The INFP dark side: Is it real? What does an unhealthy INFP look like? What are some negative traits of the INFP?
INFPs are one of the most fascinating of the sixteen personality types, and I can tell you from experience that they are somewhat difficult to understand. I’ve grown up with an INFP female relative my entire life, and I love her very much. If you don’t know an INFP, I’d highly recommend you try to get to know one.
In fact, you would not be reading this article right now if it were not for a certain INFP by the name of Isabel Briggs Myers. She worked tirelessly to educate people about the different personality types, and I have tremendous respect for her work. Susan Cain, the author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, is also an INFP, and she has helped others to understand what it means to be an introvert. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of the INFPs in the world.
INFPs have a great sense of humor. My INFP relative has always made me laugh. Furthermore, INFPs are also among some the most creative writers, poets, and even actors (Marlon Brando is often typed as an INFP, and people often admire his acting skills). They are also true to their “NF” temperament, for they are idealists at heart.
Even though INFPs have all of these wonderful traits, they also have a hidden dark side. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, for we all have a dark side. I’ve written much about some of the common INTJ “dark side” struggles (depression, misanthropy, arrogance, bitterness, etc.), and now I’ll reveal some of the struggles that INFPs face.
INFP Dark Side
So, what is the INFP dark side? Below are some of the negative traits, quirks, or “dark side” behaviors that I’ve noticed that some INFPs do when they are unhealthy, stressed, or not operating at their normal INFP level.
NOTE: I’m not saying that all INFPs do these things (and certainly not healthy, happy ones), but I have read online accounts of other INFPs doing similar things when they go “rogue” and struggle with their inner demons.
Emotional Roller Coaster
INFPs lead with Introverted Feeling (Fi), the dominant function that is often described as one of the most difficult functions to understand. Introverted Feeling (Fi) is a judging function that makes decisions about the world primarily through value-based, subjective criteria. It is important for INFPs to maintain internal consistency with their complex inner values, and they are constantly ruminating over things to ensure that the inner consistency remains intact.
Because of this constant, reflective process, INFPs often feel a flood of emotions. Perceived insults or social injustices can cause severe inner turmoil or frustration for them. Many INFPs will say things like, “One minute I feel fine, yet the next minute I can be overwhelmed by a flood of negative or intense emotions.” (Perhaps that same emotional intensity is what fueled Marlon Brando’s acting performances.)
This emotional intensity can be difficult to bear, and it can lead to some dark times for INFPs. Depression can quickly ensue. They can internalize their feelings and become self-critical, self-conscious, and even self-loathing. They can brood in sorrow over the starving people in the world, abused children, insults they’ve endured, or other such injustices.
In fact, did you know that out of all of the sixteen personality types, the INFP was the type most likely to report having suicidal thoughts while in college? (Source: MBTI Manual, 3rd edition, page 97)
As an INTJ, you’ll want to keep your Extroverted Thinking (Te) bluntness in check around your INFP loved ones, and beware of your tone and choice of words. It can be very easy to hurt INFPs, and they don’t always let you know when you’ve done it, especially since Introverted Feeling (Fi) often seeks to mask the deep level of emotions felt within.
INFP’s Judgmental and Negative Side
Many articles say that INFPs are some of the most “tolerant” and non-judgmental types, and that can certainly be true. Most healthy INFPs are lighthearted and very accepting of people’s differences. However, an INFP who has gone to the “dark side” can cast vicious judgments.
There have been times when I’ve been around my INFP relative, and the whole conversation consisted of putting people down behind their backs, pointing out people’s faults, and resorting to petty gossip (mostly involving the moral failures of others).
She has been so gloomy that flowers have wilted after she walked into the room. She’s turned sunny days into rain showers. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get my drift. Seriously, I’ve walked away from conversations where she didn’t have a positive word to say about anyone in the world. It was nothing but drama and retelling of events.
Interestingly, John Beebe, a well-known Jungian analyst and psychiatrist, once noted that out of all of his clients, INFPs were the most judgmental. It makes sense to me that Introverted Feeling (Fi), which constantly evaluates actions and information based on subjective criteria, could get into a negative judging pattern.
It’s strange, too, because the INFP that I know has two extremes. She’s either the most loving, peaceful, happy, and non-judgmental person you’ve ever met, or she’s the most negative, critical person you’ve ever met (though most criticisms or judgments take place behind the person’s back).
Oh, and the Extroverted Intuition (Ne) function can go into overdrive when INFPs fall prey to the dark side, causing them to imagine scenarios of what people “might” be doing. They can even become somewhat conspiracy theory-ish or paranoid.
INFP Conflict Avoidance
INFPs are often peaceful people who hate conflict, and they can go to great lengths to avoid heated confrontations. That’s not always the case, for they can stand up for some deeply held belief. Some INFPs that I’ve talked to online even said that they aren’t conflict averse.
Nevertheless, conflict avoidance can lead to serious relationship problems. Rather than addressing problems directly, unhealthy or underdeveloped INFPs can resort to passive-aggressive tendencies. They might do something that they know makes a person angry, and then feign ignorance by saying something like, “Oh, I forgot that you hated that.”
