F is for Feeling / T is for Thinking

Los Primeros Frios. Miguel Blay Fábregas.

For the longest time, I have been absolutely, frustratingly confused about whether I’m more of a Thinking type or a Feeling type. The confusion, as usual, originates in semantics. In Myers-Briggs terminology, feeling does not equal emotions or caring, and thinking should not be confused with intelligence (which, by the way, I define as being analytical and adaptable, not knowledgeable — lots of people can know lots of things, but being able to adapt that knowledge to perform various tasks and solve various problems is true intelligence). Regarding this distinction, the page on Thinking vs. Feeling on the official MBTI site asks, “Do you like to put more weight on objective principles and impersonal facts (Thinking) or do you put more weight on personal concerns and the people involved (Feeling)?”

This seems simple, but the type descriptions for Thinking types and Feeling types tend to subvert that distinction, sketching out “feelers” as touchy-feely and “thinkers” as coldly logical. For example, INFPs are described as not liking

“to deal with hard facts and logic. Their focus on their feelings and the Human Condition makes it difficult for them to deal with impersonal judgment. They don’t understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment, which makes them naturally rather ineffective at using it. Most INFPs will avoid impersonal analysis, although some have developed this ability and are able to be quite logical. Under stress, it’s not uncommon for INFPs to mis-use hard logic in the heat of anger, throwing out fact after (often inaccurate) fact in an emotional outburst.”

I guess that I’m one of the “some” that’s (too) briefly referred to there. For the most part, rather than misusing “hard logic in the heat of anger, throwing out fact after (often inaccurate) fact in an emotional outburst,” I keep logic and interpersonal understanding at the forefront in confrontation, or I wait to address a problem until my emotions have stabilized so that I don’t say something I don’t mean or make a problem worse. In any case, I highly respect facts and like to check my sources before making claims, no matter how riled up I am. Does that mean that I address every issue perfectly? Of course not. But I do try to remain rational and objective.

And rather than avoiding impersonal analysis, I embrace it. My favorite discussions involve friendly debates that question what I and others believe. While I have strong beliefs, I’m never so sure of them that I can’t remove myself from my emotions to test my theories against hypothetical or real situations or others’ beliefs. I am, above all, a truth-seeker, although I recognize that truth is often relative (that’s the “perceiving” part of my personality expressing itself).

INTPs are believed to “value knowledge above all else. Their minds are constantly working to generate new theories, or to prove or disprove existing theories. They approach problems and theories with enthusiasm and skepticism, ignoring existing rules and opinions and defining their own approach to the resolution. They seek patterns and logical explanations for anything that interests them. They’re usually extremely bright, and able to be objectively critical in their analysis. They love new ideas, and become very excited over abstractions and theories. They love to discuss these concepts with others. They may seem ‘dreamy’ and distant to others, because they spend a lot of time inside their minds musing over theories.

…The INTP has no understanding or value for decisions made on the basis of personal subjectivity or feelings. They strive constantly to achieve logical conclusions to problems, and don’t understand the importance or relevance of applying subjective emotional considerations to decisions. For this reason, INTPs are usually not in-tune with how people are feeling, and are not naturally well-equiped to meet the emotional needs of others.”

This is more how I see myself, and I think others who know me well see me that way, too. Gaining knowledge is a crucial aspect of my personality; I’m always researching, pondering, and testing. I love patterns—I’ve said before that one of the things I love about myths, folklore, and religions are the systems of meaning. Literature is the same way—it’s all about patterns in text. I love philosophy and psychology because they examine patterns and possibilities, and promote theories about human existence that can be bantered back and forth interminably. I’m much less interested in how I feel about the truth than about the truth itself, so I’m always testing what I believe against new information and seeing if it can be reconciled or if I need to adjust my beliefs.

I do get frustrated with people who place too much emphasis on how they feel about things, or when discussions get too touchy-feely. I am not a Hallmark Channel type. When people get too gushy about things, my cynical, sarcastic side switches into gear. I’m an optimist, perhaps an idealist, but not at the cost of examining things as they truly are, warts and all. I feel healthiest when I let in a little darkness. But too much negativity grates on me, too. I seek balance, and balance comes when emotions are tempered.

