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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