Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Care & Feeding of the INFJ

INFJ: The Counselor

So, for context, let me first say that when I asked a close friend for help writing this who is also an INFJ (as I am), she (half)-jokingly said, "Just write: you wouldn't understand" and leave it at that. (!!)

The INFJ is the enigma of the 16 types; it's the rarest (estimated at about 1% of the population) and certainly the most difficult to pin down descriptively, but I'll do my best. 

If you are partnered with an INFJ, is important for you to understand that they are incredibly empathetic and sensitive, and that this is both a blessing and a curse. They do best with partners who are strong, steady, balanced, and healthy, because there is always a risk of the INFJ taking on negative emotions from their partners by virtue of this almost-pathological empathy. Too, the INFJ can get overwhelmed about the woes of the world. Without getting too new agey, the best way to explain it is that the INFJ is profoundly connected and responsive to the energy around them. They feel everything more deeply than most people do and are affected on a cellular level by the pain and suffering of others. It is not unusual for the INFJ to be moved to tears over the plights of strangers. They need a partner who sees and values this quality, because it is foundational to who they are at their core; anyone who isn't able to appreciate it or who finds it irksome will be experienced as rejecting the INFJ outright. 

The INFJ is freakishly intuitive. This is probably the other most important thing to know, because ultimately it accounts for their "superpower", which looks a lot like psychic ability but is really just hyper-intuition. Get ready for the INFJ to basically read your mind all the time, tell you your business before you even know it, and routinely predict events that will come to pass. 

This is largely an unconscious process, but the partner of an INFJ will probably realize at some point that at all times, the INFJ is reading the environment around them. They are taking the emotional temperature of everyone in the room, assessing body language, watching interactions, eavesdropping, sorting data, analyzing, questioning, filing new information, rejecting old information, looking for patterns. Constantly vigilant of everything and endlessly receiving data. (This sounds like a lot of work, but for INFJ it is effortless and reflexive; it's just what their brains do.) 

This can be off-putting to people who misinterpret it as a judging function. It is not. Despite the "J" in the name, INFJ is decidedly not a judging type. They get the "J" because what gets extraverted (shown to the world) is a decision-making function, extraverted feeling. But they are actually a classic prospecting type, with some vast majority of their energy going towards (neutral) information-gathering. As such, yes, they technically are analyzing you, but it's not intentional, and ultimately it stems from a deep desire to understand you (and everyone/everything else). 

They have enormous stores of information in their internal files, much of which they aren't conscious of, and can pull out details they didn't even know they observed, mostly about "vibes" and "impressions" (more so than they'll recall verbatim conversations or sensory details). INFJs can, with uncanny accuracy, "just know" things. This is their greatest strength and what can make them so interesting to partner with. 

All of this is to say, it is true that INFJs have the busiest brains out there, but they should not be misinterpreted as simple over-thinkers. Very little of this energy is wasted. While there is a certain amount of navel-gazing in any of the NF types, when an INFJ is at their best (i.e., not in the grips of some emotionally-stunting funk) they are more often than not pondering large, complex, abstract ideas and trying to grapple with philosophical or moral dilemmas (rather than just stewing about how they personally feel about stuff, although of course the more neurotic INFJs will do quite a lot of this too). Basically, if you peered inside their brains at any given moment, you'd be astounded at the amount of activity going on all the time. 

There is a certain wisdom to the INFJ that people respond to favorably, like, "this person seems to know what they're talking about." You can take your INFJ to a dinner party, so long as it's a relatively small group, and trust that they will connect with people and probably end up with several new friends or business contacts. People generally like INFJs, even if they aren't quite sure what to make of them or even find them awkward at first, or slow to warm up.

Anyway, that clarity of vision and depth is a quality they very much value in themselves, and as such they will be deeply hurt by an offhanded comment such as "you think too much" or "you're so serious". (Advice: don't ever say any of that to an INFJ). 

What makes those type of comments sting so much is that the one thing INFJs want more than anything is to be understood fully, and they genuinely try to make themselves known to the people they care about. But they get frustrated and hurt when most people still just don't get them. And any of the aforementioned comments reflect a lack of a) understanding and b) appreciation for the unique perspective of the INFJ. 