I also become extremely irritated when people lose sight of solutions due to their emotions. Instead of giving in a little, some people refuse to compromise, and no one ends up winning. It’s not that I just want everyone to get along (disagreement is healthy and necessary to get to the truth); it’s that too many people don’t know how to disagree without coming into conflict, and they are often too poorly skilled at resolving that conflict. They don’t realize that, by working around an obstacle instead of (often fruitlessly) trying to break it down, they’re more easily able to get what they want.

An example: a couple of nights ago, Eric and I ate dinner with a friend who is very much a Thinking type. We’ll call him Person A. Person A appreciates bluntness and is very blunt in expressing his opinions, and he resents people who hold their emotions so closely that they don’t listen to reason. He values systematic and logical executions of ideas, and his biggest problem with someone we’ll call Person B is that Person B is so egocentric (in the way that young children are, who haven’t distinguished their individual perspectives from the perspectives of those around them and so assume that whatever they’re experiencing, that’s also the experience of everyone around them) that he won’t listen to new ideas or try new processes, even if his old ideas and processes are clearly not working and there’s a logical basis in the new ideas and processes. I get that, and so does Eric. The problem is that Person A’s approach is to be combative with Person B, insisting on his own opinion without accommodating Person B’s feelings.

Eric’s approach to the same problem with Person B is perhaps a typical Feeling-type approach—he knows how Person B is going to react to certain approaches; he knows which approaches work; and he uses those approaches to get his point across and accomplish what he wants to accomplish. It’s an intelligent approach, as it analyzes all of the factors in a problem and seeks a rational solution.

In analyzing that situation, I realized that a Feeling-type response can sometimes be the most logical and reasonable, as far as reading a situation clearly and solving a problem goes. That was a huge revelation for me, and it’s an important distinction for anyone who looks into the MBTI system. I may likely be an INFP (because, in the way in which I deal with the world, how others and I feel about a situation takes precedence over facts), but it doesn’t mean that, as Kiersey describes, I harbor a “deep commitment to the positive and the good [that] is almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in.” By the same token, it doesn’t necessarily follow that INTPs are “ruthless pragmatists about ideas…

I do care deeply about people and things, but I’m much more interested in exploring and discussing ideas than boundless self-sacrifice for a cause at any cost. That’s where my passion lies, and I think that’s my contribution to the world. Even so, when problem-solving, I do include others’ emotions and my own desire for peace into the equation. And while I don’t always understand emotion-driven people, I understand that their emotions affect me and that it’s in my best interest to consider them. And I’m constantly trying to understand people — I analyze them so that I can know and work with them better. But it doesn’t mean that I always cave to others’ feelings for the sake of peace. I pick my battles. If I feel that it’d be better to tackle an issue head-on, I do.

So maybe I’m an INFTP—a Feeling type with a Thinking vehicle. I am keenly aware of others’ feelings, and I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I filter that caring by seeking the most logical, helpful solution to a problem. I resonate with the description on the Kiersey website that states that INFPs

have a natural interest in scholarly activities and demonstrate, like the other Idealists, a remarkable facility with language. They have a gift for interpreting stories, as well as for creating them, and thus often write in lyric, poetic fashion.

But, while I get swept up in poetry and stories as much as any Feeling-type bibliophile, I am not incapable of or resistant to analysis (even self-analysis) or objective, impersonal judgment. The most satisfying poems to me do both—thrust out deep feeling and then follow it with deep analysis. Just feeling something doesn’t justify a poem to me — it has to communicate something larger and deeper.

So, then, maybe I’m an INTFP — a Thinking type with a Feeling vehicle. My interests begin in ideas and objective analysis and then are refined by the process of identifying how people will respond. And, in my work, I use feelings to draw people into what I feel is more important — the theory.

It seems that, after all of this time, I’m still undecided. What are your thoughts on the paradigm? Where do you sit along the axis?

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This post is part of a series on my thoughts about my MBTI type. For more, read about my thoughts on introversion and intuition.

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