Entries for month: June 2014

Fixing People

My bed was annoying me last night, so this morning I stripped everything off it and remade it again, with the sheets tucked in tight and the quilt coming just to my chin. When I went to open the windows, the dusty screens annoyed me, so I took them off the windows and brushed them clean. The car was annoying me with a funny sound, so this afternoon I took it up to the service station and got it tuned up.

Even though I might gripe about all of the annoying little problems in life, I do like the feeling of being able to fix them. With just a little effort, I can eliminate a problem. One day it’s here; the next day it’s gone. Lovely. 

I wish people were as easy to fix. I could strip off my friend’s talky-ness and adjust it so I can get a word in edgewise. I could take my daughter out and brush off her pickiness. I could take my husband up to the personality station and get his punctuality tuned up. 

Unlike objects, however, people get insulted at the very idea that you would try to fix them. They storm around and tell you you’re crazy for finding fault with them, and remind you of every good thing they’ve ever done for you. They give you the silent treatment or tell you to, “Go fix yourself.” (These are all things I do if anyone tries to fix me.)

People do not allow you to fix them; only they are allowed to fix themselves. That means that you have to somehow find a way to make them want to go to the trouble.

Can type be of any help? Yes it can, but not in the way you would think. You would think that type would be helpful in trying to determine what’s important to the other person and then presenting your case in those terms. For example, if you’re an intuitive, you might try to make a factual case to a sensing friend for why he shouldn’t tell you, “That won’t work” every time you talk about ideas for change.

The trouble with that approach is, there is nothing more annoying than hearing someone deliberately try to “talk your talk.” They never get it right, and it comes across as manipulative and insulting.

Type cannot help us in trying to be someone else, because that’s a fruitless task. Type can, however, help us in being ourselves. We need to be ourselves when we ask people to change, because the only reason they will go through the trouble is that they can see that their behavior is hurting us and they care about us, or they care about the work we do for them. When we ask people to change, we want them to be thinking about our needs, not their failures.  

Type can be enormously helpful in sorting through messy feelings and getting clear about why we are hurting. It can also give us the confidence to speak up, because in the great plan of psychological types, there are good reasons why we are the way we are.   

If you sit down and go through each letter of your type and list its needs, you can probably spot the needs that are not getting met in this particular relationship. For example, our frustrated N will see that intuitives really need to think about the future and how it can be improved, and the world needs to have people thinking about the future. 

When you think you can communicate your needs clearly, you don’t even need to use type jargon. You can just say something like, “Imagining a better world is the most important thing in life for me, and I need to share my thoughts with you, because you’re also important to me. Instead of talking about the flaws in my ideas right away, could we spend some time talking about how our lives would be better if they were real? It would make a big difference to me.”

Type has never been a tool to manipulate people by acting as if we are someone else. Type has always been a tool to understand ourselves better, and once in awhile, to communicate that understanding to others. Expressing our needs clearly and honestly doesn’t work all the time in “fixing” relationships, but in my experience it’s the only thing that ever works.  



Wedding Gifts

We’ve been to a lot of weddings lately (my kids are in their 20’s) and I’m beginning to notice something about them. These are occasions where you are very likely to notice things about extraverts and introverts. 

Last weekend we went to the wedding of my son’s best friend. During the reception after the ceremony, I stood and chatted for about 30 minutes with people I knew. Then I went looking for a chair. A few minutes after I sat down, a young woman sitting next to me introduced herself and we started talking. Later, I realized that my time with this stranger was the high point of the evening. She was always smiling, laughing, asking questions or telling stories. It was just the easiest thing in the world to fall into a long conversation with her, and in the back of my mind, I was thinking, “What a great extravert.” 

Her fiancé walked up and she introduced him. He was not at all like her. He was shy and awkward and it was difficult to get into conversation with him. But it wasn’t necessary, because she made conversation flow like a river after a rain. I could see why he would feel at home with her. I was guessing that he’s an I-T and as such, might excel in some high-earning technical field. That’s the thing I like best about type, because sometimes you can see people’s weaknesses and in the same moment, be reminded of their strengths.

Actually, that’s not the thing I like best about type. The thing I like best is how it helped me when my daughter was young. She’s an ISFJ, and when she was little, I worried about her shyness. I remember how anxious I felt at birthday parties when she’d refuse to leave my lap and run around with the other kids, or when I saw her standing quietly on the outside of groups. But the type literature always advised me not to worry or intervene, because introverted children will find their way socially; it will just take longer. I looked over at my daughter at the wedding, greeting people with all the charm and graciousness of a society hostess, and I was glad I’d had that calming advice when she was growing up.   

My ESFJ son was the best man, and after dinner, he gave a speech. He started off saying, “I’m sorry, I thought this was a roast,” and had people laughing or getting misty-eyed from that moment on. He was clearly in his element standing in front of a crowd, and parental pride aside, it’s a treat to see people in their element, at their best, in full bloom… it really is.

The bride and groom came up to say hello to me, and I realized something interesting. I’d only met the bride about a year ago, and since then I’d only seen her about three times, yet I felt like I’d known her forever. The groom, who was my son’s best friend, I’d known for 15 years. He’d played at my home several times a week. I’d watched all his basketball games, been there when his father died, when he and his brother fought over a girl, and when he graduated from high school. I’d even taught him writing for four years and wrote a recommendation for his college applications. I can truly say that I love this young INTJ, but after all that time, it’s surprising how little I feel that I know him.

After about three hours of meeting and greeting, I started to think about home. I always feel a little guilty at big gatherings, because so much work and expense went into giving me a good time, yet I just want it to be over soon. Then, on the way home, I wonder, “What’s wrong with me that I feel so empty?” That brings me to the first reason that I fell in love with type. It explained why. The book that introduced me to type was Please Understand Me, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, and I always remember this line about introverts after parties…

He is no party pooper; rather, he was pooped by the party.

For about the thousandth time since I read that line, I forgave myself for not being able to fully enjoy the gathering while it was happening. I also knew that in the next few days, when I was alone, and reflecting on this beautiful event, I would have the time of my life.


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