So, with that in mind, the single greatest gift you can give your INFJ is to make a sincere, concerted effort to "get" them, without applying judgments of your own to their ways of being. For example, to suggest that the INFJ "thinks too much" is to deeply insult the thing that is at the core of who they are. They are bewilderingly deep and complex, that's true, with an endless stream of new ideas and concepts floating around in their heads, but there is nothing they can do about it. It's like telling an INFP to stop having so many feelings, or the ENFP to stop brainstorming. It's just who they are. Yes, the INFJ thinks a lot, about everything. Yes, that can be tiresome at times. But the qualifier of "too much" is always going to hurt their feelings, and make them feel unappreciated, and therefore should be avoided. 

As for the "so serious" misperception, while the INFJ admittedly can get stuck (or even intentionally revel, because in all honesty, there are few things INFJs loves more than to get deep) in non-stop heavy thinking/conversing, they actually can be quite light-hearted when in the right company. They love clever wordplay and are not easily offended; they tend to enjoy the company of people who push the envelope and are somewhat outrageous with their humor. So, you should make a concerted effort to make your INFJ laugh, because they sometimes need to be reminded that life isn't so heavy. There is a genuinely playful, incisively witty aspect to the INFJ personality that often gets overlooked if it isn't encouraged, or if they are in a relationship where humor isn't fundamental. Encourage the INFJ to write more, as well, because they tend to be rather masterful with the written word, and often are very funny in writing. 

That said, few things are more likely to wilt an INFJ's spirit than being around someone who either totally doesn't get their sense of humor, or doesn't find them funny. People who do get their humor, and who encourage and draw it out, will get endless delight and occasional outright shock out of engaging in witty banter with the INFJ. 

The way their brain works is not easily explained. It mostly uses patterns and symbols, which simply don't translate to the layperson very well, so much of the time INFJs don't bother trying to explain their innermost thoughts. So they need a partner who is deeply curious, because if their partner doesn't challenge them to try, the INFJ can end up feeling extremely isolated in relationships, especially if they are doing a lot of listening and understanding for you. The best thing you can do for your INFJ partner is to encourage them to tell you about their internal world, even if it's convoluted and you don't really get it. That's when it can be very useful to ask clarifying questions; this shows them you're really listening and demonstrates that you really want to understand them in a deep way. Dream with them. Argue with them. Have original ideas they haven't thought of yet. If connecting deeply over ideas is something you value, you're in the right place with an INFJ. 

When it comes to communicating with the INFJ on an emotional level, one specific way to show you care is to just let them talk. They are external processors, so they often don't know how they feel until they say it out loud and have it reflected back to them by someone else. While they are quite good at understanding other people's problems, they are surprisingly underdeveloped in the area of understanding their own feelings. This is why the INFJ, while relatively private about deeply personal things, may have a whole slew of trusted advisors (which also may contribute to them being miscast as quiet extraverts) when it comes to trying to sort out even a relatively simple personal issue. 

With people the INFJ cares about, they are particularly good at listening, understanding, and offering practical advice that is free of judgment. They love to be of service in this way, largely because it makes them feel useful, so don't be too proud to ask them for their insight. They want to support you in this way; refusing to allow them to can actually be very hurtful and make them feel rejected or undervalued. 

The INFJ is extremely transparent (to a fault) and so for better or worse, especially once you've been with them for a while, you will generally be able to tell how they feel. You will usually know when they are mad at you, or when you have hurt their feelings, and usually they can articulate why something made them feel a particular way, so let them talk it out (yes, even if you both know it isn't rational). Sometimes just expressing it helps them to realize that it wasn't that big of a deal to begin with. Don't tell them they're "too sensitive". 

Typically, an INFJ is pretty even-tempered and reasonable, if somewhat prone to defensiveness, and while also perhaps quick to get their feelings hurt, they are also usually quick to forgive once it gets sorted out. (Read: once you've taken responsibility for and recognized how you were hurtful. Just saying "I'm sorry" is generally not sufficient; they want to know that you really understand why it hurt their feelings). 

THAT SAID, it would behoove you to address the thing they are upset about in a timely fashion before it has a chance to simmer and boil over. Do not wait until morning if you feel it coming. The INFJ is slow to anger, but once they get to that point, it is really best to attempt to defuse it or suggest you talk later once they have had a chance to cool off or do anything but engage in a fight while they are at the angry place. An INFJ trying to communicate while angry is not a pretty thing. This is when they will use their power for evil instead of good, and you do not want to be in the line of fire for that. Hell hath no fury, yo. 

