Dear Type Advisor

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.


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The Super Sensing Diet

“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.”


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Blue Skies and ENTPs

Blue sky

My husband and I were sitting in bed reading one night. For some reason, I stopped reading and started thinking about him. After awhile I had myself worked up into a state of gushing gratitude. I told him, “You know what, John, you are the best husband in the world. I’m grateful for everything you do for me and I want to do something for you. Please tell me one thing I can do to show you how much I love you.”

“Let me finish reading my paper,” he said.

Gushy moments are not John’s thing and talking about his good qualities just embarrasses him. He actually enjoys it more if I tease him about his faults.

Since I can’t thank John for being John, maybe I can thank his type. After all, he isn’t responsible for that. So thank you, ENTP personality type, for all of the good things you have brought to my life.

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people who see goodness everywhere they look. Unlike most spouses, John almost always comes home from work with good stories to tell about people (“He’s a smart guy,” or “She has amazing energy.”) When we’re at social events, I’m often surprised later at the positive qualities he notices about people. He’s not unrealistic, and has an almost psychic ability to spot troubled people, but most of what he sees is talent and effort.   

He does that for me too. He tells me good things about myself that I hadn’t noticed, or ignored because I was too busy thinking about my imperfections. Once I was telling him about a difficult decision I had to make. He didn’t comment, so I said, “Aren’t you going to say something?” He said, “I’m not worried. Whenever you have a problem you run around in confusion for awhile, but then a few days later you always have it figured out.” In my entire life, I have never felt such relief from another person’s comment. 

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people that love the new and the interesting. Living with John, I always hear about people finding clever solutions to problems. Last week he told me about a pianist who fell in love with Handel’s Water Music. She wanted to share her excitement with others, so she had her grand piano put on a moving platform and towed by a car. That way she could play the lovely tunes while being pulled around town.

Whenever I tell him about a new idea, he is very interested. When I was going through all of my new enthusiasm for psychological type or homeschooling our children, he was excited right along with me. (For an INFJ, that’s heaven.) He doesn’t devote his life to a few new ideas, as I have, but he’ll pull them out whenever he thinks it will help people move forward toward their goals.

His love of the new is always there, even in the oddest situations. We were at a dinner party on the day that Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs hit the news. Everyone except John was spouting off opinions. Finally someone said, “What do you think, John?”

“I guess I hadn’t thought about it,” he answered. “What amazed me was that my computer alerted me there was a big story about Tiger Woods in the news today. I’d never seen that before.”

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people who have so much belief in people, and in their ability to change the world for the better. In his work as a management consultant, people are often telling John, “We can’t do that,” and he is often telling them, “Yes you can.” By the time he gets done talking, they believe it too. He convinces them they can do greater things on a much larger scale than they had ever envisioned. (He’s learned not to do that with his family, however, at those times when they need comfort rather than inspiration.)

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people who are such creative problem solvers, who can take black and white and turn it into gold. Once, a friend was complaining about a man who had gone into an angry tirade during a meeting, so the group spent the rest of the meeting trying to placate him. John surprised us by saying, “Angry people are great for a group, because they have energy and want to do something. You just have to help them articulate the positive goals that they stand for, and then, ask them to help the group reach those goals.”

This is the way many of our conversations go. I feel anxious because a situation seems hopeless and conflicted, but a few minutes later, John turns it into a great opportunity to make the world a better place. 

When there is a really difficult problem that most people would run from, John runs toward it. He knows that he has the analytical skills to understand problems thoroughly, the creative ability to find innovative solutions, and the contagious enthusiasm to sell people on those solutions.

He tells me that his creativity doesn’t lie in pulling solutions out of his own mind, but in listening to people and drawing out the solutions that are already in the back of their minds. Then, because he gets so excited about them, he is able to get them excited about themselves.

John and I were talking about what we would compare each other to in nature, and I immediately said that when I think of him, I think of blue sky. After all, most human problems lie not in reality, but in our perceptions of reality, and no one can blow away our dark and discouraged perceptions and turn them into blue skies better than an ENTP.



Alfred Adler and the Crucial C’s

Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Alfred Adler have all contributed to our understanding of human nature. The first two names come to mind for a wide variety of contributions.

But I think Adler’s psychological principles are the most widely used in our day-to-day lives, and they are the least likely to be attributed to him.  To help with this, psychologist Betty Lou Bettner has translated some of his principles into simple language in order to teach parents how to “raise kids who can.”* In essence she provides a system for creating more functional, responsible, and capable families.

Here are her “Crucial C’s,” their Adlerian principle, and my take on how personality type can help people achieve those C’s.

Connect:  Everyone feels a need to belong and have a bond with others. When we feel secure, we can reach out and make friends.  These connections help foster a concern for the welfare of the community.

Yet when you’re the odd person out because your type is different from everyone else’s, it can be difficult to feel this Adlerian principle of belonging and developing social interest (a.k.a. Gemeinschaftsgefuhl). 

As an ST in counseling psychology grad school, I felt like a fish out of water; I had difficulty feeling like I belonged there.  I did not know then that I was working against typical type in a field where NF and NT were far more prevalent.  Hindsight has given me a different perspective, and I now understand how to get past those feelings.

