Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.LAMENTATIONS 3:40
Do you want to be understood and seen for who you truly are instead of who people think you are or should be? You’re not alone. We want people ‘to get’ us just like we want to understand others. But before you focus on how others think and behave, it’s essential that you understand yourself because if you know what makes you ‘tick’ it can help you take up healthier space in the world and make better sense of others.
In her book, The Irresistible Introvert: Harness the Power of Quiet Charisma in a Loud World, Michaela Chung writes that having a deeper awareness of our personality and the behaviours that flow from it can be vindicating, like a ‘lightbulb moment’ when odd feelings or characteristic traits suddenly make more sense. She adds that it brings awareness to what’s going on inside our heads, hearts, souls, and even our guts, or instincts.
Michaela maintains that many of us are constantly at war with our true nature when our inner landscapes are meant to be a war-free zone. We are often also our own worst critics.
If we’re not able to be at peace with who we are and embrace our imperfect, and beautifully flawed selves along with our strengths and limitations, how can we ever be okay with others?
I write more about how to view our limitations or flaws in productive ways in a related article titled, How Introverts Deal with Adversity. For the purposes of this article, let’s stick with exploring personalities.
One way to understand yourself is to know your personality strengths and limits as your character traits trigger the ways you respond to people and situations.
What’s Makes You Tick?
Introversion and extroversion are two common ways to describe different personalities. While extroverts draw energy from busy social settings, introverts turn inward for quiet introspection and to recharge physically, mentally and emotionally. Introversion and extroversion also occur on a spectrum, meaning there are different degrees of each and no one is completely an introvert or completely an extrovert.
Contrary to the way these personalities are pitted against each other as good or bad, better or worse, they’re just different. It’s like saying you’re wrong or deficient in some way for having brown rather than green eyes. Crazy, right?
For the longest time, people assumed I was an extrovert because I am a chatterbox in comfortable social settings, particularly compared to my introverted family. I enjoy being around people in tune with their deeper selves and I love to engage in meaningful conversations. But the truth is, I’m not an extrovert. Anything, but.
The INFJ Personality
‘I don’t want to live in the shallows.KORYN HAWTHORNE (Song: Know You)
I was made to search the deep.
I wanna know you, really know you.’
I’m what you call an INFJ – Introverted Intuitive, Feeling and Judging personality, one of 16 personalities on the Myers-Briggs personality scale.
INFJ’s, also called the Advocate, is said to be the rarest personality type in the world with 1.5% of the general population fitting the profile. Notable humanitarians who fit this profile included Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa. For these popular figures, success didn’t stem from money or status but from seeking fulfilment, helping others, and being a force for good in the world.
Granted these are exceptional examples of humanitarians compared to an ordinary midlifer like me. So, what’s it really like being an INFJ in my much smaller word? Here’s a glimpse into my life before I fully understood my personality and how to navigate the pros and cons, or strengths and limitations of being an INFJ introvert.
What Are the Strengths and Limitations of Introverts?
The Manic Build-Up to Social Events
While I enjoy engaging with people, I get annoyingly anxious leading up to social engagements. I get snappy and find fault with everything. I’m grumpy, critical and fixated on the smallest details. I slowly implode the closer it gets to the event. Then, almost miraculously, the moment I step into the social setting the anxiety and nerves disappear and the social butterfly emerges.
The Nightly Toss and Turn
Hours later, after the event, I struggle to fall asleep. I toss and turn half the night replaying the incident in my mind – what someone said, how I responded, or what I wish I would have said differently. Like sorting a grocery haul where you store every item away in the pantry, fridge, bathroom, and laundry room, my brain takes apart the social occasion piece by piece, processing it in detail before filing it away somewhere. Only then can I fall asleep.
For days after I’m physically and mentally drained, relieved that the event had passed, and I can return to my quiet, calm world. Crazy! I used to think. Something must be wrong with me.
The Telephone Alien
I want to stay connected to friends and family and love hearing from people, but I detest telephone calls. I get tongue-tied in conversation like my brain is struggling to formulate a cohesive response because there’s so much processing going on while the person is speaking. I lose my train of thought and cut people off mid-sentence to get out what I need to say quickly and coherently. I can kick myself after the call ends because I didn’t say what I wanted clearly enough or at all.
Texting, Emails, and Voice Notes, Yes Please
Given a choice, I always opt for email, texting, or voice messages for day-to-day and business communication. It gives me more time to rationally formulate a concise response and clearly communicate that. I always attributed this to not being smart enough or being insecure and intimated by people. It made me anxious to engage with strangers and avoid meeting new people because of the ‘alien’ that invaded my body in those situations.
A Walking Contradiction
Some days I feel so confident that I pursue my goals with enthusiastic gusto. Other days I’d doubt myself and what I’m truly capable of when remnants of the old ‘you’re not good enough’ story finds it’s way to the surface. There’s this constant contrast of self-consciousness and boldness, tongue-tied and chatterbox, sensitive and brazen, gentle and outspoken. Again, I was convinced something was wrong with me – that I was defective, like a faulty appliance.
These contradictions in my typical behaviours went on for decades. That is, until a few years ago when I completed a Myers-Briggs personality test as part of a study module shed light on my character traits. Learning about the INFJ personality traits was a bit like fitting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It was fascinating to learn how my characteristic, quirky traits and behaviours are typical of an INFJ personality. I suddenly made more sense. Those confusing contradictions, says introvert enthusiast and author, Michaela Chung, is what’s called situational confidence, something which can be particularly evident in some introverts.
