Extroverted thinking is a powerful, no-nonsense function that can help you reach your full potential as an INFP. When employed effectively, it will structure your goals, advocate for your passions and translate your daydreams and ideals into concrete, achievable realities.
When neglected, however, extroverted thinking will take over in times of extreme stress and single-handedly destroy your self-esteem.
Extroverted thinking is not a bully. Despite the bad rep it gets, this function is only striving to provide the INFP with the concrete skills he or she needs to succeed in life. Unfortunately, the INFP tends to neglect extroverted thinking. Because this function is highly entrenched in the concrete realities of what it takes to make a dream work, the INFP often experiences it as their critical inner voice—the one that whispers cruel nothings at them about why their passionate plans are doomed to fail.
A fully developed INFP may learn to make friends with their extroverted thinking—considering what it has to say and using its guidance to marry their passions to reality. But an underdeveloped INFP villainizes this function— deciding that it is working against, rather than with them.
Because the INFP is usually so quick to discard extroverted thinking’s input, they have trouble trusting this function when they do need to rely upon it. For the most part, introverted feeling, extroverted intuition and introverted sensing are enough to keep the INFP afloat. These are the functions that this type prefers to use on a daily basis, particularly in their earlier years.
There is a specific series of events that leads the INFP to the point where extroverted thinking takes over—it isn’t always straightforward or linear, but they do always pass through their first three functions to get there. Here is the descent that spirals the INFP into ill health and calls their inferior function into action.
Stage 1: Introverted Feeling Fails
Introverted feeling is a river.
It’s the steady ebb and flow of emotion, of understanding, of deep, resounding truths that curve and flow their way through the INFP’s consciousness; guiding their thoughts and desires.
There is little that the river cannot absorb. It welcomes the whole of the world into it, finding a unique place in its ecosystem for everything that falls into its depths. And this is, without a doubt, how the INFP responds to every major upset and challenge—by attempting to find a way to integrate it into their river. By finding the truth inside of the pain, the compassion inside of the betrayal and the undeniably beautiful inside of the tragic. The INFP—perhaps more so than any other type—possesses the unique ability to assimilate what is painful and unforgivable with what is beautiful and worthy of being renewed— and to let it all flow onward together.
An INFP who is able to make sense of the bad things that have happened to them—fitting them into a bigger picture of what it means to love and to lose, to try and to fail, to begin and to end—is an INFP who is able to move on from heartache and trauma. Once they’ve found understanding, they’ve found peace. And their ability to harmoniously integrate their past experiences with their hopes for the future is what saves this type from staying trapped inside of suffering, time and time again.
The problem is, there are things that the INFP’s river of empathy cannot initially absorb.
The smaller the problem or upset, the more likely it is that Fi can find a way to integrate it—a temporary betrayal from a friend can be understood in relation to the stressors the friend was facing at the time of the betrayal. A disappointment can be accepted alongside the opportunities that came about as a result of it. The minor ins and outs of everyday life are easily swept into the flow of greater truths and understanding that the INFP holds inside themselves. They may feel each wave, but the water always calms itself eventually.
Except for when it doesn’t.
As an inevitable condition of living, there will be times when the INFP finds themselves confronted by an upset that they simply cannot find a way to integrate. It may be a betrayal that they cannot make sense of. It may be a loss they are not ready to accept. It may be a change that they’re wholly unprepared to accommodate, or it may be a general sense of directionless—a time period in which the river seems like more of a pool, mixing and mingling only with what it has already absorbed.
When the INFP finds themselves up against a stubborn, nonabsorbable element, the first thing they will try to do is integrate it, with everything that they have in them. The INFP will withdraw to reflect, to analyze, to feel the
full weight of whatever is plaguing them and to try to find a way to work it into their understanding.
They may remain puzzled by the same upset for days, turning into weeks, turning into months at a time. And because everything is interconnected in the ecosystem of the INFP’s introverted feeling, they will eventually realize that they’re upsetting more and more of their emotional ‘water’ as they attempt to mix in an element that simply seems to lack a place.
