Confessions of an INTP

Most of my adult life I’ve been asking myself why a person of my ability and talent—they are not extraordinary, but undoubtedly present—can so persistently and with very little regret misuse, waste and disregard them. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, as I do in general, deeply and intensely, and this new year I decided to come out to my friends as an INTP.

I, therefore, write to confess a few things about myself.

I do not feel much about people around me. They are fantastic and unique, I think about what they say, how they act and especially how they relate to each other all the time, but I don’t feel much. I need to socialise, because it is such a beautiful thing to do, but I always end up drinking to make people around me less boring and predictable. When ethanol starts to speak within me, the connections between the people around me and the ideas in my head that move me become less complex and I feel relieved. It makes socialising infinitely more exciting.

I am not very excited about the idea of changing the world around me and personal achievement. It does not mean that I don’t believe that a person can change the world. In fact, I love thinking about it. It is actually more exciting than doing anything.

I am almost 31 years old and I have never been able to establish a stable romantic relationship. I am not a terrible person, but there are some ‘objective’ factors of profound human interaction, with which I find it very difficult to cope. Most people expect empathy, which I can’t provide. People like to communicate on an emotional level, which is mostly unavailable to me. Sometimes my friends expect some raw emotion from me (‘I won the race!’ or ‘Please comfort me’). I very much appreciate the importance of this, so I calculate my reaction and act accordingly. I scan other people’s emotional expression all the time in order not to miss something, so gradually I have adopted my own idiom of emotions. It includes physical gestures, words that I use, the tone of my voice that I put on. I’ve taught myself to respond, but it is always a learned reaction. Needless to say, I fail regularly.

The main issue is not a wrong reaction, but the timing. Usually the person expects an immediate outburst. If I know the person well and the situation is relatively familiar I can imitate it quite well, but sometimes I need more time. If I don’t react immediately at all from outside it looks like I am a heartless egoist, which doesn’t make the relatioship with the person better. To avoid this, I have taught myself to win some time by looking overwhelmed or stunned. Sometimes it gets funny, because not all things that people say are so life-and-death. They are simply unusual. While I am looking so transfixed I quickly run through these equations in my head:

  1. To what extent should my reaction be physical? Do I need to hug a person or jump on the spot or clap my hands or laugh loudly? What sort of a facial expression would be appropriate or at least safe?
  2. The intensity of my reaction. The person expects me to mirror the intensity of his or her emotion (which has to be quickly assessed) minus the social distance between us multiplied by the culture coefficient.

If all calculations are more or less accurate and the timing is within the margin of error I look ‘natural’. More emotionally apt people around me keep using the terms ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ (like in ‘to act naturally’) all the time. I’ve no idea what they mean, but apparently they mean an awful lot. My understanding is that they expect that my behaviour—including emotional reactions—will be consistent with what they know about me already. I feel relaxed with people whom I’ve known for a long time, because there is a modus operandi already at hand, but it gets much more complicated when people are not so familiar or when the situation is unusual.

My friends are mostly very kind to me. Maitaining this link in a situation when you can’t really share 95% of what you are excited about or think about with any of them is difficult. When I am with them I have to think about my emotions, how not to look aloof, uninterested, intrusive or aggressive. There are some basic guidelines that help me:

  1. Smile.
  2. Ask questions about other people’s opinions. These opinions are mostly irrelevant and therefore uninteresting, but people like expressing them very much. I like it when people are happy. It also teaches me to express my own points of view when I have them. Very occasionally, I see the potential in these opinions to be included or grown into my own system. So, I’m usually fine with exposing myself to the risk of listening to the litanies of someone else’s preferences or tastes.
  3. People don’t need to be manipulated all the time. Manipulation is one of very few modes of engagement with other people available to me. At the same time it has turned sour in the past, and I know that it can be painful for the person. Confusingly, some people genuinely want it.
  4. Be gentle with people, don’t extrapolate your resilience to their emotional world.

This no. 4 mostly has to do with my attempts to establish intimate relationships. I find that my language of love is usually misunderstood. When I want to express my sympathy to a person I bare my thinking in all its infernal complexity. As a result I come across as an inconsiderate, excessively forward person, who provokes a conflict. The emotional charge of such conflicts for most people is negative. For me it’s mostly neutral and sometimes even positive, when the difference in opinion leads to a discussion. I always play the devil’s advocate.

Opinions still remain a problem. Most people use them as a canvas for conversations, which I think is very efficient. Over time, I have managed to verbalise my opinions on the most frequently emerging topics. It took a great deal of thinking, but I still have not succeeded in forming an opinion on several topics:

  1. What is your favourite book? Film? Style of music? Painter?
  2. What do you think about the last episode of Star Wars?
  3. What are your political views? What do you think about Vladimir Putin / David Cameron / Barak Obama etc.

All these matters can be engaging to think about, but I see no point in freezing a particular judgement into an opinion. It would probably save a lot of thinking effort, but I have no such goal. What I really care about is how the information is ascertained and how things are connected. In other words, I don’t really care about what people think, but I very much care how.

I am well aware that not all people pay so much attention to empathy. I’ve met a few brains in vitro, who are very much stimulated by abstract, brainy or artsy things that are not attached to any particular feelings. However, I always seem to fail winning them over, because they expect me to throw in new ingredients into the soup of the conversation and express opinions and judgements. Breaking through the sound barrier of this sort of interaction and starting friendships or romantic relationships with people through the cerebral cortex so far has been unsuccessful.

I feel happier now as I finish writing this short text. I always feel better when conflicting things have finally crystallised into an economical, lean structure.