Sunday, February 22, 2015

Care & Feeding of the Intuitive Feeler, Pt 1

Most of the people who come to me for counseling/therapy/life coaching (whatever you want to call it) are Intuitive Feelers, (or "Idealists", one of the four subgroups of MB) despite the fact that NFs actually only make up about 12-15% of the general population. They are INFP, ENFP, INFJ, and ENFJ, and I can usually spot each one with uncanny accuracy within just a few minutes of our first meeting. I'll talk some specifically about each one later, but the collective is also helpful to understand. We use the letter "N" to signify "iNtuitive" to differentiate it from the word "introverted" which is what the "I" signifies in MB. The other subgroups are SJs (the Sensing Judgers or "Guardians"), NTs (the Intuitive Thinkers or "Rationals"), and SPs (the Sensing Perceivers, or "Artisans"). 


The best explanation for why so many of my clients are similar in this way is that there is a deep attraction between NFs, a sense of "speaking the same language".  In jest, I've described my job in part as "making intuitive feelers feel less crazy", because often NFs feel adrift in the world, not quite fitting in with how everybody else is going about doing things. NFs often report a vague sense of being a square peg in a round hole. So they find me online and read my website and blog and think "This person is going to understand me. This person gets it. This person speaks my language." (I'm an INFJ, in full disclosure). So while of course I can effectively work with people who are, say, ISTJs or ENTPs, and I certainly like other personality types, the people I feel the most easily able to understand are other intuitive feelers. **(Side note: learn to trust the ping of that little voice that says somebody is "your people". You're almost always going to be right.)  

I am writing this in part as a way for people who are NFs to see themselves as part of a tribe, (and to feel "less crazy") and in part for people who are NOT intuitive feelers to understand and relate better to, and care more effectively for, the NFs they love. 


The NF is above all idealistic. We value harmony, fairness, justice, camaraderie, deep understanding. We are activists; we are humanitarians. We have big ideas and deep thoughts and we want to discuss them at great length. We love to inspire and get inspired. The Intuitive Feelers are teachers and champions and counselors and healers. It is important for us to feel as if our lives have meaning and that we are living in alignment with our deeply-held values. We constantly explore questions like: 

Who am I? What am I doing here? What is my purpose? Why do I feel so restless? Am I doing it right? How can I be the best version of myself? How can I best care for others? What am I supposed to be when I grow up? How can I best be known? Why do I have so many feelings? Am I weird?

The #1 hallmark of an NF's emotional orientation is a deep desire for connection. I would go so far as to say it is a non-negotiable need. To non-intuitive-feelers, this can feel like a confusing thing when we ask for it. "What do you mean, "connection"? We have sex. We love each other. We talk. I'm right here. How do you not feel "connected"? 

This is a thing that comes up a lot in couples work when one partner is an NF and the other is not (especially if the other partner is an SJ or an NT). I try to explain to the non-NF in the relationship that connection in this sense is an abstract concept that is rooted in unnamable and entirely subjective feelings. (They often look at me like "WTF did you say?") 

Okay, I'll try to unpack that: 

Connection is just something you know when you have it and you feel its absence when you don't. At its core, it is about being seen, understood, and valued in the right ways. It's about ease of communication. It's about feeling familiar and comfortable with a person, like it's not so taxing to get close. There is safety in connection. A sense of being "at home". 

NFs: I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. There are people you meet in your life who will just feel familiar to you right away. There are people you might not see for 10 years and then pick right back up where you left off. Some relationships feel deeply connected in a quick, easy, and organic way, and some just … don't. (Side note: generally speaking, when we NFs report feeling quickly and organically "deeply connected" it's to another Intuitive Feeler.) 

But that is (I think) because it's more natural between us; I don't think it means we can't connect with other types. Sometimes the solution is for the NF to step back from abstract feelings-land, and give actionable name to the thing they want from their partner. I might ask "What can your (ISTJ or ENTP or whatever) partner do or say that will help foster this sense of connection for you?" Teach your non-NF partner how to connect with you; it's frustrating for them when you just say "it's this thing"… I am telling you, often they literally just don't understand that, and it can even sound ridiculous to the more rational/logical types. 

