Subtitled “Growing up as an INTP in an extraverted world”
I can’t say it’s been easy– but I’m thankful for loving parents and always having at least my basic needs met.
Growing up as an introvert and not having had a lot of experience interacting with people and the outside world I didn’t fully realize until now how different from mainstream my worldview and perceptions on life actually are. Your typology really determines the things you notice about the world and what opinions/sayings/ideas you take to heart and which ones you immediately dismiss/filter out.
I’m in an extremely inferior Fe mood today. I have a theory that the hormones released during “that time of the month” mess with the brain, making us more likely to succumb to inferior function decisions and moods. For instance, this is seen by my unexplainable desire to cry uncontrollably for about 3 days per month. Hopefully blogging will cheer “it” up.
So, I ran into this quote yesterday on the Personality Cafe forum “The opposite of depression is not happiness or even pleasure, it is the ability to experience life to its fullest”, or something to that effect. A.J. Drenth over at Personality Junkie would probably equate “living life to its fullest” with “authentic living” http://personalityjunkie.com/authenticity-authentic-living/. One of the challenges facing “society” today is that the world has gotten so complicated that people don’t even know what “experiencing life to its fullest” means to them. They expect that if they adhere to “societal” views of what appears to make other people “happy” (money, power, material goods, affairs, addictions) or if they mimic the interests and experiences of those around them then they themselves will achieve “happiness”. I think this type of mentality might be contributing to the dramatic surge in the diagnosis of “depression” in Western societies (apparently depression afflicts 21% of the American population). The societal view (ie. pharmaceutical company mentality) “treat now– get back to work and think never” just serves to preserve the view that the problem lies not in the external world (society), but in the internal world (the individual’s mind must be “messed” up). Rather than focusing people’s attention on how they need to modify their external world or lifestyle to match the expectations of their internal world (authentic living), people are told that their thoughts/ideas/expectations of the world are wrong and that they must somehow modify their internal world with medication so that they can function effectively in someone else’s definition of the ideal “external world”. This is downright scary and means that most people are functioning in the world as “robots” or “philosophical zombies”– people may behave as though they are “conscious” but in reality they have no self-awareness of what is driving them, why they make the choices they do, why they say the things they do, how their decisions affect the people around them, what makes them happy, what makes them stressed, what makes them depressed and what they should do to “live life fully”.
One of the unexpected, frightening, powerful and enlightening consequences of my most recent “grip experience” was the fact that my mind (once it was done obsessing and over-analyzing the “life experience” itself) forced me to confront my entire existence so far. Basically every buried memory, major life decision, unsettling experience, puzzling reaction, bewildering interests/thoughts/ideas resurfaced to haunt my mind. I’m guessing this is what Jung meant when he said the inferior function was the gateway to your unconscious experience (or “shadow”). The guy was either a genius and/or went through a similar experience and somehow intuitively understood that it represented an important “rebalancing” effect of the psyche, a way for the psyche to achieve “wholeness”, “balance” or a better “understanding of oneself”. Anyway, the experience itself is beyond words and hard to explain to those that haven’t experienced it (even harder to explain to my husband, who deals in facts, details and proofs). After the frightful resurfacing of my unconscious experiences and memories, I was met with an increased sensation of a “void” or “emptiness” inside myself, that I can only equate with what other people term either an “existential crises”, “emotional burnout”, “depersonalization”, “loss of self-identity/self-worth”. At this point I was given the choice: either accept that life is ultimately meaningless or try to find meaning from life. I evidently chose the latter. I let my mind wander on a frantic search for “answers” and what the experience meant. When I stumbled upon Personality Types, discovered my INTPness and all its quirks (and that there were other people out there with similar quirks!) my mind finally settled– it had its answers or at least it had a fairly good start towards finding the answers that were meaningful to it. The puzzle pieces of my life so far finally all fell into place and life suddenly started to make sense. What’s most surprising is that although I’ve realized that I remember few facts/details about movies I’ve watched, places I’ve been, things I’ve learnt in school, historical dates or historical figures (I equate this to the fact that INTP’s have really no sense or interest in taking in the external world of facts/details/images– Se is very low in the functional stack), I remember every “conscious” decision and puzzling reaction (whether it was a Ti or Fe decision), which to me effectively means that there was some emotional component (positive or negative) that allowed for these experiences to be forever burned as memories in my subconscious mind, only to be unleashed in the aftermath of my “grip experience”.
It seems like my subconscious mind has been leading me here for a very very long time. The fact that I was effectively leading life up to this point as a “philosophical zombie” is slightly discomforting, but not nearly as discomforting/scary as it is to now be fully aware of my decision-making processes and to finally be “in control” of how I “choose” to live my life from now on. With this knowledge comes increased responsibility for my behaviors, moods, decisions and future. I am responsible for my own “happiness” and sense of “wholeness” and must continue to work hard to manage my lifestyle and working conditions in ways that make this to be possible.
