Emotions and decision-making, motivation and the struggles of being INTP

I’m afraid this is going to be a lack-luster and wholly uninspiring post. This is because I’ve been attending to things that have left me bored, frustrated and even slightly (or more than slightly) depressed. I’ve also been suffering from a raging morning-to-night headache for over a week now, which may or may not be related to the boredom, frustration and depression. Unfortunately, when you sink into this kind of situation (at least in my experience), as much as you try to exert conscious control over your thoughts and feelings (can anyone really do this?), the subconscious mind has a mind of its own and goes into overdrive filling your consciousness with negative perceptions and judgements, tricking you into believing that the world is a dark and dreary place and that the only solution is for you to escape it. Which of course, just serves to reinforce the feelings of frustration, depression and the pounding headache. The dreaded downward spiral into the emotional dark cave.

And yet, you may ask yourself, hasn’t INTPblogger found her “answers”? Hasn’t she been claiming, all these months, to have found her path to success, the keys to a life full of meaning and purpose? The secret to long-lasting happiness and a fulfilling life? Well, my dear readers, I ask myself these same questions every day. I’m now living proof that you can’t just find the answers (or think you’ve found them) and then expect that, through some magical power beyond your control, your life will suddenly be filled with red roses and candy hearts– you still have to consciously take the necessary steps and make the right decisions that allow you to live your life “your way”. A life that allows you to use your strengths and maximize your mind’s potential (living authentically by meeting your OWN emotional needs based on personality type) , despite external pressures that drive you to conform and adapt to someone else’s vision of “optimal living”. As a self-confirmed 34-year old INTJ told me a few weeks ago, “it might sound counter-intuitive, but you generate more energy and feel more relaxed by using 90% of your mind’s capacity rather than only 30%”. In my head, this gets converted to: “if you maximize/develop the use of all four of your available cognitive functions (in their correct order), your emotional needs will be met (dopamine release), and you’ll have more energy/psychological reserves/resilience to confront life’s stressors (again, dependent on personality type).”

Although I have been drilling this message into my mind for the past five months or so, it’s clear I still have a long way to go to faithfully align my external circumstances with my new knowledge, my new purpose and my new life goals (my new internal state).

So when did my mind start to unravel?

As many of you know I recently started a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuroscience. My transition into this new position was already in the works last year, way before the life-altering experience (that could, perhaps, be equated with an ego-death?)– I had to endure as a result of my inferior, ego-driven issues and foolishness of the last 2-3 years. Now, my reasons/motivations behind continuing in this position, despite the realization that I have no real desire/dream to continue climbing the Ivory Tower any further, are varied and confusing at times. I have a very obvious Fe-driven desire to “please everyone” in my surroundings– my husband who expects me to earn a salary during this time and hasn’t quite come to terms with the idea that I’d like to write for the rest of my life (and is afraid I won’t be making any money)– my new boss who has high expectations of me (based on my prior, extremely self-motivated and driven, but robotic and unhappy version of “Self”) and expects me to produce something great, seemingly instantaneously (in true ENTJ style, this equates to quick thinking and quick action, which contradicts my stubborn, slow, Ti-Ne evaluation of the idea, gathering of the necessary information, careful experimental design and when I’m finally convinced that the idea and experimental plan are sound, interesting and doable, I can put my plans into action)– my old supervisor who expects me to be around for the potentially countless rounds of revisions on my next paper–etc. My Ti swings wildly between the emotionally-detached, neutral and logical conclusion that I can use the time to work on a project related to my new ideas and learn a lot of new, exciting and interesting information that can definitely help me understand the inner workings of the mind better (nothing like working in science, to truly understand science, its biases, where it fails, but also where it shines) and the very negative, emotionally-driven and self-centred Ti decision that I need to take care of myself first, and I shouldn’t let anyone get in the way of my happiness, so why can’t I just quit and stay home to read the great number of books I’ve downloaded onto my Kobo? Then, of course Ne jumps in with “wait a minute, take the time to truly evaluate the situation first and gain a better perspective on the issues at play here. Where are these thoughts coming from? Is this really a rational thought or are you being biased by your present emotional state (that may or may not be related to your new work situation)?”. I’m also now very acutely aware that I much prefer to wait on making a decision, but that an overwhelming build-up of negative emotion and frustration at work could result in a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision to quit (my husband has been forewarned). So, final decision awaits.

