Temperament: Describing Keirsey’s Idealists (NFs)

Describing Keirsey’s Idealists (NFs) is the fifth in a series of blogs I am currently posting on the four Keirsey temperaments, and following that, what the world might if each one ran the world.  We have looked at SP Artisans and SJ Guardians in past weeks.  Today I will try to reproduce Keirsey’s description of the NFs as it appears in Please Understand Me II.

Idealists move away dramatically from both Artisans and Guardians in that  their orientation to the world is considered to be abstract, linking to ideas, possibilities  and things that can be imagined, rather than concretely anchored in what is observable, touchable and tangible.  Theirs is the world of theories and imaginings , philosophic explanations, history, symbols and the experience and meaning of emotion.  Keirsey notes that they are “naturally inductive”  moving “quickly from part to whole. from a few particulars to  sweeping generalizations, from the smallest sign of something to its entirety.”

This use of words and language is no accident.  The underlying passion is the need to understand the world in all its complexity and to make sense of existence itself.  With this comes a very frequent use of metaphors to express some view of this.  A good example is Shakespeare’s description of human life: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.” Because the desire to understand is very strong, and the delight in any new understanding is considerable, NF language also tends to be dramatic and full of superlatives.  Things may be gloriously good, or devastatingly awful, but rarely just nice.  All of this means that NFs may generate amazing insights, seeing patterns where others see only isolated facts.  On the downside of this, however they may also leap to foolish conclusions, imagine intricate patterns that do not exist in reality.

Abstract Cooperators.  Along with their passion for abstract words and ideas is an equal passion for cooperative action.  Keirsey calls this “cooperative tool usage” because he includes everything that we use together.   This is by no means limited to mechanical tools, but includes our streets, buildings, transportation, and even the organizations that we use to generate all the things we use together.  In this, they have some things in common with the Guardian, who is also a cooperator in Keirsey’s system.  However the Guardian SJ is mostly concerned with compliance in the proper community uses of  resources, on doing one’s fair share, following established rules, etc., and relatively little concerned with whether a given indiviual is pleased with this.

For the Idealist NF, the most important thing is coming to consensus in a real and interactive way.  If a new rule about community lighting is to be made, if a new building plan is to be approved, it is really more important that everyone agree to do it,  than that it be the best possible rule or the best possible building.  A Keirsey quote that gets right to the heart of this is “For their part, Idealists dream of perfect interpersonal relationships, mutually supportive interactions lifted high above the fray of competition and contention.  Fighting in any form is inordinately painful to NFs and they will do whatever is necessary to avoid it or prevent it.  Sustaining amicable relationships through conciliation, pacification, facilitation is much more their style.”

Looking now at Keirseys’ four types of intellectual strengths–(Diplomacy, Logistics, Strategy and Tactics)–it is easy to guess that Diplomacy would be the strong suit for the Idealist, and indeed it is.  It seems to be both an inner gift and a well honed life talent.  Idealists are typically acute about reading others emotional cues, both large and small, and attempting to respond to these in ways that reduce conflict and promote good feeling.  Keirsey notes that “Idealists consider…differentiations (religious, ethnic, political, logical, and so on) to be artificial impositions onto the common experience of humanity, and they prefer to focus on what they call those “shared experiences” and”universal truths”….Only rarely  do NFs entertain the idea that their global belief that “down deep, everyone’s alike” might itself be an artificial imposition onto the experience of other types.”  Interestingly, given their commitment to winning consensus in every part of life, the second greatest intellectual skill for the Idealist is Strategy, with Logistics and Tactics far behind!

Idealist interests:  It is also no surprise that Idealist interests all focus on working with others, and in varied ways promoting their growth or healing.  Teaching, counseling and mentoring, pastoral work, and personnel/human relations positions are very common career choices.  Political and cultural activism is another appealing route.  Education is most likely to focus on the humanities and social sciences, but with somewhat less frequency, NFs may pursue the arts, from writing to painting or sculpture.  It is unlikely that Idealists will pursue careers in science or in business (other than personnel work.)  At the center of it all, betterment of the world, of other individuals and of the self, is the central focus.

Orientation to the World–to the present, future and past, and to time and place. Where the present is the everlasting place for fun and joy for the Artisan SP, it is where the Idealist can experience giving to others, helping those in need, and working with others to make the world a better place.  The future is that place where all things will continue to improve.  Keirsey calls them “credulous” because “They see good everywhere, and in everyone, as if believing that goodness is real and permanent in the world, and thus they are quick to join causes and go on missions…”  The past, of course, is more problematic for this sunny view of life, since many truly wicked things have happened there.  Keirsey sees NFs as taking a mystical view of this, looking at a wide variety of explanations for the existence of  evil, from  religious and philosophic explanations, to such ever popular ideas as astrology, and such scientific mysteries as the idea of parallel universes. What is never assumed is that evil is irremediable  Their place, then is on the pathways that lead to a better physical world, a better understanding of the meaning of life and a betterment of their own existence.  Since better things are always coming in the the future, their time is tomorrow.

The Self-Image of the Idealist:  For Keirsey, self-image is composed of self-esteem, self-respect, and self confidence.  Idealist NFs gain self-esteem from perceiving themselves as caring and empathic, and seeing that image reflected in how others treat them.  Self-respect comes from the good will that they actually feel toward others and the kind acts that they actually perform. Self-confidence is based on what Keirsey calls “authenticity“.  By this he means that the self-image they offer to the world is really true, has no falseness or pretense.  When they lose confidence in this authenticity, perhaps because of anger toward others or acts that feel selfish, it is profoundly disturbing.  Since no human being is truly and perfectly unselfish, the NF must always struggle with some degree of self-doubt.  Since the perceptions of others are a critical part of their self-esteem and thus self-image, Idealists are very vulnerable to the criticism and rejection of others.

