I went back to my hometown recently for my nephew’s wedding, and I was in the company of my ten brothers and sisters. I hadn’t seen most of them in about five years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.
After the wedding, when I was back home, there were two thoughts that kept popping into my head. One was…
“People never change.”
The other was…
“Boy, have we changed.”
The first thought, “People never change” kept coming to me because it seemed that all of my brothers and sisters had the same virtues and vices they had when they were little kids and we were all running around that big house together. My ISTJ sister is still entertaining or annoying us with her many opinions. My ESFJ sister is still comforting or annoying us with her motherly attentions. My ISFP brother is still charming or annoying us with his gentle spirit. You get the picture, so I won’t go through all ten of them. All I can say is that I kept feeling déjà vu. I’d been there before.
It disturbs me to realize that people don’t change, because I’m an INFJ. My greatest joy in life is trying out new ideas for personal growth. The type theory was one of those ideas, so was learning to be a good listener, to express my needs without anger, to be self-loving, attuned to the present and content with the life I have. I feel like I have gone through tremendous changes in my life, and I’m a completely different person than I was when I was a kid.
But the truth is, I was relating to my brothers and sisters in exactly the same way I did when I was a kid, playing the role of the wise counselor or the person with big ideas for improving the world. Sometimes it was welcome, other times it was not, but I was dismayed at seeing how little I had changed.
In the type community, we talk of “type development.” We make it our goal to practice the strengths of our type only when it’s appropriate and to be flexible enough to call on something else when it’s needed. I love that goal, and the pursuit of it takes us to exciting places.
Let’s not delude ourselves, however, that our personalities are like soft clay that we can stretch and shape at will. I’m beginning to realize they are more like great hunks of granite, and although we may be able to make tiny chips around the edges, 99% of it remains exactly the same.
That brings me to the second thought that kept coming into my head after being with my family, which is, “Boy, have we changed.” Yes, we all had the same virtues and vices, but there was something very different in our gathering. There was a peace, an acceptance of each other that had not been present in any of the gatherings before this.
You know the prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I think that after five or six decades of trying to change each other, we finally had the wisdom to know that none of us were ever really going to change, and the serenity to say, “So be it.”
People talk about growing older only in terms of its bad side - the weakening body. They don’t talk about the fact that there is also a mind growing stronger, a mind that can finally accept both sides of people, and best of all, both sides of itself.
We know that personality type helps us realize that people aren’t
really trying to drive us crazy – they just see the world in a different
But does that excuse some behaviors that really are difficult, even though they are different?
And isn’t it sometimes true that a strength can really become a liability when overused?
I have a friend who is an ENFJ. She is so good at making people comfortable in her presence and in getting under their skin to their essence. This is quite helpful to her as a divorce attorney. However, when a friend visited with her recently, she left feeling like she had been with a “vibe sucker.” She felt absolutely drained. It wasn’t a matter of a different style; those behaviors became difficult.
As an ESTJ, I value efficiency and can be pretty good at attaining it in many things that I do. When I am driving somewhere with someone else who is not efficient in their routing, I become difficult. I offer unsolicited advice and occasionally even unsolicited criticism.
An INFP friend was so focused on his values that he cut off valuable allies who could help him realize his dreams of creating an egalitarian community. He became difficult to work with.
Years ago, my friend, the late Susan Brock, came up with a STOP model to help us identify when type was being misused – and to stop it. Here it is with my modifications:
S – Stop strutting your type. Yes, you can be proud of who you are -- some call it being psychologically patriotic. But you’re not the only one who does things well. And at some point in the future you’re bound to have a need to try other approaches that may not be natural ones, but nonetheless are what will be needed at the time.
And even more to the point, you’re bound to meet someone of your exact same type who might appear to be a complete jerk, turkey, wally (or whatever label you want to use). Learning to stop the strutting will likely save you some embarrassment in the future.
T – Talking about everyone’s type. This is about labeling and gossiping, which at times turn can into statements like, “what do you expect…she’s just a Thinking type! She doesn’t care about people and what she said in that last meeting just proves it.” No one likes being gossiped about. And stereotyping is not what type is all about!
O – Obsessing about type. Type doesn’t explain everything. Putting the type model on every little thing that people say and do just doesn’t work. Not all ESTJs love chocolate (or maybe they do!).
P – Pushing tasks on people because of type. This is the one where we might say, “Oh you’re the Extravert; you should give the oral report.” Or “Sensing…let’s see, that means you should take the notes at the meeting.” We all need skills in a variety of areas. To not encourage the Introvert to give the report or the Intuitive to take notes unnecessarily deprives them of a chance for development.
Let’s try to recognize when different is different and when difficult is difficult and not get them mixed up.
To the uninitiated (in type), I suppose this title is a bit risqué. I
am not talking about being a voyeur, but about the wonderful display of
the Feeling Function.
