For those of you who are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I am an INFP, and an obvious one at that. For those of you who are not familiar with the MBTI, look it up. Do a quick assessment. It won’t define you or change your life or anything, but it may give you some insight into how you perceive the world and how you interact with others.
I’ve known my type for a long time, and I’ve rarely given it much thought until recently. Let’s break it down:
I = Introverted. N = iNtuitive. F = Feeling. P = Perceiving.
The N, F, and P parts of me cause me to use intuition and emotion before logic, and while I can sometimes read people very accurately, most things get filtered through my lens of overly high standards and self-criticism. As a result, I will often think you are disappointed in me when you are not. When I get angry or scared, I will say a lot of things that don’t make sense to most people because I am 100% feeling and 0% fact in those moments. I will try to verbalize visceral sensations instead of making coherent statements, and it will be positively maddening to you. Given enough time for the situation to cool down, I will easily be able to go back and communicate more clearly.
I never want you to feel anything negative, so I will always apologize, even if it wasn’t my fault. In most cases, I’ll take in all the bad feelings so you don’t have to. It’s not a martyrdom thing; I just can’t stand to watch others writhe in discomfort or pain. I feel extreme feelings all the time, so it doesn’t bother me nearly as much. I can handle your stuff just fine. What I can’t handle is watching you try to handle your stuff. Yuck.
I want the world to be a better place, and I desperately want human suffering to end. It is so important to me, that I will go to great lengths to try to discover how I can truly be effective to that end. That’s why I became a counselor. It’s also why I had to stop being a counselor. Some people accuse me of being selfish in this quest–as if I want others to feel better so I can take credit for “fixing” them or “helping.” Truly not so. I just literally cannot stand to watch others suffer. It’s bad enough to see someone with hurt feelings. Seeing someone in the pain of illness or addiction or abuse or poverty–well, it’s almost too much for me to bear sometimes.
Now about that introverted thing:
Introverts have gotten a lot of press recently, and not in a good way. Several columnists have written things like, “introversion is another word for arrogance and self-absorption.” Introverts have fired back with “Introvert Pride” pieces.
I don’t have a dog in that particular fight, but I am truly introverted, and it truly is a pain in the ass to deal with an extraverted world sometimes. Being introverted is as integral to me as having brown hair, and quite frankly, it causes me a lot of grief. I think there is a wonderful place in the world for an INFP like me, but it’s not a source of pride. It’s something I feel like I’m constantly working on and compensating for.
Here are some examples:
Social events give me extreme anxiety, but I find my own ways of making it through them. Sometimes I’ll stand by the wall or in the corner, not because I’m trying to be aloof, but rather because it brings me a sense of peace to be able to see the entire room.
I’m sometimes told that I’m “quiet,” but really I’m just overly thoughtful about the words that come out of my mouth. I have had a tendency to say things in poor timing, or to allow incomplete thoughts to slip out, which has made me look awkward and stupid. I know all too well the feeling of an entire group staring at me because i just said something “weird.” Being dismissed as the “weird” girl is frustrating, especially when I look back later and realize how I could have communicated my thoughts differently. In the presence of people I don’t know very well, I usually just opt to not speak at all. It’s easier for me.
I read a LOT. I love getting lost in stories, and my active imagination makes reading an awesome activity. On one hand, being well-read is an asset. On the other hand, I have far more information in my head than is necessary for a basic small talk interaction. I will spew factoids and references as an attempt to connect or add to the conversation, but it is often received as show-off-ey and arrogant. I’m not trying to prove my intelligence when I do that, I promise. I just want to be included.
Sometimes I get really excited and overtly happy, but that’s not the kind of thing I allow strangers to see. I hold my emotions close because they are intense, and they are mine. I worry that if I give too much away, I’ll be taken advantage of. I’m aware that this causes me to come across as cold, distant, and sort of uncaring, but it’s just a layer of protection. I care a lot. Too much, if anything.
If you are concerned that I’m not having fun, ask me once, and I’ll tell you. If I say yes, just believe me. “Fun” for me might look different than it does to you. I love observing people and getting lost in my own mind. For me, that IS fun. If the “fun” gets any closer to me, I am likely to become overwhelmed and drained by it. I keep my distance so that I don’t have to leave the party after only being there for five minutes (although I’ve certainly done that plenty of times as well).
Finally, if I ask to be left alone, I really mean it. That means I have hit my breaking point, and I no longer have any energy to give. I need to recharge my batteries and quick. It’s not a personal diss (I can love the crap out of you and still want you to go away for a while), and it’s not some passive-aggressive attempt to get attention (when I leave a room, I am not secretly hoping you’ll chase after me). I have done weird things like hide in closets in my own home, all in the pursuit of some peace and quiet. It sounds crazy to me even as I say it now, but I cannot stress the urgency of an introvert who has gone into the red, energy-wise.
I write this open letter mainly to remind myself that it’s not all terrible. I recently read some horribly mean things that someone said about me, and it hurt me in a way that was surprising, even to me. The statements were so close to the truth and yet so incredibly inaccurate. As in, “ok, I can see why you would think that, but if you had ever listened to me EVER, you would know how far from true that is.” I expect to be misunderstood by strangers. I do not expect friends to so blatantly lose sight of my intentions.
If there’s anyone out there who is like me, you probably have had similar experiences. I encourage you to do some research on the MBTI and other scientific studies involving personality differences, particularly introversion. It has its advantages, but it can also lead to misperceptions and miscommunications that are frustrating beyond belief. Take pride in who you are because there is no one else who is exactly the same as you, and the world would be the most boring of places if anyone were.
Share your stories with me. Then leave me alone 😉