Self-perception and others’ perception

I once got into an argument with a coworker, an ESFJ. She had said something I found offensive, I explained why, we discussed it and made amends. At the end of the conversation she said this was a new experience for her because, “I’ve never had anybody not like me before.” That sentence stunned me. She really believed that out of all the people she had ever encountered, not a single one disliked her.

It seems pretty common for ESJs to believe that they are universally, or at least overwhelmingly, liked. They can have this confidence not only because their personality allows it, but also because it’s probably mostly true. The ESTJ and ESFJ personality types are dominant both in terms of proportion of the population and their status in American culture. Our culture idealizes these types, specifically ESFJ for women and ESTJ for men. People generally tend to like others who are similar to themselves, and SJs are definitely in the majority numbers-wise.

In addition, Judgers are generally less attuned to others’ perception of them than are Perceivers. Whereas Perceivers are input-oriented, taking in the maximum amount of information from their surroundings at the expense of action, Judgers will only take in as much information as they need to form an action or response, and then are less open to new possibilities. So it stands to reason that Judgers are more likely than Perceivers to believe that others have a favorable opinion of them, because people tend not to openly show dislike of a person, and it may take careful observation of their facial expressions, tone, and body language to figure out what they’re really thinking.

Since Sensors focus on sensory information, I suspect also that they may be more likely to take others’ perceived opinion of them at face value. Whereas iNtuitives focus on what can’t be seen, and are more likely to assume that others have unspoken underlying thoughts, Sensors may assume that others’ outward expressions accurately reflect their inner feelings.

It seems entirely foreign to me that a person could go through life thinking that everybody likes them. I have gone through life thinking nearly the opposite. I assume that most people don’t like me, because as an INTP I am very different from most people, and because I have encountered relatively few people who I genuinely like beyond a first impression. Because I am always taking in information and analyzing sensory information for deeper meaning, in social interactions I tend to interpret any negative cues as an indication of deeper dislike. I am very sensitive to tone of voice and the unspoken messages in other people’s words. (Ironically, I’m not so adept at controlling my own tone of voice, and I often seem to convey messages differently from the way I intended.)

(On a side note, while people generally don’t tell you to your face that they don’t like you, they usually do tell you when they don’t like somebody else. I’ve found that it’s pretty common for someone to say “I don’t like people who [fill in the blank]” without knowing that I also [fill in the blank].)

I wonder how life would be different if I went about life assuming that everyone liked me. Sometimes people who have that kind of confidence (or overconfidence) think they can do no wrong, and use it as license to say things that are rude or offensive, believing that anybody who was offended would say so. I’ve encountered a few people like that. But I also think that if I believed others always had a positive opinion of me, I would have a more positive opinion of myself, and be less eager to mold myself for the sake of pleasing others.

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I hate cooking

I mean, I really hate cooking. I hate everything involved with cooking, including thinking about what to make, grocery shopping, food prep, and the actual cooking itself. There’s a long list of things I would rather do than cook or prepare food, and it includes doing laundry, changing diapers, and getting a rabies vaccine.

What I hate most is the fact that the entire process of getting food ready to eat takes so much longer than it takes to eat it. And then you have to do it all again a few hours later. As an INTP I really don’t care about sensory things like how food tastes or how it looks, so I get no enjoyment out of this Sisyphean cycle. I try to do as little as possible, and let my husband or the slow cooker do as much as they are able. Even so, eating happens so often in our family of four that I pretty much have to constantly think about or work on getting food ready to eat.

These days, people are always trying to talk to me about cooking. “Do you like to cook?” is to moms and married women what “What kind of music do you listen to?” is to the high school and college set. And when I answer “no,” they look at me and laugh uncomfortably as if I’ve just said something shocking.

I used to enjoy cooking. When I was single, childless, and had tons of time to pursue all of my interests and then some, cooking was one of my hobbies. I made all of my meals from scratch using produce from a CSA, baked bread and made granola every week, experimented with recipes, and baked cakes to give away just for fun. With an enormous amount of free time and energy, I can enjoy just about anything.

Becoming a parent is a great magnifying glass to identify the things that actually are important to you and the things that aren’t. Now that my free time and energy levels are always in deficit, very few things make my priority list. In fact, I now actively hate a lot of things that I used to enjoy or care about. In addition to cooking, they also include shopping, making things by hand, occasionally going to parties, keeping up with politics, and recycling. (Okay, I don’t hate recycling, but I don’t have the energy to care about it anymore.) Taking care of young children is too exhausting and all-consuming to spend an extra minute doing anything that either doesn’t have to be done or doesn’t fill my tank. Or to spend an extra minute being apologetic about it.

INTP vs. INTJ: Social Skills

This is part of an ongoing series on the differences between INTPs and INTJs, and how those differences are evident in myself and my husband. If you’re not familiar with them, you should first read this primer on Myers-Briggs and cognitive functions.