It is important to note here, too, that the INFJ is a true introvert in the sense that they need a lot of alone time to "recharge their batteries". Any partner of the INFJ will need to understand this and do their best not to take it personally; there is a threshold at which the INFJ shuts down (generally it is related to being overstimulated) and it is a good idea to learn where your particular INFJ's is. There is no point trying to squeeze any more energy out of them once they've reached this point. What do they say about blood from a turnip? It's pretty much like that. 

INFJs are very affectionate in their own way, and will often do nice little things to surprise you and show you that they care. Also, sex and physical contact is very important to the INFJ as a way to connect with their partner. They will go to great lengths to make you happy. A genuine emotional, spiritual, and physical connection with an INFJ is a profound experience, and that is ultimately what the INFJ is always searching for in relationships. 

They are deeply committed to growth and discovery. So while they could be perceived as picky, and persnickety, and even difficult, all of that comes from a good place: INFJs are simply committed to having an exceptional relationship and don't want to settle for less. An insecure person will likely struggle to not experience their relentless commitment to growth as criticism, but it is an important distinction to note that it is not coming out of a negative place. Quite the opposite, really: they see how amazing you are and want to elevate you and the relationship to ever-higher levels. If you find yourself lucky enough to be in a relationship with an INFJ, take note of what you're learning there. Even if it doesn't last forever, in some form or fashion it is likely to be one of the most interesting, meaningful, and unconventional relationships you'll ever have. 

Update: Here is some advice for the INFJ her/himself: 

http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2015/12/how-to-be-infj-in-world-that-isnt-made.html

If you want to talk more about this: http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2016/12/new-service-distance-coaching.html


Monday, February 23, 2015

Care & Feeding of the INFP

INFP: The Healer

The most helpful thing to understand about INFP is that they are first and foremost deeply introverted. They are also incredibly sensitive. Some vast majority of their cognitive energy is spent simply feeling their feelings. 

And they have so.many.feelings. 

This is actually quite a lot of work on an energetic level, and can be exhausting for the INFP, particularly for INFPs who haven't developed skill or comfort expressing themselves, because then basically their whole life is happening inside their heads. The INFP is private and guarded naturally, so even the well-developed INFP is often reticent to express their deepest feelings. When they do, it would behoove their partner to lean in, get comfortable, and listen carefully. The INFP will clam right back up if they feel remotely judged, criticized, or unheard, and it will be a long while before they try again with you. (If they ever do). 

It is not uncommon to find INFPs who habitually isolate themselves or push people away, often because they had negative relationship experiences in the past or even just because they fear negative experiences. (Remember they are extremely sensitive, so deep emotional wounds can take a long time to heal). A wounded INFP will protect that rich internal landscape with the tenacity of a pack of junkyard dogs. Admittedly, these self-protective INFPs are hard to build relationships with, but it is not impossible with patience, time, and practical affection. 

And I will add here that it is entirely worth it, because any INFP is a wonderful partner when you really snag one. They will give you all the space and understanding you need, a quality that is especially valuable if you're a big, weird extravert who struggles to find a partner who accepts you fully. An INFP will embrace your idiosyncrasies willingly; in fact, they tend to prefer "weird" or unconventional people. And once they trust you, they actually like it when you encourage them to get outside of themselves. They can be hilarious, silly, fun, playful partners. They can be wonderful performers and storytellers, in part due to their rich imaginations. They are also great with kids, in part because they are somewhat childlike and innocent themselves. They do well with bright, optimistic, cheerful, peaceful, steady, independent partners who are undaunted by their dark spells. 

Because INFPs (even under the best of circumstances) are prone to dark spells, depression, and self-pity. They are very hard on themselves and prone to feeling guilty or ashamed and getting stuck in cycles of feeling this way. And they will usually withdraw when they are hurt or overwhelmed. It's just how they are. So a partner of an INFP has to learn to curb the urge to draw them out forcefully, because it won't work. They will actually be most likely to dig their heels in and retreat further if you try to force them to open up when they don't want to or aren't ready. That said, they do need your encouragement to come back from the dark side, especially if you have done or said something to contribute to their shutdown. You will need to gently inquire as to what's going on with them, and what you can do or say to make it better, and wait patiently until they are ready to talk to you about it. 

