You know you’re a writer when one of the first things you think after a breakup is, “I could turn this into a blog post.”
It’s taken me about three months to get to the point where I felt I could write the post I wanted to — an article sharing tips for other INFJs going through heartbreak. I was quite certain I would get through this heartbreak eventually, but I wasn’t going to write this post until I felt like I had some good things to share with you.
When INFJs finally let someone in (not an easy thing for us to do), we tend to become very attached to them. We “map” them into our inner world so being with them is almost as relaxing/energizing as being alone. We rearrange our lives to make room for them. We start to consider their needs, wants, and desires as equally (or even more) important as our own. So when a relationship like that ends (whether it’s dating, marriage, or even a close friendship) it leaves a huge hole in our lives.
In some ways, of course, that’s true for everyone who really cares about someone and then loses that relationship. Today, though, I’m just focusing on one personality type. We INFJs don’t let many people in, and losing a close relationship often feels like being cut lose from an anchor. Especially if we still care about the person deeply (rather than in the case of an emotionless door slam). Read more →
People like sorting themselves into groups with other people. We identify with those who share our political views, have similar religious traditions, look like us, went to the same schools, etc. This seems to be a normal human thing. But it’s an all-too-easy shift to go from thinking “I am like these people” to thinking “I am not like those other people.” Now we have an “us” group and a “them” group. And the slide into deciding that “we” are better than “them” is one that has lead to all sorts of trouble throughout human history.
Tackling all the “us” vs “them” issues in the world today is far too large a scope for a single post. But I do want to address how this mindset is affecting communities interested in personality types. If there was ever a group that should be able to avoid turning against people unlike themselves it should be those learning about personalities. Sadly, that’s not always the case.
One of the core ideas in personality type systems like Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram is that no one type is better than any other type. Every type has strengths and weaknesses and every type is equally valuable. That’s a central part of these personality systems. They’re designed to help you understand your type and other people’s types so that you can better appreciate the variety inherent to humanity.
I’m an INFJ so I’m going to pick on my own type for a while. I’ve seen topics brought up in INFJ-only settings about how it’s completely unnatural (well-nigh impossible) for an INFJ to be racist or sexist or anything like that. We’re so much better than all those other types that so easily fall prey to attacking other groups of people. Oh, no. We’re so much better than those uncouth bumpkin personality types.
What precious little snowflake hypocrites we are.
I’m sure you can see the problem here. And using one’s own type as an excuse to turn against other groups of people isn’t confined to INFJs. People of any type can make sweeping generalizations about extroverts, or thinkers, or SP types, or any other combination of letters. And those generalizations are often both inaccurate and unkind.
So lets get back to using personality type systems the way they were intended. As a tool to better understand both ourselves and other people, and then to better appreciate them as well. Those of us within the type development community have the tools we need to move past thinking about groups of people with an “us versus them” mindset. We can use type to climb inside other people’s perspectives and learn to appreciate that just because someone processes information and makes decisions differently than us doesn’t mean they’re our enemies or our inferiors.
One of the more helpful (for me, at least) analogies that my counselor has used as we work on my anxiety is that we can think of our minds as a big open field. As we live and grow, our thoughts travel over this field and we start to wear-down paths as we think along the same lines over and over.
For example, little Marissa grew up in a safe, cozy home with parents who told her she was loved. So the “I am loved” thought-path got a lot of travel. It became an easy path to go down. But at some point, a conflicting message came in and it shifted the path. No longer “I am loved” without qualifiers, but now “I am loved by my family and God” because those are the ones who haven’t let me down or rejected me. And even though there’s evidence to the contrary coming from many friends, anxiety adds the idea “and no one else” to that thought-path.
Your Brain Can Lie
Your brain can be a dirty, rotten liar (to quote my counselor again). And while anxiety doesn’t look the same for everyone who deals with it, one of the common things it does is push your brain toward overestimating worst-case scenarios. You wear deep paths in your mental field that reinforce all the negative things and push positive ones off somewhere in the tall grass.
And so my mind likes to wander down the “no one will accept you as your full, authentic self” path even though I have plenty of evidence to the contrary. For example, all the comments on the post where I told you about my breakup and anxiety are evidence that my brain is lying when it wants to head down that road. But that’s still what the brain wants to do. And this is also how you can end up thinking things like, “no one appreciates my contributions” when there are dozens of people who love what you’re doing but those one or two people who criticize you become the only voices you can hear. Read more →
Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).
My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that
He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs
But I’ve also learned some other things:
He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
He doesn’t like being picked up
The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings
I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.
Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.
After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.
I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.
And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?
Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.
So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.
I saw Black Panther yesterday. So naturally today’s post is a new installment in the superhero Myers-Briggs types series. I know I get pretty excited about most of the MCU films, but this one is seriously good. I love the hero characters and the principles they stand for like loyalty and peace. The acting is great, the plot’s tight, I love the music (I’m listening to the score as I type), and while it still has a superhero-movie feel it doesn’t shy away from digging into some really deep and difficult subjects.
Basically, you should go see the movie. And if spoilers bother you, see it before reading any further in this post. We are going to talk about key plot points and character moments. You’ve been warned.
Okay, let’s start typing. T’Challa’s judging functions are pretty easy to pin-point: Fi/Te. But the fact that he uses Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Thinking when making decisions only tells us he’s either a TJ or FP type. We’re going to need a little more to go on than that.
After Captain America: Civil War came out, most people typed T’Challa as an ISFP. A couple of the discussions I found online also pointed out that he’s an ENTJ in the comics (which I haven’t read, so this typing is only going to focus on his film portrayal). I ended up going with ISFP. And here’s why: Read more →
I just started rereading Watership Down by Richard Adams last night. Normally I wait to write about the books on my Classics Club list until after I’ve finished them, but I’m also rereading Elain Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person In Love and I was struck by a connection between the two books.
In her research on high sensitivity (also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity), Aron discovered that it’s found in 15 to 20% of the population. And it’s not just humans. The trait “can be observed in all higher animals — mice, cats, dogs, horses, [and] monkeys” at about the same percentage. I’m going to add rabbits to the list as well.
Research on HSPs had barely started by the 1970s, so I doubt Richard Adams would have been familiar with it as a scientifically validated trait when he published Watership Down in 1972. I think he was writing about it anyway, though, with his character Fiver.
When publisher Rex Collins acquired the book, he wrote to a friend saying, “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?” Fiver’s insights do go beyond simply being a highly sensitive rabbit, but it’s also true that Fiver would pass the HSP test. Easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input? Check. Aware of subtleties in the environment? Double check. Made uncomfortable by loud noises, startles easily, has a nervous system that feels frazzled, and so on down the list.
He was small, with side, staring eyes and a way of raising and turning his head which suggested not so much caution as a kind of ceaseless, nervous tension. His nose moved continually, and when a bumblebee flew humming to a thistle boom behind him he jumped and spun round with a start that sent two nearby rabbits scurrying for holes (Fiver’s introduction, Watership Down)
As a Highly Sensitive Person myself, I know that feeling all too well. The heightened awareness of the smallest noise. The tension so familiar you barely notice it until an unexpected sound startles you out of your chair (in fact, right after writing this sentence I jumped at a Facebook notification on my phone). And it’s kind of nice to see a character like that in a book, especially one with friends who don’t tell him he needs to change. They accept him for who he is, work with his weaknesses, and appreciate his unique strengths.
Can you think of any other HSP characters in fiction?