INFPs can bottle up their emotions after they’ve been hurt by someone, and then later vent to a close friend or loved one, rather than confront the person who caused the emotional injury. Their Introverted Sensing (Si) will recall snapshots and specific details of the event, while their Introverted Feeling (Fi) broods over how it made them feel. Hence, they get into the judgmental, negative pattern that I noted previously.
They might struggle to admit fault or apologize, even when confronted about something they’ve done wrong. Instead, they can offer endless rationalizations, play the victim game, or throw up mistakes you’ve made in the past. Even worse, INFPs will sometimes pretend as if nothing at all has ever happened after a major conflict, sweeping the entire event under the proverbial rug.
INFP Manipulation, Guilt Trips, and Lies
Although most healthy INFPs hate the idea of manipulation and can spot a phony ten miles away, they can be manipulative while in the dark side, often using guilt trips to coerce people to do things. For example, they might say something like, “Nobody answers their phone when I call,” to make you feel guilty about not talking to them on the phone enough.
They also tend to use a passive communication style. This can turn into endless hint dropping. Rather than ask someone, “Can you give me a ride to my appointment tomorrow? My car isn’t working,” they’ll say, “My car’s broken down, and I don’t know how I’ll get to my appointment tomorrow.”
I also think it’s bizarre how my INFP relative tells lies. She doesn’t like lying, and she tries to be honest so that she can maintain that internal harmony of values (Fi). However, she’ll create lies based on “technicalities.”
For example, if she has to call someone on the phone that she doesn’t want to speak to, she’ll dial their number and then hang up before their phone has a chance to ring. She’ll later tell the person that she tried to call them, and then justifies her deception to me by saying, “Well, I did technically call their number.” (In case anyone is wondering, a half-truth is still considered a full lie, even if it makes your Fi feel better, lol).
INFP in the Te Grip
When any personality type comes under extreme stress, he or she often reverts to the inferior cognitive function as a way to cope or react. The INFP’s inferior function is Extroverted Thinking (Te), and when using this function in a dominant way, they’ll act more like an ESTJ.
INFPs are often stereotyped as disorganized and messy, but in the grip of Te, they often get a sudden urge to organize and schedule everything. The INFP’s normal gentle and passive communication style can become abrasive, sarcastic, and confrontational.
They can even become bossy and bark out orders like Te-dominant types. They might throw up objective facts or evidence, or point out logical flaws in your argument.
Although a bit dreamy (aren’t all intuitive types?), INFPs can be very hard workers who can accomplish great things, especially in the creative professions. However, when the dark side takes over, INFPs can become unusually lazy. I recently watched a Marlon Brando biography film on (Brando was an INFP). In his later years, he let himself go and had some “lazy” behaviors.
One director wanted Brando to do only two things in preparation for a new film: show up in good physical shape, and memorize his lines. Brando showed up overweight (they used a body double for some scenes) and had not memorized his lines. Even during the filming of the movie The Godfather, they had to hang Brando’s lines all over the movie set so that he could merely read them during filming.
I’ve seen similar behaviors from the INFP that I know. When in a negative pattern, she can ask or hint for frivolous favors that she should either do herself or hire someone to do. Yet, she’ll try to get people to do them for her.
INFP Grieving Process
Finally, INFPs can become extremely attached to people, pets, or even inanimate objects. They have the unique ability to connect with things on a very deep, intimate level. In the documentary I linked to above, one of Marlon Brando’s friends eventually passed away. Brando took it hard–so hard that he took his dead friend’s ashes as a keepsake, which rightfully belonged to his deceased friend’s wife.
The widowed woman was initially angry and even contemplated suing Brando to get her deceased husband’s ashes back, but she eventually reasoned that, “If they mean that much to him, he clearly needs them more than I do” (paraphrased). Brando apparently treasured his friend’s ashes for the rest of his life.
I’ve seen another INFP struggle with intense grief after losing something she cared about. When her beloved poodle died unexpectedly, she sat in a swing, rocking its dead body and singing to it for 1-2 hours while crying. When her German shepherd/wolf-mix dog died, she went into debt to buy an expensive burial plot. She still visits and decorates the plot regularly as of this writing.
INFPs have been known to anthropomorphize objects or animals, and I’ve seen this pattern, too. She especially does this with animals, often projecting human emotions and desires onto them.
Conclusion of the INFP Negative Traits
I love the INFP that I know. The things I mentioned above are not typical INFP behaviors, but rather, unhealthy patterns to which INFPs might temporarily succumb.
INFPs have so many fantastic traits. They are funny, creative, talented, and have so much to offer the world. Many INTJs on my YouTube channel are dating INFPs or are best friends with an INFP.
If you’re an INFP falling into one of the patterns above, you can change it or work to minimize it. That’s the point of this article–to reveal how some of these behaviors can manifest so that you can improve or prevent them. And I especially hope that no INFP ever considers suicide. Life can be hard, but it gets better. Really, it does. And the world needs as many INFPs as it can get.
I’d love to hear from other INTJs and INFPs. What do you love about INFPs? What “dark side” traits have you experienced?