I turned thirty about three years ago. Call it a quarter-life crisis or just being a typical INFJ personality type, but over these last three years, I’ve been forced to take a very close look at my life. What I found wasn’t always pretty or satisfying. In all honesty, when taking inventory of my adult life, I found myself disappointed and left wanting.
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Through this retrospective look at my life, I realize now that I was an extremely unhealthy INFJ. I was too passive, I let people walk all over me, I was always trying to make others happy, I could never say no to others, I was holding on to grudges I’d had since preschool, I shut people out, I was afraid to speak up for myself — the list is endless.
I wore perfectionism around my ankle like a heavy anchor keeping me rooted to the same spot. I got to the point of never starting any projects because I knew they’d never come out the way I wanted. The fear of failing to be perfect, of failing to please everyone, had caused me to stifle who I was to the point that I had become no more than a moldable empty shell.
I’d stopped being my own person and had become everyone else’s.
Self-reflection can be painful but it is necessary. INFJs are perhaps more prone to introspection than most other personality types. So whether it was a long time coming or not, in 2013, the death of a loved one finally triggered me to question what I wanted out of life. I thought: Someday when I arrive at the end of my life, will I be able to look back and feel satisfied?
At that moment the answer was a loud and deafening “no.” That one tiny question spiraled into a hundred questions, which branched out into hundreds more. My anxiety kicked into red alert. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I was caught in a loop of existential questions to which I couldn’t find any answers.
That was when I accepted that I needed help and decided to see a psychologist.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Being an Introvert
I realized, after several therapy sessions, that my whole life I had been trying to force myself into a mold into which I didn’t fit. That I didn’t understand what it meant to be an introvert. After having been berated my entire childhood for being “too quiet,” my single New Year’s resolution every January had always been “to become more extroverted.”
I almost feel embarrassed that someone had to explain to me that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. There was nothing wrong with enjoying Friday nights in, having a passion for reading rather than bar hopping and having only a handful of people whom I could really call friends. Being an introvert was an inherent part of me, like the color of my eyes or the tone of my voice, and there was no need to change it.
Accepting myself as an introvert was the first step in correcting my imbalance. Of all the steps, it was probably the smallest but it has been the most important. Once I could embrace myself as I was and stop trying to be something I wasn’t, everything else began to fall into place. I began finding answers to the loop of questions that had kept me awake for so many nights.
I was also suddenly more comfortable in my own skin. I stopped trying to laugh louder and harder. I stopped trying to act like I had it all together — a habit that had always left me unhappy and exponentially drained after social situations. I stopped caring what people thought of me. If they thought me awkward or odd, it didn’t matter anymore. Whether they liked it or not, I was who I was.
More important, I liked who I was.
I’m No Longer Scared of Being Judged
That tiny bit of confidence gave me the strength to speak up for myself, especially at work — the number one place where I was constantly letting people walk all over me. I started saying no when I didn’t want to do something that was adding to my pile of work. I stopped feeling guilty for taking a sick day. I stopped trying to make everyone else happy.
Most of all, I stopped trying to make everyone like me. For years, I had been a slave to the idea of wanting people to think I was “nice,” to make up for being so quiet, terrified that others would think I was a snob. I would do this to the point that I would wear myself thin and go home feeling empty and invisible because, once again, everyone was getting what they wanted except for me.
Accepting myself as an introvert and realizing that this was who I was taught me that it was no longer important whether someone liked me or not. As a personality type with Extroverted Feeling, I can get too easily caught up wanting to please others. But the awareness I gained after going to therapy taught me that I need to look out for myself as well. Even if it leaves other people mumbling behind my back. Sometimes it’s more important to be fair than it is to seem nice, and that fairness needs to extend to ourselves.
One tiny step was all it took and my life is so much different today than it was three years ago. Accepting my introversion opened many doors for me but it also taught me how to open doors for myself. Take this article for example. I’m actually writing it instead of giving up before I even start because of the chance that it might not be perfect. A few years ago, submitting it anywhere would’ve been out of the question.
I also talk to people more — not because I’m trying to be an extrovert, but because I allow myself to be who I am no matter what consequences it brings. I’m still quiet and reserved, but I use my voice now with more confidence.
All my problems are certainly not gone and I am by no means perfect now. As an INFJ, I will always be driven to strive for improvement, but now I know that improvement doesn’t mean perfection. From now on, I can simply try to be the most genuine me that I can be.