I know that sounds confusing. 

Here's another way to say it: a small amount of withdrawal isn't a thing to fear from your INFP partner; in fact, it might be necessary for their well-being. This is mostly because there is so much going on inside of them all the time and so few outlets for it that sometimes they need to just check out. Sometimes they need you to just leave them alone for a while, and let them work through whatever they're working through. But there is also a point at which you may need to go in after them and drag them back out to the light. Again, if you have done something (even unintentionally) to hurt them, you will need to make it right somehow in an authentic way before they will be able to come back to the relationship fully. It is worth reiterating that they are extremely sensitive to criticism, and they take everything personally, so you may not even know you've done something harmful until they tell you (IF they ever tell you). The worst thing you can say at this point (and I've definitely learned this one the hard way myself) is a dismissive or mocking "How could that possibly have hurt your feelings?" which suggests they are hyper-sensitive and being a baby. Even if they are, they don't want to hear it, and it won't go well. So, a better way to say it is: "Okay, I'm sorry that what I said/did hurt your feelings. Thanks for telling me. What could I have said/done differently?" or "I don't ever want to hurt your feelings, so please tell me what I can do to make this right." They appreciate a genuine effort to understand them and their feelings, so this is always your best bet. 

It is somewhat ironic that INFP is so likely to withdraw, because it costs them the connection they need to keep them steady. They have a contradictory combination of desires: equally desiring connection and safety and freedom. Please remember that no matter how much they love you or feel connected to you, you simply cannot fence in an INFP without encountering a great deal of resistance. The balance is in being there for them and showing care, but also permitting them space to roam and be the lone wolf they often feel they are. Don't take this to mean they don't care about you or that they don't even need you to some extent; they do want to feel like you are there, you are present, you are reliable. They need to trust you to be there when they come back. The more times you are still there when they return, the greater the trust can grow. The fact that you will end up with an utterly devoted INFP is worth all of this effort. (I promise.) 

It can be frustrating for the partner of an INFP to know that there is a rich inner atmosphere, but that most of what is going on inside the INFP either can't or won't be translated. It can be doubly frustrating if you often sense that your partner is daydreaming when you'd like them to be present with you. You may have to remind them fairly often to come back to Earth. They might have been thinking nice things about you, but you wouldn't know it, because all you know is they aren't talking or opening up. 

So, if you are a person who needs a great deal of positive reinforcement, you will need to ask for it, and your INFP will have to make a conscious effort to meet that need. It can be interpreted by a sensitive partner (especially an NF partner who measures the quality of the relationship in this way) as deeply selfish (even though INFPs usually do not see themselves as selfish or self-centered and would rather die than harm you) that they often fail to provide the affirmation their partner may need. Especially ironic given that INFP needs so much positive reinforcement themselves. It is partly that the INFP is so internal that they forget they have to actually say words, and it is partly that the INFP just thinks you should know how they feel. 

It is also simply that INFP can get rather awkward trying to explain how they feel. If your INFP has a hard time telling you how they feel, but you really want to know, it can be helpful to ask them to write things down. They can be reticent to say words out loud, but write beautiful love letters or poems full of all the emotions you wish they would or could just show you in real life. 

(Side note: INFPs are excellent songwriters, artists, musicians, etc in part because of all these feelings; it is important that somehow or another they find a positive outlet for all their feelings. Generally, they love and are deeply moved by music and words. Like, sometimes to tears. One way to connect with your INFP is to share songs and books with them that you love, or that you think they will love, and then talk about it.) 

INFPs are very slow to make decisions, and can benefit from a partner who is more decisive than they are. They actually tend to appreciate bossy or Type A people. Some of this is that they really don't care about a lot of things and are pretty easy to please (like that classic "What do you want for dinner?" conversation. They will usually say, "I don't care, you pick", and they do actually mean that. They actually do not give any shits what you have for dinner, and will probably be happy with anything you choose.) 

Part of it is also that they have a hard time making decisions, most often because they have conflicting desires and will take all day weighing the options. It's much easier sometimes to just let someone else decide things. That is the neutral impact of this "slowness to decide" thing.  