Lastly, their values follow from all that has been described for them.  NFs generally have strong and volatile emotions, but these are generally in a positive direction, so it is reasonable to say that they value enthusiasm as a way of being in the world.  This fits, of course, with their great desire for harmony and rapport with others.  The quality that they most trust in themselves is their intuition. This is true of their quick tendency to see patterns in events, but even more so in their intuitive understanding of others.   Keirsey notes “…they will  unconsciously take into themselves another’s desires and emotions–or what they believe these to be.  Such identification can be so close that Idealists will even find themselves beginning to talk or laugh or gesture like the other person.”

In terms of the value they most yearn for, Keirsey says ” The most important thing to remember about Idealists is this:  one an all, they are incurable romantics…..Romance–in the sense of idealized love–is not something which NFs can take or leave it is vital to their growth and happiness, a nourishment they cannot live without, just as its opposite, the uninspiring, commonplace relationship,is flat and stale and lifeless”  Since most relationships cannot live up to this romantic ideal through a lifetime, NFs must inevitably face some depth of disappointment here, and either choose to make the best of it or keep moving on.

What idealists endlessly seek for themselves may be the quality that is most defines them.  They seek their own identity. In this they seem to personify the spirit of the 1960s and the quest to find one’s true self.  This is true of many adolescents and young adults, but for NFs is is a passion that never wanes.  As Keirsey says:  “To the idealists, Self has a capital “S” an is a special part of the person–a kind of persoal essence or core of being, the vital see of their nature, not unlike the Soul or Spirit of religious thought.  NFs are passionate about finding this true Self, about becoming who they are, or self-actualized….Idealists often dedicate their lives to this kind of self-realization–seeking to become realized, trying to get in touch with the person hey were meant to be, and to have an identity which is truly theirs.”

What do Idealists prize most?  Fittingly, Keirsey says it is recognition.  This odes not mean fame or celebrity for the Idealist.  Since they believe that they have a deep true self, that is unique from all others, it is the recognition by another person (or persons) of this inner self.  This sense of being seen as you truly are is not a common event for the NF and is valued all the more for that.

Finally, what they aspire to be is exactly what they can be seen struggling to be–the wise, and dedicated sage–ever seeking, ever reaching toward wisdom and enlightenment.

IN SUMMARY:  The NF Idealist and Abstract Cooperator is abstract in word, in language, and in a passion for the future.  If a person could be said to be abstract in deed, also, this would be the model.  They are passionate communitarians, caring more for the needs and feelings of every individual than for any hard fought group decision.h.  Whether it is the best decision is less important than whether it is the decision that promotes consensus and minimizes disharmony.  Anger and conflict are deeply painful and avoided at almost all costs.  According to Keirsey, their greatest intellectual strength is Diplomacy with Strategy as a close second.

NF interests focus on people with positions in teaching, counseling and mentoring very common.  Related to this they are often excellent in personnel positions, in hiring, training, and skills development.  Others find their finest roles as activists in human rights and related political social areas.  Careers in commerce or science are relatively infrequent. College majors are generally in the humanities and social sciences, though art also is of interest.

Their self-image is built on genuinely being a caring and benevolent person.  It is nurtured both by the bonds they feel with others and the kindesses they extend to others and by the relfection of this in how they are treated by others

In the present they are oriented toward ways to improve life for self and others, and the future is where they see these coming to fruition, believing always that better things are coming.  Their special place is on the pathway to wisdom, understanding and a better future.  With this, their time is always tomorrow.

They value enthusiasm as a daily way of being, trust their own intuition, especially about other people, yearn for romance as “idealized love”, and passionately seek identity as an understanding of the self–generally a life-time quest.  Very similar to this is their search for the ultimate meaning of life.  They most prize  being really seen (recognized) by another as the unique individual that they see in themselves, and aspire to be a true sage, ever questing after knowledge and understanding.

Reference:  Keirsey, David (1998).  Please Understand Me II.  Prometheus Nemesis: Del Mar CA

COMING UP  If NFs ruled the world–then what?  Since no one knows, this is a pure thought experiment and readers are welcome to send in their ideas in advance, or as comments later.








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2 Responses to Temperament: Describing Keirsey’s Idealists (NFs)

  1. INTJ says:

    Hi Lars,

    I have been struggling with the answer to this myself. Going to tackle it today, so thanks for your thoughts. I agree that NFs would have problems with hard decisions, but then, when I try to think of a world of all NFs, I am not sure how many there would be. Wars, presumably would just not happen, and ditto serious crime, issues of capital punishment, etc. My biggest problem is that I am trying to go with Keirsey’s description which sees all NFs as really nice, where I personally suspect (although all value harmony) some are genuinely nice and some are more manipulative in getting their way.

  2. Lars says:

    If NFs ruled the world… everyone would be nice to each other, differing opinions would be valued etc. But would be the downsides? Focusing to much on niceties, the future and ideas, the MAYBE and too less on the reality, the IS and being unable to make hard but neccessary decisiones.

    A good example of an utopian NF World ist the Federation of Planets in Star Trek. There exists no more money, instead people work (together) to fulfill their personal quests and help to lead society to a better future, the ultimative goals of the Federation being knowledge, diplomacy and peace.

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