Even before this increased “self-awareness”, I’ve always viewed life as a “challenge” and each “life experience” or comment from others about how they perceive my behaviors as a way to better understand myself and figure out how best I should be organizing my life so as to make me “happy” or at least “less stressed”. Typology has served to calms my fears that I was somehow “wrong” or “different” from others in my interests/way of being/life expectations and allowed me to recognize where best to make the changes/improvements in the way I live my life without sacrificing my innate personality. I hope you’ll recognize what I perceive as potentially common INTP-type “life moments”, “life decisions” or “life memories” in the following list of (in my best Si-driven historical order) my previously unconscious or unclassified and puzzling memories.
1. My earliest memory! At the age of 4 or 5 I remember incorrectly matching a heart with the color “pink” and a pig with the color “red”. It must have been my earliest, painful and most humiliating mistake. I also remember being very shy, reserved and always maintaining high grades, even in elementary school.
2. At the age of 9 my family decided to move from Canada to South Africa. I remember being deeply disturbed by having to change my environment and leave behind my close friends. However, I soon adapted to the new environment and made a new close set of friends.
3. After ending in second place after the first year in a new school and country, I told myself “I’m going to be the best next year”. This mentality or “life-long goal” unfortunately continued subconsciously through the rest of my schooling, up to the end of my PhD.
4. I was always good at math, to the point where the teacher hated me for correcting her or always being right. I also used to ask others for the grades on their exams until someone told me “you only ask because you want to boast about your high marks”. I’d never really seen it that way (unconscious Fe), and was deeply hurt and never asked or offered my grades voluntarily to anyone again.
5. Even at the young age of 9 I remember being very discriminatory in my choice of friends and who I considered “close friends” or my “best friend”. I preferred friends that I could tease and that would tease back. This got me into trouble though, since I was ignored (probably for saying something mean) by one of my best friends for about 1 year (and I didn’t do anything to correct it– conflict-avoidant INTP behavior).
6. I used to take books with me on all our trips into the wilderness. I paid little attention to the animals or world around me (or my little sister– she later told my mom that I never played with her– she’s ENFP).
7. When puberty set in (see hypothesis above) I started crying uncontrollably in classes. I also started throwing away my lunches and paying attention to what I ate as a way to control thoughts. I was told by one of the teachers “you’d better quit crying since people are starting to get really worried”. I guess that’s when I learned that emotions were bad and you need to hide them (more suppression of Fe-behaviors).
8. The depression continued as my parents decided to move us back to Canada after 3 1/2 years. I had several disturbing thoughts for ways in which I could prevent this departure.
9. Back in Canada things didn’t really settle down for me. I exhibited perfectionist and obsessive-compulsive behaviors and studied through weekends, holidays, etc. I made a small group of friends, including a “best friend” but whenever I perceived a slight from my best friend or if she was spending too much time with her other friends, I disappeared into solitude and loneliness for weeks on end. I eventually always reappeared without confronting the issue.
10. Eventually at the age of 13 I told my mom that I’d had enough and that I needed psychological help. She didn’t want to talk about it. I insisted for quite a while until I was finally taken to a psychologist and then put on a low-dose of Paxil. The only thing the psychologist taught me was how to “compartmentalize” my life so that my emotions didn’t control all aspects of my life. I guess I read that as having to further “bury my Fe side”. I started working even harder, filling my time with studying and work. Eventually I also started exercising, sometimes compulsively. I also later learned that my mom was also suffering from depression.
11. I always veered away from leadership positions even though people tried to convince me to take them.
12. When dating a boy at the end of high school for 2 months my dad turned to me and said “well, do you think you are going to marry him? If not, why are you with him them?”. I dumped the guy the next day. I’m wondering if this is a way INTP’s get their Fe values from the external world. Though, I always resisted my dad on his suggestion that I become a doctor.
13. After high school I told myself “I’m not going to say no to dating any guy that displays interest”. I didn’t have a chance to date much though since someone quickly displayed interest. He was smart, sweet but not very attractive. I had no sense of my own attractiveness at that point so it didn’t matter. I fell in love, although I have no memory of the experience. I was with the guy for 4 years. However, because of my parents’ negative outlooks on sex before marriage, I was never able to be intimate with the guy. That seriously hampered the relationship.
14. By this point I had lost most of my friends, since they had started drinking, partying at clubs, putting on makeup, hooking up with random guys, etc. I just wasn’t interested in that lifestyle.
15. I met my husband in my final year of university. He describes our first meeting as me “coldly dismissing what he was reading as boring” and says he made it his challenge to “break” me (since I was so unlike the other girls who fawned over him).
