Know thyself, pt. 2

In my last post, I brought up the subject of the MBTI test and how my INFJ result has provided me with some new resources for understanding why I think the way I think, and why I do the things I do, and maybe why I’ve been feeling so tortured by all of the above.

I’ve been a little down in the dumps lately and have turned a lot of criticism my own way because I hate a lot of things about the way I am. Sometimes I can feel very lonely when I think about how I don’t really have friends anymore like I used to. I have one friend who I see occasionally, and that’s my one and only friend. My fiancé is my best friend, but I think people need friends outside of their romantic relationship in order to have a life with some balance in it. My fiancé is very different from me in that way–he has many friends, some of whom he sees pretty regularly, others he may only see once in a great while, but somehow he’s still able to maintain all of these friendships.

I have no idea how to do that. I always drop the ball when it comes to friendship maintenance. I lost contact with many friends from school after my first breakup, and I’ve never been able to get back on track. It’s difficult for me to make friends in the first place, and I am terrible at maintaining friendships with people who I don’t see anymore, no matter how close we may have been at one time.

I think this happens in part because I never think to reach out. Let’s say my work schedule allows me two days off and I realize I don’t have any plans and will most likely be alone those days. I don’t then scramble to make plans happen–I instead feel this deep sense of relief that I can just be home by myself doing my own thing. All–and I mean ALL–of my hobbies can be done in isolation. That’s probably why they’re my hobbies.

I don’t go to the movie theater anymore, but that used to be a hobby of mine and I would try to go alone if possible. I don’t really enjoy seeing movies with other people (aside from my fiancé) because I don’t enjoy the part afterward where I find out I enjoyed it and they hated it, or they enjoyed it and I hated it. I will pretend to have enjoyed something that I didn’t actually enjoy in order to spare the other person’s feelings. I am so sick of other people’s opinions that I find myself hiding my true feelings in order to avoid pointless debates about things that don’t really matter.

But I think that contributes to my loneliness. In my life, I don’t have many people with whom I can be authentic. I’ve had it here and there, and it’s a beautiful thing because it enlivens my entire world, and I have a great desire to experience that feeling. But I have no idea how to create it.

And I have no idea how to describe it. It’s about more than just finding people who like all the same stuff I like. The closest friend I’ve ever had was someone who on the surface I did not have much in common with, but we were still able to talk for hours upon hours every single day about everything under the sun. She was my rock throughout high school and had the biggest and most positive impact on me during a time when I really needed a friend to help me grow. I shudder to think about the person I’d be today without her influence. Adolescence is already such a confusing time, and a single good influence can be the difference between one following the path of truth, compassion, and light as opposed to one of emptiness, cynicism, and darkness.

Turning back to the subject of my previous post: let me link again the list for reference because everything I wrote above pertains to the #2 item said to make INFJs happy, and that is meaningful conversation.

Enough said.

The #3 item is a deeper understanding of themselves. Maybe I should also share that the way I found the list (titled 12 Things the INFJ Personality Needs to be Happy) in the first place was by typing “infj happy” into a search engine and clicking on the first result. I kept wondering if perhaps I was searching for happiness in the wrong places, even wondering if happiness was worth pursuing in an imperfect world. I don’t think I desire the material or external trappings of happiness; rather, I just want to be happy with myself. If anyone has read this blog, it may be clear that I’m unsatisfied with myself despite “having” things that are without a doubt satisfying to have. I have a loving relationship to be a part of, and my heart breaks for people who want that above all things, but are deprived of it in the present. I know that without mine, I would be in an even worse place because it would mean the loss of my soulmate. If I didn’t have a romantic partner, I would hope I would be able to find that connection in a friend. I spend a lot of time alone by choice because I am comfortable in my own company. When I start thinking about how I relate to the world, or just how to be in the world, I begin to lose my sense of self because I feel as if I fail in many attempts at properly being in the world and all that jazz. What role am I meant to play? How involved should I be in that which is outside of myself and my immediate concerns? Sometimes I think the most I’m capable of is being a background performer in someone else’s story. A stagehand for a play of someone else’s creation.

Item #4 on the list is human contact, not social contact, where human contact is described as “mutual human understanding.” It makes the point that INFJs are often mistaken for extroverts. I feel like a very shy person who can pretend to be extroverted when the situation calls for it. In social situations, if I’m doing well, it’s because I’m constantly reminding myself to try to be normal and say/do normal things. Let’s say you’re like me and you struggle to make conversation with people. I know some tricks that can help, and if I’m in the right frame of mind I can usually make them work okay. I’ve been told that most people really like being asked questions about themselves. I do not share that viewpoint, but that’s what I have to work with. So if I’m struggling to make conversation with someone, I’ll try to ask them about something that (from previous interactions) I already know them to be familiar with even if I personally know nothing about the subject. The only problem with this is that sometimes I get into bad situations because I know nothing about the subject, but my question seemed to indicate that I personally also share that same interest and therefore I hit a wall when I can’t do anything to further the conversation. Then I’m back to feeling entirely awkward all over again. C’est la vie.