One of the reasons why I’m adamant on postponing this very important decision is because I’ve been hit with an unusual number of perceived (or real?) stressors since September (or even going back to the beginning of the year…). I’m actually not sure whether the stress is any different from what I was used to experiencing before (it may even be less), or whether my new psychological/emotional state is just too weak at the moment to handle these stressors (something psychologists call a lack of resilience). It may even be that the years of dangerous and devastating emotional regulation tactics, which were basically IGNORE and SUPPRESS and bury yourself in work and then more work, have finally caught up to me. I am now very aware of my emotional state and because of my knowledge of personality type, I can actually attribute them to an outside source (Fe), and try my best to work on resolving the issues and misunderstandings (not always easy for me with my conflict-avoidant nature). I also now know that my emotions are very important, that they need to be felt and tended to (gently and with a great deal of care), that they might be telling me something important about how my environment is affecting me, and that they need to be analyzed and if real, expressed and dealt with in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable time-frame.

So, the major psychological hits/stressors (in order):

1. Since the beginning of September I have been jostling for my space with an ENTJ boss who apparently wants me to hit the ground running on one of his projects. Since I have a pretty good idea in my head of what I’d like to be working on for the next two years and I have an undeniable need to be passionate and caring about my work (it is how I define myself, after all), and much prefer that the ideas originated within my own mind other than any one else’s (I tend to trust my own logic and reason above any one else’s and if I’m going to fail, I’d rather fail doing things MY WAY), I’ve stubbornly resisted every idea he’s thrown my way. I eventually just told him how I was perceiving him (controlling, overbearing, micromanaging) and although he was taken aback, I think it has helped the relationship, somewhat. It turns out he feels responsible for giving us all projects to work on and for making sure everything is working out properly!

2. My husband, bless him, was away for work for a good part of the last 6 weeks. This is the first time we’ve been separated since all hell broke loose in February-March. Now, although I looked forward to my space and some extra time to work on my projects and at times wasn’t even sure if I “missed” him in the traditional sense (Fi), I’m now convinced that his departure affected some place deep in my subconscious and slowly eroded away at my ego, until after six weeks, there was nothing left. All the effusive “I love yous”, hugs, kisses, etc, although sometimes taken for granted in the moment, really do get in to my mind. I’m also quite aware that I miss having someone around to take care of (Fe) and that in his absence, I find it difficult to even muster up the energy to take care of my own needs.

3. From October 9th to October 17th I was away at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference in New Orleans. Now, I don’t know how other INTPs feel about travel, but I have always been less excited about new places than I am about new ideas and theories. I just don’t think I’m very present IN THE MOMENT (Se) when I visit these places. I’m mostly just trapped inside my head (Ti). I don’t get any enjoyment from the people, the sights, the sounds, the culture, the food, the entertainment, etc. And this was only amplified by the fact that I was travelling ALONE and that I spent most of my time at the conference alone. Now, the scientific conference is a forum where scientists come together to share new ideas, so the concept itself jives with my INTPness. I even attended a pre-conference on Neuromodulation and while sitting there realized that this was probably the first time in months that my mind was actually relaxed and paying close attention to information from the outside world (my once insanely long attention span has been difficult to re-attain; it’s now mostly a case of if I’m interested it’s there; if I’m not interested, it’s not). I actually felt energized, interested, entertained. However, as soon as I had to integrate myself into the main conference– with 28,000 other people and a staggering number of scientific posters and presentations– my energy and attention span soon diminished. The Ti-Ne axis is just incapable of taking in and processing that much information at once, so my mind soon got confused and annoyed. Besides, it appears that anything that doesn’t obviously add to my current Ti framework immediately gets discarded or filtered out (a good and bad feature of Ti).

