Do you remember in the second chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when Alice has just fallen down the rabbit hole and she asks herself, “Who in the World Am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle!”? In that moment the effects of Wonderland have already begun to take hold of Alice, causing her her to question her own sense of self. (You must know where I am going with this because I don’t befriend idiots. If you don’t want to jump down this hole with me, then exit now and save yourself.)
For as long as I can remember I have been asking myself that same question. This is going to sound like a super bright shade of Avril Lavigne emo, but I have always felt different and out of place and a little weird on the inside. Kinda like Alice in Wonderland only with two crazy kids, yoga pants and a top knot.
I have never had a strong sense of self, which is one of the reasons I have a complete fascination with personality types. Ever since I was given the ability to remember, I’ve felt like a walking paradox. I crave connection but need solitude. I see people’s potential but am terribly cynical. Sadness physically hurts but I see beauty in it at the same time. I want to be noticed but don’t like being the center of attention. I will listen to a stranger’s life story but will not open up easily. I am very organized with things but have trouble prioritizing tasks. I’m as complicated as a Rubik’s cube.
Years ago, when I was much younger and naive, I took a Myers-Briggs personality test, which labeled me as an ENFJ. I took it as doctrine and tried to learn as much as I could about it. I was desperate to know who I was because I was truly confused. Much of the description resonated with me at the time, and I held fast to it for many years thankful to have some sort of explanation as to why I was the way I was. But I still felt weird, and out of place and different. Once I remember telling my mom that I felt like I saw the world differently than other people. When she pressed me as to why, I had trouble verbalizing what I meant (a common issue for me). What I wanted to say then was that I have always felt that I hyper-attuned to my environment and the people encompassed in it. I am fascinated by people’s interactions, the way they talk, their backgrounds, their struggles, their stories. I find I learn more about the world when I learn about individual people on a deep level, and I have always craved that kind of connection. I can do small talk and will if the situation warrants it, but what I really value is genuine conversation that gets past petty dialogue and dives deep into topics most don’t want touch, at least not with someone they’ve just met. I’ve always had this freakish ability to take in my environment and, essentially, morph myself into whatever role I need to to keep harmony and peace within it. So if I am with someone, I can immediately pick up on their vibes, understand their motives and then act accordingly…very quickly. I basically become a chameleon in any given situation to help create peace and ease for that person and to help them feel more understood. I take all of these perspectives and assimilate them to try and form my own opinions and understandings of the world. One time I opened up to a guy I worked with about this. I’m not sure why, as I don’t easily open up to people, but I told him how I had this capability. He looked at me and said, “Doesn’t that just mean you’re fake?” Whoa, talk about a shot to the heart! I had never thought about it like that, but I can see now how it might be perceived that way. I think the difference is in the motive, as I do this to help others, not because I want to fit in or something. It has nothing to do with vanity and everything to do with understanding. And I get an insane amount of joy and fulfillment from it. Until Myers-Briggs, I didn’t know that this superpower is called intuition. Sounds great, yes? It can be, especially when trying to make friends and form relationships, but the downside to it is that 34 years later you have lost an understanding of who you truly are because you’ve been focused on other people your entire life.
I’ve also felt different because of the S word: sensitivity. I took this sensitivity test and checked 25 out of the 27 boxes so, yeah, sensitive girl here! I loathe describing myself as such because I am sure what comes to mind is a blubbering shell of a person in a sea of her own tissues, watching sappy romance movies while eating a pint of ice cream all alone. Okay, so that is sometimes true, but what it mostly means for me is:
- noticing small details and reveling in them. I can look at something that may seem insignificant to another, like the stars in the sky, and sit there totally entranced for hours.
- being so moved by music, that I must have it in my life on a daily basis. It goes beyond just enjoyment; it is transcending for me. I use it as a muse for my writing and to help me through uncertainties or when I feel unstable. When the Paris attacks happened and I returned home, I listened to the same three songs on repeat over and over again for a week straight. I’m talking all day long.
