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?