#5 is alone time, the most obvious inclusion because without it, all who feel this way would go insane. It’s also so (all so-so) necessary to include it in any piece written about introverted people, because I suspect that these little lists and articles are often shared by introverted people with the more extroverted people in their lives. It’s a way of saying, “This is how I am. This is why I am the way that I am. I may sometimes wish I were a different way, but really, I’m comfortable being this way as long as I’m allowed to be this way.” We often feel like we have to ask for permission just to be who we are, or that we must provide an explanation for our behaviors. We really are very concerned with other people’s comfort levels. When I get the sense that my introverted nature is making someone uncomfortable, I try to “turn on” the extroverted side of myself even if it might be uncomfortable for me to do so. I take comfort in another person’s comfort, so it usually evens out. Any time I leave a situation where I’ve had to turn on my extroverted function in order to fit in, I find it difficult to simmer down. My head will be buzzing for a long time after. I hate this feeling because it feels to me like anxiety, but I know that this passes with a bit of alone time so it’s no cause for alarm.

Item #6 is structure. And I quote: “INFJs require some amount of routine and orderliness to function at their best. In general, they like planning ahead rather than being spontaneous, because it gives them time to prepare (both mentally and otherwise). Their plans tend to be fairly loose and flexible…Think: A weekly calendar with a few things penned in, not an hour-by-hour day planner.” Right on the money. I especially appreciate the specific example of the weekly calendar for what structure looks like for the INFJ. My friend recently asked me how I keep track of everything that I do. I told her that I don’t really do much so there’s not much to keep track of, but if I have an appointment I’ll usually add it to my calendar. Everything else I need to remember is just in my head. I don’t have a lot of things going on outside of my usual things, so once I know the pattern, it’s easy to follow. I never think much about the role of structure in my life. My fiancé has a son with autism, so structure plays a role in my life by association, but I don’t ruminate on structure as a concept. It’s just there, and I get to take it for granted that it stays that way.

Thank God I’m at #7, independence, because once again I’ve been thinking, “This is too long. I gotta bail. No one will read this,” followed closely by, “WHY do I care so much? I gotta be me, baby! If not here, then where?” I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition more, which is difficult when my intuition tells me one thing–the thing I know I want–and my brain is in close pursuit trying to substitute in its (intuition’s) place the thing that I think will be accepted. Yes, I want to be accepted, but not at the expense of being true to myself. It might sound silly to use my blog as an example of a time when this conflict occurs, but it happens so often with minor things in ways that I don’t realize, so why not provide a minor example? I don’t know what to think about independence, or the need for it (because in adulthood it seems self-evident), but I am aware I have a problem with authority. I don’t take commands easily. You can ask me to do something–sure–but if you command me to do something, I will fantasize about ways to sabotage your request so that you don’t get what you want because you didn’t ask nicely. Do I follow through on these fantasies? Not usually, because the self-preservation instinct kicks in before I fully go off the rails.

I feel like I recognize God as the ultimate authority figure, and I don’t even follow everything that He supposedly commands. I’m too arrogant and stubborn for that.

Scrolled up to check what number I’m at. Crazy Eight. An orderly environment. This one is interesting because I’ve only recently begun making efforts in this area. When my fiancé and I moved in together just recently, it acted as a wake-up call for me, a person who has often lived in filth. I saw how differing expectations regarding cleanliness drove a wedge between my parents. They are divorced for other reasons, but had many incompatibilities like this that are worth me thinking about if I don’t want to head down the same path. I see them both as happier people now that they’re each living life on their own terms, whatever that’s worth. The list describes an orderly environment for INFJs in this way: “They are probably not the types to alphabetize their bookshelves (attending to tiny details in their environment drains the intuitive INFJ), but they do need things generally picked up, put away, and clutter-free. INFJs tend to like minimalist environments, because too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.”