16. My husband and I taught a class together in our final semester (I heard later that the students found me “cold”). By this point I was already starting to display an increased desire to be social and interact with people over beers (not in clubs). I was still with my boyfriend of 4 years. However, I unwittingly started putting my head on this new guy’s shoulder in class, fantasizing about him, trying to get him to attend more social events, talking to him. I felt a “deep connection” to this new person, a level of intimacy I’d never experienced before. As anyone who has experienced an emotional affair knows, the experience of “bonding” with a new person completely changes your perspective and feelings about the person you are currently with. You basically start to re-write history, believing that you were never in love at all. All the good memories suddenly “vanish”, only to be replaced by a new, negative view of the entire relationship. It is scary indeed. As my “caring” ability slowly transferred over to this new person, my ability to “care” for my boyfriend gradually diminished. I knew the relationship was over and there was nothing I could do to salvage it. After 3 months of interacting with this new person, I coldly decided to “jump” into a new relationship with my husband only 2 weeks after the break-up. There were almost no thoughts/regrets/sympathy for ending the previous relationship.
17. The “jump” and loss of my first long-term relationship taught me a few things: 1) Stimulating, smart conversation was VERY important to me. 2) Intimacy and SEX were also important aspects of relationships and shouldn’t be disregarded for the sake of my parents. 3) Long-term relationships are HARD WORK. At the time, I expressed these new insights to my new boyfriend. It’s funny how quickly we can forget these new life lessons.
18. After 8 months of bliss and “oneness” with my new boyfriend (husband) I was set to leave for California for a PhD, alone. It was the first time I was moving away from my parents and an entirely new experience. My boyfriend and I decided to leave things “open”.
19. I decided to switch my interests from biochemistry to neuroscience, basically because I had the intuition that it was more complicated and therefore more interesting to me.
20. I finally decided I was strong enough to ditch the antidepressants (love makes the INTP whole!!!). By this point, I also realized that I had the desire to feel “human” and less robotic. It didn’t make things easy though– I remember crying a lot during those 2 years away.
21. It was in California where I realized the importance to me of having close, intellectual friends. I bonded with two girls who had very strong opinions and enjoyed expressing them. I was quieter about expressing mine, but enjoyed the experience of listening to them talk about all sorts of things. As some of you may know, for the INTP the experience of bonding with people is a double-edged sword: it feels really good when they are around and you are connecting, but when they are busy or hanging out with other people you feel abandoned and lonely. Again, more crying.
22. I couldn’t take the fact that things were “open” between my boyfriend and I regardless of the fact that we were still speaking all the time. I demanded some sort of commitment. I got it, but life just got harder.
23. At the end of my first semester away (Christmas) I learned that my dad had had an affair (he eventually left my mom after several attempts at reconciliation). My mom was devastated, having also lost both of her parents during that time-frame. I felt helpless. That spurred what I can now recognize as another “grip experience” although at the time I just felt vaguely “not like myself”. I was in a rotation program at the time and I jumped from lab to lab, trying frantically to find my “interest”. At this time, my interests dramatically expanded from being interested in the cellular/biochemical details of the neuron to being interested in cognitive neuroscience approaches and even attending a course on “emotions”. Already then, my subconscious was searching for “its bigger idea”. I didn’t listen though, not really enjoying the systems neuroscience or cognitive neuroscience approach, and eventually settled with my first choice lab (cellular neuroscience).
24. Aided by my outspoken, older and critical best friend, I slowly found my scientific wings. It became a sport for us to impersonally tear apart papers during journal club. Professors warned us against being “too critical” and that there was no such thing as “the perfect experiment”.
25. It became increasingly difficult for me to function in my chosen lab. The professor was micromanaging, controlling and passive-aggressive. He pinned people in the lab against each other and indirectly insulted people and their work. He tried to dictate people’s schedules. I had come up with a pretty interesting project all by myself but felt neglected and unsupported. I was depressed and felt I could do better elsewhere. I also missed my boyfriend. I struggled with the idea of going back to Canada and taking nursing classes (an Fe desire). I abandoned that idea, knowing that I really did want to be doing science. I applied to McGill, got in and moved back (choosing to live with my boyfriend). People thought I was “strong” for deciding to leave (I got my Master’s degree instead of a PhD). I viewed it as “survival”.
26. After my negative scientific experience in California, I decided it was more prudent for me to refrain from coming up with my own projects and ideas, instead settling to work on an interest that would be fully supported by my new supervisor. This decision ended up working out for me since my new supervisor was incredibly enthusiastic and had a non-micromanaging, flexible style that allowed me to be almost completely independent and bring my own ideas/flavor/direction/time-management to the project whilst still working on an idea he supported.
27. My husband and I decided to get married in 2009. The wedding planning was contentious. I never really had a vision in my head of “my perfect husband”, “my perfect wedding” or “my perfect life” or even what “marriage” really meant. It was all foreign territory for me and I dragged my feet with some of the wedding planning, preferring work as an escape. My wishes/desires were constantly challenged and my husband would come back to me with decisions that I knew were driven by his ENTJ mom. I eventually had to give in to a lot of aspects. The wedding was beautiful though and I was perfectly happy that day.
28. Two months after the wedding, my husband moved 2 hours away for his work. It was at this point that my life began to unravel, slowly and imperceptibly. But more on that next time.