In my recent interactions with a number of INTJs, I’ve noticed a trait that they all seem to share: in casual conversation, INTJs often seem incredibly smug. This holds true for my INTJ husband, who often seems like a completely different person when he’s interacting with other people compared to when we’re alone. He tends to come off as a smug asshole when talking to people he doesn’t know well.

I thought this air of smugness might be because INTJs think they’re smarter than everyone else, but according to my husband it’s actually a façade of false confidence meant to hide their insecurities in social situations or when interacting with people they don’t know well. (When INTJs actually do think they’re smarter than you, it’s usually so obvious to them that they’re more matter-of-fact or exasperated than smug.)

This got me thinking about the differences in how INTJs and INTPs approach social situations. Continue reading “INTP vs. INTJ: Social Skills”

Five years (part 2)

I’ve always thought it was hokey to celebrate dating anniversaries, but our first date is the only anniversary that my husband and I celebrate. We can never remember when we got married, and I prefer not to think about it because it was one of the most stressful days of my life. As an INTP who hates all kinds of parties and being the center of attention, I should have known better than to have a wedding at all. So I like to pretend it never happened.

At the time I thought that the day we became husband and wife would be a special occasion. It was really important for us to write our own vows and say them in front of our friends and family. Words are important to me, and I thought our wedding vows would be the most important words of our life, sealing our lifetime commitment to each other. But they turned out to be pretty insignificant, just as our wedding day turned out to be pretty insignificant.

The more time goes on, the more I realize that some words we said to each other X months after falling in love and deciding to spend our life together don’t define what our marriage means now or what it will mean in the future. The words that matter to me are the ones of consequence– the conversations we had at the beginning of our relationship that showed each other who we were, the first time he told me that he wanted to grow old with me, the words of support and reassurance spoken over the years in moments of crisis, the words of love we share daily over the din of toddler shouting. Those words are the touchstones of our commitment, and all of them hold more meaning and weight than our wedding vows. All the days we’ve spent together in the past five years are more important than our wedding day.

It’s too bad that we only recently moved to a state with common-law marriage, because that’s how I view our marriage. It didn’t start with a ceremony or a certificate on any particular day. When someone asks how long we’ve been married, I answer “five years,” as I think of the entire time we’ve been together as being part of our marriage. (And also, because I can’t remember the actual year our wedding took place.) Our love and commitment to each other grew continuously from the first moment we saw each other. If there was one day when everything changed, it was that day five years ago when we met with a handshake.

Five years

Five years ago I got on a plane to spend the weekend with a man I’d met online. The flight was delayed and as I sat there I suddenly thought, “what the hell am I doing?” It was the craziest thing I’d ever done, and I briefly considered getting off the plane before it took off. I had a contingency plan to change my return flight to an earlier one if the first day was awful.

We met in a hotel lobby with an awkward handshake, and the first thing I noticed was that his smile was crooked and he talked out of the side of his mouth. Later I would discover to my endearment that whenever he lacks confidence, he subconsciously becomes paralyzed on one side of his body. Neither of us knew how to make conversation, and we resorted to rattling off questions that made it seem more like a job interview than a date. I knew he was a Republican, so over dinner I made sure to tell him about the life-changing experience I had at a Hillary Clinton rally in 2007. He sat really far away from me and I had no idea if he even liked me until we kissed at the end of the night.

Only an INTP and INTJ could have a first date that is so incredibly awkward be unbelievably romantic at the same time. For some reason that I still can’t explain, it was love at first sight. For him, anyway– INTJs are decisive like that. 30 hours after we first laid eyes on each other, he asked me to move to his city. I couldn’t change the subject fast enough, but I knew something magical was happening. I never believed in the concept of romantic chemistry (in fact, I was totally against it), but every time he touched my arm or held my hand I felt full of fireworks.

For me it was more like love at third sight. By the end of our third date a month later, after he started talking about our future children and made an Excel spreadsheet showing why I should move in with him, I was 95% sure I would marry him. I have always found Excel spreadsheets incredibly sexy.

Five years later, we’re now expecting our second child and it feels like we’ve aged about fifteen years (having children will do that). Our life is crazy in the most ordinary ways. There have been a lot of broken dreams, and there are moments (or months) when I look at my husband and think, “what the hell am I doing with this person?” But most of the time, I am wonderfully amazed at how eminently we belong together. 

I don’t believe in soul mates at all– except, when I think about the two of us, secretly I kind of do. We worked hard to find and keep each other, but there’s still an element of magic when we look into each other’s eyes and see each other the way no one else can. I can’t explain it, but it’s my favorite thing in the world.

