The long and painful climb out of inferior Fe
I’m happy to say that I can now refer to myself as Dr. INTPblogger. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t mean I have all of the answers, although I sometimes wish I did. It also doesn’t seem to have brought me that instant happiness I’ve been searching for. More like a dull ache that another arbitrary short-term life goal has been met. INTP brain I hate you. Ugh. Maybe I’ll be happy tomorrow.
Back to my (sob) story. As I’ve inched closer and closer to “closure” on this whole mindmate/emotional affair/limerence episode, I’ve started to wonder, is there such a thing as closure for the INTP brain? Will I always be looking back on this chapter of my life journey searching for more answers? Am I ever going to stop reflecting on and over-analyzing every thought, feeling and behavior? Since this experience has played a momentous role in expanding my self-awareness and pushing me towards individuation or self-actualization, probably not. Anyway, I fully plan to use this life experience and the insights & knowledge I’ve gained along the way (and will continue to gain as I read and think more about it) as a stepping stone as this blog moves more into the philosophical/psychological and neurological realms.
So, my Ti had finally made a decision– I was finally prepared to give up my “deep connection”, my “illusion” of a mind-mate , the connection that my mind had fabricated in order to crutch Fe while I was stressed, lonely and feeling (subconsciously) emotionally-deprived. The connection that was my main driving force for the last 2 years, the connection that gave me “that high” we all seek, the connection that had become the source of my self-confidence and self-esteem. The connection that eventually turned limerent and that my Fe-driven subconscious mind was obsessed with preserving. This connection that had become necessary for my essence, my existence, my survival, my being, my all. How this had happened, how I had let someone get that close to my inner being or soul, that close to the inner workings of my mind and that deep under my skin, wasn’t entirely clear to me at the time, but became clearer with time and deep introspection.
As another INTP on this mindmate thread so eloquently put it*, “I never thought that sharing thoughts could make you too vulnerable. They just seemed like thoughts.” It’s like lying naked on your bed in front of a member of the preferred-sex, just asking for it– except instead of penetrating you, they are penetrating your accidentally-exposed mind. And you’re left wondering, “WTF just happened?”. Whereas it’s quite clear in most people’s minds when a physical-line is being crossed, intellectual/emotional-lines are much more blurry, up for interpretation and subjective. And sometimes you might not even know when, why and how they are being crossed or where you should have been putting up your walls in the first place. All I wanted to do was have intellectually stimulating conversations with a male lab-mate on subjects we both study. Is that REALLY so wrong/horrible? When you find your mind slowly attaching the word “love” to said lab-mate and slowly and imperceptibly wanting/needing/craving/looking forward to more and more conversations and thinking such things as “forever is not long enough to get to know [the mind of] this other person”. YES. VERY wrong. VERY VERY wrong. Especially if you want to keep/salvage your marriage/emotional bond to your husband.
So, it wasn’t surprising then that once my Ti-driven mind finally settled on breaking this wrong connection, that it became VERY VERY angry with my Fe-driven “addicted” mind. And deep connections are not like light-bulbs, you can’t just magically switch the connection off, or turn back time (unfortunately). As I slowly began to realize, my mind was in for the biggest shock/heartbreak of its life, as I began the slow, painful process of untangling myself from the shared thoughts, experiences and memories.
The step-by-step heartbreak/de-connecting/untangling process (or how my mind exploded, then imploded, and then slowly started rebuilding itself):
1. Weeks of lying in the fetal position, crying, writhing from the physical heartbreak and thinking how stupid I was to do this to myself. A lot of Kleenex, sappy love songs and How I Met Your Mother during this time-period. I rationalized it sometimes as “well, if you stupidly put 100% of yourself into a fantasy-relationship that you had no real intentions of ever pursuing, you have to be prepared to take 100% of the heartbreak that follows”. Also, “this is karma, your mind’s way of getting back at you for always being the heart-breaker and never the heartbroken- you need to experience this at least once in your lifetime”. It will only make me stronger, right? I hid most of this process from my husband– I thought it wasn’t worth it for him to see the emotional pain I was in over a fictional relationship/friendship.
2. An overwhelming feeling that my heart, or at least a small part of it, had been ripped out of my chest and trampled on. Or the feeling that my heart was made up of glass and that it had just shattered into a million little pieces and that I had to somehow find a way to start glueing those pieces back together again. I was confused, in turmoil, I felt unloved, misunderstood by everybody and quite incapable of loving anyone or anything.