4. Finally, and perhaps the most pertinent to my current emotional issues, is the fact that I agreed, back at the end of August, to write up a review paper on my old project with my old supervisor. Now, back in the old days I would have viewed this as a opportunity to beef up my resume for my eventual career as an academic scientist and possibly as another opportunity to “shine”. At the time I was asked, I had this sinking feeling in my stomach that signalled a mixture of anxiety, dread and sheer mental exhaustion– my initial thought had been to say no, but for reasons I still can’t comprehend (inability to say no to keep everyone happy? fear of failure? fear of not meeting someone else’s expectations?) I somehow convinced myself to say yes. I’m now left with a 10,000 word review on a topic that reminds me of my horrid recent past experiences (Si), that deals with a now uninteresting topic (Si), that no longer aligns with my new goals and purpose and therefore I’m no longer attached to (Fe) and that I feel won’t provide me with any intrinsic or extrinsic reward or any sense of satisfaction whatsoever. So, despite many many attempts on “my” part to convince my mind that I NEED to attend to this one hurdle since it’s preventing me from moving forward in my life, the stress and frustration have become so great that my weak mind has crumbled in the process. And, since this is the first time in a very long time that I’ve had this much difficulty concentrating on and completing a project, I have to wonder, where has the motivation gone? Evidently, if the mind perceives that the cost is just too great for the perceived intrinsic or extrinsic reward (dopamine), or that the project no longer aligns with future goals (more dopamine), it shuts down completely. Ugh.

So other INTPs (and even other types that stumble across this blog)… what do you think? Is there some important meaning hidden in our gut reactions and feelings? Should we be attending to and listening to our emotions more than we naturally do? Is there always a benefit in over-analyzing the situation and convincing ourselves (or god forbid, letting other people convince us) that we should take on projects that we know we won’t care about?



About intpblogger

I'm a 29 year old female currently wrapping up my PhD in Neuroscience, which looked at the molecular underpinnings of learning and memory. I've just recently stumbled upon the fascinating world of personality types and how our type guides our perception of the world, the people around us and the decisions we make. I'm especially interested in the process through which neuromodulators, released during periods of stress, bonding and romantic love/limerence influence our personalities (and how this might differ between types). My posts will be based on a mixture of thoughts, personal experiences, ideas and things I've read along the way. Since I've traditionally stuck to the molecular/cellular side of neuroscience and possibly scoffed at social psychology in the past (ashamed) I only "discovered" Myers-Briggs theory and myself a week ago, after a seemingly long period of a what I would call an "identity crisis". But more on that later. As an INTP (I think), I'd like to think I have some unique insight to share with all of you, but I don't necessarily think I hold all the answers nor will I be able to express them as clearly as some would wish. So, I welcome all clarifications, challenges, criticisms, different perspectives, thoughts, personal experiences from other INTPs as well as all other personality types that choose to join me on this journey. The idea here is to gain insight into my mind and the mind of others through the mutual sharing of ideas, thoughts and experiences. Onwards.

6 responses to “Emotions and decision-making, motivation and the struggles of being INTP”

  1. Bioshell says :

    First, I really like reading your blog, I find it very interesting.

    I think, from my own experience, you should work on projects that you find interesting. I have friends who are working on projects where I could contribute but somehow I just don’t do it because I know in the end I will get bored since they are not my own, so I just have declined to participate; even when I know the experience would beef up my resume. I would rather work on things I find interesting, otherwise it becomes a chore and I would end up hating the whole experience.

    I am older than you are and I barely got done with a second BS degree (no PhD here). I just can’t find the motivation to go out there and get a job, get a nice salary. In my case I find myself unmotivated because I am single and I don’t have that many friends. My brother doesn’t understand why I still have a library job while I could be working as an engineer, having a good life. I think I need someone (a girlfriend) to motivate me to get on with my career and start making money. As I am right now I feel like money isn’t going to make me that much happier than I am. Perhaps I am a fool, I keep wishing to find a soul-mate to give meaning to my life. The funny thing is that most of the time I kind of wish people would just leave me alone, while at the same time I enjoy being around people. Sometimes I feel the need for interpersonal relationships to feel complete.