Eventually, they INFP may realize that they’re poisoning their ecosystem and attempt to expel the foreign item—by turning to extroverted intuition.
INFP Account: Introverted Feeling Breaks Down
“The day I signed my divorce papers, it felt like my world was coming to an end.
Perhaps only another INFP could properly understand the profound sense of failure I felt as I walked out of my lawyer’s office that afternoon, head hung in shame and my heart lying wearily at my feet.
I’d allowed my husband to call the shots for far too long, that much was true. He’d decided when we’d marry, where we’d live, how we’d manage our money, everything. He wanted to be the head of the household but to be honest, I didn’t mind. We’d balanced one another out. Not worrying about the details gave me space to explore my interest in writing and build my career as a teacher.
But over the years it became too much for both of us. I was too intense, too volatile for him to understand and he was too structured, too black-and- white for me to bear. I felt us falling out of love years before it came to an end but still, I tried everything I could think of to save us. He was such a good man at heart and I thought that if I just pushed myself to love him harder, understand him better, I could save us. I believe in unconditional love and I’d truly thought I found it when I met him.
When our marriage at last came to an end, I was defeated. The fairytale romance I’d spent my life aching for was over and quite honestly I had no idea where to go next. I withdrew into myself for many months—even lunch with a friend made me exhausted at that time. I was constantly distracted by the ocean of thoughts in my mind and couldn’t come up with answers to the
questions people were asking me about what I was going to do next. I know they were well intentioned but they were just too much for me to bear.
I spent day after day walking through the forest behind my apartment in those months, praying for guidance from God and trying to make sense of what I’d done wrong. I felt crushed by the weight of my husband’s absence. It was like I could no longer remember what my life had been like before I’d known him. Some days, just getting up and making breakfast for one was almost too much to bear. I felt certain I would never love again in my lifetime.
It didn’t help that with the loss of my relationship came the loss of my job. I couldn’t bear to go back to work in the fall at the same school I’d been teaching at when him and I were together—there were too many memories lining the hallways, too many yesterdays surrounding me. I told myself I’d take the fall off of work to focus on my writing, but I couldn’t even manage to do that. My journaling was bleak and inconclusive. I couldn’t find the sense in anything having happened the way it did.
The more I analyzed the end of my marriage, the more I dug myself into a hole. There seemed to be no bottom to my sadness, no end to my pain. I felt certain that I’d never recover from losing the love of my life—that the rest of my existence would be tainted with the absence of him. In a way, I resigned myself to that feeling. I spent month after month burrowing further into myself, believing that this pitiful half-existence was all I would get from here on out.
I searched for a silver lining to my pain but found only more storm clouds. I prayed for clarity but felt disconnected from God, disconnected from my own heart.
I had failed at loving. And loving was the only thing I had ever really been good at.”
Stage 2: Extroverted Intuition Fails
Extroverted feeling is the wind.
While introverted feeling ebbs and flows; creating harmonious patterns in the INFP’s consciousness, extroverted intuition brews and bellows—getting ready
to re-direct the waters at any point in time.
Of course, this is generally not something the INFP minds. Left to its own devices, introverted feeling would stagnate—pooling around itself and eventually drying up. Extroverted intuition keeps the waters of introverted feeling moving—regularly blowing new articles into it for the INFP to examine, explore and integrate into the complex ecosystem of their minds.
When the INFP is lonely, Ne swoops in to suggest activities the INFP could partake in, in order to meet likeminded people. When the INFP is discouraged, Ne swoops in to remind the INFP of all the different routes they could take to end up where they want to be. When the INFP is uninspired, Ne goes out into the world and sources strange new opportunities for the INFP to explore.
When introverted feeling and extroverted intuition work in harmony with one another, things go swimmingly. Fi absorbs, Ne expands. Fi considers, Ne delivers. The two dominant functions of the INFP work uncannily well as a team—providing the INFP with an ideal mix of new experiences to explore and a vessel for analyzing all of them.