When I read the part about not alphabetizing their bookshelves, I wondered how this person knew that. I’m serious: HOW DID THEY KNOW? It’s too accurate. I’ve been deliberately not alphabetizing my books (and music, and movies) since before I was born–that is how ingrained this practice is in me. Alphabetizing seems to me one of the least intuitive ways to organize my belongings. Instead I start with two books: Middlemarch and Anna Karenina, my go-to “favorite books” (there are many more, but I try to start simply). I put them at eye-level in separate nooks. We have those Massive Kallax Shelves from Massive Scandinavian Chain that people also like to use for records (and frankly are way better for records than for books, but it’s hard to beat the price and the amount of stuff you can fit in them) so everything Eliot and Tolstoy are in the central eye-level squares and I just kind of expand outward from there. Proust, Fontane, Turgenev, Nabokov, Hardy, Mann, Woolf–they get their own squares of prominence as well. I guess I organize by author and how much I like them, then by nationality (or time period, movement, etc, because I separate Soviet writers from pre-Revolutionary writers on the basis of being totally and completely different). If bookstores were organized this way, I could find things with much less effort. With that said, I’m still a human mess, but I make a concerted effort not to be out of deference to the stability of my relationship with a person who is VERY neat and orderly. He’s the first person I’ve been with who is neat and orderly on a consistent basis, which makes it much easier for me to meet him on that level because I know that he’s keeping up his end of the bargain. I’m no longer left to deal with the mess created by two people as I was in my last relationship.

Also “Hardy Man-Wolf” is mine. I like how that sounds. I’m claiming that.

I also relate to the observation that “too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.” When I started Big Girl Art School, I was mildly put-off by the decor in one studio in particular. The walls always seemed to be papered in student artwork. The first class I ever had in that space was called “Creative Strategies,” and it was one of those classes where we didn’t really make art per se; rather, we engaged in projects that were meant to expand the way in which we thought about and approached our art practices. It seemed incongruent with the nature of the class to then have to look at other students’ poorly-executed drawings and whatnot pinned up all over the walls. It felt like a barrier put in place inside my head to have to look at all of these mediocre artistic attempts while simultaneously trying to make conceptual breakthroughs in our own art.

Or maybe I’m just a judgey asshole.

Love Potion No. 9 is an outlet for their insights. This blog is that; whether it contains insight has yet to be determined.

Item #10 is an outlet for their creativity. I do feel an emptiness of spirit when I’m not working on something (which is a regular occurrence these days as I’m not currently engaged in any artistic/creative projects and the most I’ve done are some goofy drawings on my laptop that I hesitate to show anyone). Combine numbers nine and ten and and they pretty much explain every interest I’ve had in life (minus sports). One change I’ve noticed in the past few years is that I’ve tried to become more of a vessel for other people’s insight and creative output. I got sick of knowing nothing and trying to create my own work because the work itself seemed like the product of a shallow, ignorant mind.

Eleven is beauty. I don’t know what it says about me that I gravitate toward beauty in prose and in film, but have less of a need for it in art. But I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from. On the rare occasion that I do see a movie that is “new” and has a wide-release in theaters, I find little to nothing that is beautiful in what I’m watching. I’ve lost enjoyment in many types of movies that in the past I wouldn’t have had any qualms about watching (let alone enjoying). I shun whatever is excessively violent or rotten; in addition to that I avoid films that are aggressively ugly not just in appearance but in their outlook on humanity. I can’t abide by it anymore. Where prose is concerned, I know little about what is being written today. I can get down with Modernism, but after that I grow skeptical. I have a disregard for plot. A book could be “well-plotted” and I probably wouldn’t notice or care. I love many books where nothing much happens and I suspect I enjoy them in part for that very reason. The same applies to film. Art is a different beast. People seem to not only desire, but require, that beauty be present in works of art in order to see their value. And I simply disagree. I also find it funny to demand that art be always beautiful while accepting absolute trash that takes on the form of books and movies.

Finally we’re at #12, at least one person who “gets” them. I do have that person, thankfully, and I plan to marry him. From what I’ve read/seen/heard about other INFJs, we seem to struggle with being able to share everything about ourselves, even with the people closest to us. Part of me always wants to keep certain aspects of my life, my thoughts and ideas, my dreams and fantasies, completely private and inaccessible to anyone. I feel like there is something I’m always trying to protect in myself so that it doesn’t leave me forever. And I don’t know what to call it. Those times when you know you could say something (read: share something), but you stop yourself without really knowing why–I wish I had the ability to remember every time this has happened, and what it was that I was thinking of sharing only to then stop myself before I did so, because perhaps I could then compile all of those “almost-said”s, see what they have in common, and figure out what I’m trying so hard to protect and why. I think I have a lot of trust in people, and faith in people, but not when it comes to me and things about myself.

Finished for today and I hope this can be helpful for some.