3. Panic attacks about my husband finding out & kicking me out, a great deal of anxiety, loss of sleep, disturbing dreams, and a stream of constant thoughts trying to come to terms with my decision and the unexpected consequences to my own psyche and sanity (I thought I was crazy/having a psychotic break). It was a total mind meltdown of epic proportions.
4. Obsessive thoughts about contacting LO and explaining things to him, just to make the pain go away, even temporarily. I came up with a different email in my head every day but always backed out of writing/sending them. I told myself ” if you write this email/re-establish contact it means you love/want to be this person. That you are willing to give up everything you have worked for and cherish. Is that what you really want?” Thank god for a well-functioning Ti.
5. At the beginning, my mind actually tried to convince itself that there was a friendship worth preserving (beyond the physical-attraction bit). I initially read a lot of websites dedicated to “intellectual friendships”, “platonic friendships” “platonic love” and “opposite-sex friendships” and found myself at that blurry-line again. Well, my actions could all be perceived by outsiders as trying to establish a “friendship”. Why couldn’t we “just be friends”? Ti just told me I was kidding myself.
6. Si actually did a pretty good job of making my mind revisit every single remembered interaction/conversation/shared experience from most recent to 2 years ago, over and over and over again (the INTP mind really does latch onto some wicked obsessive-loops, doesn’t it?). I think this had the effect that I was still getting those dopamine-driven highs that my mind was still craving. Si also made me re-live my life journey so far. I’m guessing this is what Jung meant when he said the inferior function was a way to get to your unconscious. This was by far the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced, especially since most, if not all, of my childhood memories are shrouded in negative emotions. I knew I had probably been repressing/refusing to deal with a lot of these memories for a long time, so I decided (not that I had much control over the whole thing…) to just let it happen, and deal with myself once and for all.
7. Once I was over the very worst of it and had started processing/analyzing things, I finally told a close friend/colleague at the lab. Up until this point all of these thoughts/feelings were mine alone to bear. As soon as I heard “well, do you want to have an affair with him?” I felt disgusted with myself and knew I had to get my mind out of this subconscious trap.
8. I eventually decided that the best way to do this was to release all my feelings to LO, in person first and then in email. To expel them from my mind and have him deal with them.
9. I also started talking about the experience with my husband. Although it took a lot of courage and many weeks to finally expel the real/whole story. It first came out as “a crush” and an “intellectual bond” (which I’d already mentioned to my husband several times over the 2 year period). My husband didn’t even seem to flinch and surprisingly took it with a grain of salt (on the outside– I’m now pretty sure that I haven’t been granted full access to his inner dominant Fi emotional world). No jealousy, no requests to read emails (although I offered), no requests to end the friendship, no requests to read any further correspondence. To him, nothing was wrong in our relationship, he saw no detriment to our “connection” and so everything was status-quo. His response surprised me and in retrospect I think I was looking for him to be angry, to yell, to scream, to do or say SOMETHING, because even at this point a part of my mind was still struggling with the idea that perhaps, maybe, I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wanted/needed someone external to tell me that what I’d done was wrong and make me feel guilty, embarrassed, shameful, because I just wasn’t feeling it. I was still mourning/grieving the loss of that connection and seemingly wasn’t as bothered with the hurt I’d put my husband through.
10. When I got the “I thought about it and the feelings were not reciprocated. Just close friends” email my mind started racing frantically again. My intuition had been so strong, there had been too many weird, awkward interactions and bizarre, covert comments made on his part for me to not think that there was at least some sort of physical/emotional attraction there. The interactions had seemed, at least to me, charged with really good chemistry. Plus, the email seemed fake, contrived and devoid of any explanations for his emotional meltdown before I left. However, I was confronted with the fact that I just wasn’t going to get the satisfaction of knowing for sure (which, as an INTP, hurts). And as we all know, the INTP mind does not like being wrong. So, although I usually trust my intuitions, my confused & frazzled mind decided that maybe I was crazy and had made the whole thing up to make myself feel better. This did not go down so well since my mind pined for a man I never wanted to pine for. I just had to watch as my mind started to unravel and collapse from the weight of the fantasy-world I’d created. More crying, more emotional pain, more Si over-analysis of where I’d gone wrong with my intuitions, where I might have made mistakes or made events up completely. And throughout all this I just had to tell myself that I’d get over it, that the mind would find a way to heal itself, that time would heal. As the pain and hurt extended over weeks and then months, and the seriousness of the situation started to sink in more and more, I really just wanted time to hurry itself up.
