Parenting advice from a low-energy father

In my latest at article at MercatorNet I share the merits of assertive communication in raising kids:

instead of using aggressive or passive-aggressive behaviours to coerce others into doing what you want, you can learn to literally assert your needs and wants, thoughts and feelings to others, with the implication that merely communicating your own inner world is the first and most important step in interacting with others.

In other words, relationships are ideally not power struggles of passive or outright coercion, manipulation and resentment. How novel!

Learning to communicate well is important because other people don’t necessarily understand what we want, think, or feel (even though it’s obvious, right?), and many of us are blinded to good communication by an expectation of conflict in our relationships.

But in an ideal world we could all learn to be open and clear about what we want, think, and feel, and let others decide how they think, feel, and want in response to that.

https://www.mercatornet.com/family_edge/view/3-parenting-tips-from-a-low-energy-father/21616

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What is introverted Thinking (Ti)?

INFPs have extroverted Thinking (Te) as our inferior function.

Te is loosely characterised as pragmatic, goal oriented, and efficient.

This might sound like the very opposite of an INFP, and indeed when we try to use our inferior function we usually do so in a comparatively rudimentary way.

By contrast, introverted Thinking (Ti) is usually depicted as more of an observational, big picture, theoretical modelling of how things work.

If Te wants to get things done, Ti wants to understand how and why things work.

Ti dominant types are INTP and ISTP, while ENTP and ESTP have Ti in their auxiliary (second) position.

Jung on introverted Thinking

Ti is often presented as highly objective, but Jung demurred, stating that:

External facts are not the aim and origin of this thinking, although the introvert would often like to make it so appear. It begins in the subject, and returns to the subject, although it may undertake the widest flights into the territory of the real and the actual.

Hence, in the statement of new facts, its chief value is indirect, because new views rather than the perception of new facts are its main concern.

It formulates questions and creates theories; it opens up prospects and yields insight, but in the presence of facts it exhibits a reserved demeanour. As illustrative examples they have their value, but they must not prevail. Facts are collected as evidence or examples for a theory, but never for their own sake…

For this kind of thinking facts are of secondary importance; what, apparently, is of absolutely paramount importance is the development and presentation of the subjective idea, that primordial symbolical image standing more or less darkly before the inner vision.

Its aim, therefore, is never concerned with an intellectual reconstruction of concrete actuality, but with the shaping of that dim image into a resplendent idea.

Its desire is to reach reality; its goal is to see how external facts fit into, and fulfil, the framework of the idea; its actual creative power is proved by the fact that this thinking can also create that idea which, though not present in the external facts, is yet the most suitable, abstract expression of them.

Its task is accomplished when the idea it has fashioned seems to emerge so inevitably from the external facts that they actually prove its validity.

Strangely, I can relate to this. For a long time I was inspired by the thought of understanding the true nature of reality, and I sensed these “primordial images” and sought to describe and define them.

It’s said that male INFPs often mis-type themselves as INTPs (but not the other way around). I think this is because “Feeling” is regarded as subjective and feminine, and therefore we are encouraged and conditioned to always explain, rationalise, and justify what we sense through feeling, and strive to be objective and aloof in our beliefs and opinions.

What introverted Feeling and introverted Thinking have in common, according to Jung, is that they are both subjective, and both oriented toward “primordial images”.

This is the introverted aspect of either function – users of Ti and Fi are both excited by this inner image dimly perceived or felt. Both wish to bring that image into the light or into life, but Ti apprehends it conceptually and logically, while Fi apprehends it by feeling.

Happiness for Ti-users

Presumably Ti plays an analogous role in INTPs and ISTPs as Fi does in INFPs.

Jung states that Ti has a kind of inner, subjective direction to it that Te doesn’t have. He contrasts Darwin and Kant:

Just as Darwin might possibly represent the normal extraverted thinking type, so we might point to Kant as a counter-example of the normal introverted thinking type. The former speaks with facts; the latter appeals to the subjective factor. Darwin ranges over the wide fields of objective facts, while Kant restricts himself to a critique of knowledge in general.

This subjective direction must be conceptual rather than feeling-based as it is for Fi, so I imagine that Ti users feel a kind of pull towards an underlying conceptual reality behind things.

If I can find the feeling-image of a library, a Ti-user can find the conceptual-image of a library, and perhaps be in a better position to communicate his image than I am mine.

I can’t describe the feel of a library, though I might describe the sensory details and circumstances of a library that feels right to me.