Let me begin with a slight digression. I recently started downhill skiing again – I was never very good at it, but my beau is and loves it, so using my Feeling function to create harmony I go skiing in the Colorado Rockies once a year. We typically stay in an apartment with another couple, Kathy and Dave.
Each morning, I watched Kathy go off to the slopes with her backpack. I asked why she did so and what was in it.
She gave a one word answer…”Raymond!” And then told me the story. One day several years ago, Kathy was going up the chair lift with a friend. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a young man lying on the snow at the side of a steep mogul run. (Moguls are mounds of hard compacted snow that take much skill to maneuver around.) Kathy is a nurse and she is a Feeling type. She and her friend skied down to the young man as quickly as they could.
He was wearing only cotton sweat pants and a sweatshirt with no gloves or hat. He was unresponsive, clearly suffering from hypothermia. Kathy sent her friend to get the ski patrol there are quickly as possible.
Kathy said to him, “Hi, my name is Kathy and I’m a nurse. What’s your name?”
He mumbled, “Raymond.”
Kathy said, “Raymond, you need to do exactly as I say. I’m going to lie down in the snow with my jacket open. You are to lie on top of me and put your hands between my legs. You are suffering from hypothermia and I need to get you warmed up quickly.”
Raymond did as he was told. Kathy kept up a conversation with him including, “You may tell your friends whatever you wish about this.”
Think about it…how many young men are invited into such a position with an older woman and encouraged to talk about it!!
Just then, Kathy’s husband, Dave, was riding up the ski lift with a friend. The friend looked over and said, “Isn’t that Kathy lying on her back with a young man on top of her?” They skied over.
The ski patrol was slow in coming but eventually they arrived. They took the young man down the hill, reading him the “riot act” telling him they always had extra clothing to loan out and that he could have died.
As a thank you, ski patrol gave Kathy certificates for complimentary hot chocolate drinks for her entire party at the local ski chalet.
At the end of the day, Kathy and her party walked in to have their drinks. When they did so, they received a standing ovation from other skiers who had seen the drama.
Then some of the women from the honoring party came over, and said, “Our husbands want to know where you’re skiing tomorrow. They think their hands will be really cold!” Kathy just laughed. But now she carries a small warming blanket in her backpack to help the future Raymonds.
Kathy used her Feeling function (and her nursing skills) to make Raymond comfortable and she is continually invited to tell that story, forming a bond with others who join the skiing group each year. Her story draws us together. What a wonderful use of Feeling!!
Every day, after lunch, I read all of the advice columns in the Washington Post. I enjoy it when a columnist can see through conflicting thoughts and feelings to the ones that are most important, and then guide people to be their best self.
Since I’m having an interpersonal dilemma right now where I’m trying to sort through conflicting thoughts and feelings, I pretended that I wrote to an advice columnist. Then I pretended that I wrote the reply. Oddly enough, it helped.
Dear Type Advisor,
My dear friend, a cheerful, loving ESFP, is having a lot of trouble in her family. She and her daughter had a quarrel before the holidays, and now the daughter is not speaking to her. At around the same time, my friend also quarreled with her husband and walked out on him for several nights.
I arranged to have lunch with my friend, but she never talked about the quarrel with the daughter. Instead, she told me that her husband is systematically trying to make her think she is losing her mind. He is stealing things from her and replacing them several days later in a different place from where she had left them. When he denied it, she told him she didn’t believe him, and he got so angry he chased her down the hall. She felt she had to leave for a “safe house,” a place she wasn’t even going to reveal to me.
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this because my friend is notorious for losing things. It’s something everyone has been teasing her about for years. The husband is very close to the daughter, but why he would want to make his wife feel crazy was beyond me.
I’m feeling torn by so many thoughts. I love being around this woman, because she always makes me feel wanted and admired. I’ve known the family for 15 years, and from what I saw, she did the same for her husband and children. She would light up when they came in the room, and was always 100% on their side. Her daughter was her close friend, and her husband was good-natured and supportive. It really hurts to see them all demonizing each other.
The questions I’m asking myself are: Is there anything I can do to
help? Should I even try? Is my friend going crazy, even though she
sounds completely lucid? Is her husband really trying to make her crazy,
even though I’ve never seen him do an unkind thing? Is she lying to me,
her best friend? Should I continue a relationship with someone who
would lie to me, or lie about her husband?
An NF wanting to help
Dear NF wanting to help,
You might find some perspective on your ESFP friend in the book Survival Games Personalities Play, by Eve Delunas. It sounds like your friend feels very threatened by her daughter’s anger, and that the husband is siding with the daughter. It’s possible that your friend feels backed into a corner, and is playing some SP “survival games” to protect her ego, whether or not she is aware of it.
By putting the spotlight on her husband, she might be distracting everyone from the possibility that she did anything wrong in her mothering. She might be using words like “safe house” because it shocks people, something SPs like to do. Also, it immediately makes her look like an innocent victim instead of a villain, a role that she feels her daughter and husband are trying to force her into.