The negative side of this can be that they'll stay at jobs or in relationships far longer than is reasonable, even when everybody around them knows they need to make a move, because they are so terrified of making the wrong decision. They worry that they will screw everything up. And they hate hurting people. (Not that anybody "likes" it, but INFP will do almost anything to avoid hurting anyone's feelings, even to their own detriment). They are perfectionists and they feel terribly guilty if they feel they have caused someone pain or harm. So, they carefully (too carefully, one might say) consider all the possible options and outcomes before eventually (forever) coming to a conclusion. 

Hmm. What else? Other positives, lest you be scared off: INFP is very accepting of quirks. One of the most accepting of all the personality types. They generally don't mind accommodating a partner who has strong opinions or strange tastes. They won't bat an eye at your needing to have ice cream right this minute, even if it's zero degrees outside or the middle of the night. They won't laugh at your awkward dance moves, or criticize your cooking, or make fun of your OCD tendencies, or argue with you when you want to reorganize your sock drawer for the third time this week. You can be obsessed with any weird stuff you want to. They accept that you enjoy ____ activity that is the nerdiest thing on Earth. You be you, kid. Generally, an INFP partner/friend will completely accept your strange cravings, desires, conversational topics, interests, weird outfits, kinky sexual proclivities, everything. 

Almost invariably they'll be like, "Okay, that's fine. Whatever makes you happy." Live and let live, that's how the INFP rolls.  

…UNLESS/UNTIL you violate one of their deeply held values. Then, look out: they will get argumentative and stubborn and totally irrational and they will fight to the death. And forget logic; logic has nothing to do with this argument. Because principles. Because you are wrong and here's why. 

(Later they might see how they were a little extreme. Maybe. You'll learn the things that aren't worth arguing about, and avoid those topics.) 

But generally, if you give your INFP space and understanding and room to be their own weird introverted self, INFPs in relationships are peaceful, amicable, and easy to get along with. Generally, they don't ask for much. They don't criticize unless it seems necessary. They are low-maintenance. They will love you the most, for loving them, seeing them, appreciating them, and letting them just be themselves. 

Update: Here is some advice for the INFP him/herself: 

http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2015/12/how-to-be-happier-infp-tips-tools.html

Care & Feeding of the ENFP

ENFP: The Champion

The most important thing to know about dating ENFP is that they need a lot of physical affection in order to grow and thrive in a relationship.  They need to feel connected to their partner, specifically in a physical way. ENFP loves to nest; they are the consummate cuddler. While it can sometimes feel smothering or codependent to a partner who doesn't value this, a partner who does will find a warm and inviting home with the ENFP. You will get tons of support, love, affection, and space (which sounds contradictory, but isn't really) in a relationship with an ENFP. 

ENFP is full of big ideas, and will entertain, delight, and surprise you with all the ways their brain can work at once. They are brilliant at brainstorming and creative problem-solving. They happily live in bigideasabstractconceptpossibilitiesbrainstorm-Land; this is the ENFP's natural habitat and the place they feel the most alive.  So, frankly, do not expect them to always attend to the practical things you'd like them to attend to or that you think they should care about. They can attend to those mundane tasks, but it costs them a lot of energy. They just don't really care about details that much and will happily allow their partner to pay the bills, make the appointments, and just tell them (nicely, patiently) what to do and where to be when. They have a relative sense of time, so you can probably expect your ENFP to be late on a regular basis, mostly because they are running around trying to get everything done and be everything for everybody. The thing that makes this less frustrating is that once they do finally sit down with you, they are fully present and totally engaged with you. They will turn on that particular ENFP charm, and you'll forget you were ever annoyed. 

(Update: I've had a lot of people get stuck on this "ENFP is always late" thing because they're like "this sounds like me except I'm on time all the time"... generally upon probing further, these people are on time because they are concerned with upsetting other people, not because they have some deep commitment to being on time or have any real concern about time in general. The main idea is that ENFP's concept of time is relative, meaning they don't tend to view it as a "real" or objectively meaningful thing. This also relates to why you may not hear from them for hours/days at a time, because they may get immersed in something and completely disregard or be unaware of how much time has lapsed.) 