The INTP Book

There are very few novels I like because I find that fictional characters tend to be unbelievable, possessing dissonant traits that are contradictory to Myers-Briggs. Writers who don’t know about Myers-Briggs don’t know that you can’t simply choose any combination of personality traits and put them together in one person. Some authors try to make their characters complex to the point of psychological impossibility.

When_you_reach_meWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (which I’ve blogged about briefly before) is my favorite book, and I don’t say that lightly. This book is different. This book is all about INTPs. Despite the fact that it’s a children’s novel, I have never read a better fictional portrayal of INTPs.

There are several INTPs in the book, including a mysterious time traveler. The main character though, 12-year-old Miranda, is probably an INFP. I think of INFPs as “INTP Whisperers”. They make great friends for INTPs. They can understand INTPs well, and act as a translator between INTPs and others. They can be selfless champions of an INTP’s ideas, and can often identify an INTP’s emotional and relational needs better than INTPs themselves. They can also tolerate a lot of INTP eccentricities that deter other friendships, such as their lack of emotional preamble and tendency towards self-absorption. (The author has stated that Miranda is heavily modeled after herself. If Rebecca Stead is an INFP as I suspect, it’s very apt that a book about INTPs would be written by an INFP.)

Miranda becomes friends with an INTP boy named Marcus, and she does all of these things for him. At first she thinks he’s weird because he talks about advanced concepts in math and physics rather than typical 12-year-old stuff, and he doesn’t make small talk or seem to have any other friends. But then she comes to understand him. While she begins to protect Marcus in ways that he’s completely oblivious to, he teaches her how to solve the mystery of the time traveler.

Miranda spends a lot of time thinking about the nature of reality, using the metaphor of a veil. Everyone is born with an invisible veil separating them from the rest of the world, she says:

We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way.

But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to. Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don’t have to depend on the wind anymore.

I’ve thought a lot about those veils. I wonder if, every once in awhile, someone is born without one. Someone who sees the big stuff all the time. Like maybe you [the time traveler].

I re-read this book whenever I’m feeling lost or overwhelmed; I’ve read it over a dozen times. It reminds me of who I am. I am not a stay-at-home mom, a person who does laundry and kisses boo-boos. I am not a homeowner or a wife. I am an INTP, a person without a veil. Most people have to work hard to lift their veil, but I have to work hard to create it.

The Sound Limit (or why I don’t like talking about my kid)

As an extremely introverted INTP, I feel like there are a limited number of words that can come out of my mouth each day, and a limited amount of sound that my ears can take in each day. After I reach those limits, I shut down. I don’t think those limits were ever really tested until I became the parent of a toddler. Boy, does she test them.

Not only does my daughter enjoy screaming at the top of her lungs for sport, she also narrates everything that she sees at all times and will repeat, “Mommy, that’s a yellow car! That’s a yellow car! Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, that’s a yellow car!” until I acknowledge the yellow car and begin an in-depth conversation about it. The amount of talking I have to do per day is mind-blowing, because I have to repeat everything at least five times before my daughter will acknowledge it. I also spend a lot of words talking about her and discussing parenting issues with my husband, which decreases the reservoir of words that I have left for discussing things that actually engage my mind.

When I take my daughter to playgroups with other kids, I can’t bear the conversations that go on between the other moms. They center around all of my least favorite topics: baby sleep, toddler feeding, kids clothes, cute things kids do, cooking, crafting, home renovations, etc. I don’t feel the need to talk about my daughter’s cute antics with anyone but my husband, and I don’t like to talk about her sleep and feeding issues even with him because I think they’re boring. Unfortunately we have to do a lot of troubleshooting in those areas, so we talk about them out of necessity.

If I don’t even like spending my limited number of words per day talking about my own kid, you can bet I don’t want to spend my limited sound intake listening to someone else talk about their kids. And I like my house a lot less than I like my daughter, so why would I ever talk about it, much less want to hear about someone else’s house? There are times when I can tolerate small talk and even times when I can be reasonably engaged in it, but being a parent of a toddler is not one of those times. Obviously I don’t have much success making friends these days.

I recently started my own playgroup for parents who don’t talk about their kids. We get together for playdates and while our kids play, we talk about science, books, art, philosophy, anything that doesn’t involve parenting or “homemaking”. It’s a pretty small group, as you can imagine that the number of stay-at-home parents who prefer talking about intellectual topics to talking about their kids is rather small, but it has made a huge difference in my mood.

Other parents often give me weird looks when I show no interest in talking about kids, like I must not like my kid because I don’t want to talk about her. But it just seems redundant to talk about kids and parenting when I already spend every day living it. My daughter is awesome and the proof is right in front of me, so I’m not going to state the obvious. I love spending time with my family, and there’s nothing better than getting a hug from my daughter. I would just rather be talking about science while it happens. I have a finite number of words and an infinite number of things I want to talk about.