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?