Friday, June 21, 2013

More typology, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the F

So, about my conclusion a few months ago that I'm an INTP... I have come to realize that I was mistake about that. I now consider myself an INFJ.

I can assure you, this is as much a surprise to me as it probably is to you, loyal reader.
How can this be, you may ask? How can the author of such an unashamedly cerebral blog be a "Feeler"? Didn't you decide you much more strongly resembled an INTP? Are you just being wishy-washy and picking whatever type you feel like at the moment?

My mistake last time was deciding based on outward manifestations of the types. My whole method involved taking the descriptors in the MBTI images like the one shown above and averaging how much each one seemed to resemble me. But these things--and the four letter dichotomies themselves--are descriptors, not definitions. Stereotypes like J's being organized, F's being soft and shallow thinkers, or I's needing lots of alone time merely describe common epiphenomena (outward effects) of how personality really works. The descriptions of the 16 types that are just based on the four dichotomies read like horoscopes--they're sufficiently general that it's easy to "see yourself" in lots of them, and there is great potential for bias toward whatever you tested as.

For a better picture, we need to look at the history of the MBTI. Carl Jung, a disciple of Freud, originally postulated four "cognitive functions" that make up personality:
  • The perceiving functions, sensing and intuition
  • The judging functions, thinking and feeling
Jung believed that every person manifested each of these functions in an introverted or extroverted form. In other words, no one is "just" a thinker or a feeler, or a senser or an intuitive. Everyone uses all four of these functions, but they may be directed inwardly or outwardly. The contribution of Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers was to distill Jung's theory of cognitive functions into three letter combinations--E/I, S/N, and T/F--and to add a fourth, J/P, that describes a person's preferred extroverted function, perceiving or judging.

I'm going to explain my journey to INFJ in two ways: the thinking way and the intuitive way.

The Thinking Way

Anyway, thinking about types in terms of these cognitive functions rather than the simple dichotomies of the individual letters and their attendant stereotypes is generally accepted (at least around all the internet forums full of profiling and psychology nerds) to be a more reliable way of determining your type. Someone recommended a test to me that I really liked that scores you based on your preferences the eight cognitive functions (four introverted, four extroverted). I took it and got the following scores (averaged over two iterations on successive days):
Introverted Intuition (Ni)44.75
Introverted Thinking (Ti)42.8
Extroverted Intuition (Ne)34.65
Introverted Feeling (Fi)30.35
Extroverted Feeling (Fe)28.6
Extroverted Thinking (Te)24.55
Introverted Sensing (Si)22.4
Extroverted Sensing (Se)12.5
These results, especially the high introverted thinking and intuition, confirmed what I'd been suspecting. (Of course there is a risk of cognitive bias here) Bear with me; I realize I'm sounding more like an INTJ here. The standard MBTI model assigns four of these eight functions to each type: one of each function, two introverted and two extroverted. The dominant and auxiliary (first and second) functions correspond to the middle letters in your MBTI type; for introverts, the dominant function is introverted and the auxiliary is extroverted. For J's, the judging function (thinking or feeling) is the extroverted secondary; for P's the perceiving function (sensing or intuition) is extroverted. These functions and their order, from most to least preferred, comprise your "function stack". So the introvert's dominant function, the one they are most accustomed to, is the one opposite their J/P distinction, which is one reason why focusing on the four-letter codes is confusing.

With this in mind, it's a bit inconvenient that my top four functions only cover three of the letters and include only one extroverted function. Whatever type I end up as is only going to be an approximation. But which is the smallest approximation? As I asked for advice, the three closest (and their function stack) were:
  • INTP (Ti Ne Si Fe)
  • INTJ (Ni Te Fi Se)
  • INFJ (Ni Fe Ti Se)
Looking at the interaction of the functions provided more clarity than the simple dichotomies of the letters, like a "back door" to my type. For example, I always thought of myself as "a thinker", but this model affirmed that I was both and asked which one I was more of outwardly. INFJ was surprising, but interesting in that it had both Ti and Ni, which, if you have read much of this blog, you will recognize as strengths of mine. I recognized Ni in particular as being "me" from all the descriptions: a continual open-minded shifting of perspectives to see past apparent contradictions and redefine problems in interesting ways. For this reason, INTP, lacking Ni, seemed like an increasingly poor descriptor for me. Someone suggested ISTP because it had both Ti and Ni, but its function stack is Ti Se Ni Fe, and my intuition is definitely more prominent than that. (Notice how above both sensing functions were dead last on the test I in point, today I almost got hit by a train because I was lost in thought while walking down the street)

