On Being INTJ

Growing up, I knew I was different. Not different in a good, quirky way, but different in a bad way. I couldn’t make friends. Music made me feel depressed and anxious. I could only take interaction with non-family members for so long before, again, I became depressed and anxious, overwhelmed with the violation of emotions that weren’t my own. I had no understanding of nuance and exceptions; things were or they weren’t and my emotional intelligence was so underdeveloped I could be quite mean, not understanding how my words affected others. Pretty ironic for a writer, huh?

I recognized my failures to be a normal kid but couldn’t understand why it was so. I remember in sophomore Psychology class the teacher asked us what we wanted to get from our experience in the class, and my answer was, ‘how normal people think.’ One girl repeated my words with offense, ‘normal people?!’ and I just looked away, because I knew: I was different, and I couldn’t explain how. No one could, not my friends who accused me of being exhausting and close-minded (they were right), and not the psychologists who just looked at me blankly while I tried to explain my thoughts.

Something was different, something was missing. As a method of self-defense, at times I wore my difference as a badge of pride, even if only internally, though if I’m being honest it always hurt. Still, this self-deception caused me numerous problems as a teenager and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to let go of it.

As an early teen I read the memoir Born on a Blue Day, about a man with Asperger’s. As I read through the text I started noticing similarities between his actions and preferences, and my own. I began a list. At the end of the book I had fifteen symptoms I shared with him, which I presented to my parents along with my concern that I might have Asperger’s. Some were general symptoms, such as inability to understand social cues (sarcasm was something I literally could not identify until I was 16 or so), and some were oddly specific similarities, such as a preference for renaming people, animals, and things, so as to better incorporate them into the encyclopedia of my knowledge.

My parents reassured me I didn’t have Asperger’s, and given what I know now about the autism spectrum I also understand that I don’t have it, though being officially diagnosed would certainly make it easier to explain to people what’s so wrong different about me.

It wasn’t until October 2011 that I solved the mystery of why I struggled so much in middle and high school. Why the label of ‘judgmental’ followed me around, why guys always told me I thought too much. I was too much and not enough all at the same time, all the time, and it was exhausting.

And then I learned: INTJ.

My Meyers-Briggs type indicator is INTJ.

Meyers-Briggs is an interesting personality identifier which separates people into 16 different categories based on 4 sets of 2 options. It’s been verified and debunked in equal measure, but as they say, if something works, use it, and if it doesn’t, throw it out, and for me it worked.

I’m an INTJ. This knowledge changed my life.

INTJs are Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, and Judging. In particular:

“INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas.

INTJs are natural leaders, although they usually choose to remain in the background until they see a real need to take over the lead.

INTJs spend a lot of time inside their own minds, and may have little interest in the other people’s thoughts or feelings.

Other people may have a difficult time understanding an INTJ. They may see them as aloof and reserved. Indeed, the INTJ is not overly demonstrative of their affections, and is likely to not give as much praise or positive support as others may need or desire. That doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t truly have affection or regard for others, they simply do not typically feel the need to express it. Others may falsely perceive the INTJ as being rigid and set in their ways. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the INTJ is committed to always finding the objective best strategy to implement their ideas. The INTJ is usually quite open to hearing an alternative way of doing something.

You guys, I can’t tell you what finding myself described so well on the page meant to me. I’d never met anyone whose brain worked like mine, and suddenly it turns out there were thousands, if not millions of us! I felt so much relief.

INFJ is thought to be the rarest personality type (thus its nickname, the ‘unicorn’ personality type) but the actual study that first made that distinction was performed only on psychology students, so it’s not like it was comprehensive. Other studies have hypothesized that INTJs like me are actually the most rare personality type, and based on my limited personal interaction with the world, I believe it.

I joined a few online forums for INTJs and met many people like me who were rejoicing to find others like them. What an amazing, beautiful thing it was to have discussions based fully on data without the human emotional biases that clog so much of the internet.

INTJs contain elaborate data systems in our minds, like a gigantic, complex computer program constantly making and analyzing new connections. In my youth my INTJ internal system was small and incomplete, but as I have grown and added to my knowledge it has become more fine-tuned and full of subtleties.

Through understanding the weaknesses of my personality type (prone to judgment, coldness, lack of empathy, and social fatigue) I was able to counter-act my harmful impulses and evolve. Working in HR and interacting with many different types of people definitely helped. I can be warm now, and am practiced at making small talk, and have embraced the marvelous strength of my personality’s ability and willingness to let go of our own ego in order to accept a more correct viewpoint.

INTJs can be so harmful or so helpful to those around them. We will lead if no one else understands or can direct the mission, but we have no problem stepping aside and letting someone more charismatic lead as long as we can guide the mission with our logic and fast data-processing. This lack of ego is one of the greatest gifts of the INTJ, I believe.