11. By the time the next email rolled in, claiming a “deep connection” over our shared scientific interests, I was really confused by his perspective on the interaction. It wasn’t at all clear to me what he wanted from me. And I knew I wasn’t prepared to keep investing in this deep connection to the detriment of my marriage. I was also still extremely upset, vulnerable and craving the space and alone time that I needed to process things. So I just decided to drop the friendship in its entirety.
12. Eventually I reached a point of emotional exhaustion and stopped crying as intensely. It took a good 3-4 weeks to reach this stage. I later found out that this is the approximate time-frame for the “emotional fog” to clear after ending an emotional affair. I guess this meant that dopamine had left the building. Even after reaching this point of emotional exhaustion it took a lot longer for me to feel like myself again (and even now, I’m still struggling to reach my optimal psychic stability/balance).
13. Throughout this time-period and beyond I concentrated all the emotional energy I had left (which wasn’t a lot) on my husband (during the day, my mental energy was struggling through the process of writing up my thesis). I devoted myself completely to being the “good wife”, cooking meals, doing the groceries, laundry, etc, which provided some relief from the constant stream of thoughts racing through my mind. I also became exceptionally needy of my husband’s attention and affection. I wanted to be held and cuddled all the time, which we both knew was quite unusual. I just told him “I’m sorry I’m so needy of you, I just want to feel connected, I’m sure it’s just temporary…”.
14. As my mind started searching for answers to explain what had happened and why and to place some sort of label on the experience, I became quite literally OBSESSED with reading websites and forums devoted to emotional affairs. Was this what had happened? Did these websites hold the answers I needed? Did they have advice to help prevent the same thing from happening again? I read and re-read pages and pages of professional and personal opinions on the matter. I even spent a fair amount of time lurking on the more traditional, religious forums devoted to the matter. Reading some of the stories and realizing the devastation that these types of affairs can have on people’s lives finally prompted my mind to feel guilt, shame and embarrassment. I felt absolutely sick about what I had done and started to feel nauseous whenever thoughts of LO popped up. It became worse when I read things like “love is not a magic formula, if you spend enough time talking with someone and are not revolted by them, you’ll eventually fall in love”, “no flirting after marriage”, “no opposite-sex friendships after marriage”, “no talking to men on a one-on-one basis after marriage”. WTF??? I work in a male-dominated field where scientific discussions/debate play a HUGE part of my work. I enjoy these types of interactions. This is what I love, this is my work, my passion. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and helping younger scientists out. And you’re telling me I have to stop? That I’ll “fall in love” with anyone I have scientific discussions with? Hmmm… This didn’t sit well with me and made me depressed. I felt like I was being told to live like a hermit or take a vow of silence for the rest of my life in order to keep my marriage. That I had to give up a part of myself, that part of myself that made me feel “whole”. Reading all this stuff just made me feel awful about the situation and I started to hate myself. Although my husband had long since forgiven me, I was left with this pit in my stomach that told me that I had disappointed myself, that I had acted against my own internal image of myself, that I had let myself down. I felt like I would never be able to forgive myself for what I had done.
15. I slowly sunk deeper into a state of depression, existential loneliness and nihilism. There was a void that I couldn’t seem to fill. I was bored. Nothing brought any pleasure to my life (anhedonia). I felt like I had nothing left to give, that I was nothing, that I was worth nothing. I felt like the sum of my component neurons, like I was somehow not in charge of my thoughts, emotions and actions (still debating this one…). My mind became cloudy and unfocused. I had difficulty concentrating on the simplest tasks. I had trouble accessing the memories I needed to write up my thesis. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read papers. I was engrossed in my own internal world of negative thoughts and couldn’t see a way out. It was like my mind had turned against itself and was slowly erasing my sense of self. I lost all learned behaviors, habits and need to fulfill short-term goals including completing projects related to my thesis and PhD. Throughout this time I had trouble paying attention to the external world and on the odd times I ventured out to see people I found it quite difficult to even formulate sentences. I had a lot of trouble driving, paying attention to the television, trying to get myself to fill out paperwork, pay bills, etc. I just didn’t “care” enough to want to do these things. I knew that this psychological state of complete despair, loneliness and isolation was a temporary result of my recent loss/trauma, so I just decided to FEEL it and wait it out. My mind would somehow find a way to produce dopamine again. Incidentally, I think this feeling of nihilism is where religions came from– people searching for higher meaning and upon failing to find it within themselves decide to create an abstract, hidden entity and rally the troops behind this “belief system” for admiration, fame, power (sounds very INTP, no?).
