives, it’s a rewarding one. However, problems can come up if one or more Myers-Briggs functions move to the extreme end of the scale.

• When their expectations aren’t met, the resulting stress damages their ability to function. 

• Their perfectionism can get them in trouble when their perceiving function is too weak to buffer setbacks.

Their idealism can bring them down if people disappoint them.

They can trick themselves into thinking they’re above rules and regulations—a sense of entitlement resulting from their superior grasp of principles and ideas.

They may be intolerant of people who lack their gifts, becoming arrogant and difficult to approach.

They can let their four dominant traits get out of control and lead them into depression.

Expectations

Because their expectations are high and they work hard to achieve them, INFJs stumble when their efforts backfire. Under stress, they’re likely to do more of what they’ve been doing all along, trying to force things to turn out as planned. More of the same is not what’s needed. They need to acknowledge what is and adapt. In situations where their judging function leads them astray, they need to tap into their flexible perceiving function to adapt their expectations and strategies to current realities.

If an INFJ is planning a big party and the caterers are late delivering the food, he or she may come unglued. Someone must fetch the caterers! It’s hard for INFJs to reframe the problem of no food arriving in order to devise an alternative solution. Instead they waste time blaming themselves for not having the foresight to avoid the disaster. At this point, wringing their hands is not helpful.

Idealism

Having intuition as a dominant function, INFJs can become wedded to their expectations for the future. When facts conflict with their predictions, they’re inclined to cling to their hopes despite evidence to the contrary. If, for example, they have watched their Widget stock rise over several years, they may be confident that it can’t fall. When the stock market has a downturn, INFJs may hang on to their stock with unrealistic fantasies of a market reversal.

False expectations can be personal. INFJs can be disenchanted by friends and co-workers who turn out to be less perfect than they thought. When a person shows himself or herself to be flawed in important ways, the INFJ feels let down. To them, this is a reasonable reaction because they expect no more from others than they do of themselves.

Entitlement

INFJs resist rules that make no sense to them. If they park where a sign says “One-hour parking” and stay for 90 minutes, they’re indignant when they find a police citation under their windshield wiper. There were no other cars on the street! They believe in the spirit not the letter of the law. Other sources of frustration are penalty fees when a payment was only hours late, returned forms for minor missing information, and so on. Bureaucratic details are beneath INFJs.

Impatience

INFJs have little patience for sensing/thinking/judging types, considering them to be barriers to progress. They consider many STJs to be shortsighted and obsessed with trivial details. Why can’t they see the big picture? INFJs get exasperated when required to follow protocol, even when it’s necessary to the smooth operation of an organization. This is why INFJs tend to do poorly in administrative positions where routine is critical. Security jobs, for example, are often unsuitable because they require so much focus on detail.

Attitude

Knowing that they’re gifted with more wisdom than the average person, some INFJs adopt an attitude of moral superiority. This puts others off. As a result, friends and colleagues hesitate to ask them for guidance. Only when INFJs use their feeling function to empathize rather than criticize are they able to relate to others authentically and help them as equals.

Depression

Many INFJs are prone to depression. Each of their four dominant traits contributes to this tendency. Being introverts (I), they are focused inward much of the time. Their highly developed intuition (N) provides them with insights into themselves, others, and the world at large—insights that are sometimes painful. Their feeling function (F) gives these insights emotional weight that wouldn’t count as heavily in a thinking type. Their judging function (J) sometimes leads them to gloomy conclusions. If they could call on their perceiving abilities, they could open their minds to more promising possibilities.

It’s Hard To Be an INFJ: The Author’s Personal Story

Since posting “It’s Hard To Be an INFJ” on this blog, I’ve received hundreds of e-mails from other INFJs. Their main theme has been how disconnected they’ve felt surrounded by extraverts and more sensible, earthbound types. Their posts and my responses appear after that blog.

This is my personal account of what it feels like to be an INFJ.

Growing up

As a child, I felt like an outsider. I’ve felt this way most of my life. Even though all evidence suggests that I was successful and respected by my peers in school, I knew that I was an odd duck. I never liked large groups of kids. I preferred being alone or in the company of one friend—a typical preference of INFJs. Most introverts tend to feel insecure about their preference for privacy because of the high value our culture places on extraversion. People who enjoy being alone are considered odd.

As a student in elementary and high school, I did well academically and had two close friends. For an INFJ, I was surprisingly active in extracurricular activities: acting in community theatre, studying the piano accordion and sometimes performing publicly, editing the school paper, and so on. I was like two people—one who appeared successful and the other who always felt a little lost.

