Did you ever feel like you didn’t belong in a group you were a forced member of? A recent conversation with family members reminded me how difficult it was growing up and being so different than the rest of my family. It may not have been obvious on the outside, but I don’t approach problems, happiness, or my life the same way as my parents, sister, and cousins, etc. One way to understand this is to look at the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI) to see that I was the only “intuitive” among “sensings.”
MBTI is a personality survey. A person takes a test where they provide their preferred way to deal with specific situations. Rather than hack this with my own interpretation, I’ll take some information from the Myers-Briggs website (The Myers & Briggs Foundation. (2014) http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/), which I encourage you to visit if this type of thing interests you. I like it because it gives me a framework to understand people who are different from me so that they feel less foreign. It analyzes four means of interacting. Does a person prefer to focus on the outer world or his inner world? The result would be indicated as extroversion (signified with an E) or introversion (I). Does he focus on the basic information they take in (sensing or S) or does he prefer to interpret and add meaning (intuition or N). Does a person prefer to first look at logic and consistency (thinking or T) or do they first look at the people and special circumstances (feeling or F)? Do they prefer to get things decided (judging or J) or do they prefer to stay open to new information and options (perceiving or P)?
I want to focus for a moment on the second area of preference in MBTI: the S vs. N, again drawing from the Myers-Briggs website (http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/sensing-or-intuition.htm). This pair focuses on whether a person pays more attention to information that comes in through his five senses (Sensing), or pays more attention to the patterns and possibilities that he sees in the information they receive (Intuition)? Sensings pay attention to physical reality: what they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. They are concerned with what is actual, present, current, and real. They notice facts and remember details important to them. They like to see the practical use of things and learn best when they see how to use what they are learning. Experience speaks to louder than words to them. Intuitives, on the other hand, pay the most attention to impressions or the meaning and patterns of the information they get. They would rather learn by thinking a problem through than by hands-on experience. They are interested in new things and what might be possible, thinking more about the future than the past. Intuitives like to work with symbols or abstract theories, even if they don’t know how they will use them. They remember events more as an impression of what it was like than as actual facts or details of what happened. I think this one preference is often the most important in how the different personalities present to the world.
As a very strong N (no S tendencies at all), I am so interested in the possibilities of theories, patterns, and abstract things that I often lose interest in the presentation of mere facts. Unless, of course, those facts can be used to construct a theory or pattern. Intuitives are notorious for having difficulty focusing really intently on the details they way that the Sensories do. We are known for having the strategy, theory, and big picture –and how it all ties together. My type, the INTJ/P (I’m about right in the middle, with almost equal tendencies toward J and P – the J barely wins out) is known for being able to handle both the big picture all the way down to the details. The sensories curse us frequently for being distracted by the theory, strategy, and big picture so much so that we are not keeping track of the details that they recognize as important. In my experience, what an S considers to be the big picture is often what an N see as the mid-level. While the sensories see the big picture problem at the city or state level, Ns are probably looking at it on national, international, and galactic levels.
I need to be clear, here. There is no right way to be. All tendencies are valuable in different ways. MBTI is the ultimate demonstration about how much the world needs mental diversity. Ns are not better than Ss or the other way around. This is just a tool to understand personality differences.
Why is this important to discuss today? Because as a child, I felt like no one understood me, and I was probably right. My learning style was never accommodated. I was forced to learn everything in a backward way, collecting facts and trying to extrapolate the theories; the higher level of concepts was rarely given. After all, teachers in elementary and secondary schools are usually S. When I finally got to college and found the higher level theories, it was such an incredible relief. A revelation. I probably gained 20 IQ points just because everything finally clicked into place. I learn better receiving the higher concepts first, then working down the supporting details.
I really wanted to write today about belonging. But because I see everything in the context of a theory and the bigger picture, I felt the need to explain why I feel the way I do. It has taken me a long time to find a place where I feel that I belong. Being the only N in a family of Ss was confusing and challenging. Maybe it made me stronger, but it also made me less confident and aware that I didn’t fit in. I have one friend that is an “S,” and that friendship has its rough moments. All my other friends are “N.” We get each other’s sense of humor more easily and have more patience with the discussion of esoteric theories that have nothing to do with our interests. Growing up as the odd one in the family didn’t mean we couldn’t love each other, but it certainly made it more difficult. There were many miscommunications because we thought so differently; as a result, it was much harder for any of us to meet each other’s expectations.
My husband and I are both INTJ’s, the third-rarest MBTI type for people overall and the rarest for women (1%). INTJ’s are only about 2% of the general population. That’s probably a good thing, as too many of us in a room can be … interesting. According to the official website (http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.htm), INTJ’s have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. They quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, they organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, INTJs have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.
My husband and I are in occupations where INTJs are needed and thrive, so we have finally found places where we belong – in our work and together in our home. It feels good. We are the only MBTI type that it’s that is found to be most compatible in a relationship with someone of the same MBTI type.
I see how I blossomed when I found someone that understood me. My husband did too, I think. Of my three children, there is one that always seems different. Yes, somehow, I have three adult children that are N and one that is S. It isn’t any easier for her than it was for me. When she told me as a child that she didn’t feel like she fit in, I told her I understood. She didn’t believe me, but I did.