Capable:  We all need to acquire skills so we can accomplish our goals. It is important to feel confident and self-reliant and to have self-control when things are not going our way.  The Adlerians talk about turning a felt negative into a perceived positive. 

I have the privilege of working in a program that develops community leadership in small towns in Minnesota.  A lot of my work consists of showing those who give so much to their communities that they are highly capable; they often don’t see it in themselves. 

Many who are Introverts are reluctant to claim their leadership skills because they have a view in their heads that leadership belongs to Extraverts.  Not true!!  Understanding that Introversion is how they gain energy is an eye opener for many. They see the value in their thoughtful, listening style and that knowledge helps them embrace their capabilities as they help create healthy communities.

Count:  Everyone needs to be valued and feel like they can make a difference.  Adler talks of finding significance.  The principle of social equality also prevails; we are on a horizontal ladder, not a vertical one in terms of relationships.  We are motivated to do our best. This is different than having to win and to best others.

Psychological type gives us each a way to both count and to contribute to the whole. And it reminds us that other types count and contribute as well.  All types are equally good.  We have a horizontal relationship, not a vertical one in which one type is better than another. 

Courage:  We all need to be hopeful, resilient, and be willing to try.  We need to cope with difficult times and learn from them.  We need “the courage to be imperfect,” and we get at least some of that courage through encouragement. 

Type gives us a roadmap showing what strengths might develop first and most effectively.  It also reminds us where we might not do so well; we are not perfect!  And that can free us up to try things that might not come naturally but are important for us to learn to do.  We can be encouraged to have courage.

I’ve found these four C’s to be quite helpful in reflecting on jobs that went well and those that didn’t, and on relationships that went well and those that didn’t.  If one or more C’s are missing, things do not always go so well.  Try them out on your own life, and see how type can help you uncover the missing C’s.

*B.L. Bettner and A. Lew (1989, 2005), Raising Kids Who Can, Newton Centre, MA: Connexions Press.


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Harnessing Critical Thinking

My daughter, Perrin, runs a program in mediation, and leads monthly meetings of the mediators, all of whom are lawyers. She was telling my husband John and me that the meetings are very discouraging because when she introduces a new proposal, everyone just wants to air their critical assessments. They get argumentative and judgmental; they don’t listen to each other; the conversation goes all over the place, and when it’s over, they haven’t decided on a single action to take.

It seems ironic that even mediators, who are trained in getting people to communicate and decide on a future course of action, have so much trouble doing the same when they are together.   

John, said, “It’s amazing how you can add really smart people to a room and the room becomes dumber.”
I said, “It could also be that most lawyers are TJs. They prize their ability to find flaws, and are usually valued for that ability in their work. They believe that they are moving things forward with their criticisms, and don’t see that it usually stops things in their tracks.”

John has been running groups all his working life, so Perrin asked him what she could do to make the meetings more productive. 

He told her, “Put them through an exercise that will do three things. It will help them express their thoughts, both positive and negative. It will help them listen to and learn from each other. Finally, it will help them be in action when they leave.”

“Please tell me about this exercise,” Perrin said.

“Start off by telling them that you would like to try something new in this meeting," said John. "Tell them that people’s default setting is naturally to be critical. That’s human – we want to make things better, but if we only discuss the negative we can lose the excitement that we need to pursue new projects. Tell them that you are going to present a proposal that could make this program even more powerful, and as you speak, you’d like them to be thinking about one question…What excites you about this proposal?

“Ask them if that makes sense to them. Get them saying yes.

“We call this ‘framing.’ It is creating the kind of positive listening you want to be speaking into.

“Then give your proposal in a 5-7 minute talk.

“When you are finished, tell them, ‘We’re going to take two minutes so you can write down what excites you about this proposal.’

“After two minutes, go around the room and get people’s answers. Write them down on a white board. When you are finished, look at the answers and ask people what the most common themes are.

“Now ask people to take two minutes to write down the one thing they would add to make this proposal even better.

“Go around the room and gather their answers. 

“Now ask people to write down what they would commit to do, or what they would request help with, so that we can implement this proposal by the next meeting. 

“Go around and get people’s commitments. Doing this allows everyone to leave in action, with a clear deadline."

Perrin tried this at the next meeting of the mediators and said she had never seen the group so animated and energized. Usually ideas for new projects dissolve into nothing with all the talk about how “It’s complicated,” and “We don’t have the resources.” But after asking three questions: What excites you about this proposal?, What would you add to make it even better?, and What would you commit to doing so it can be implemented by our next meeting?,  everyone was focused on the goal and what they could contribute, instead of all the little things that might go wrong.

Perrin also noticed that the commitments people made were all over the type table. For example, some people were working on the analytics and some were making phone calls to people. John told her, “Groups are difficult to get focused, but once you do, it’s worth it for the synergy of the different talents that are available to help you.”  

The new project was running by the next meeting of the mediators, and they were able to celebrate what had worked for them.

“The most important thing is to get people personally excited about a goal, and committed to helping in a specific way,” John said. “Once you do that, people find ways to overcome all the little obstacles along the way.”


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