Know thyself

Every now and then, I feel either forced or compelled to take a look at myself and do something that is akin to taking an inventory of my life so far–not so much an inventory of accomplishments versus setbacks, but moreso an inventory of my feelings and how they have shifted over time, and considering what that leaves me to work with in the present. A sort of “Who am I now?” type of thing. Major life changes and events almost always spur these periods of reflection, but because a lot of them are invisible to other people, I rely on my own, often flawed ability to engage in introspection (which hopefully improves over time, but which I suspect just gets more confused or complicated as time goes on).

After my first boyfriend broke up with me, I had a rough time for a while. I was prescribed medication to help me deal with an anxiety disorder that I didn’t realize was a problem I perhaps had been experiencing for a long time. If I had taken an “inventory” of my life at that time, which I’m sure I did in some kind of sick, desperate way, it would have involved me accepting this new information about myself and trying to figure out how it fits into my life overall. New information gained can sometimes lead to one reframing one’s past experiences and developing a deeper understanding of Why this person came to arrive at this point in the present time.

To put it simply, a psychiatrist told me I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I realized that beginning in childhood I’d often made myself physically ill (always stomach aches) from worry and manufactured distress over any possible thing I could think to worry about. So while I was addressing my anxiety problem in the present, I was also reflecting on the innumerable sources of my anxiety throughout my entire past. Being able to put a name to a problem can give one a sense of power over it–the first step to addressing a problem is to acknowledge that it exists. But I began to hate that part of myself once the novelty of learning this new thing wore off. I also think time and age played a role in lessening its impact on my life.

The faculties I had at the time for dealing with the sources of my anxiety were underdeveloped to begin with. Seemingly small things looked like potential catastrophes because I always anticipated the worst possible outcome in any difficult situation. Further experience has shown me that each of these “catastrophes” would have required additional disastrous elements to come into play in order to develop into the life-destroying force I was imagining prematurely.

These days, it’s often difficult to put myself back into the frame of mind I had at times when I incorrectly thought my life was falling apart. It’s not that I don’t “recognize” my past self, because I can still imagine the emotional pain and what it was like to go through it. The difference is that I see that pain as self-inflicted rather than as a manifestation of my outward problems (with my boyfriend, school, work, etc). I caused my own pain most of the time. I only had to use my own bad thoughts to magnify any real pain a hundredfold and turn it into pain that was too big to comprehend and deal with effectively.

Pause for a second. I’ve already gotten off track. The text above is only included because I required an example from my real life in order to gracefully approach the subject of my efforts to understand myself better.

I understand that I do not understand myself. I have lost a lot of the clarity of mind that I had as a younger person. I understood what I liked, I understood my goals, and I did not question as much my relationship to other people and the world. Even though I was a weird kid and struggled socially at times, I still had a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. I would dream without limits. I had massive, unreasonable expectations for my future.

Now I’m 31, and with three additional zeroes you get somewhere close to my annual pay (before taxes) at a job in a field that I either detest or tolerate, depending on my mood.

I bring up my pay only because I think I’ve internalized this number to the point where I do consider it my true worth. I applied for a few jobs recently, and nothing came of it. I always look for jobs in the $30,000 range because I’m unskilled and that’s what I make currently. The thought of applying to a job that pays $40,000 annually and getting it has become more and more unbelievable as the years go by, and I can’t remember the last time I applied for a job that would actually increase my earnings rather than simply maintain them.

Out of the blue, the business that I was working for in an on-call capacity contacted me to ask if I would be interested in submitting my application for a full-time position. I had two interviews this time around. I thought both went pretty well, especially compared to others, at other places, that upon reflection make me want to die of embarrassment. At the end of the second interview, I made a big personal leap for myself (in regard to assertiveness) by asking about the details of their benefits package and healthcare plan. I did not receive the response I was hoping for, because after mentally crunching the numbers, I realized I would be shorting myself about $3,000 annually at the absolute least due to the monthly cost of the premiums offered.

To put it simply, my current job that I felt like I had to desperately escape from or risk dying of disappointment in myself actually has really great healthcare coverage and is as cheap as you can imagine if you participate in the company’s Wellness program. I knew all of this, but I didn’t know just how bad it could be at other jobs, so I had nothing to compare it to in my own experience.

A lot of folks stay working here because of the healthcare.

That is not the worst reason ever to stay in a job.

I also tried reminding myself of all the people I would miss if I left. I was being very cavalier about the possibility of leaving a job in which I get to work with my own fiancé on a regular basis. And that part is so great that I wonder how I could ever have been considering leaving just because a few people here are very hard to deal with. I should leave if I find a better job, yes. I haven’t found that job yet, and that’s okay for now, because the alternative I have found is astoundingly bad.

