Bearing a Burden: the INFP

Just so you know up front, this post is going to talk about a Meyers-Briggs personality type, and also rely on the reader having some background knowledge of The Lord of the Rings.

Now that I’ve weeded out 90% of readers, let’s proceed.

The Meyers-Briggs Typology

The Meyers-Briggs (MBTI) is a personality typology that describes people’s preferences on how to process information and make decisions. People can be Extraverted or Introverted (E vs. I); Intuitive or Sensing (N vs. S); Thinking or Feeling (T vs. F), and Perceiving vs. Judging (P vs. J). I’ve discussed elsewhere the limitations of these binaries. Some people fall right in the middle between two of the preferences, for example, and the four MBTI preferences don’t tell everything about a person’s personality. That said, I still find the typology interesting and useful. In an earlier post, I discussed the ESTP, who is often the disruptive force in the story. Today, I’m going to discuss a much more passive type, the INFP, who is almost the ESTP’s opposite.

Frodo as an example of the INFP

When I say the INFP is “passive,” that’s not a slam. I’m an INFP myself.

The INFP is Introverted. This means that he or she has a rich inner life, and draws his/her energy from within. Interacting with the outer world drains him. (Extraverts get their energy from the outer world.) Many of the strongest characters in The Lord of the Rings are Introverted, from which we can guess that J.R.R. Tolkien probably was as well. That’s not surprising, given that he was a professor who created, just for fun, several languages and an elaborate world with its own history and mythology. Introverts are less than 50% of the population, but they are overrepresented in literature because so many authors are Introverts.

As an NF (Intuitive and Feeling), the INFP is very sensitive to the feelings of those around him. He or she cares a lot about all relationships being harmonious at all times. Conflict of any kind stresses the INFP out to a greater degree than other types. This can mean the that INFP will unhealthily say or do anything to avoid conflict. The up side is that the INFP wants to have a good relationship with, and believes that he can reach, anyone. Exhibit A is Frodo’s ability to understand and even win the loyalty of Gollum.

INFPs are not quick to thrust themselves forward, take leadership, or take the initiative. They don’t want to do a task until they feel they understand it and can do it well. Mistakes are an unacceptably high cost when you can’t tolerate any damage to any relationship (read: criticism).

As a not very quick, ambitious, or assertive type, the INFP can often appear to be contributing nothing to the group.

This is really apparent when we look at Frodo’s role in the Ring saga. He delays a long time leaving on his quest and needs a push from his friends. Once he does set out, he spends all three books getting into hot water and getting rescued by people who are more powerful, capable, or (in the case of Sam) harder working. Like the other hobbits (but even more so), for about the first half of the adventure Frodo appears to be almost a pure taker. In fact, some of the most famous scenes in LOTR involve someone literally carrying him: the humans carrying the hobbits down out of the snow drifts on Carhadras. Aragorn running out of Moria with Frodo in his arms after Frodo gets speared by an orc. Sam carrying Frodo up Mt. Doom.

What is this guy good for, anyway?

Of course, as we all know, Frodo is weak and passive not just because of his personality but because he is in fact carrying a heavy, but unseen, burden: the Ring. It’s a spiritual burden that occupies his mind, allows him to see what others can’t, and exposes him to terrors. It also, more and more as the story goes on, saps his strength. He may not appear to be contributing anything, but he is doing real work for the group, though that work is hard to quantify.

Tolkien makes it so that the work Frodo does, bearing his burden, is obvious to the reader and is also clear to, and appreciated by, the rest of the Fellowship. Most people don’t read The Lord of the Rings and come away saying, “I don’t see what the big deal was about Frodo. He didn’t do anything.”

Non-Frodo INFPs also bear a burden. They bear the burden of their worry about every single person and relationship they are aware of, and of their ability to take personally everything that happens in the world. Of course, the nature of this burden varies with the maturity of the INFP. When immature, our burden is self-absorbed in nature. We want everyone to like us, we want never to be criticized. But as we mature, this can move on to becoming genuine concern for the well-being of all the people whose existence we know of.