    What is it that motivates you to do things?

    • intpblogger says :

      Hi Bioshell,

      Thanks for the personal response. I hear you. I’m struggling right now to find the balance between too little and too much interaction with colleagues at work (as well as too little vs too much dependence on other’s views/expectations of me). I have the need/desire to connect with people and help them, but at the same time it can generate a lot of emotion which confuses and overwhelms me and can distract my Ti for many hours. I am starting to think that it will soon be time for me to heed Dr. Drenth’s suggestions and put my Ti to better use:

      As evidenced by my past relationship experiences, the desire for love/a soulmate is a significant driving force/motivator for the INTP. However, at least in my case, it was more the “illusion of love” or “romantic love” that my mind sought to obtain and sustain. It was a drug, something I needed to make it through life and life’s struggles (kind of like you are describing?). This gave me an illusion of completeness/happiness, at least for a while, however, once the bubble burst and those “feelings” faded, I was left feeling pretty empty. I’m still struggling with the idea that I appear to have no “real” concept of “true love” or “conscious love” and that my feelings for my husband are ephemeral (out of sight, out of mind?) and/or need to be derived logically? But, I’m still working on this.

      As for the question of motivation (something elusive for me at the moment), I think it definitely has a lot to do with the goals you’ve set for yourself in the past. Now, these are not like the New Year’s resolution “goals” that everyone makes assuming that they will have enough willpower to overcome their subconscious drives/bad habits. I set myself the goal of “be a better wife” two years in a row when it was evident (in retrospect) I couldn’t control my mind without fully extricating myself from my old surroundings! You’ll know when you are setting a “real goal”– your mind will be completely convinced (no arguments between conscious-subconscious!), you’ll feel good and excited about it (releasing dopamine!), and the goal will continue to pop into your mind (consciously or subconsciously) as you check whether your current actions/short-term goals are congruent with that overarching and “meaningful” long-term goal. Most importantly, you won’t feel rushed or anxious or obsessed with it– the journey towards that goal is meaningful in itself and as an INTP you are ok with the random path that it might take (and are actually excited by the prospect of a random, meandering journey). I recently made myself a goal to use my current knowledge base and interest in personality theory to figure out how the mind really works (and to write about it as I go about doing so). Now, whenever I act against this goal (forcing myself to write a review on an old topic that my mind has discarded) I feel depressed and unmotivated… whenever I’m reading a book on the mind, or reading something related online, or adding another book/topic to my never-ending list of “things to read/new fields to discover & connect together” I feel relaxed, energized, good. So, yeah, I guess I just answered my own questions, eh?

      On reviewing my past (when it was so frightfully brought to my attention a few months ago) I realized that most of my past goals were all short-term goals/desires driven by my subconscious. They were rarely, if ever, brought to my conscious attention during my daily life– the Fe goal to “find love” or “not be alone”, the Fe goal to “be the best”, the Fe goal to “please others”. Unfortunately, I think these goals are so deep/engrained in the INTP personality that they are hard to replace, without a lot of pain, introspection and something concrete to replace them with and work towards. I was basically functioning as a robot, suppressing my own stress/emotions in order to blindly work towards these goals, without thinking about the long-term consequences of any of these actions on my life, mental and physical health. I think many people become addicted to work/achieving/being busy/stress because it prevents/delays people from having to do the real hard thinking about themselves and their lives.

      So yes, it’s good to think about and set goals and having them definitely motivates the mind to accomplish things. It is, however, important to make sure that these goals are congruent with your personality type and meaningful to you (and not driven by the inferior function), or else the setting-achieving goals process will, while seemingly rewarding and addictive at first, just end up leaving you feeling empty and hollow when you finally “wake up from the dream/high”.