But a Ti-user might very well say that a library is conceptually an information-sharing system, or a way of offsetting the cost of books, or part of a government interest in public education, or…possibly all of the above, and individual Ti-users might bring to the subject their own conceptual priorities.

Can an INFP use Ti?

In theory, an INFP using Ti is bizarre and improbable. Ti is said to be a “shadow-function” for INFPs. Shadow functions are deeply unconscious and inaccessible, but still play some role in our experience of life.

Still, it seems unlikely that I’ve actually been using Ti in the past, even if it felt like that at times.

What’s more likely is that a learned distrust of Fi, coupled with a study of Philosophy, encouraged me to restrict my expression of Fi to more abstract, conceptual and objective forms.

Philosophy enforces logical and analytical thinking; but it’s also true that my enjoyment of philosophy was limited. It never fully satisfied me even though I was shaped by it, and following things conceptually without an accompanying positive feeling leaves me exhausted and miserable.

In hindsight, I probably used (and endured) Philosophy to the extent that it mirrored the feeling-images I already possessed.

Talking to genuine Ti-users makes it clear that my perspective is a lot “fuzzier” and feeling-oriented than theirs. I might be able to describe some of my feeling-images in conceptual terms, but its rarely worth the effort because it still feels as though communication has been unsuccessful.

Which makes sense, doesn’t it? Because what I’m trying to communicate is not really the conceptual aspect of these images, but the feeling. You can’t translate feeling into concept.

With other Fi-users, communication is about pointing to a particular feeling-image. But non-Fi-users will always see things differently.

Why people can’t describe introverted Feeling

Most descriptions of introverted Feeling suck.

They’re either circular, truistic, or just plain wrong.

Circular definitions tend to say that introverted Feeling is about:

Feelings and values.

Many throw in beliefs for good measure, as if other cognitive functions are not about beliefs.

The “just plain wrong” category usually conflates feeling with emotion.

What is a value?

Value is an ambiguous term, so substituting “feeling” with “value” doesn’t clarify anything.

Values can mean “the things we place importance on”, but it can also mean “our standards or principles of moral behaviour”.

This latter definition leads to people drawing on specifically moral examples to illustrate how introverted Feeling works.

But Fi is not just about moral circumstances. I can use Fi to decide if a movie is a good movie or a bad one. That’s not a moral judgement.

What is missing from these descriptions is that introverted Feeling applies as much to objects, people, places, and events as it does to moral circumstances.

“Values” doesn’t really capture this. It’s just a partial synonym that people use because they don’t know how to define Fi more precisely.

And because they don’t know how to define Fi, they tend to focus on the negatives (like indecision, stubbornness), or entirely other-centred positives like empathy, caring, being a good listener, and so on.

Jung defined Fi

Jung describes Fi as a process that aims to find a kind of primordial image underlying external objects.

It is stimulated by objects, but then devalues them in search of a more intense vision.

This does apply to values and morality, but only because values and morality are a subset of things about which we can feel, and from which we can extrapolate ideal images.

But it’s more pertinent and more accurate to understand Fi in an everyday context rather than focusing on moral situations, which are already complicated by their very nature.

An INFP should have, for example, some kind of feeling for what an ideal library would look like, based on all their past experiences and observations of different libraries.

The ideal library is not a moral concept, and it’s not really a “values” concept either.

Instead it’s almost an archetypal image, and it is identified, understood, and assessed by the INFPs introverted Feeling.

You’re doing it constantly

The focus on values and morals exists because the INFP is most visible when they choose an unconventional path over a “moral” issue.

No one stops an INFP to ask them how their local library compares (feeling-wise) to the ideal image of a library deep in the recesses of their soul.

But for most of us, moral controversies are few and far between. It’s not enough to accept INFP descriptors based on other people’s observations:

Quiet, a good listener, has an unusual lifestyle.

It’s just because there’s such a thing as an ideal way to live your life, that INFPs are mistaken for simply having “strong values”.

How does Fi work (in an INFP/Melancholic)?

Fi is a subjective evaluation or judgement of things that creates an ideal form of the object, according to subjective feeling.

Huh?

Bear with me.

Introverted Feeling (Fi) is a judging function in the Jungian/MBTI system.

For INFP/melancholics Fi is the dominant function.

It’s weird. Really weird and hard to communicate.

So how does it work?

I’ve previously described Fi as like a continuous, internal movie soundtrack. But that’s really just a side-effect of having Fi.