This is a heavy burden indeed. When news travels around the world in seconds, no problem or tragedy can fail to come to the attention of the INFP. An INFP who really takes every human tragedy to heart will be too overwhelmed. Only one Man (who, in my opinion, was the perfect example of all the Meyers-Briggs types) is capable of bearing the sins of the world. As an INFP of a certain age, I have had to master the skill of consciously setting things aside as not my problem to worry about so that I can function.

Still, even if we limit the INFP’s burden to the sins and sorrows of the people in his or her immediate circle, that’s a lot. If you know an INFP (and you are not one), they are probably thinking about all of this stuff a lot more than you are. They are expending a lot of mental energy on it. That may be why they need so much sleep. If they are a Christian INFP, they are no doubt also wrestling in prayer for you and for everyone in their circle.

Bearing a burden.

14 thoughts on “Bearing a Burden: the INFP

  1. Benjamin Ledford

    I recall one time when Dad had shared something via email about the ongoing war in the DR Congo, and the western world’s neglect of it, and you responded with essentially the point you made briefly above: that you cannot bear all the burdens of the world, and be broken over every tragedy everywhere. You (we) are just not strong enough to do so.

    I’ve found that very helpful and have thought of it often ever since. There’s so much sorrow, and it feels like there is an obligation to be as empathetic, sorrowful, and stressed over every tragedy as if it were occurring within your immediate circle. And of course, it is not that the suffering doesn’t warrant such a response, but that we are too limited. I can’t bear all the burdens of the world. As you say, there is only one who could do that, and praise God He actually did it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! I never imagined that rant of mine would be helpful to anyone besides me. I am so glad it helped you. As I recall, I was basically striking out defensively against what I perceived as an attempted guilt trip. Something had happened in the U.S. (I can’t even remember what it was now … plane crash?), and Dad was chiding “us” for getting so upset about that when it was so much less consequential than DC Congo in both numbers and horror.

      Of course people get more distressed about things that touch them more closely. The Mennonite church, especially, tends to teach as if this is a faultable sign of being provincial, cold, uncaring, etc. … but doing anything else is a psychological impossibility.

      If you listen to the “silence is violence” rhetoric, the implication there too is that we can somehow stop bad things from ever happening again just by getting upset about them. But I can testify that this does not work. I have been against atrocities my entire life and they still keep happening. On the other hand, we have one really effective way of combating evil at a distance: prayer.

      Like

  2. Now that I’ve weeded out 90% of readers, let’s proceed.

    I think you do your readers an injustice. We’re pretty awesome that way 😀

    I do feel bad for us introverts though. We have to work extra hard just to stay in place where everyone else easily strides forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In the 60’s we used this extensively and P&G in my division. Not sure how much it helped, but that kind thing was popular in those days. Later our church at the time used it too. Peggy and I took it and learned that we are polar opposites and should never get married. 53 years of marriage later we’re still working it out. Go figure.

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, as far as “how much it helped,” I find that personality and work relationships are so complex that the MBTI seldom brings immediate, practical benefits on the ground.

      If you don’t mind sharing, what are your and Peg’s respective types?

      Like

    1. Maybe ENFP then. Sounds like you guys have worked it out.
      I actually think it’s a fallacy that you should marry someone with your exact type. You don’t want to put too many of the same type together. They amplify each other’s weaknesses. Anyway, congrats on how well you have learned to get along!

      Like

  4. Love this post cos I’m an INFP too and relate to it so much! Cos oh god I’m so conflict avoidant it’s ridiculous. And yup, I’m scared of being in the limelight and thus getting too much criticism. And I’m definitely one to overthink things and get overwhelmed (I try to consume less news now cos of it).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Guilty Reader Tag – Out of Babel

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