However, when introverted feeling checks out of the equation, extroverted intuition takes on a different role. Without the deep and patient waters of introverted feeling to regulate it, Ne can spiral into a windstorm—blowing in any direction it chooses and leaving introverted feeling’s waters scattered haphazardly across new territory.
Ne—when temporarily manifesting as the INFP’s dominant function—is likely to harness a wide range of new opportunities, without consulting with Fi as to how it feels about any of them. After the end of a relationship, Ne may take over and throw the INFP into a string of rebound romances. After the loss of a job, Ne may throw the INFP into a series of new projects to distract him or her. During a period of stagnancy, Ne may even convince the INFP to make an impulsive move across the country or overseas.
In moderation, Ne taking the reigns in the INFP’s mind can be perfectly healthy. Often, a windstorm of extroverted intuition is exactly what the INFP’s river of introverted feeling needs, to find itself flowing in a brand new direction.
Extroverted intuition only becomes a problem when it acts without checking in with the other functions—starting and then promptly abandoning an endless series of projects and endeavors, which emotionally exhausts the INFP as they frantically try to invest themselves in each one.
When the INFP is facing a major upset Ne attempts to distract the INFP from their inner turmoil by blowing in a thousand different directions at once, trying desperately to forge an intriguing new path for introverted feeling to flow down. If one of the paths they form sticks, introverted feeling may quickly redirect itself and give extroverted intuition the chance to relax. If, however, extroverted intuition blows in too many haphazard directions for too long, Fi will only find itself overwhelmed and exhausted as it spreads itself too thin trying to keep up.
But as we all know, no storm lasts forever. When extroverted intuition’s storm dies down, if Fi hasn’t found a new path, it becomes introverted sensing’s chance to step up and try to clean up the mess that has been made.
INFP Account: Extroverted Intuition Breaks Down
“After almost six months of barricading myself indoors post my divorce, I began to feel anxious and restless. I knew I had to pull myself out of the pit of despair I’d fallen into or else life would stay the way it was forever. So I decided to do something big for myself—I decided to take a trip to Europe.
I’d always wanted to go to Italy and though it sounds ridiculous to admit it, I was inspired by ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ which was at its height of popularity back then. As I planned the trip, I remember being so sure that it would give me a new perspective on everything—that I would come back with a sense of clarity, knowing that my divorce had happened for a reason.
In reality, the trip wasn’t like that at all. I enjoyed seeing famous landmarks and meeting some interesting people along the way, but there was nothing life changing about the experience. It was just a few weeks in a different place. I remember returning home and feeling this desperate sort of urge to make something happen. If I couldn’t find the change I was craving abroad, I’d find it at home.
I went out with my close friends that weekend and got extremely drunk— something I rarely do. I went home with a man I met at the bar and woke up with an aching, gut-wrenching feeling of emptiness inside of me. I wished I could take everything that had happened back, but I couldn’t. And so I kept spiraling.
I started partying more and more during that time. I always woke up feeling horrible but in a strange way, I preferred the concrete pain of the hangovers to the emotional pain I’d been drowning in for months.
I remember every Monday morning I’d wake up and tell myself, ‘This week I’ll get serious about hunting for jobs. This week I’ll stop eating like crap,’ but it would never happen. I would party all weekend and wear myself out, then recuperate by staying in my apartment all week.
I landed a few freelance writing jobs during that time but I didn’t have the discipline to follow through on any serious projects. I wrote a few chapters of a novel and then a few chapters of a non-fiction book but then I got bored of both and gave up. I kept thinking of new career paths I could try out but I never really got it together to apply for anything in the field. Looking back at that period of time, I think I was deliberately keeping myself lost.
I wasn’t ready to face who I had become over the course of that year so I just kept running from myself.”
Stage 3: Introverted Sensing Fails
If introverted feeling is a river, introverted sensing is the grooves in the land that the water has carved out over years of movement.
Introverted sensing reminds introverted feeling of where it’s been—keeping track of the paths the INFP has walked down and gently guiding the river’s flow. All of the INFP’s memories are held inside their introverted sensing and when looking for the past of least resistance, it is Si the INFP turns to for direction.
