Updated: Jan 28, 2022
INFJs spend the majority of our lives trying to avoid unnecessary pain. We have an amazing ability to see the future, but it also gives us the ability to predict pain. Because we can see it coming, we do everything we can to avoid it, even if that avoidance ends up causing us more pain. It’s a vicious cycle.
INFJs are very controlling people
Last year Lauren Sapala was on my podcast and she said something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. She said that INFJs are very controlling people. Yes, I’ve been thinking about this for a year now.
“Perfectionism is ultimately about control. And INFJs are very controlling people. We don’t often think of ourselves as controlling because we are also people pleasers… We almost always have high anxiety. We’re always dealing with big energetic onslaughts from the environment and other people. We normally don’t have a lot of people we can confide in.. We have this lone-wolf thing going on. A lot of us are unfulfilled creatives. We have this toxic brew of anxiety going on and that breeds control.” Lauren Sapala
Anxiety that leads to perfectionism, which is actually a desperate need to feel some kind of control.
I have the perfect example: I had my wisdom teeth removed a couple of weeks ago. I’ve had a few dentists over the years tell me that I needed to have them removed, but they could never demonstrate to me that it was necessary. My wisdom teeth didn’t start coming in until about 2-3 years ago, so they didn’t hurt and I didn’t think that I needed them to be removed. “That’s expensive and unnecessary. You’re just trying to make a payment on your BMW.” I’ve said this to more than one dentist.
“I know better than you do. Trust me.”
It’s not that I am that arrogant, I just didn’t want to go through pain if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. My teeth didn’t hurt. They had no other problems. For the longest time, they weren’t even visible. So why have them removed?
Need for control
I had this idea when I was young that I would get to do what I wanted when I was old enough. We all have that idea, right? “You can’t tell me what to do!”
I’m watching my niece, who’s 17, struggle with this right now. She’s old enough to think she’s an adult, but not quite old enough to take care of herself yet. She has that same confidence that I had at that age. I thought that I knew everything and wanted to be in charge of my life and my decisions. I wanted to be in control.
As I’ve become an adult I feel like things have gotten more and more out of my control. I’ve realized that I know a lot less than what I had thought and that I can control so very little about my life. Don’t get me wrong, I still try and try and try. But it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
While most of my life feels like it’s a bit out of my control, there are a few things that I hyper focus on to the point of perfectionism. I have two major problems in my life: my weight and how much money I have. I’ve felt for some time that if I could just learn how to control how much I weigh and how much money I spend I could eliminate about 90% of my problems. That’s probably not entirely true, but I like to believe it is.
Another thing that I hyper focus on in my job. I’m so miserable working a regular 9 to 5 job, especially when I’m limited in what I’m allowed to do. I don’t want someone telling me what’s ok and what’s not. I want to make my own rules and do my own thing. I want the freedom to try something and see if it works. And if it doesn’t work for me, then I want to put it down and try something else.
I’m the classic unfulfilled creative that Lauren Sapala was talking about. I need more creativity and less structure, more inspiration and less criticism.
As INFJs, we spend such an enormous amount of time in our heads tuned into our intuition. We love to explore what’s happening and what could happen. My favorite pastime is thinking about the future. There’s a whole different world in my head where I get to control how I look and how much money I have. I get to pick the characters and how they interact. I can change things at my will.
But I also spend a lot of time focusing on how people actually are and exploring options for the future. I think about how things could go so much, that more times than not I hit on what actually does happen. Every time I do this my anxiety goes up. I like knowing what’s going to happen, but I also hate it. If you think you know, then you want to change it.
The vast majority of our time, as INFJs, is spent thinking about what could happen or what’s going to happen. We focus on the future, trying to make it as best as possible. We live for “someday.”
But what happens to “today” when we’re so focused on “someday?”
Avoiding the pain causes more
I spent years avoiding getting my wisdom teeth taken out because I was afraid of how much pain it would cause me. I was also afraid of being under anesthesia. I don’t like the thought of not being able to control myself, what I say or how I look. And, most of all, I didn’t want to ask anyone for help.
When my wisdom teeth started coming in I realized why people have them taken out. I spent months, off and on, in extreme pain. I could deal with that pain, because I thought that eventually they would make their way in and everything would be fine again. They would hurt like hell for a couple of weeks and then it would stop. I was fine.
This cycle repeated for 2-3 years, possibly more, I don’t really remember. They would start hurting and I would complain, but I didn’t want to go through the pain of having them removed. So I was fine.
The last time they started hurting I thought I was going to die. It was so bad that I made a dentist appointment. I have to be facing death before I go to the dentist because I hate them so much. They always cause me pain. Always.
At my appointment, the dentist says one of my wisdom teeth is impacted. It will not move anymore. It has to come out. If it doesn’t come out it will rot there and I could get a massive infection and die. He says the only other one I have doesn’t really have a lot of room, so might as well take it out too.
I go to the oral surgeon for a consultation and he says that it usually takes about 15 minutes to take a wisdom tooth out, but because I am older than most people who get them removed, my teeth have had more time to grow and they could take longer and be more painful to remove.
All that time I spent trying to avoid pain, all of that pain I put up with trying to avoid bigger pain… all it did was end up causing more pain. Fancy that.
I can’t help but think that we’re doing the same thing by focusing so much on the future. We think that we’re saving ourselves from something, that we’re protecting ourselves from great pain, when in reality, we’re causing ourselves so much more pain and for such a longer amount of time.
What is it that you’re avoiding? What pain have you been putting off for years? What do you think that you know better about?
I hope that you look at this as the sign that you’ve been looking for. Whatever you came here to hear, I hope that you heard it now. I hope that you face the pain and realize that it’s probably not as bad as you’re making it out to be.
My wisdom teeth removal was not fun at all. I was scared. But I did it anyway. I had anesthesia, but I still remember them pulling out my teeth and I vaguely remember trying to scream. I remember waking up and trying to walk out to the car, almost falling into a wall. All of that sounds really bad, but it’s nothing compared to what I imagined it would be.
For the most part, I don’t really have a lot of pain. The day after the surgery I spent hours driving around Cape Cod with my mom and then we went out to eat that night. The next day we spent at the outlet malls and then we drove to Newport, RI. Yes, I was a bit uncomfortable, but as long as I stayed on top of the Advil, I was fine.
You’ll be fine too. Whatever it is that you’re avoiding, I hope that you have the courage to face it head-on. I hope that you’ll realize that avoiding the pain usually causes more pain. And that you have what it takes to make it through this thing, whatever it is.