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alphabet soup

August 4, 2012

Yesterday I met with a friend who turns out to have the same (Myers-Briggs) personality that I do: INFP.

I’ve only had one other friend that I’m sure was an INFP. We are pretty rare. According to one of my books*, INFPs comprise 1% of the American population.

IN’s [Introverted iNtuitives] overall are pretty uncommon — all four types together [INFP, INFJ, INTJ, INTP] are only 4% of the population, each being equally likely (1%). Oddly enough, I’ve had more friends who are INTJs than any other personality type (n = 6).

I think Spouse is the first INFJ I ever met. After him, I’ve had at least two other friends that were also INFJs.

I’ve also had at least one friend who, like me, grew up thinking of herself as INTP, and discovered well into adulthood that she was actually INFP.

And my best friend has only been able to determine that she is IN; T/F and J/P are equally likely on any test she’s taken.

So, I’ve been close to 13 different IN’s. Despite them only being 4% of the population.

The ‘opposite’ of IN is ES (Extroverted Sensor). That same book* says they are 52% of the American population.

I have had 1 ES friend.

(Half of the people in the extended family I grew up among have taken the Myers-Briggs test, so I know their types with certainty. The rest, I have had to guess at.) Of those 16 people, 6 are ES’s. One more (who I think is a classic ESFP) insists she is an ENFP, so I’m never sure how to count her.

Not included in those 16 are people who married in. One of my siblings married an ES. I don’t know any of the spouses of my 5 ever-married cousins well enough to guess their Myers-Briggs types.

EN’s comprise another 20% of the American population. They are 4 out of 16 in my family of origin.

IS’s comprise the final 24% of the American population. I think my family of origin has 2 of them, but as they are among the people who have not taken the Myers-Briggs, I can’t be sure. It’s possible they are ES’s.

The family I married into, Spouse’s family, has 1 ES, 2 IS’s, and 1 EN. So Spouse and I don’t fit there either, since we’re both IN’s.

Looking at middle letters, which are temperaments for N’s (but not for S’s), NFs (iNtuitive Feelers) comprise 12% of the American population, and NTs (iNtuitive Thinkers) another 12%. Sensors split the remaining 76% — SJs (Sensor Judgers) and SPs (Sensor Perceivers) are each 38%.

During my childhood and beyond, my mother insisted I was exactly like her sister, one of the two NT adults in our family. I knew I wasn’t, but I didn’t have any way of figuring out what the differences were. Complicating my dilemma, my aunt’s interest in me, and my mother’s admiration for her sister, kept my life just this side of bearable and/or survivable. So there was no real incentive to figure out how my aunt and I were not alike.

We didn’t know about Myers-Briggs back then of course. Interestingly enough, in the Myers-Briggs system, my aunt and my father have exactly the same personality type, ENTJ. And yet my mother never claimed that I was exactly like my father.

With my father, and to a lesser extent with my aunt, I realized early on that as long as we avoided all emotions, and were very factual and ‘objective’, some limited success was possible with ‘smart’ conversations. It was a fine line, though, because my father found something about me really threatening — I never figured out what. And any show of emotions, no matter what the reasons were, brought everything to a screeching halt. So to have a relationship with my father, I had to become Mr. Spock. No doubt this is the origin of my fascination with INTJ people.

The first friend I remember having (ages 3-10) was an INTJ. One of the cousins I was closest to growing up was probably an INTJ.

When I meet INTJs and they’re smart, my brain kicks into a whole different gear (which is not always a good thing).  It’s me and my dad all over again, so I’ll do anything to keep their interest. Because I know that they’ll walk away eventually, just like he did. Therefore, obsession.

In fact, I’ve retained an enduring interest in individual INTJs, years and years after our relationships ended. Oddly enough, I’m not obsessive about my father himself. Maybe because we never had a good relationship, so there is nothing to miss, to want to get back.

This walk down memory lane hurts, so I’ll try a different road.

I’ve long wondered if my mother’s mother might have been an NF. If she were, that might explain part of why none of her children seemed to like her. Definitely none of my cousins on my mother’s side are NFs; 1 or 2 of my 3 siblings are (but they’re both extroverts).

The ‘opposite’ of NFs, STs (Sensor Thinkers), comprise 38% of the American population. As far as I can tell, they are only 2 out of 16 in my family of origin. Also, my father-in-law and 2 brothers-in-law. And a large majority of both my bosses and my coworkers.

Looking at third and fourth letters, apparently all combinations are evenly split: FP, TJ, FJ, and TP are each 25% of the American population.

The one ES friend I have is a fellow FP; I’ve had several ISFP friends, and a few ENFPs.

I’ve tried, multiple times, to develop friendships with IS-J’s, but I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded. I can confidently assert that I’ve never had a good relationship with an ESFJ or ESTJ. Something about the SJ temperament is like sand in the gears of my brain. No matter how hard I exercise my empathy or imagination, I haven’t been able to understand where they’re coming from. As far as I can tell, SJ’s don’t try to understand where I’m coming  from — they just tell me I’m wrong. If I would do things like they do, everything would work out properly. In their minds anyway. When I’ve tried that (my mother is an SJ), it’s a spectacular disaster in record time, or else it’s a slow death by inches. Either way, I end up demoralized, feeling like an utter failure, and hating myself. And then they tell me, if I just tried harder it would work better. I’ve never managed to get them to understand that what seems simple to them would require me to essentially die, and become a completely different person. And that’s a price I’m not willing to pay.