The problem with introverted sensing is that it isn’t all that concerned with moving forward. It’s Ne’s job to keep the river expanding in new directions and it’s Si’s job only to remember where the river has been. So when Si takes control of the river, it loops it back to the places where it’s pooled in the past
—choosing to relive rather than to re-frame and push the INFP forward.
There are certainly times where it aids the INFP to reflect on their past— even times when it serves them to revisit it. When making important decisions, the INFP may look back upon similar situations they’ve encountered in the past and take note of where each of their choices led them. Introverted sensing can
serve as a powerful roadmap of the INFP’s experiences, which can help them to make informed decisions about their future.
However, introverted sensing has trouble operating alone. It provides the INFP with a narrow scope of suggestions that lack context—offering up only what has worked in the past, without considering whether or not the given suggestion applies to the present situation. It does its best to provide the INFP with suggestions but when it is not paired with Ne—which adds context and insight to Si’s observations, Si rarely leads the INFP anywhere new. Rather, it takes the river of introverted feeling and feeds it back into itself—causing the water to churn around in circles rather than find a new direction to flow in.
INFP Account: Introverted Sensing Breaks Down
“After almost a month of partying and generally acting out, I began to run low on money. That is to say, I ran out of it. In November of that year I paid my rent with my credit card and registered that if I didn’t start making money soon, I’d have to move back in with my mother at twenty-nine. So I reluctantly buckled down on the job hunt.
Freelancing didn’t seem to be working for me. I lacked the discipline I needed to build a client base, so I defaulted to teaching. I couldn’t find a full-time job right away so I started substituting to make ends meet. It was extremely unsatisfying. I always felt out of place at the schools I was in, since I was a visitor there and didn’t have the chance to get to know the
students well and invest in their growth—which was always my favorite part of the job. I felt as though the joy and passion was getting sucked out of the career I once loved so dearly. I found myself continuously comparing my present work situation to the last teaching job I’d had, and kicking myself for leaving it.
I desperately wanted to make change happen for myself during that time period but I felt clueless as to how to go about. I considered moving apartments, freelancing full time or even going back to school, but it was too easy to talk myself out of all of it. They were all small-scale changes that seemed like more effort than they were ultimately worth.
If I’m being honest with myself, what I really wanted was to fall in love again. I missed having someone to pour my heart into, but I also knew I
wasn’t ready to move on after my failed marriage. A part of me wondered if I’d just stay stuck where I was forever—working a job that I didn’t really care for and missing my ex like hell.”
Stage 4: Extroverted Thinking Takes Over
If introverted feeling is a river, extroverted thinking is a series of manmade dams that control the flow of water.
The INFP spends much of their early lives resisting and attempting to abolish these dams—seeing them as an unnatural barrier to their authentic flow of passion and creativity. And by all means, introverted feeling ought to run wild in the INFP’s youth—this type needs to explore freely and unrestrainedly in order to formulate their identities and grow into themselves.
That being said, the INFP will eventually grow into the understanding that the dams extroverted thinking erects can be incredibly useful. The older they get, the more this type learns to harness their extroverted thinking to direct the flow of their introverted feeling. They will eventually come to understand that they are not stifling their creativity by guiding and structuring it—they are optimizing it.
Extroverted thinking operates as a powerful catalyst for change when the INFP uses it in the order it’s meant to be used in—that is, following the formulation of their ideals (Fi), the exploration of how to express those ideals (Ne) and the feedback as to which of the available routes best suits the INFP’s interests (Si). It is then Te’s natural place to step in and implement the plans that will make those ideals a reality.
Where Te does not work quite as naturally is when it is given a position of authority in the INFP’s brain. Healthy extroverted thinking observes the flow of introverted feeling’s river and pointedly determines where dams ought to be built to maximize creativity. But when the river grows polluted and stagnates after, Te panics. It begins to build dams around all of the water it sees— wanting desperately to protect what’s left of its unhealthy introverted feeling.
And this is precisely how the INFP ends up falling into the grip of their inferior function.