So, anyway, one way to show an ENFP that you love them is to allow them space, grace, and forgiveness to be their semi-flighty selves, and to consciously ground them in a loving way that isn't shaming. In other words, they will probably like (value, appreciate, or even need) that you're more responsible than they are, but you don't constantly have to remind them of that, because that will hurt their feelings and make them feel like you don't appreciate them. Pay attention to the things that you are not annoyed by in your ENFP, because there are many!

ENFP is prone to guilt and shame trips, when imbalanced. They want to be able to say "yes" to everything. They are active, imaginative, courageous, inspirational…which often means people want them to do stuff with/for them. But ENFP is only human, and also is the most introverted of the extraverts, (meaning they need alone time), so they can easily slip into a cycle where they are promising too much to too many people/places and can't keep up with everything. In these moments, instead of asking for help, they may just double-down on the overcommitment and end up feeling like they let everyone down and are a huge failure. (Enter self-pitying ENFP emotional meltdown here). You can help your ENFP by learning to notice when they seem depleted or anxious, and offering to take up some of the slack, or just be there with positive support and affection. You can do little nice things for your ENFP in these times that will be appreciated, even if in their anxiety and worry they forget to be quite as appreciative as you might hope. There is a slight tendency of the ENFP to be unintentionally self-centered when they are not at their best. A well-developed ENFP will not mind you pointing out when this begins to happen; a gentle, "Hey, I'm here too and I need some attention" should suffice. Avoid shaming language at all costs. 

ENFP is a social chameleon; they can fit in anywhere. Everybody loves an ENFP! So, the positive aspect of this is that you can take your ENFP anywhere and know that they will be likable, charming, and charismatic. They may not follow any rules or conventions that are expected of them, but no one will really mind because they are generally pretty delightful to have around. They are intuitive about people and have an uncanny ability to connect with and win over virtually anyone, even the most curmudgeonly or reluctant of folks. 

The potentially negative aspect of this likability is a tendency for people-pleasing, which if left unchecked, can manifest in them coming across (especially to people who know them well) as inauthentic. This presents a conundrum for ENFP, because they deeply value their integrity and indeed their authentic, lovely, weird selves. Whether ENFP admits (or is even consciously aware of) it or not, it is important to them that they are well-liked, and they absolutely thrive on positive reinforcement. Mostly this is fine, but (for example) an under-developed ENFP may (white) lie in order to make people happy or to be or do what they think people want them to be or do. This is almost certainly not malicious, so if you have an ENFP who tends to lie, it helps to understand that it's a reflexive habit born of a rather innocent desire to make everyone happy. They may justify it to themselves as "getting creative with details" or "sparing someone's feelings" or generally avoiding potential conflict or negativity. (The ENFP is masterful at utilizing "the ends justify the means" logic.)

It's okay to call them out on the "misrepresentation", (vs. calling them a "liar"-do not do this; they will bristle and get very defensive, and it's not exactly accurate anyway) if you do it in a loving and supportive way. Frame it in such a way that reminds them how much you, and they themselves, value honesty and integrity (which they do, very highly; ironically, they would most certainly not be okay dating someone they perceived as dishonest) and how much closer and more authentic their relationships will be if they are more scrupulously honest. Remind them that even if the result is occasional conflict, it's worth it, and that occasional conflict is okay, normal, and even healthy. 

Remember that generally, the ENFP strongly prefers harmony, so oftentimes their negative aspects show up when they're trying to maintain their own equilibrium and make too many other people happy at the same time. The best way to show your ENFP that you care is to understand them, touch them regularly, do practical care things, and give lots of positive reinforcement. Like, more than you think is probably reasonable. Your ENFP will appreciate this, and will reward you with their rich insight and infectious enthusiasm for life. They are loving, generous, supportive partners and you are lucky to have one in your life. 

Update: Read this! http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2015/12/enfp-how-to-be-very-best-and-truest.html



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Intuitive Feeling Men


If you read "Care & Feeding of the Intuitive Feeler, Pt 1", you already know that the NF deeply desires connection. 

This is true for both women and men, although generally, NF energy (especially INFP and ENFP) could be considered feminine energy. I don't mean that male NFs are feminine, just that they innately have qualities typically assigned to femininity (e.g., nurturing, empathy). The thing about male NFs, though, is that oftentimes, they don't even know they're "feelings" types at all. They often find out only when their lives are in full crisis-mode. My theory on how this happens is that we socialize men to be tough, stoic, etc. We teach men that being "sensitive" (empathetic, emotional) is bad, that nice guys finish last, that crying is for girls. And so this often stifles the innate tendency of "sensitive" men to be present in their feelings, and to learn how to get their emotional needs met effectively and in a healthy way. 