How Fi actually works is as follows:

Ever since I was a kid I loved swords.

This love of swords evokes in me a strong feeling about swords, a feeling that is informed by everything I’ve ever read, seen, imagined or thought about swords.

At some point my feeling function created a kind of platonic ideal of a sword…not so much the look or context or dimensions or material properties of the sword, but the feeling of the sword in its ideal form.

A sword is ideal to the extent that it conforms to this feeling, which is separate from, but related to, the specific qualities and context that comprise it.

It’s as if I took all my experiences of actual swords and extrapolated from them to the existence of a hypothetical sword that exists only in my feelings.

That’s why Jung wrote that Fi:

“is continually seeking an image which has no existence in reality, but which it has seen in a kind of vision. It glides unheedingly over all objects that do not fit with its aim. It strives after inner intensity, for which the objects serve at most as stimulus.”

The “vision” is the ideal feeling-form of the object.

Fi-users are empowered to judge things according to these feeling-forms. We look at real instances of swords and use our ideal feeling-form to decide if it is a “good” sword or not.

Accordingly, when we see things like the Sword of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter movies, my Fi reacts negatively.

Further elaboration might objectively vindicate or subjectively justify that strong inner response, but the domain of Fi is really either to “glide unheedingly over” things that don’t match the Fi image, or sigh unhappily at the wrong execution of an ideal.

And to be honest it’s not easy to explain what exactly is wrong with the sword. It’s a feeling, and would require research (justification and explanation) to communicate to someone else.

Once we delve into justification we’re no longer in Fi mode, and are liable to get sidetracked. There are always valid arguments that can be made to justify alternative points of view.

An INFP is more likely to just step out of the debate.

When Fi isn’t working

Now that I understand Fi much better, I can see that there are aspects of my life where I haven’t really been using Fi at all.

Not using Fi is a worrying sign for a Fi-dom.

It means I’m operating blindly in these areas, trying to utilise less powerful functions to solve my problems.

For example, I’ve struggled with physical posture for years. I’ve been physically stiff since I was a teenager, and have spent years working at stretching and building various muscles and joints, trying to find a stronger, more relaxed, and pain-free mode of movement.

What I’m lacking is a Fi feeling to guide me – not necessarily a feeling about posture, but perhaps a feeling about the activity I’m engaged in. Properly engaging my dominant function would smooth out the resistance that results in stiffness and tension.

Instead, I’ve tried to fill in the gaps using introverted Sensing (Si) and extroverted Thinking (Te) approaches. I’ve studied anatomy, I’ve looked at functional exercises, psychological approaches, mind-body systems…

None of them provided a long-term solution, because I was already undermining my greatest strength, and then using these weaker functions to try to compensate.

Staring out into empty space

I think what actually panics me is the emptiness where I ought to have a feeling-form to guide me.  It’s as if I’ve suffered temporary blindness or hearing loss and have to scramble to depend on other senses to fill in the gaps, while acutely aware of my vulnerability.

Many times I’ve found myself realising I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’ve learned to resort to Si and Te to make sense of the situation. My Te approach is to analyse tasks or circumstances according to goals and outcomes. Eg. “What is the purpose of this? What are we trying to achieve, and what is the best/most efficient way to achieve it?”

But this takes a great deal of energy, is less refined (since it’s my inferior function) and further compounds the absence of Fi guidance.

Finding Fi

I think the solution is to begin looking for positive feelings within these activities where Fi is lacking. Look for aspects that feel good.

It also helps to let go of pre-existing beliefs or ideas from other sources that tell you how you ought to feel, or what you ought to be doing.

Think of it as going back to a clean slate, and then allowing feeling to re-emerge uninhibited.

Remember that Fi is subjective – it’s all about how you feel, not how others feel or what they think or what they tell you is important. Don’t try to justify good feeling to yourself or to others.

At the same time, trust that feeling good is a key component in your overall way of being. Everything will fall into place if you feel good; and if your activities feel like an endless struggle, it’s likely because you’re ignoring or haven’t yet let your Fi guide you in those activities.

Fi is mysterious after all, and in a Fi-dom it’s unconsciously linked to a whole lot of other functions and processes. Even something as simple as going for a walk can be awkward and uncomfortable if Fi isn’t active.

In fact, going for a walk when you don’t feel good and your Fi is suppressed is like going for a walk with a blindfold on. Fi is an INFP’s dominant function, and without it everything is a struggle.