Journaling and Writing All Day Every Day, Yay!
I love figuring out what makes us tick because what happens beneath the surface drives what we believe about ourselves, the world, and others. Because of this inherent need to process my behaviours and responses in an organised and detailed way, journaling is a huge part of my life. Journaling is a deeply satisfying practice where I process significant life experiences, but also wrestle through challenges.
Or, as author Brené Brown says, I rumble with my stories. That is, the early beliefs we’ve formed and the way we interpret life and our experiences. We need to understand these stories that typically form early in life based on incomplete information and without the full insight or maturity to serve our wellbeing. More often than not, we need to re-visit these stories in adulthood with new insight, deeper maturity, and understanding or they will keep us stuck in unhelpful thought and behaviour patterns for decades, as was the case for me.
The Rumble—Men and women who rise strong are willing and able to rumble with their stories. By rumble, I mean they get honest about the stories they’ve made up about their struggles and they are willing to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as they dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness. Rumbling with these topics and moving from our first responses to a deeper understanding of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors gives birth to key learnings about who we are and how we engage with others. The rumble is where wholeheartedness is cultivated and change begins.Brené Brown – Rising Strong
Solitude Over Socialising
As much as I enjoy engaging with people in meaningful conversations, I relish solitude. I can easily go for weeks, even months without much social contact. I get immersed in my inner world − dreaming, learning, writing, and quietly living and enjoying the stillness I crave, especially in midlife. Before I fully understood my personality, I couldn’t make sense of the paradox between the enjoyment I feel when I’m in the middle of meaningful social interaction and the in-between bliss of solitude.
Once gained a deeper understanding of the inner world of INFJ personalities like mine, I became more at peace with who I was and no longer saw myself as ‘faulty’. I embraced who I was more and stepped into my own skin with more ease.
Understanding my characteristic strengths and limitations helped me establish clearer boundaries and shift from avoiding people and certain types of socialising, to slowly cultivating healthier relationships. Specifically, it helped me clear the blurry boundary lines in my relationships in the following ways:
- I’m better able to say Yes and No and be at peace with people not always being okay with my choices.
- I clearly state my reasons for declining certain types of social invitations without worrying about how others may or may not interpret my reasons.
- I no longer blame others if I don’t draw a clear boundary and agree to do something I know doesn’t serve my well-being.
- I’m no longer afraid to gently address conflict rationally and calmly instead of avoiding people and silently holding onto grievances that taint relationships.
- Because of my empathic edge to absorb others’ emotions and my intuitive tendency to ‘see’ below the surface and behind the social masks to quickly notice what makes people tick, I no longer feel compelled to socially engage with certain types of people who drain my energy with chronic toxic behaviours.
- I embrace my communication strengths and I no longer hesitate to clearly state that I prefer texting, emails, and voice mails over telephone calls because I’m better able to process incoming information and respond in a clear, concise, and informed way.
- I’m working on being a better listener in ‘live conversations’ without cutting people off mid-sentence by taming my internal processing which takes over my external responses.
- Because I understand how complex life and challenges are, I don’t feel guilty for keeping small talk to a minimum before steering conversations toward deeper topics to best offer others support and encouragement.
- I no longer feel guilty for taking as much time as I need for solitude. It enables me to enjoy engaging with others and be fully present when I do engage socially.
- I no longer think there’s something wrong with how my mind and responses work compared to others. I’m able to confidently claim more space in relationships.
- I’m no longer afraid to agree to disagree with others when their opinions and views are different from mine. It’s okay to view the world in diverse ways.
- I no longer hesitate to show my quirky traits or strengths for fear I may seem ‘too much’ or ‘too strange’ to someone else. What others think about me is none of my business. I will be 100 per cent real without trying to impress or devalue who I am.
- I no longer allow anyone to disrespect my choices or take advantage of my need for harmony. I trust my inner guide more than relying on others’ opinions or what others think of me.
- I trust my intuition. It’s never steered me wrong.
- I’m no longer afraid to honour my needs in the same way I honour others’ needs.
- I’m shifting from situational confidence to core confidence − unwavering confidence that remains steadfast regardless of the situations I find myself navigating because I uncovered trigger that caused the fluctuations in my confidence.
I no longer feel flawed or broken. I finally feel free to be the introverted me with clear boundaries.
In midlife, you seek more peaceful and enjoyable relationships with those around you. To do that, you need to understand yourself and set clear boundaries that will allow you to grow and enjoy peaceful relationships.
The better we know ourselves, the better we are able to show others how to treat us. ‘Holding space’ has become a cornerstone for all my closest relationships. That means I allow people into my inner circle who are able to accept me as I am in a nonjudgmental way. They need to respect my choices, values, beliefs and boundaries even if it differs from theirs and I will do the same in return. Rejection, says Michaela Chung, is part of the deal. That is, we must release the wrong people to make room for the right ones to see us through a crowd.
If you’re not already there, I hope you’re becoming someone who knows yourself well enough to show others your true imperfect self. And, that you’re becoming someone who can hold space for others to be their real selves in your presence. That’s one way to thrive relationally, on purpose, in midlife!