That left the two INxJ types that had Ni as their dominant trait, which I thought seemed very likely for me. But, even though I have always thought of myself as a "thinker", INTJ seemed like a poor fit. The functional description of extroverted thinking describes a focus on logical, straight-line arguments and appeals to evidence and empirical verifiability to make efficient plans and get others to see things your way. That barely sounds like me on my blog (recall my posts addressing the limits of empirical knowledge), much less in the rest of life, where I rarely even share my line of reasoning about something unless asked. Plus the INTJ lacks introverted thinking, which sounds much more like me.

That left INFJ (interesting article on the differences and similarities with INTP). The only difficulty in seeing myself as one was the fact that I don't consider myself a very warm or emotional person--but is this because I'm intrinsically not, or only because I've always been typecast (by myself and others) as a rational? After consulting some INFJs, they generally agreed that I sounded like one of them, but with an especially developed Ti function so that I seemed more like an INTP. So, effectively, the middle two parts of my function stack are reversed, resulting in Ni Ti Fe Se. Having my dominant and auxiliary traits be introverted also explains why I seem to live in my head even more than most introverts.

The Intuitive Way

The more I've thought about it, the more INFJ (albeit an especially cerebral one) seems to "fit" me--not in a superficial way like the type horoscopes, but on a deeper level that makes a lot of sense of my life and also challenges me. I'm not interested in directly implementing my ideas like an INTJ, and I'm not merely interested in ideas for the sake of ideas like an INTP (or I would probably have a BS in mathematics now); I'm interested in ideas for the sake of people who are affected by them indirectly or directly by believing them.

The extroverted feeling function is concerned with politeness, social conventions, and public ethics. For me, this often manifests as being "diplomatic" about my ideas; I try to explain them in a sensitive and warm way that people will respond positively to, even if it means withholding their full extent--because, I figure, they are more likely to be believed that way. It means trying to see every idea in the best possible way, even ones I disagree with like Calvinism, because much conflict can be avoided if we respect people regardless of what they think and don't settle for caricatures of peoples' beliefs but respect them. It means I don't mind when people disagree with me, but I can barely sleep at night if I have an outstanding interpersonal conflict with someone. Extroverted feeling guides how I go about sharing and implementing my thoughts and ideas. This blog tends to be a nice "safe place" to do so.

Meanwhile, having introverted intuition and thinking as my top two functions is kind of fun. Especially since my whole episode of doubt and the new perspective on faith and the Bible it opened up, I've been able to successfully combine them into something resembling a superpower. My intuition leads me on convoluted paths of abstract reasoning around and above simple dichotomies, restricting definitions, boxes that constrain thinking, naive analogies, and apparent paradoxes that others see as unresolvable; then my thinking pulls these nonverbal hunches up into my conscious mind where they can be examined from every angle, evaluated for soundness, and converted into a coherent and persuasive argument that I effectively received "for free", without having to reason it out with thinking alone. Oops! I just shared the secret to writing this blog. Don't copy me.

But again, my ultimate goal in all of this is not simply to understand as many ideas as possible; it is to do something meaningful, to make a difference somehow. That is why I get annoyed with theological debates like supra/infra/sublapsarianism, seeing them as pointlessly speculative. So, ultimately, I end up viewing my thinking and intuition not as ends unto themselves but as tools in the service of higher goals that are set by by extroverted feeling. These higher goals involve people, not just ideas. So my desire to help other people who experience religious doubt or skepticism as I have, so my willingness to withhold my thoughts and hunches when I don't think they'll be helpful to people. Again, four letters can never define or sum up who I am. But they are a nice description to wear for now, and a bigger set of shoes to grow into in time to come.

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