I’m not about to dive into a stream of inspirational B.S. in which I tell myself that where I am in life is Totally Okay. I’m not okay with it, and I don’t think that’s just the depression talking. I’m not okay with it because I’ve known for a while that the “career” aspect of my life went off the rails somewhere along the way and I’ve never been able to correct it. I’ve always felt tremendous pressure to excel in that aspect of life. My sense of identity is tied up tightly with what I’m doing in my life at a given time. As a student, my identity and sense of purpose was clear. I knew how to perform well and how to produce good work. My confidence reached its peak in college, and has gradually decreased in the years since. Looking back, I find it funny that my sense of self-worth could ever have been that high at a time when I was so stupid–so mentally and emotionally stupid.

I think it was at some point in my later teenaged years that my brother wanted all of us siblings to take the Myers-Briggs test and compare results. We were on vacation at the time and someone had brought a laptop along–we had a lot of fun because like many siblings, our differences and similarities have always been an intriguing subject (one of course that is patently uninteresting to anyone not directly involved). I remember my result because it’s the most absurd example of wishful thinking I have from that time: INTJ, “The Mastermind.”

Now, my brother–the one who initiated the test-taking–is a much more likely candidate for the INTJ label (though I feel like he very easily vacillates between introversion and extroversion and would be a difficult person to “type” correctly). Me ending up with that result is more a result of delusion than good-faith test-taking. It rang true enough for the time, though, and more importantly, it sounded like what I wanted to be. I guess it made some sort of impact on me, because I remembered the result for quite some time afterward despite never being fully indoctrinated into the MBTI cult (and I say that with affection!) and not really understanding the meaning of any of the letters following “I.” I can’t look past I–how apt.

Years later, at a now-former job, a conversation about the MBTI came up (the first time ever since my initial test-taking) and I was shocked when a person who I always felt a deep disconnection with (by that I mean: their behaviors and ways of thinking were so incompatible with my own that I found them to be disturbing) told us that she typed as an INTJ. I did not immediately go back and retake the test. I just figured there must be quite a difference even among folks of matching MBTI types, and went on my merry way.

Then I think another few years passed, and I must have been reading something about INTJs when it clicked that I wasn’t finding any true reflection of myself in the description I was reading. I retook the test. INFJ. And damn did I spiral downward for a bit because it can be very uncomfortable for me when I’m faced with a reflection of myself that isn’t just the wishful-thinking version of who I am. I was never so deluded as to think I could ever type as an E rather than an I, so the INTJ mistype was a sufficient substitute and further reinforced my shameful desire to see my specialness (such a rare type for a woman!) and difference (look at all these geniuses who are INTJs!) codified in some way.

Now that I want nothing to do with the World of Men, losing the INTJ label didn’t hit as hard as it might have had I typed differently much earlier. Gaining the INFJ label was more of a struggle. One can only be confronted so many times with detailed explanations of one’s most deeply-guarded vulnerabilities and poorly-concealed flaws before one feels that one may go insane. But on occasion I would find something that was actually comforting in its precise portraiture of the INFJ type. The first of these was this list found at Introvert, Dear (and penned by its founder, Jenn Granneman). By the end of it, I thought maybe at some point I had blacked out and written it myself in an act of hyper-focused introspection resulting in a true understanding of myself for once in my life.

The list attempts and thoroughly succeeds at detailing twelve distinct things that an INFJ type needs in order to be happy, and in a moment of remarkable insight, the author has chosen to place in the #1 spot the very thing whose noted absence in my life is the surest sign that I’m currently (current to the time) struggling inwardly: “A sense of purpose.”

Now that I’ve reached this point in my post, I’m going to finish up and return to the MBTI subject in a different post. Even though I don’t mind writing lengthy posts, I feel like people mind reading them, and therefore choose not to continue when faced with too many words and not enough pictures. There have been times when I’ve thought, “Maybe I should add a funny image right here to break up this wall of text,” but in an effort to follow my heart I usually choose not to add images unless they express what I cannot. I don’t need to apologize or make concessions for a long post. I also absolutely, positively loathe the trend of inserting images and animated gifs into a text just to keep some imaginary reader’s attention. This is why I avoid the review platform on Goodreads–it’s abhorrent to me and I feel like it discourages thoughtful reflection and analysis in favor of a Buzzfeed-style “hot take” of stupid quips and reactions culled only from media that has been given the stamp of approval from the culture-averse philistine. And already I’m thinking, “Wow, too harsh, tone it down,” because I’m worried that I might hurt someone’s feelings. But I remind myself that the reason I started this blog was to be able to scream into the void. I would never in a million years talk to anyone in this way, but I must be true to the worst parts of myself in this format at the very least. To be continued.