The willingness to be wrong is something many people struggle with. A poorly developed INTJ, like I was, can struggle with this, too. Studies have shown that peoples’ brains literally interpret being wrong as experiencing pain. Is it any wonder that some people go to great lengths to preserve their ego, to reassure themselves that they are right? But the practiced INTJ can set that aside, can recognize the pain coming in then dismiss it for the sake of our greater love: information.

Oh, how I love data. Give me a spreadsheet and I’m a happy girl. In a meeting  I’m always one of the quickest to grasp a new concept. I can make connections to other ideas, and interpret easily what someone else is struggling to say. I just get it when it comes to information.

I still struggle with the social side, of course, though I’m eons (leagues? what’s the right measurement here?) ahead of where I used to be. It’s rare that I’ll make a misstep now, and when I do it’s because I’ve fallen back into that old INTJ trap of believing everyone is processing a situation the same way I am.

A conversation I once had with a close friend haunts me to this day. We were discussing politics, and I don’t remember what prompted him to say this, but he said something like, “why do you expect everyone to come to the same conclusion?” And I retorted, “well if I came to this conclusion, why wouldn’t everyone else?”

I couldn’t understand why everyone couldn’t make the same leaps of logic as me and determine the correct course of action on every position. Now that I’m older and wiser I understand how our individual experiences shape our values and influence the connections in our mind, forming the instincts that push us towards one conclusion or another. I get it now, truly.

But back then I didn’t. And that staggering emotional blindness is a shame and a motivator to me today, to keep me developing and not let myself backslide into judgments, detachment, and self-righteousness.

And so, I have found a way to explain myself to the world, and to mediate how I interact with people so they don’t find me to be any of those painful adjectives: exhausting, cold, mean, dismissive, judgmental. And yet every now and then something will happen that reminds me all over of my difference, and how hard the world finds it to understand an INTJ.

For example, in The Cobworld my main character, Bronwen, is an INTJ. Both Rose of ACORAS and the Poetess  of Nameless are Extroverted personalities, and so Bronwen is my first INTJ. I had fun writing her, letting her draw all the conclusions typical of an undeveloped INTJ. Her awareness of her difference and the odd mixture of shame and pride about it were similar to my own, and I felt good about that. I felt like I was bringing some diversity to the heroines out there in YA, and doing that thing we’re all urged to do, which is getting honest, going deeply into what hurts.

But critiques of the story found her unlikable.

I still don’t know how to feel about that. Do I laugh or cry? My character most similar to me is the one most unliked.

I’m trying not to take it personally. Logically (because I’m an INTJ, har har, or are you sick of hearing that?) I know that she is not me, and I acknowledge she does have the faults of a young INTJ, and there are other story concerns that when cleared up will probably help with her relateability. And yet.

It’s an extrovert’s world out there. But it’s not anyone’s job to understand me; it’s my job to make myself understandable.

Ultimately I’m glad to be an INTJ, just as I’m glad for my height, or any of the other different and challenging things about myself. I know I’m the only one with the power to affect how I go through life. When I learned my type indicator for the first time I could have used it to justify everything about myself, blamed it on ‘just being how I am’ and made no changes. But I made the choice, perhaps because of the harm I’ve done or been done, to take the answer to the greatest question of my childhood and turn it into a tool for my adulthood.

I’m not perfect at it, of course. I still sometimes find myself in the bewildering situation of not understanding how I offended someone so badly. It takes some thought to figure it out, but then I learn, and grow again.

Don’t we all?

<3, Savannah

15 thoughts on “On Being INTJ

  1. M.D.Irvine says:

    Hey Savannah, Ive been thinking about how to comment on this post since I read it yesterday. As a child, I knew I was different as well . I was also overly sensitive to music and people and would much rather stay in my room. I dont know how good I am with nuances, I tend to like things to be like people to be plain straightforward but in terms of grey areas, Ive always been aware that things arent black and white. I enjoyed delving into the why of things. It wasnt until university that I had my freshman chem prof make all the students do a personality test that I learned I was ISTJ. Like you talked about the world is extroverted and I had an awful time in highschool. Im guessing its the combination of Introspective and Intuition that makes INTJ pretty rare. Im happy that you are glad to be INTJ, and of the strides you’ve made. On another random note, your post about height is one I’ve bookmarked/favorited. Im 5’11 and with similar body type.

    • Savannah Foley says:

      Hey MD Irvine, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I just glanced over the description of an ISTJ personality, and it’s just lovely. I especially like this part: “ISTJs are very loyal, faithful, and dependable. They place great importance on honesty and integrity. They are “good citizens” who can be depended on to do the right thing for their families and communities.”

      Of course, as an INTJ I’m thrilled about this similarity: “ISTJs have tremendous respect for facts. They hold a tremendous store of facts within themselves, which they have gathered through their Sensing preference.” We’re basically sister personalities!