      To conclude, I just re-read this post and find it resonates well with my own thought processes at the moment:

  2. LimerentLouie says :

    @intpblogger: “On reviewing my past (when it was so frightfully brought to my attention a few months ago) I realized that most of my past goals were all short-term goals/desires driven by my subconscious. They were rarely, if ever, brought to my conscious attention during my daily life– the Fe goal to “find love” or “not be alone”, the Fe goal to “be the best”, the Fe goal to “please others”. Unfortunately, I think these goals are so deep/engrained in the INTP personality that they are hard to replace, without a lot of pain, introspection and something concrete to replace them with and work towards. I was basically functioning as a robot, suppressing my own stress/emotions in order to blindly work towards these goals, without thinking about the long-term consequences of any of these actions on my life, mental and physical health. I think many people become addicted to work/achieving/being busy/stress because it prevents/delays people from having to do the real hard thinking about themselves and their lives.”

    I agree mostly with this synopsis. Where I suspect we might differ, or not perhaps, is in your stopping at “engrained in the INTP personality”, without asking “What are the developmental roots of the INTP personality”. Since your post was in November of last year, perhaps you have additional insights at this point? Do you feel your motivations “not be alone”, to “be the best”, to “please others”, to collectively be aspects of a naturally unfolding developmental trajectory? I guess I feel that our caregiver influences are huge in this regard, but realize that there are other models and influences as well. I really enjoyed what I have read within your archive at this point….it chimes so well with my own experience, yet to date I’ve avoided delving into the MBTI or other personality typing for myself.

  3. nickerbocker says :

    So the one thing that seems to be ringing in my mind is the scene in Pretty Woman. Where Julia and Richard are bathing and he begins to express therapy sessions in which he spoke out loud, “I am very angy with you”. He did this repeatedly. I think the act of expressing an emotion out loud is very cathartic, especially for INTPs. I am an INTP and married. My wife does a good job and keeping me grounded in terms of emotion–even though I secretly think she is being selfish. But really, she is the oposite of me and is making me whole. But in your blog, which I realize is from 2012–kind of late of me to write, huh–your blog delves into some emotion. I think that allowing yourself to say out loud you are mad, angry, even hurt is a great way to develop a respect for the emotional side. And it is a great indicator of where one is on the spectrum of emotion. One, the INTP that is, will see an epiphany and do wonders for the emotional side.
    Good blog.

    • intpblogger says :

      Hi Nickerbocker,

      I wholeheartedly agree with you. The emotions experienced were so strong and my thoughts so confusing and convoluted that the only way to sort through everything and come to terms with the whole ordeal was to write it down! Since then, I have definitely experienced an increased appreciation/awareness of my emotional side and an increased ability to understand and express my emotions (knowing why they exist, their purpose and what it is exactly that I’m reacting to has helped!). I think and hope that this is a step in the right direction towards achieving psychological balance/wholeness. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. tangentialconcepts says :

    hi intpblogger,

    thank you so much for all your posts; for giving me such a clear insight on how the intp mind works… i myself am an entp (ne, ti) and my friend is intp (ti, ne). in socionics, intp is intj, and intj + entp are mirror relations… hence i see so much similarity between myself and him, and yet simultaneously such contrasting trains of thought… (so intriguing). out of all the types, intp emotions are really quite hard to read. its buried deep inside that dominant (Ti) and it is always hidden… but i know its there.

    anyways, i have just experienced an existential crisis myself… and having similar interests as yours (neuroscience, psychology, philosophy)… and also disillusioned from the ivory tower of science… i know where u r coming from.

    similar to you, i found a massive cognitive dissonance in my identity… nothing seemed to make any sense at that time… and after much philosophy everything was finally resolved… and my identity reformed.

    after such experience, i came to the conclusion that identity, consciousness and mind is a complex illusion of the brain over the meaningless layers of chaos/computation generated from the big bang…

    in essence; neuroscience, science and mathematics in general can describe an abstraction of the brain but philosophy can tell us about our own life, meaning and purpose in this reality as a whole.

    as for you, i really hope you have refound and reformed your identity. thank you so much and all the best to you future endeavours… XD

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