posted by VJ on Feb 25

our_values I’ve been saying for some time now that I don’t really know what my values are. Sometimes I get a glimpse of them, but then I lose touch again. It’s like a form of intermittent amnesia.

It’s not just me — apparently it’s an INFJ “thing.” My INFJ friend who is also a life coach has said she has no clue what her values are either, and yet she’s an extremely successful six-figure coach. Both of us were taught in our training program about how important values are. So… whassup with the values thing?

My contention is that having Fi as a Shadow process (and, according to Dr. John Beebe, it’s the last one INFJs will develop), is what keeps INFJs out of touch with their values.

It’s not that we don’t *have* values — everyone has values. We’re just less inclined to be in touch with our own values — conscious of them — and more inclined to be in touch with the values of the group or the culture we are part of. In order to stay in touch with those values, our personal values must, of necessity, recede into the background and be less conscious and available to us. This is how introverted Feeling is neglected in favor of extraverted Feeling — it’s how we’re wired.

No, really. I would really like people to “get” this. INFJs truly are out of touch with their personal values. If you call yourself an INFJ and this isn’t true for you, then something doesn’t add up.

When I meet someone who tells me they have INFJ preferences AND they claim to be very in touch with their values, I know I’ve encountered one of the following:

a) the person does not have INFJ preferences — and likely has preferences for I_FP or E_FP (incredibly common);
b) the person has mistaken cultural or group values for their own personal values;
c) the person is living out of their Shadow and is probably inclined to self-righteousness (may not be very pleasant to be around);
d) the person is mature (read: older in age) and has done a great amount of work on themselves in this area of life.
Let me explain some of this through the example of Eleanor Roosevelt, who is often surmised to have INFJ preferences. I will rely on excerpts from Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, by Robin Gerber.

Eleanor felt, during Franklin’s first campaign in 1910, that she “had no sense of values whatsoever.” She had spent too many years judging what she wanted by what others — such as her grandmother, Franklin’s mother, Franklin — told her to want or wanted for her.

This experience is one that most INFJs can easily relate to. With our preference for extraverted Feeling, we are very good at making others happy, or adopting others’ causes as our own. We can be highly creative at helping others’ dreams come true. As the Bette Midler song exalts, we are often the “wind beneath [others'] wings.”

It took until the 1920s, when she was entering her forties, for Eleanor to feel that she was “drifting far afield from the old influences… thinking things out for myself and becoming an individual.”

This shows Eleanor undergoing the individuation process. When we reach our forties is when INFJs typically begin to feel differentiation occurring and consciousness about our own individuality is heightened, becoming ever more complex and multi-dimensional. This is often when they begin achieving “personhood.”

When Franklin got the nomination for vice president at the Democratic convention in San Francisco in 1920, not much was known about his wife. The Washington society reporter for the New York Times described her as “essentially a home woman. She seems to particularly dislike the official limelight.” Eleanor refused to send a picture to Louis Howe to give to newspapers in Washington because she thought of herself as ugly. Correspondents went to interview Eleanor at the family’s summer retreat on Campobello Island off the coast of Maine, but found her stilted and brief. The reporters left the remote retreat with little to take back to their editors.

I love this bit of back-story. It’s so unlike the iconic Eleanor Roosevelt most of us know. To see her hiding out of the limelight in this way — such a contrast to how she is typically portrayed — is a wonderful reminder that not every high achiever jumps out of the womb leading right from the get-go. And seeing herself as ugly sounds like a shameful attack of inferior extraverted Sensing.

No one who saw the solemn child called “Granny” by her own mother could have imagined the people person that Eleanor would become. After marrying Franklin, Eleanor admitted that she lost her “self-confidence and ability to look after myself.” For ten years she was “always just getting over having a baby or about to have one.” Her life became defined by others, especially her overbearing mother-in-law, Sara. Family and society friends circled her life in a knot that she rarely could break.

It’s so fascinating that Eleanor was portrayed as not being a “people person.” INFJs are often under-estimated in this regard. Furthermore, it’s common for INFJs to be smothered or vanish in the midst of others’ influences. Introverts in general have a difficult time establishing their own personhood, and INFJs are often discounted.

For Eleanor, turning disaster into courage meant facing her fear of an uncertain future with Franklin. “Courage is more exhilarating than fear,” Eleanor advised later,” and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

I love this bit of INFJ inspiration. INFJs are often run by fear, and it’s inspiring to see Eleanor claim and promote courage.

The woman who had been a somber young person had transformed herself into a figure so well respected and well known that many called her “the greatest woman of [her] generation.”

It seems to me that Eleanor truly embodies what Jung spoke of:

“Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncracy of a living being. It is an act of high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence coupled with the greatest possible freedom for self-determination.” –Jung

After this point, it seems to me the author of this book begins to highlight Eleanor through her own value for values:

Guided by a passion for justice, fairness, and equity, Eleanor began to lead her life in pursuit of fundamental principles. She urged others to do the same.

“To be mature you have to realize what you value most,” she wrote in her 1960 book, You Learn By Living.

“It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.”

Eleanor may be talking about “others,” but I suspect she is writing about herself. In this passage you hear a bit of the “inner critic,” the archetypal “witch” criticizing and finding fault with others, thereby projecting her own shortcomings onto the outer world. Projection is an amazing process, because talking about “others” in this manner allows us to see our own shortcomings, and integrate aspects of ourselves that we have difficulty claiming.

Now let’s take a look at the whole values question. Values are a challenge for INFJs. Chances are, the following discussion will leave you cold — and yet, your answers to these questions might help you create the very life you want to lead, exactly as Eleanor indicates above. Perhaps we could allow ourselves to be mentored by this INFJ paragon, and take her advice to heart, by paying attention to the following.

A clear understanding of your values is a prerequisite to achieving your dreams… How do you clarify your values? Part of the answer lies in personal reflection and analysis. You must consider how early influences and experiences shaped who you are today.

But understanding your values goes beyond deconstructing your past. You need to pay attention to what you do and how you feel each day. What captures your thoughts and imagination? Whom do you admire and why? Whom do you choose to spend time with? For instance, if you value creativity, creative people and events probably fascinate you.

What do you read? What values do you want your children to have? What makes you happy and fulfilled? What leaves you sad and angry? Being moved on an emotional level is often connected with personal values being either honored or ignored. Think about how you live your life now to find clues to your deeply held values.

You also must ask yourself fundamental questions. What do you stand for as a person? Where is your moral center of gravity? What principles guide you? What values motivate you, give you energy, stimulate your creativity, ignite your emotions, trigger your empathy?

Perhaps you place a high value on independence, kindness, patience, or honesty. Maybe you’re more moved by loyalty or concepts of fairness. You may have a strict sense of justice, or an abiding belief in inclusion and collaboration. These are all ways in which INFJs can track and pay attention to their values, even though doing so will never be easy.

Working with my own coach helped me enormously in this regard. It gave me permission to stop being the “wind” beneath the “wings” of others and become the “wind” beneath my own. In honor of her, I developed a Values Tool designed to facilitate others in becoming aware of their own values. Please contact me if you’d like to try it for yourself. Who knows? There might be a little Eleanor inside of you, just waiting for its chance to burst forth.