Friday, May 02, 2008

INFP - What, me worry?

Some of you may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types, derived, I believe, from theories of Carl Jung. There are sixteen different types, based on four preferences that each individual's personality corresponds to - Extroverson/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling and Judging/Perceiving - and everybody ends up with a four-letter code for their personality type, such as INTP, ESFJ, etc.

I've always been curious about this system, if slightly skeptical, and have taken numerous tests out of books or through the internet over the years. I invariably end up coming out INFP: Introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving. Stated baldly like that, it seems odd and not that accurate, but most of the more lengthy descriptions of that type that I've read have had more than one grain of truth, as best that I can tell by looking at myself.

Anyway, I don't want to go into it at any real length, and you can easily read up on this stuff at wikipedia or any number of other sites if you wish. But I wanted to comment on one thing I read lately that I found interesting, which pertains to the extrovert/introvert dichotomy. I've spent a lot of thought on this over the years, wondering at how different people can be in this way and why, and how little, sometimes, the extrovert understands the introvert and vice versa. They're almost like two different species. Speaking as a serious introvert, I'm often struck by how extroverted friends of mine will see other introverts as cold, aloof and/or arrogant, while I just see them as shy. And sometimes I'll see an outgoing person as an almost pathological busybody, yet they're most likely just being friendly and inclusive.

What I read recently characterized this dichotomy in terms of energy gain and loss, which totally made sense to me and seemed true to my experience. To explain further, extroverts gain energy from action and interaction, whereas introverts expend energy during action and interaction. Speaking again as an introvert, this doesn't mean that there are no rewards or pleasures in social interaction, just that it always has a cost in energy: it is tiring, and if it involves a lot of heavy emotional lifting and decicion-making, can be nearly debilitating. From personal experience, I can say that I've rarely walked away from a social engagement at the end of an evening, even one that I enjoyed very much, without a sense of relief that I was finally going home and back to the space in my own head. And in extended stretches of activity, during holidays and such, I need regular breaks of down time with a book or a solitary walk to keep my sanity and recharge. I've often envied those who don't have such issues, who so easily embrace or look for whatever social interaction might come their way or be available, and have wondered that if I could just persuade myself to do more of it I could reap great rewards - girlfriends, career opportunities, etc. And it might be so. The energy expenditure either/or might be a little simplistic as an explanation, and indeed sometimes (despite my previous statements) I can go either way myself, but it also goes a long way towards explaining how people can be so different in this way, categorizing it as less of a simple preference or sliding range of attitudes and as more of a fundamental difference in how we process information and experience.

I'm not trying to make excuses (maybe I am just a little bit - I do feel guilty and defensive of my solitary nature from time to time, and I do think I hurt people on occasion with my inattention), and I do think people can change in very fundamental ways, through perseverence and mindfulness and experience, but, well, it's an interesting idea.

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