- seeing meaning and magic in art. Legit magic, ya’ll.
- hating loud noises and bright lights. I always had lamps in my classroom and would always turn out the overheads if my students were not in the room. My husband laughs at me because I’ll come into a room and immediately turn off the overhead lights.
- being greatly affected by images I see and stories I read. If someone constantly posts negativity on Facebook, for instance (such as political bashing, negative news, disturbing stories or things of that nature), it can affect me on a physical level. I will literally start to shake sometimes if it becomes too much, and I’ve had to limit my time on it and unfollow many people as a result. This is not because I’m angry; it is a self-preservation tactic. I now know what I can and cannot handle, and I’m okay with it. I’m slowly learning how to set boundaries for myself, even if people don’t understand.
For the past year I have started to really dig deep and try to understand aspects of myself that I’ve either struggled with, buried, or neglected for some time. Last year, when I quit work to stay home with my boys I had no idea that God had also given me the gift of time to grapple with these things so I could finally sort them out and move forward. One of these I have opened up about and have finally let go of, and I’m slowly but surely working through some others that I won’t get into yet. So, to help with this I recently decided to do another Myers-Briggs test now that I have finally become a little more in-tune with who I am rather than who I feel like I should be to everyone else. I truly did have to sit and ponder some of these questions for a while because sometimes my immediate reaction was not what I actually knew about myself but what I have projected to others. So I did the test and low-and-behold, I came out as an INFJ. I took another one on a different site, and it came out the same. I was perplexed. I didn’t know too much about that personality type, only that it seemed very similar to ENFJ. So I started doing research. I read articles (like this, this and this), listened to podcasts (this one had me in tears…S word!), watched videos….
and OH MYLANTA, I am an INFJ.
You guys, I felt like a veil had been lifted from my eyes and I finally saw myself for the first time. I know that sounds like a bunch of cheesy, poetic garbage, but it is the god-honest truth. INFJ is the rarest of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, which makes total sense to me since I feel pretty darn weird all the time, but after learning more I have finally come to a place where I no longer see these rare aspects of my personality as a burden but as something special. There are people out there like me struggling with the same things. An entire community, actually, and it truly has been life changing for me to find them.
This kind of sums INFJs up in a nutshell:
Obviously this means I am an introvert and not an extrovert, which may come across as shocking for some people because I do consider myself good in social situations. Actually, I always kind of thought of myself as an “introverted extrovert”, if that makes sense (and I’ve read that INFJs do tend to label themselves that way). I can slip on the social persona quite easily, but it is exhausting. I need time alone to recharge. Lots of it. I could stay in my house for a week straight and be perfectly content. I spend most of my time in my own head, which is probably why I love writing and creating so much. Any kind of art – writing, painting, drawing, photography – calms me more than anything else. When I am doing that, I am in my element and at the most ease. When I was working I was unable to do any of that, so I would be “on” all day for my students and “on” all day intuitively with others and then come home and be utterly drained of life. I would turn it all off and finally be myself, but it was not energetic or “bubbly”. When I am truly myself, I am fairly personality-less. Meaning, I am very calm, just taking everything in. In fact, people might think something is wrong or that I am mad because I am so unanimated, but really that is just who I am. I am an observer. This may seem confusing because I do love to perform and be on stage, and I don’t even mind giving presentations to groups of people (only if I feel 100% competent in the subject). But when I do perform, I can project that outward without worrying about anyone’s reaction to it. I am playing a part, not interacting with anyone, if that makes sense? When I was little I would spend hours in my room playing all by myself. I was constantly in my own world, creating my own things; my imagination was more than enough to keep me entertained for hours. At four years old I’d decide when I’d had enough of the day, go say goodnight to everyone and put myself to bed. My mom says that it was always so hard to figure out what I was feeling or what was going on in my head because I didn’t project any of it outward. I didn’t like to be hugged a lot, but I liked to give hugs on my terms. When I was in high school it seemed as if I was quite outgoing and extroverted. I was heavily involved in choir and spent a lot of time with my friends, but I had been friends with them for a long time and trusted them. When I came home from school or a function, however, I spent my time alone. I was often chastised by my family for constantly keeping my door shut, but I wanted a space away from everything in order to reflect. I needed an escape. I needed time and space to be myself.
