The question I most get asked is, “Am I an ENFP or an INFP? They seem so similar.”
They are not. There are strong differences between a perceiving and a judging dominant, between the big picture thinking of a Ne-dom, and the self-referencing of a Fi-dom.
IFPs bring themselves to ‘experiences’ and ‘ideas’ and use their emotional location to give those things meaning, whereas ENFPs ‘find themselves’ through experimentation and considering concepts. Their emotional location is secondary to the potential a situation contains. ENFPs do not turn down ideas, concepts, methods, thoughts, or experiences before trying them, because their dominant Ne objects to shutting down something before experimenting with it—they hate the idea of being ‘closed off’ to anything that has potential. They find their emotional location only through experimentation, which allows them to react to what is happening. An IFP decides first if they like/dislike this, before allowing themselves to experience it. If they don’t think they will like it, the answer for an INFP is “no,” whereas for an ENFP it’s “maybe” or “why not open myself up to this possibility in case I am wrong about myself?” ENFPs pride themselves on pushing themselves out of their emotional comfort zones in order to remain open-minded. Their struggle is not to be too open-minded, too permissive, and too tolerant of things which they find out too late bring them discomfort after they are already in the middle of them.
Contrast this to the struggle for the INFP, which is not to be rigid, self-referencing, or unwilling to stretch themselves. The ENFP sees the big picture of how things connect to each other and impact more than just themselves; the INFP sees a smaller picture related to “how this affects me.” An ENFP may not object to something themselves, but can see how it will impact other people and agree it’s of concern; an INFP uses self-referencing to decide what they think about things instead (how do I feel about it, how does it affect me, what has this to do with me?). If an INFP objects, it’s because THEY hate it and find it abhorrent.
Let’s say an INFP hates a certain trope in fiction, that of a “nice girl ‘curing’ the bad boy of his misdeeds.” The ENFP might say something like, “I can see how that sort of thinking might be detrimental to people, since it can translate over into real life…” This shows broad thinking. Because people believe what they read, fantasy can translate into reality and cause real-life consequences. A girl might stay in a bad relationship with a toxic guy, out of the idea that she can ‘save him.’
This is not how an INFP thinks. If the INFP hates it, it’s because of a reason derived from their own subjective emotional experience. Like, “It’s not MY job to fix YOU,” or “I hate bad boys.” They may feel that trope is laying something on them they dislike; that this book is trying to make them feel something they don’t want to feel, or believe something they don’t want to believe; it’s all about their internal reaction to it, and no amount of explaining from someone else or pointing out the good side of the trope is going to change their mind; because that doesn’t change how they feel about it. Your reasons for hating it are valid, but that’s not why I hate it.
That’s the difference—the IFP goes by how they feel about things, and cannot detach from this, however much pain it might cause them. There is no buffer between them and the outside world, between insults and feeling hurt, from the ‘meanness’ of life and their high levels of emotional sensitivity. They are emotional, easily hurt, intolerant of what pains or upsets them, and struggle to find a secure footing between sensitivity and learning to cope in a world that doesn’t care about their feelings. There is never any doubt about how they feel about something, because that’s their first response to any new situation, idea, belief, statement, or conclusion. Their internal monologue is one of constant, immediate, unconscious self-referencing (how do I feel about this, how does this affect me, what do I think about this, does this bother me or not, do I care about this?).
ENFPs are not this sensitive, not as easily overwhelmed by life, more able to brush aside feeling hurt, and find it much harder to find their location underneath the magnitude of a dominant function that is rapid-moving, scattered, and searching for greater potential and intellectual stimulation. Their internal dialogue is—what interests me? does this hold any potential? what’s the big picture here? what’s really going on behind the scenes?, and using those thoughts to launch into rapid action. They shove aside their feelings unless something triggers them, in order to remain neutral; they may not know how they feel until they slow down or have gone through something in reality rather than through a thought experiment (it’s easy for them to theorize how they might react, and then be wrong when in the middle of an actual situation), and then it might fade in time (last time I hated this, but maybe I’ll try it again, since I am a different person now). It’s easier for them than an INFP to adapt to the outside world, to accept there are things they cannot change, and to put aside personal feelings to get a job done (although like all FPs, they have to ‘force themselves’ to do tasks that do not excite or mentally stimulate them).
INFPs are more interested in their own journey through life, whereas ENFPs as extroverts are interested in other people’s journey’s through life in addition to their own. INFPs have no real desire to impose their will on other people or influence their thinking, just to protect and defend their own views and what matters to them. ENFPs know that to change society, you must change how others think and so search for ways to be of influence, often through debate, writing, or stories. They want to change and have an impact on other people. An INFP writes a story for themselves, the story they would want to read; an ENFP has an audience in mind and feels compelled to share everything, otherwise there is no point in doing it (they want it to spark conversation). An ENFP widely proclaims their interests and shares them with anyone who will listen, often leading others to discover new things because they talk endlessly about them; an INFP cares more about how their favorite things impact them and may not want to share them too soon, in case the reaction is not positive (having someone hate on it would hurt their feelings and even taint it for them).
Both types are individualistic, idealistic, and opinionated about the things they hate, but they come into frequent conflict with each other as friends/lovers. Why? The ENFP sees the INFPs as too closed off to possibilities, unwilling to consider alternative perspectives, and unable to step out of their own emotional experiences (“this issue is not just about you”). They are more argumentative than their introverted cousins, because they see the big picture and balk at the idea of allowing an arbitrary ‘feeling’ to prevent intellectual exploration. For them, “I’m not comfortable with this” means this person needs to be more open-minded and consider alternatives. Them pushing for this by continuing to talk about a situation that discomforts the INFP is an assault upon the INFP’s feelings—it’s being told that their emotional location and experience is not a good enough reason to refuse to talk about it. It’s invalidating their feelings, and many of them will double down on “but it’s how I feel. I can’t change how I feel” in response. In the eyes of an INFP, ENFPs are too open-minded (“they don’t know who they are,” and do not set strong enough boundaries) and sometimes insensitive (because of their forceful or dismissive tone, and how “they aren’t respecting my feelings about this”).
Discerning the difference between them doesn’t come down to whether one is more outgoing or talkative than the other (plenty of INFPs can talk all day long and plenty of ENFPs just want to read books alone in their room), or has more friends than the other one, but in their opposite ways of interacting with the outside world—the ENFP throws out their arms to embrace everything and then starts pushing things away that discomfort them; they would feel like they cheated themselves not to try things before passing judgment on them (why wouldn’t I try this to find out how I feel about it?). As a result, they rarely know who they are and struggle to pinpoint their identity or learn from their mistakes. The INFP filters everything through “how do I feel about this?” before they embrace it, thus pushing away things they don’t like without trying them (why would they try it, if they know they are going to hate it? That’s a waste of my time!). As a result, they may come across as inflexible and resist anything that might alter or challenge their thinking or how they feel about this.
Though there will be frustrations in their relationship, because of their opposite ways of interacting with the world, they can learn from one another to bring each other into balance—the INFP can learn to consider things intellectually instead of automatically rejecting them and to broaden their Ne so they realize more than just their own feelings matter; the ENFP can learn to be more discerning and to check in with their Fi, so they are less careless and inconsistent in their ethics and actions (they say things they don’t believe because they get caught up in the idea of them), and to learn to be okay with limiting their perspectives (thus bringing meaning to themselves, rather than floating through life without connecting to what they truly care about).
For more in-depth information about how each type thinks and processes information, please consult my book.