For a long time I forced myself to be outgoing and friendly. Moving every few years and starting at a new school will rapidly cultivate skills to “fit in”. My default defense mechanism was/is humor. If I can make people laugh, they’ll want me around and I won’t be lonely, right? It’s not a bad skill, but I don’t think I realized, until fairly recently, how much I relied on this persona I had developed to define me to others and myself. I’m not saying it was fake, not at all. But it was a small piece, and over time I let it become the largest piece. In fact, just a few years ago, others as well as myself would have categorized me as extroverted and outgoing! I was always planning parties or asking people about their lives, my weirdly specific memory came in useful in those situations.
However, I’m not extroverted. Not at all. And living like I WAS, being around people all the time, trying to pack my calendar and saying yes so I didn’t miss out, really stressed me out. I also was denying some fundamental aspects of myself, being quiet (and needing quiet) is not considered to be conducive to interpersonal relationships. So what changed this? Well, as time wore on I realized I was just stressed out all the damn time, and unhappy, and I couldn’t articulate why. I was anxious and couldn’t sleep. I thought it might be depression, or anxiety, and stressful events in my life probably contributed to those feelings. But one day I watched a Ted Talk by Susan Cain on her new book “Quiet“:
I cried. I saw so much of myself in that short video. I felt like this stranger on a youtube video knew so much about me; more than I knew about myself. I immediately pre-ordered the book, and then began thinking honestly about my myers-briggs “type”. I’ve taken that survey, or a variation on it, many many times before. To be honest, I probably always responded with how I felt I SHOULD respond. I never responded how my gut felt. When I did take it honestly, I had a completely different outcome. And one that really made sense. Depending on the test and the wording of the questions, I come out as an INTJ (very low J) or INTP. And it makes sense that those are considered difficult to distinguish, probably many of the individuals find it hard themselves! I’ve copied some excerpts on this personality style to explain “me”:
INFJs make up only 1% to 3% of the population, the rarest of the personality types. They tend to be perfectionists who fear they aren’t living up to their potential. INFJs can always list the things they’ve left undone but have a hard time counting their accomplishments.
INFJs hold strong convictions and are deeply affected by the suffering of others. However, because they are introverted, they prefer thinking about weighty issues to talking about them. Those who are activists—a role toward which they gravitate—take up causes for moral reasons, not for personal glory or political power.
The INFJ is often found at disaster scenes as a rescue worker. When a person of this type sees people or animals being treated cruelly, he or she may fantasize about getting revenge on the perpetrators. Although INFJs are gentle by nature, they are formidable in battle.
The highly developed intuition of INFJs warns them when trouble lies ahead—for themselves or the world. Some people find INFJs pessimistic or even a little paranoid. However, INFJs are more often right than wrong because their intuition is so accurate. This ability makes them effective problem-solvers with the ability to act insightfully and spontaneously.
When INFJs move into their extraverted mode, as they sometimes do, they can express a range of emotions and opinions quite effectively as they have excellent verbal skills. However, they tend to be cautious about revealing their positions. Like other feeling-judging types, they frequently feel caught between the desire to express their opinions and their reluctance to offend people. Some INFJs vent their private feelings to a few trusted friends. The friends are chosen with care, and the relationships are usually characterized by affection and trust.
When INFJs turn from their feeling to their thinking function, they may appear aloof. Others sometimes conclude that this detachment reflects cynicism. A friend might fear that the insightful INFJ is so perceptive about human nature that the friend himself or herself is being judged. Generally this is not true at all. The INFJ is simply distracted by the need to focus and think. Under stress, INFJs are likely to overlook what’s going on in their immediate environment.
So what does this mean to me? It means that I need to be aware that while I like and enjoy being around people, I really need to make sure I have PLENTY of alone time daily (and preferably a day without human contact each week) in order to manage my energy. It’s difficult to explain to someone who isn’t introverted themselves, I don’t dislike people! I enjoy being around friends, family, co-workers. I even enjoy meeting new people (though the anxiety – aye yi yi). But it saps my energy and if I’m not actively making sure I “recharge” I do get more aloof and irritable. I’m actually much more personable and outgoing when I have regular me time!
I also fall into the trap of always thinking I’m not good enough. To this day I’m perplexed when others ask me for advice or give me praise. I’m also very, VERY sensitive. I like to think that I value logic, but I routinely cry even if the tv show, or book, or commercial isn’t all that sad. Finally, I work really hard at not appearing judgmental. I don’t consider myself judgmental, but I do see how others may perceive what I saw or HOW I say something as judgmental. It’s difficult, and sometimes I miss social cues. But since coming to this realization really changed how I felt about myself and how I interacted with others. By taking some logistical steps to ensure I have “quiet time” regularly – I’m a much better friend. By being honest about my quirks, I’m more aware of them and can mostly manage in social situations:) And being honest about who I am has made me happier in most aspects of my life.