Entries for month: April 2013

Balloons Bursting

My 25-year-old daughter is living back at home temporarily. She’s an ISFJ and I’m an INFJ, and we usually have a great time when we’re together...talking for hours, walking the dogs, and watching Downton Abbey. However, as F’s, we’re both very sensitive, and if either of us shows a little anger, the other one takes it very hard. 

When the hurt feelings blow up into an argument, we do all the usual nonsense, like telling our victim stories, and going back and forth on who’s in the wrong. Eventually, however, we get to a point where the nonsense stops. Instead of talking about how unjust the other person was, we begin talking about the real problem, which is how unjust we are on ourselves. We admit things like, “When you said that, I felt like the worst person in the world,” or "It seemed like I’d been all wrong about myself."

Those moments of candor and openness are wonderful. We can almost hear angels singing when they happen, because from that point on, we stop defending ourselves, and start taking care of each other.  

I've noticed that when my daughter tells me how she interprets my criticism, I always end up telling her, “But that’s not what I meant. I don’t think you’re a bad person. I just want you to do one small thing differently.” And she’s equally surprised by the way I interpret her criticism.     

I'm glad my daughter and I can get those severe interpretations out in the open, so we can see how crazy they are, and reassure each other that they’re not true. But now, I’m starting to wonder, why do we make them? Why do we have to feel like the worst people in the world because someone asked us to put the defrosting meat onto a plate, or not to use Windex on the kitchen counters?

I remembered something that Elizabeth Murphy, the co-author of the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children® assessment, once said to me when I was interviewing her for an issue of The Type Reporter.  “When Ts get criticized," she said, "it's like they take a few buckets of sand from a pile. When Fs get criticized, it's like you stuck a pin in their balloon."

Now I’m wondering, does it really have to be like that for Fs? Is there anything we can tell ourselves to stop feeling like a deflated balloon every time we're not in perfect harmony with other people? Is there anything we can do to stop taking small criticisms from others and turning them into exaggerated criticisms of ourselves?

It’s obvious that the first thing we have to do is what my daughter and I did, and ask ourselves, How am I interpreting this? To do that, we have to recall the moment right after the criticism was received. Then, as painful as it may be, we have to describe how we felt in that shocked moment about ourselves. We know we’ve got it right when we come up with something very humbling, like “worthless” “a fool,” or “the worst person in the world.”

Now that our first interpretation is out in the open, we can examine it, and ask ourselves another question: Is that true? Are we the worst people in the world? The answer is probably, “Of course not.” We are not even close to being the terrible people that we feel like. If we make a list of the things we did right just today, we soon realize that we are competent and caring people who spend our days adding to the lives of others, and trying to live life to its fullest. 

Finally, we can ask ourselves, If that's not true, what is? If the other person is not telling us that we're completely bad people, what are they telling us? That's when we can see that they're not asking us to change our whole being, only one small behavior, and we don't have to feel like we're stupid or insensitive because we couldn't see this coming. None of us can know the needs of everyone else all the time.

I tried those three questions on myself recently after my daughter showed some anger at me. At first, the balloon burst, and it probably always will. But after about ten minutes, I was able to ask myself, How am I interpreting this? Is that true? and If that isn't true, what is? As I answered the questions, my interpretation of what happened started to change. It went from, “I’m all bad, and anyone who can make me feel that way is all bad,” to, “She loves me, but she's asking me to do one small thing differently because it really upsets her."

If you're the one giving negative feedback to an F, please don't tell them they are being too extreme in their reactions. That is the last thing they need to hear. Instead, try to give them an overall positive picture of themselves, and after they hear that, describe the  one small thing that upsets you ? for example, "I love the way the kitchen smells when you're cooking; it's like heaven. It's just the Windex on the counters...for me, that smell doesn't go with food." 

You can also resist the urge to preach about how wrong their behavior is according to logic, morality, or some objective standard, (“Windex wasn’t made for counters!”) and instead describe to them how it hurts you. (“I lose my appetite when I smell ammonia.”) One thing I have learned about feeling types is that we're not going to change because someone tells us that we're wrong, but once we understand that another person is hurting from our behavior, we want to do whatever we can to ease their pain.

When it comes to receiving criticism, we Fs can learn a lot from Ts. Instead of letting our balloons burst, we can try taking one bucket of sand from the pile. We can try telling ourselves, "I'm a good person who is being asked to do one small thing differently, because someone else seems to need it."


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Movies, Books, and Empathy

I love to read, and I love going to movies.  For some, movies may be pure entertainment.  For me, they are also a means for developing empathy. 