      PS: I’m glad you enjoyed the tall post. I’ve been thinking a lot again about all that as I get ready for my wedding… everything has to be specially ordered and costs extra, and I was frantic that I wouldn’t find acceptable wedding shoes but I think Long Tall Sally has finally come out with something that will look pretty at a wedding :-)

      • M.D.Irvine says:

        Yay sister personalities! My mum has always called me her rock. (solid, dependable right?) Good citizen is right. I never even had the urge to rebel (what’s up with that?) on the flip side, there’s control issues …
        Shoes! so hard to get shoes. Ive been us size 11 or 43 since i was 13 and shoes are either too high or ugly.
        It takes so much effort to find a decent pair of shoes let alone evening/wedding. Wishing you luck with Long Tall Sally.
        It’s been much harder for me since I moved out of the U.S to get shoes my size.

  2. AG says:

    I read this earlier during the day during a moment when I had no energy, and consequently spent the next two hours with full batteries loaded by the power of “ME, TOO!”

    You might recall that I’m also an INTJ. I still remember your reaction when I told you some time ago (the exclamation mark is a good way to depict it :P).

    Being true to the “I” part, I will move my ranty pants over to the more comfortable recesses of e-mail. Just, thank you for this, and your honesty. It’s not easy to bare one’s own intricacies to be judged.

    *big hug*

  3. Rowenna says:

    Yes! I’m INTJ, too, and despite the fact that I’m fairly sure it was primarily responsible (along with a horrible pair of glasses) for wretched middle school years, I’m happy to be the personality that I am. I had to learn empathy, definitely–it’s, even now, more an exercise in rational transference (“This could make someone feel X, therefore Y is a rational understanding of so-and-so’s behavior right now…”) but in some ways I think that’s a boon–I can understand others and lend help without being emotionally burdened. I love that I see the world in patterns, and I think it makes me a better writer.

    I still haven’t written an INTJ character–should be interesting when I do. I think it would be fun to write an INTJ from a non-narrator perspective–we can be such chameleons because we observe and adjust to social situations in a logical manner once we know we need to mesh ourselves in (and have the awareness that, um, we’re not exactly fitting in naturally…)

    And I’m so glad that everyone isn’t INTJ–and thank goodness for all those extroverts out there making society functional and all :)

    • Savannah Foley says:

      I did not know you were INTJ, too! How funny that some of the people I’ve interacted with most on this blog over the years are INTJ… I identify so much with what you wrote in your comment. Your point about chameleons is so true. I’ve known for a while that I’m an excellent imitator, and I know it stems from intense analysis of a person or thing. At the same time, conforming to what makes others most comfortable in a social situation is so /exhausting./ Just like you said, we’re aware that we’re not fitting in naturally. Every time I’m interacting with someone I’m thinking, “Hold eye contact, keep a smile on, laugh a little bit, agree then ask another question because people like talking about themselves and subconsciously this will make them like me’, etc.

      That’s one of the reasons I love Chris so much; even though he’s not an INTJ, I can just be myself around him, so it’s never stressful or tiring.

      Haha, oh but a world full of INTJs would be so fascinating! We would have eliminated professional sports, ended world hunger, and be living on Mars by now! ;-)

  4. Caitlin Vanasse (@CaitlinVanasse) says:

    ESFJ here so… not so similar (although we both are Js which I’ve found to matter most re: my friend groups!) but One of my closest friends in D.C. is an INTJ too and we often marvel over how something that comes naturally to her or seems so normal is a mystery to me and vice versa. (There’s also an element of ESFJs being super effusive about our affection for people and frequently telling them they have value to us and that seeming like it’s overly significant because it’s abnormal? and of course this friend is super confident and self-assured in the best way!)

    Anyway all that to say, this post was lovely and I’m glad you wrote it!

  5. Monique says:

    I’ve just been “diagnosed” (teehee) as INTJ last week and am so relieved to finally get some insight into my complexity. But in particular I almost dropped my phone when I read above about being a chameleon. I have always maintained that I am an excellent chameleon and as a result was never really sure of my real personality. I’ve always felt different and feel like I’ve found my home finally as an INTJ. Great to know there are a few of us in existence!

  6. Glaiza says:

    I just took the personality test for a job application and my result was INFJ. At first, I panicked because I worry that my introverted nature creates social barriers but at the same time, I don’t think I would be the person or a writer without that deep appreciation and exploration of things.

    I’ve read some novels with introvered heroines and connected to them but sometimes, my friends read the same story and are confused/dismissive of the heroine’s reactions to certain things. I hope your current heroine soldiers on because I enjoy reading from different personality/perspectives in a story.

  7. 4write says:

    Interesting post. As a fellow INTJ, I also have “chameleon” skills, but not for societal consumption, i.e. I refuse to be someone other than myself, just to fit in; I use the mimicking ability for formal (or informal) acting and for sounding like a native when I learn a new foreign language.

  8. George says:

    Your post is very interesting. I have why do you expect everyone to come to the same conclusion?” And I retorted, “well if I came to this conclusion, why wouldn’t everyone else?”

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