Some SPs who feel threatened can be great con artists, and they are especially good at conning NFs, so be careful there. It won’t do much good to confront her about it, because she will probably continue evading responsibility.
The best thing you can do is to try and make her ego feel less threatened, so she can stop playing defensive games. Don’t address the stories she is telling you. Just tell her all the good things you witnessed her do over the years, as a mother and a wife. Hopefully, it will help her recover her equilibrium, and deal with her problems more wisely.
Beyond that, you should resist that NF desire to rush in and save people. Watch instead as they save themselves, even if it may not be the way you would want them to.
Editors note: Another good resource is CAPT's Building Better Relationships, a "Type for Life" guide that provides type-specific insights for couples, with descriptions of the effects of each of your MBTI preferences on your relationship.
“What did you do over the weekend?” I asked my daughter. “Well, let’s
see,” she said. “Friday, Rich and I had dinner at an Indian restaurant
called Rasika. We had fried spinach appetizers, black cod with green
curry, garlic naans and truffle naans, duck with anise sauce, fish
curry, black toffee date pudding, cocktails and wine.
“Saturday, I went with friends to a restaurant called Medium Rare, which specializes in an amazing sliced steak with a wine cream sauce, and hand cut frittes on the side. We had a bottle of wine, and ice cream sundaes for dessert.
“Sunday morning, we had a three hour brunch at a place called Zengo’s. We had small plates of sushi, a steamed bun filled with scrambled eggs and bacon, sesame tofu with bok choy, little corn cakes with pulled braised meat on top called arepas, Nutella waffles, lobster grits, mimosas, sake sangrias and Bloody Marys.”
“Good grief!” I said. “Why aren’t you as big as a house?”
Believe it or not, this is a typical weekend for my daughter. She lives in Washington D.C., which is becoming one of the top cities in the country for food, and eats out at least once a week in a highly rated restaurant. I am stunned at the amount of food that she and her crowd consume in a weekend, and amazed that they’re all still slender.
“No seriously,” I said. “How do you do you eat so much food without gaining weight. You have to tell me your secret. You’re not bulimic or anything like that, are you?”
“It surprises me too,” she said, “but I don’t gain weight when I eat out. I only gain weight when I’m sitting at home with a box of crackers. I think it’s because when I eat out, I don’t eat that much food. I eat a lot of different kinds of food, but it’s all small servings, and I’m paying so much attention to the food that I don’t eat a lot.”
“What do you mean, you’re paying attention?” I asked.
“Well, first I’m looking at the presentation on the plate. When I taste it, I’m trying to figure out what the ingredients are, and if they go together well. I’m asking myself if it’s cooked right, if the textures are right, and if the side dishes and wine complement it.”
"That’s really different from me,” I said. “When I eat out, I only have two thoughts: ‘This is good’, and ‘I want more.”’
I’m an INFJ and my daughter is an ISFJ. When I’m paying attention, it’s usually to something abstract, like words or ideas. When she’s paying attention, it’s usually to something concrete, and her favorite concrete pleasure is food.
I don’t pay much attention to food. I have eating habits so I don’t have to think much about it. When I’m eating, I’m almost always doing something else, like reading, watching TV or having conversations.
The holidays are big problem though, because if you’re not paying attention, you’ll gain weight, which like most people, I do every year. When my daughter told me that she doesn’t gain weight eating high calorie food simply because she pays attention to it, I began to wonder if that might work for me.
I did my first experiment at Thanksgiving when I was handed an apple cider and champagne cocktail. Instead of letting it rush through my mouth, I held it there for a few seconds and allowed my taste buds to “take a picture” of it. I tried to describe it in words, as if I were a food critic. I identified the wonderful freshness of the apple flavor, and the sharpness that the champagne added to it. I could tell that the hostess had added a little cinnamon and orange peel. Since I’m intuitive, I asked myself what it reminded me of, and remembered a day when we went to a friend’s farm and put apples through a press. I remembered the big bucket of gushy peels left over after the juice was squeezed out.
I tried to do this all through the meal (although it’s difficult when you’re in company because you’re also paying attention to the conversation). I noticed that in turkey stuffing, the ingredients stand out in interesting textures and flavors, while in mashed potatoes, the ingredients blend into one creamy whole.
Two things happened because of my new attention to food. First, I ate less. When you’re savoring every bite, you don’t want to eat as much, and you’re more aware of when you’ve had enough. It’s the first Thanksgiving when I didn’t go back for seconds.
Second, I enjoyed it more. I never had so much pleasure with a meal as I did with this year’s Thanksgiving. And because I spent so much time on the flavors and textures, I can recall them better, and relive the pleasure in memory.
If you’re a sensing type, you’re probably doing this without even being aware of it. If you’re intuitive, you’re probably not doing this without being aware of it. Give yourself a real present this Christmas. Let your senses revel in the sights, smells, textures and tastes of the wonderful food all around you. You’ll eat less and enjoy it more it more if you “super sense it.”