My Mother was an INFP.  I probably presented a challenge for her as an ESTJ, but she would continually demonstrate other ways of viewing people and situations.  Not that I always agreed with her, but I did listen, and eventually came to highly value her views.  She liked reading and movies, too!

As an ESTJ, I love my dominant Thinking function.  I use it to organize as much of my world as I can, to critique what is “not right,” and to move forward directly to get things done. 

My fourth/inferior function is introverted Feeling. Introverted Feeling is about knowing what really matters, and empathy may be a path to guide me there.  It can help me identify my values and see what is important to others and how they may see the world.

Roger EbertI got to thinking about empathy development while reading the obituaries of Roger Ebert, a Pulitzer Prize winning movie critic.  Although we’ve never met, I have a special place in my heart for Roger because he was born in my hometown of Urbana, Illinois and graduated from the same public school, Urbana High School.

He also sponsored the “Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival” there; it was always interesting to read about his picks and why he made them.  As a dominant Thinking type, those “whys” were always fascinating. 

Ebert judged films in this way: “Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie to you.”  He talked about film as a way to develop empathy. To paraphrase him—where else can you actually grasp what it’s like to be someone other than yourself? You can see things from the viewpoint of the opposite gender, a different culture, a different race, in different situations, and in different times. 

Feeling types tend to pay direct attention to their feelings (in this case, I am talking about their emotions) as a guide to what’s important to them, to their values; they can then make their decisions using their rational Feeling function.  

Thinking types tend not to trust their emotions in the same way; we have to learn to pay more attention to those emotions and what they are telling us about our values and what others believe is important.  They can bring us valuable information that we can then put into a logical framework.

Reading is also a way to develop empathy.  I once heard Garrison Keillor complain (at a Democratic Party fundraiser) that Republicans must not read since they don’t seem to have much empathy for others. Reading, like films, provides those differing viewpoints and gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in them.

So, my excuse for reading and going to the movies is: type development!!  I like having reasons for all that I do!!! 


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Theories – I Don’t Understand Them!!

As an ESTJ, I am much more into action then into theories.  When people start spouting theories, I find myself tuning out and/or longing for a good example so I can get a toehold on figuring out what it is they are actually talking about. 

There’s an S-N facet of the MBTI® Step II™ instrument called “Experiential-Theoretical.”  It’s about how we formulate meaning, theories and patterns out of whatever we are doing, seeing, or thinking.   On the Experiential side, the pattern/theory comes from trying things out, from seeing how they work. 

Yes, you guessed it: I’m Experiential.  I used to hate doing type exercises because I couldn’t or didn’t see the patterns that participants’ words were forming, and the whole point of the exercise was to illustrate the theory of type.

To illustrate the differences between Sensing and Intuition we often show a complex picture.  The Sensors describe the details, and the Intuitives provide a story about the picture. But what about those Intuitives who identified the details too!  Gulp!  How to process that?  It was only after observing other facilitators and then leading the exercise several times myself that I could see what was happening. 

Quite often those “detail” people were the Intuitive Thinking types.  NTs value competence and mastery and think they have to show that competence through the naming of details – it’s like that children’s game where you are shown a tray of items and the prize goes to the person who remembers the most items.  But the real energy and fun for the NTs comes from the patterns they see in the objects and the associations they make.    

Now I am quite happy to facilitate those exercises because I have seen it all – okay, not quite, but almost! 

There is something called “Experiential Learning,” but that’s really theoretical learning as far as I can see.  It’s about doing some unrelated task, such as going on a ropes course with your co-workers, and then applying that to how you work as a team in the office.  You try to find the patterns in activities that are totally unrelated to your work in the office. 

For me, it makes a lot more sense to present a team with a task they do regularly so I can directly see how they work together.  We don’t have to interpret and extrapolate!  We just have to notice what is happening.

Years ago, when Naomi Quenk and I were writing the Step II Interpretive Report, we discovered our differences in this Experiential-Theoretical scale.  I said, “A good theory is one that summarizes reality.”  She (a Theoretical) would say, “Reality verifies a good theory.” 

The kinds of theories I like are those that are quickly applicable.  For example, my minister was recently preaching about prayer. As far as I can tell, ministers and theologians spend lots of time theorizing about prayer.  She categorized prayers into four types:  “Please, Thanks, Oops, and Wow!” 

I’ll let your Theoretical side take it from there.  But actually, I could apply all four of those to psychological type and its impact on my life.  That’s something I understand—a theory that summarizes reality!

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