Learning all of this has helped me understand how it has affected my relationships. There are only a few whom I have opened up completely to, and that is only after cultivating those relationships over a long period of time (although I’ve learned how to do this a bit quicker since becoming a military wife). This is usually because I fear being misunderstood, so I stay inside my head where it is “safe”. Because I am so attuned to people’s motives, I can quickly gauge whom I can or can’t trust. If I feel that someone can be, I will send feelers out there to try and pursue that relationship. But I will only go so far because I am looking to see if it will be reciprocated. One time I opened up to a friend I was working with (I am pretty certain she was also an INFJ because I was drawn to her and opened up to her fairly quickly, which I don’t do normally…at the very least she was intuitive). She listened to me and I even let her read my writing, which is really saying something! Anyway, she moved and we kept in touch for a couple of years, but at some point she cut me out of her life, and I was devastated. She didn’t come out and say she was doing so, she just dropped all communication with me. I reached out a couple of times to no avail, so I let it go. I’m not sure why she did it, but I still think about it. I don’t get hung up on too many people who fade out of my life, but I did with her because I had let her in. It made me question so much about myself and become even more guarded about who I truly let in because the pain of that rejection was intense.
I may not open up about myself immediately, but I will talk to someone about themselves, the world, and life as we know it all day long. I crave that. When I enter a room full of new people, I am seeking out those who are genuine and real. I want to sit down and talk about life (except for my own, of course. Paradox #245).
Yup, it’s weird.
Look, I don’t want people to think that if I don’t open up to them that I don’t value their friendship. Please don’t think that. I also don’t want people to think that since I’m morphing myself around them that I am not being genuine. That is just what I do. I value all of the people that come into my life. I truly do believe God has brought us in the same space for a reason. I care intensely about everyone I meet, but just because I care about people doesn’t mean I trust them. If I do let someone in, though, I will be fiercely loyal and protective of them for all time. But if there is any fakeness or dishonesty there, or if I feel like I am being taken advantage of…I will spin around on my heels and slam the door on you so fast, you won’t know what hit you. I can sniff that stuff out like a bloodhound.
So why post all of this (because everything must have a purpose, right?)? To be real and honest with myself and those close to me, I guess. I do not easily verbalize my thoughts; writing is how I not only express myself but also how I process my thoughts. Sometimes I share them, sometimes I don’t, but when I do, it’s because there is something important I want to say. This just happens to be something I’ve been processing lately and, since I can be a bit of a mystery sometimes, I figured I’d peel back a few layers for some of you. All kinds of layer-pulling happening for Ariel this year, y’all. But it feels good to be honest. Scary, but good.
I truly believe that understanding your own personality type can ultimately help you in all areas of life, from the decisions you make to your relationships, your work and even your mental health. As a teacher I was very good at deciphering the introverts from the extroverts in my classroom, which affected how I paired students and how I understood their interactions with each other. I recently attempted to figure out my oldest son’s type (well, almost…it came out as an ETJ, but the fourth letter in the mix doesn’t come into play until around 13 when that piece develops), which has helped me understand his reactions and hopefully will help me communicate with him better as he gets older. I definitely plan on teaching him about his own type one day so he can learn more about himself and how his unique personality affects his world.
If you’re interested in finding more out about your own personality type, consider taking this test over at Personality Hacker or this one at 16Personalities and then perusing both sites along with this one to get a better picture of what that means. Of course, you can always take the official MBTI test, but it’ll cost you about $50. I recommend taking the free tests but also doing research on the type you get before claiming it as your own. If you do decide to do it, let me know what type you are! I am always interested in finding out more about the personalities of people in my life! It truly does fascinate me!
Thanks for being a listening ear. Embrace your madness.