Male NFs who are not in touch with their true natures are usually very unhappy. Imagine living fundamentally out of alignment with your true nature most of the time. It is a lot of work! They may be inclined to abuse drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, or overeat (basically, anything to numb all the feelings). They may be selfish, cold partners, or they may just fake their way through their relationships never really feeling quite right. (*The one place they sometimes can feel safe being open and vulnerable is with their children, so they often take great pride in their fathering abilities and are remarkably good dads). If they don't have kids, they may often just put all of their energy into their careers, thinking this is just the way it is. Feeling silly that they have an ache, a longing, for something deeper. Walking around with all kinds of unnamable feelings they couldn't talk about anyway, because "men don't talk about" these things. Wondering vaguely why they are so unhappy, what is missing, is this all there is? 


So a man may come to me in therapy presenting with, say, having cheated on his wife…(this is the most common one) and he's feeling really guilty. He doesn't see himself as the "cheating type". He's always been a "good guy". He is genuinely confused as to how this happened, and wants to repent, heal, go back...but when pressed, he may admit that the affair was a profound experience. It may be that the affair (no matter how brief or long, and regardless of whether it is still going on) was actually one of the greatest, most deeply moving experiences of his life. With exploration, what usually comes out is that he didn't feel "connected" to his wife, (either because they grew apart, or because they never had a deep connection to begin with) and he found/met someone with whom he "profoundly connected". Now that he's gotten a taste of that, he doesn't know what to do or how to reconcile his previous life with this need he didn't even know he had. Now he has all of these feelings and desires and needs and feels overwhelmed. 


Existential crisis in the making here. 


What I'll quickly deduce and suggest is that the affair is not the issue. The affair is a manifestation of a deep unhappiness/lack of connection. You did a shitty thing, of course. That is true. I don't offer excuses for disrespecting your marriage, but I will say that having cheated doesn't make you a bad person or mean you have an irreconcilable marriage. The issue is that you, sir, are a stunted Intuitive Feeler. We will start there. 


So (in this example) the man came to me thinking he had a clear-cut problem that needed a solution: I cheated on my wife, and now I need to know what to do. Men often want quick fixes and are uncomfortable with the idea of therapy, because of course it will involve digging up the bones in their emotional graveyard. They are attracted to my "solution-focused" orientation because they think that means I'm a magician and can solve their concrete real-life problem in a few hours. (With an SJ or NT, this is often the case. We will take a relatively linear approach to a problem, move from point A to point B, and solve it. Clean. Simple.)  


But what happens with an NF is that we start talking about abstractions like authenticity and honesty and love and connection, and we begin exploring "what makes me happy" and all of that touchy-feely stuff men profess to loathe, and next thing you know, radical changes are taking place in this man's life. His entire identity can shift. He softens, opens up. Sometimes there is crying. 


Sometimes, I end up doing couples' work with him and his wife and she gets to meet the man she always hoped he was. Sometimes, they end up with the connection he has been missing. Sometimes, though, they find that they make better friends than partners. Either way, this man has begun the process of understanding himself and what he needs. He begins to grow into the person he really is. It's an amazing thing to witness. 


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"). 

Anyway. 

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. 

Introduction: 

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. 


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On being an introvert...

The thing about being an introvert is that our energy is a non-renewable resource. There is only so much of it available in a day, and so we have to learn to be judicious about where and how we spend it. Being around awesome people nourishes us, teaches us, challenges us to grow, and/or simply makes us happier…but it does not give us energy, no matter how awesome they are. And being around not-awesome people drains us especially quickly.
If I think of my energy in terms of what it consists of (e.g., love, attention, time) and think of where I put it as an investment, it becomes clear that I cannot afford to invest it unwisely. I have historically been generous with my energy, and offered it without question to undeserving (people, places, activities) and then wondered why I felt energetically bankrupted.
Meditation: 2015 is the year where I am careful with my energy, and do my best to only invest it in (people, places, activities) which are likely to offer a high return on that investment, and to invest it mindfully and do my best not to waste it on (people, places, activities) that simply siphon it away.