For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with a fear of inferiority in terms of my intelligence. I graduated from high school ranked third out of over 300 students. I graduated college with a 3.98 GPA. And yet I have this intense, sometimes debilitating, fear that, in fact, I am much less intelligent than others around me. As my friends graduate with their master’s and doctorate degrees and I am paralyzed in figuring out what to do with my life, that sense of inferiority is heightened even further.
I know many highly intelligent people who didn’t receive the best grades, as the educational system doesn’t recognize all forms of intelligence, and grades are by no means the best indicators of intelligence. When others have commented on my grades in the past, I’ve responded, “I’m just good at following directions.” And part of me truly believes that; it isn’t intelligence at all but just an ability to listen and obey.
I’ve heard this described as “imposter syndrome,” and I recognize that the fear of not actually being as smart/talented/creative, etc. as others perceive you to be, is actually fairly common. But I’ve been wondering if inferiority complex/imposter syndrome is especially common among INFPs, due to their introverted feeling (Fi) dominance and extraverted thinking (Te) inferior. Fi (or authenticity, according to Personality Hacker) leads INFPs to make decisions based on what they feel to be authentic to their emotions and true self. And this can often be difficult, because we have to parse out what decisions will truly honor our authenticity. So, we are often slow to make decisions.
However, in our society, it is frowned upon to make decisions based on emotions and to be indecisive. It is praised, especially in the workplace, to move forward briskly based on logic and rationality. In fact, it seems Western society frowns upon emotionality in general. Logic is king. And in a world full of thinkers, I think it can be easy for someone leading with Fi to feel inferior. When we don’t have facts to back up our opinions and choices, and we struggle to explain ourselves because we are simply doing what feels right, I think the reaction we receive from our thinker society could contribute to a sense of not being good enough and of invalidation.
However, the Te function wants us to succeed in applying logic to the outer world. Personality Hacker has nicknamed this function “effectiveness.” As an INFP using this function at an inferior level, I find it playing out for me as wanting to succeed in my career and increase my intelligence, but not quite being able to decide on the moves that I need to make because I’m so paralyzed trying to determine which option is the right choice for me, what will best satisfy my Fi. Sometimes it seems that if I let Te truly take control and overpower Fi, my confidence in my intelligence would improve. But I also think if that were to happen, I would make decisions that weren’t authentic, and I would therefore feel that I was betraying myself, which is perhaps worse than having an inferiority complex.
Of course, an inferiority complex doesn’t have to revolve around intelligence. Ironically, I think that because my grades were what made me stand out and feel special throughout most of my life, my intelligence is what I am most desperate to hold onto in order to feel a healthy amount of self-worth. However, I can imagine that if an INFP excelled at a musical instrument, they might feel inferiority around their musical talent. Or it could be sports. Or a personality trait. Or physical attractiveness. Perhaps what we feel most defines is us what we are most terrified of losing, because that would debilitate our Fi.
If something in this post resonates with you, I would love to read about your experience in the comments. I’m truly curious as to if this is a trend among INFPs. Or, if you’re not an INFP but you are also struggling with a sense of inferiority, how do you think your own cognitive function stack plays a part?