I am at the age where many of us are struggling with caring for our
parents, either from long distance or from up close and personal.
Recently the mother of one of my long-time friends (of 50+ years)
suffered a health crisis. Other friends have chimed in offering long
Here’s one of the emails she got (with names removed) from our friend Elizabeth, an ESFJ. Elizabeth, who has a Master’s degree in audiology, was her parents’ primary caregiver for 18 years. I have Elizabeth’s permission to print it.
“...thanks for keeping us in the loop...I'm glad your mom is home and I can only imagine how hard that was for your dad and your mom to be apart that long [first time in 67 years]. I guess it is a testimony to something...no matter how cranky our parents can get with each other (and mine certainly did get that way at times) they are anchors for each other.
I'm sure your mom is facing a lot. I know there were plenty of times I didn't understand my mother's lack of enthusiasm or even interest in doing things that might have made her life "better" ...I think at some point I finally got a glimpse that she had lost so much of her life as SHE wanted it that "improvements" weren't her focus.
I would sometimes have to tell her that if she didn't have the strength to help get out of her wheel chair that I would no longer be able to care for her at home...it was true and sometimes motivating to her.
In the end, I had to accept the fact that Mama wasn't really working to get better or to make it easier for me. She was on her own path and not one that I always loved even though I always loved her.
I remember clearly the day I called my brother in California in tears and told him I couldn't do it any longer...Mama had spit out her daily pills....I was so frustrated at what I saw as her non-compliance. The truth was that she was done and I just wasn't programmed to get that message because of my own plan for her.
I think it is hard for us in our good health and relative youth to imagine what life might look like from their perspectives...I think Mama was so depressed with all she couldn't do that she didn't see the glimmer of what might be possible. It is a hard place for them and hard for us caregivers.
I totally get the frustration and the difficult part you and [your sisters] are sharing. I literally spent the first five years of my caregiving being mad...mad at my sister for not helping and mad that I couldn't reshape my parents into the people I needed them to be.
I didn't like the realities of the caregiving....I fought how hard it was. It wasn't until year 6 that I regrouped and figured out that caregiving was what I was doing and once I really embraced that it was easier....and even though it seems like it will go on forever, it won't….”
I am blessed with these friends who live their empathy, who are willing to readjust their thinking, and who provide love to those around them.
I never talk about politics outside of my family, but during election years people often let their views get into the conversation. Then I’m stuck with hard knots in my stomach concerning friends and relatives that I usually get along with. There are so many good reasons to be annoyed at people, why do we have to add silly reasons, choosing sides in the game of politics and wishing the worst on each other for nothing that we have actually done or ever will do. I wish I could move to another place during election years, and just come back when it’s all over.
I don’t know how it is for people of other types, but for an NF, who wants to feel in harmony with the human race, politics can cause a very painful disconnect from half of humanity. I have been trying my whole life to find some way to keep the good feelings toward my friends and relatives going through election years.
There is one thing that has helped a lot in recent years. It’s an insight I heard from Craig Rider, CEO of the consulting firm, the Rider Group, and an ENFP. I was interviewing him for an issue of The Type Reporter with the theme, “Our Favorite Type Breakthroughs.” I loved his insight so much that I made it the last paragraph of the last issue of The Type Reporter…
we asked people to get into type-alike groups and start writing down how
they would describe their ideal community. The Fs came up with things
like “inclusion,” “beauty” and “diversity.” The Ts came up with things
like “good infrastructure,” “solid financial situation” and “low crime
noticed however, that after awhile, the Fs started writing down
Thinking-related things, and the Ts started writing down Feeling-related
things. You could draw a line at the point where they started to switch
over to the other side.
I had a big breakthrough that day. I realized that most of our conversations take place above the line, where we’re talking about our priorities, and that’s why we start digging trenches and getting into arguments. If you let people go for about five minutes more however, it becomes clear that they all want the same list of things; they just differ on what is most important. If we could remember that, it would make it a lot easier to keep listening to each other, and problems would get solved a lot faster.
When I showed this to my husband, John, he loved it too because he’s often experienced it in his consulting work. “We tell people they are in ‘violent agreement,’” John said. “They really agree, but they can’t let themselves see that because they’re passionate about their own priorities. They need a facilitator to put their ideas on the board and point out how they are both important to the organization’s goals, and to focus the group on how they can do both.
“What it boils down to is that people need to acknowledge each other’s points of view. It’s as simple as that. If people could just preface their opinions with something like, ‘I agree that what you are saying is important because….’ the other person would feel that they were heard, and be more able to listen to other ideas.”
I don’t use Rider’s insight to calm a group, but I use it to calm myself. When I feel myself reacting like Pavlov’s dog to political differences, I try to remind myself that we all have the same items on our list for an Ideal America, but different things on the top half. The people from the “other” party, so angry and certain that the world is going to hell, are protecting things I also want to preserve, but I am not inspired to take care of myself. If I can get past the nastiness, I can see through to a natural order, very much like the type theory, where all of the work is divided and all of the work is taken care of. It’s a much better place to spend an election year.
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!!