16. I eventually came across the limerence literature. I found the term suited my situation better since LO and I hadn’t indulged in the constant emailing/texting/phone calls/sexual innuendo/love letters more typical of emotional affairs. If I had being doing any of those things I would clearly have known I was in the wrong! However, even though I had found a more appropriate “label” for my experience, I still wasn’t convinced that it told me why and how I had made myself vulnerable to such a thing– I was married for crying out loud! Why would I go looking elsewhere? Why were the feelings so strong? Why had the interaction been so magnetic/fascinating/enticing? What was it that was really missing in my marriage and life? What was my mind searching for?
THE RE-BUILDING STAGE (on-going):
17. I had a huge “ah hah” moment when I finally decided to check up on these four letter acronyms that had been popping up on the limerence experienced website. Personality types… WTF??? I dropped the emotional affair and limerence literature that had failed to provide me with the answers I’d been searching for and immersed myself in Jungian/Myers-Briggs typology. It took a few weeks, but I eventually recognized myself as an “INTP”. My life so-far suddenly fell into place, weird life experiences started to make sense, the puzzle pieces finally seemed to fit together. I especially recognized myself in Dr. A.J. Drenth’s explanations of the INTP inferior Fe function and in Dr. Naomi Quenk’s book “Was that really me?” which explains how stress/fatigue brings out the inferior function and wrecks havoc on our personalities and decision-making processes. Hmmm… is this what had happened? Had I been blind-sided by my inferior function?
18. As I started to read more about the INTP personality type, type dynamics and other personality types, a strange & pleasant thing happened. I lost the obsessive need to continue searching for answers. I had found what my mind had been searching for: SELF-AWARENESS. I started to form a better understanding of myself and the world. I began putting myself back together piece-by-piece, coming to the conclusion that it was silly to have placed my sense of self/self-worth in someone else’s hands and that it was my responsibility, and no-one else’s, to make sure I feel “whole”. The fact that I instantly connected Jung’s theory with my neuroscience background and came to the conclusion that this theory provides a much-needed intuitive and deconstructive framework for how I (and everyone else) should be looking at the human mind, decision-making and behavior, gave me an intriguing but short-lived feeling of “peace”, “wisdom” and “power”. I had found it– the TRUTH. The big “IDEA” I had been searching for. The meaning of [my] life, my purpose in this world, my life-long goal. I have the answers– and the answers are inside my mind. My own belief system, my own “religion”. Haha– time to spread the word, time to gain my own followers, time to get that admiration/value/appreciation Fe wants…
19. uh…wait ….a….sec…. Ne Ne Ne!!! Slow down! There is still so much you don’t know! So much to learn and think about! That’s the fun and “meaningful” part, anyway, right?. So much research to do! So many things to read and analyze! So many Si-facts to gather! So much writing to do. Power/admiration/approval can wait. My theory of human behavior still needs more work. “At peace”, “wholeness”, “enlightenment” and “happiness” await somewhere down the line.
20. The last stage in my re-building process has to re-focus and re-prioritize my life and set new short-term and long-term goals. One of the intriguing things that I noted while going through this whole process is that I somehow lost my old “short-term” goals or “habits”. Things related to my PhD suddenly became less important, boring, something I didn’t want to focus on. It was a struggle for me to complete my thesis, work on a paper related to my project and practice/study for my defense. For the first time in my life, I just didn’t seem to enjoy these things anymore. My mind was engrossed by its new-found self-awareness and wanted to absorb everything and anything related to typology and decision-making. Forcing it to concentrate on these other, now seemingly “meaningless” things was such a challenge and is still an on-going challenge. And, in true INTP fashion, I really had no sense of where my life was going, what my long-term goals were or what would make me “happy”. I certainly knew what I didn’t like, but pin-pointing exactly what it was I was most passionate about had eluded me thus far. But, now I know. What I do with that knowledge is now up to me.
* yes, I read all 113 pages.