The ES-J’s I’ve known seemed to want me to stop existing as I am. Something about my personality not just rubs them the wrong way, but almost seems like a personal insult. Like I’m the way I am solely so I can make their life difficult.  Therefore don’t I owe it to them to stop being such pain in the butt? Straighten up and fly right! Do what All Good People know is proper and suitable!

Yeah, we’re gonna have to ‘agree to disagree’ on that one. Another concept they don’t appreciate.


Apparently, in midlife, people start developing their fourth function, which is always the inverse of their primary function. As an INFP, my primary function is Feeling, so its inverse, my fourth function, is Thinking. But I didn’t discover I was an INFP until I was 40; before that, I lived as a (slightly weird/anomalous) INTP. In other words, my actual primary function for 40 years was Thinking. Heavily flavored by Feeling, but I didn’t know that. I actually internalized the common contempt Thinkers have for the soft, fuzzy, too-emotional, Just Plain Icky way Feelers do things. So naturally I never realized that the way I was processing things owed something to Feeler perhaps more than Thinker. Really, I think it had to be an entangled conversation between Thinker and Feeler. I thought of myself as INTP, but technically, I was probably INXP.

Instead of just now focusing on Thinking, in the last six years, I’ve been trying to learn how to be a Feeler.

I just realized — that timeframe coincides with the emergence of Laima.

I have spent years upon years reflecting on my past, developing a sophisticated vocabulary for my emotions, analyzing them within their larger context, and then processing and integrating them. But when I first became Laima, many painful events — although they had happened a long time ago — were still raw. I had tried talking about some of those painful events with various family members, but none of them were interested. So not only could I not process what happened, but I couldn’t understand it either. And I couldn’t move past it until I could do both. I needed a forum to talk about things over and over, where I could get (at least occasional) feedback, so that I could make progress in my healing process. More than that, I needed to find out what happened when I shared something painful that I needed help with, and no one responded at all.

That actually happened quite often.

But even those experiences were valuable. Because I didn’t die. The world didn’t end. Disaster did not strike. Those were the fears that kept me from talking about my painful past with my family members in the face of their disinterest and/or discomfort.

Because it turns out that the feedback I got from other people, on the rare occasions that someone responded, was far less useful to me than the revelations and insights I discovered for myself while writing about what happened and why. I had to think things through even more deeply than I would have had to do with my family members because I was explaining things to strangers, who didn’t know my family members, my family history, or really, me.

For long stretches of time, I felt like I was wallowing in certain things. And as a person used to thinking of themselves as a Thinker, I was uncomfortable with the sheer volume of my emotions, and how messy and contradictory and complicated they were.

But I persisted. When I felt I had things I needed to say, I said them.

Over time, I noticed patterns to my behavior. Wondering what inspired people to answer or not, I experimented with different approaches. Sometimes I wanted to write, but decided I’d said too much in the past, and let this one(s) go.

Almost imperceptibly, I began to heal. Not because others were listening – mostly, if they were, I didn’t know it. I began to heal because I was taking myself seriously. I was doing what felt right, needful, satisfying.

Sometimes I miscalculated the mood of the board. Or things changed around me. But I still didn’t die; the world didn’t end; disaster did not strike.

I made friends. I gained admirers of my writing and my emotional honesty. My confidence grew, as did my self-understanding. I acted differently offline.

I started to want better things for myself. All along, I had wanted to stop repeating the past. But now, finally, it seemed within reach.

I’m no longer turning myself inside out trying to please ES-J’s, who aren’t going to like me anyway.

Nowadays, I recognize the limitations of having relationships with INTJs. I still have good friends who are INTJs, but I no longer expect things of them they can’t give, then blame myself for obviously lacking some essential ingredient.

I reached the limits of the Laima persona. And as I realized that, I saw that the context she was born into was inherently limiting as well.

It was similar to how I felt toward the end of the time Spouse and I lived in Indiana. During our 13 years there, I had held every type of job that I could see myself doing. Then I had hit a wall. Where I  was at, there was nowhere to go. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t move upward. I’d run out of careers to try. The well had run completely dry. The only thing to do was leave, find a different environment, one where more and different things were possible. Thus, Maryland.

So I’ve left Laima and her context behind. I’m preparing myself as best I can for a context I’ve never been in before, but will be entering shortly. It seems fitting that I approach that threshold with no name and no concrete identity, allowing me to reinvent myself in collaboration and co-evolution with my new context.

*Do What You Are: Discover the perfect career for you through the secrets of personality type, by Paul D. Tieger & Barbara Barron-Tieger

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2014 11:16

    Reblogged this on Snakeskin and commented:
    “I began to heal because I was taking myself seriously.”
    I am trying to pay attention to myself: my needs, my names, my dreams, and my wounds. Self-forgiveness is hard. I feel I am approaching a threshold. I need to transform into someone new.

    I wonder if I am still an INFJ.

    • June 21, 2014 15:56

      I feel like I’m on a threshold of transformation fairly often these days. 🙂 I also wonder if you are still an INFJ.

      I now mostly feel like an INFP, who should really be an ENFP, but trauma is (still) preventing me from getting back there.

      Good luck on your journeys!

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