When I left home for college at the age of 17 and began to date, my relationships with boys were fragile. If I fell in love, I couldn’t figure out how to hang onto the boy. He usually tired of my neediness and left. If a boy I didn’t care for kept pursuing me, I couldn’t figure out how to escape without hurting him. With my overactive feeling function, relationships with boyfriends put me on emotional rollercoaster rides.

Personality Traits

Like most judging types, I’ve always been highly focused. I’ll stay up all night working on a project, never miss a deadline, and be punctual for appointments. I like closure, not uncertainty. I make decisions quickly. Thanks to my highly developed intuition, they tend to turn out well.

My opinions on social and political issues are pretty unshakeable, without shades of gray. I recognize the problems my inflexible positions can cause, however, and try to open my mind to other perspectives. When I have strong feelings about an issue, I share them with only one or two trusted friends. I am generally not a leader of causes in public. I write about them passionately, though.

My intuitive, feeling, and judging functions, acting in concert, make me quick to respond to emergencies, especially those involving injury or danger to people or animals. Even at age 82, I still rush into threatening situations. I always emerge unharmed because my intuitive function steers me away from personal danger while my emotions give me the courage and force to act.

Career Experience

Like me, many INFJs are writers. We make good investigative journalists, science editors, and nonfiction writers. The social sciences interest us more than physics, mathematics, electronics and other theoretical and physical sciences. The social sciences engage our feeling function. On aptitude tests, we excel on the verbal portions. However, our thoughts usually have a strong visual component. What we describe in words we see in pictures. We’re more concrete than abstract. Highly creative INFJs are drawn to careers like acting, painting, designing, and so on. However, they are more concerned with pursuing truth than creating art.

Because of their creativity, many INFJs are successful entrepreneurs. They’re good at coming up with fresh ideas, taking risks, introducing new products, marketing to the public, and trouble-shooting. All the while, they maintain their idealism and desire to make life better for those around them. If they get too caught up in the profit motive and are seduced by materialistic goals, they end up demoralized. They suffer from stagnation, burnout, and loss of creativity.

In my early 60s, I earned over $250,000 a year for three years in a row. (I saved most of it and am now enjoying the fruits of my intuitively guided investments.) The problem with all that money was that I became too attached to it. It made me feel very important. Ultimately, my confidence and self-esteem relied on my six-figure income. Approaching retirement, I realized that money could be a trap. I needed to release this attachment and start volunteering. I began to give more money to causes I believed in—mostly animal welfare, education of children in developing countries, and women’s rights. Now, at 82, I have all the money I need to feel safe and enjoy myself. When I work, I don’t accept money for my professional services. Charging money would spoil my pleasure.

Life Can Be Hard

Life can be difficult for those of us who share INFJ traits. First, we’re often misunderstood—perhaps because we make up only one percent of the population. There aren’t enough of us around. Although we often don’t recognize a fellow INFJ when we meet, we’re likely to become fast friends once we recognize the common ground we stand on. Here’s how each of the four traits challenges us:

Introversion: Our preference for privacy can isolate us. We retreat into our thoughts too much and can find ourselves in a cycle of brooding.

Intuition: While well-developed intuition is a gift, it seldom makes us popular. Because the intuitive individual can seem almost clairvoyant, he or she can make others feel uncomfortable. Our forecasts usually turn out to be true, but in the passage of time they’re usually forgotten so we go without credit. We may become so confident of our insights as the years pass that we’re shaken by the rare occasions when they’ve led us down the wrong path.

Feeling: The truths that underlie our accurate insights can wound us. For example, if I have a hunch a friend is lying to me, the chances are I’m right. Knowing this and having it confirmed can be more painful than it is for people whose dominant function is thinking. Although our feelings often bring us joy, when they’re negative we suffer, particularly when rejection is involved. Many of us are prone to depression.

Judging: Our judging function can lead us into premature decisions with uncomfortable consequences, especially in relationships. Many a marriage has foundered because an INFJ didn’t take enough time to understand his or her partner fully before the wedding. (I’m an example of this—more than once.) As the saying goes, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” In groups of people, INFJs may appear aloof, even arrogant, because they’re concentrating on sizing up others before they can relax.

We’re in Good Company

INFJs are in good company. Famous INFJs of the past and present are Mahatma Gandhi, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Carl Jung, Simone de Beauvoir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa, Noah Chomsky, and Oprah Winfrey.

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