We need to try to do all of that peacefully, though. Harmony is a prized quality in our relationships. As well, NFs prize collaboration and coming to diplomatic conclusions that are win-wins. Which is also to say, NFs are conflict-averse, generally speaking. Not to say we can't do conflict, but we would really prefer to either ignore negative things altogether (especially INFP, ENFP) or have them neatly resolve with very little upset or anger (especially INFJ, ENFJ), because it pains us (all NFs) to feel disconnected from our partners. It is important for NTs in particular to recognize this, because you people are not personally threatened by conflict. You can have a fight with someone you love, and hash it all out, and even have it get kind of ugly, and then once it's all said and done, be like, "Okay, that's settled, what's for dinner?" 

But the NF can't easily do that quick of a recalibration, so be mindful and pick and choose your battles carefully. We can easily feel disconnected during conflict, especially if we sense that the relationship is on shaky ground already, and that can drag up all kinds of extreme negative emotions. When we are in a negative space, we can be very irrational, even mean (I'm looking at you, INFJ). We often respond with defensiveness when we feel backed in a corner, and so it's best to approach us with ideas and suggestions rather than complaints and personal attacks. 

We are at our best with partners who are relatively stable and who naturally err towards optimism and brightness, and although we might be attracted to dark or brooding people (some of us actually tend to be those dark people- I'm looking at you, INFP) it would behoove us to avoid them. All the NFs are deeply empathetic, but for the more pathologically empathetic among us (specifically INFJ and ENFJ) a partner's negativity will literally affect us. It will infect our spirit and drain us of energy. It will make us cranky, and mean, and difficult to be around.  

We also need physical touch. Sex is often about that aforementioned connection more than it's about…sex. Rarely do NFs have sex just to do it. Most of us need to feel close in order to really enjoy it. Too, some of us may spend more time daydreaming than actually doing the things we can do with our actual partners, and then be surprised when our partners say they don't feel close to us. So from our partners, we sometimes may need to be reminded of the sensual, the corporeal, and brought back down to earth. If left alone, we can be a million miles away, so be present with us. One way to ground us in reality is with touch.

Also, get deep with us. We love to have meaningful conversations; it's our bread and butter. It nourishes our spirit. So tell us your secrets, your dreams, your big ideas, your wacky theories. Talk to us about anything out of the ordinary; there is nothing worse for us than being bored with someone. Teach us about things you know that we don't, (but don't talk down to us). Make sure you listen to our ideas, too. Dialogue with us and challenge us to clarify our visions. 

Speaking of communicating…as a partner to an NF, you should know that we take things personally in a way that is sometimes confusing to other types. We may invite criticism (ENFJ, in particular, does this) but it should nonetheless be given sparingly because it will hurt our feelings if we feel the criticism is not constructive or is something negative about who we are personally. (You may say, "I don't like how you did that" and we might hear "I don't like who you are" and react in some out-of-proportion way because it hurt our feelings. So be cognizant of how you phrase things and make sure you're saying lots of nice things to us, too.) ENFP and INFP in particular need lots of verbal praise; it is not sufficient to expect that NFs in general "know how you feel". We may, in fact we probably do because we are intuitive, but we need you to say it. No, that maybe isn't "rational", but it's how we feel. That should be sufficient reason for you to give it if you're able. A few kind words will go a long way in the care and feeding of your NF, and costs you very little. 

That is worth repeating: we need encouragement and kind words of affirmation. We need to feel like we are being appreciated for who we are. 

Disclaimer: I'm not a certified MBTI administrator and so I'm just going to talk about archetypes and tendencies and particular "ways of being" in the world that I've observed. Some 95% of my clients are NF types, so I'm also referring to the sorts of people I interact with the most, which clarifies why I don't address the other MBTI subgroups. I really don't have much experience working with other types of humans! NFs are my people. 

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