The benefits of getting sick

I used to hate and dread getting sick. At the first sign of a cold I’d panic and try everything I could think of to fight and resist it.

According to Esther Hicks, being sick is better described as pinching oneself off from well-being. The solution is not to overcome a sickness but to allow well-being to flow.

So this past week when I woke up with a faintly sore throat I did my best to adopt this point of view. I stopped looking at my coughing, congested wife with apprehension and dread in case I catch her sickness. She wasn’t afflicted by an external malady, merely resisting the wellness already available to her.

Likewise, I wasn’t under the threat of contracting some external contagion; my mild symptoms weren’t the beginning of something more severe. They were simply the earliest manifestations of pinching off well-being in myself.

Instead of a week spent fighting against the onslaught of a virus, I took my discomfort as a reminder to allow well-being. It worked.

The first thing I noticed was that allowing well-being broadened my focus. Instead of a narrow focus on fighting the specific discomfort, allowing showed me tension and resistance I was unaware of.

All the times I’ve noticed the onset of symptoms but been unable to counteract them… I’ve even felt the physical tension that precedes a cold, lending support to the idea that a cold is just an acute bout of resistance. But by the time the symptoms emerge it’s extremely difficult to ignore them. I tended to focus on the symptoms, fearing their increase.

This time my symptoms did not progress, and yesterday I realised that I’d been free of symptoms for a few days. I was so focused on allowing well-being that I wasn’t even keeping track of them.

Practising well-being for everything

It’s not just about physical manifestations of resistance. The same rationale applies to everything in life.

Any unwanted circumstance is like the first sign of a runny nose: it means I am pinching off the well-being and ease available to me.

The solution is not to fight to overcome the perceived negatives in our experience, but to allow the well-being to flow more broadly and more deeply.

External circumstances are just a reflection or manifestation of how much we are allowing well-being in the first place. Try to fix them and we’ll end up focusing only on resistance and missing the parts of us that need to let go and expand.

Ironically, once my symptoms disappeared I stopped focusing so much on allowing well-being, and my overall happiness began to decline as other, more subtle forms of resistance crept back in.

But any negative feeling should be treated the same way. It’s not an indication that things “out there” are bad and about to get worse if we don’t do something; it’s a sign that we’re inwardly resisting well-being, happiness, ease, excitement, joy, and love that are already in us.

The importance of looking within

It’s easy to feel resentment when others don’t do their fair share around the house or in the workplace.

And it seems like a big enough task to work through or with that resentment and anger, trying to find a path forward that restores a sense of fairness and balance.

But it’s completely the wrong approach.

We can look to overcome resentment through a course of action, demanding that others change. But the likelihood is that unless we change our perspective, our outlook, and our emotional point of focus, we’ll end up finding or creating a new situation based in resentment or something similar.

Flawed premises

I was raised believing that there are a number of unpleasant tasks in life that just have to get done, and no one really wants to do them.

The best approach to these tasks is to get them out of the way, so you can enjoy your remaining leisure-time unencumbered by worry, or the looming demands of these unwanted but necessary burdens.

But from a positive-thinking perspective, there’s no such thing as a task or situation that is entirely negative. Moreover, there’s no such thing as a persistent number of unpleasant tasks that are so intrinsically unpleasant that one cannot help but get pulled out of alignment when performing them.

For me these beliefs are the basis of resentment towards others who don’t “pull their weight”. I resent them, because their apparent laziness means I’m the one left to complete these unpleasant tasks.

So rather than trying to work out how to overcome my resentment or work cooperatively to share these burdens, my negative feeling is actually a clue or sign that my beliefs are off.

The resentment isn’t really about other people not pulling their weight. That’s just another manifestation of it.

The real resentment is in me, resenting these supposed “necessary but intrinsically unpleasant tasks”.

Knowing what you do want

In this instance I’ve been suffering under a false premise. There is no such thing as a task that is both necessary and so intrinsically unpleasant that I can’t find alignment in it.

What I want therefore is not a fairer share of these nonexistent duties; what I want is to be able to find alignment no matter what the circumstances.

I don’t actually want people around me to change – and if they had changed the way I thought I wanted, they would only have come on board with my own flawed perspective!

That wouldn’t actually have helped me and certainly wouldn’t have helped them.

The irony is that the people I resented probably have a happier attitude to life in these important aspects that I struggle with. Their frustrating behaviour has been exactly the trigger I needed to let go of my own resistance.

Positive thinking for INFP/Melancholics

Last year in a fit of clarity I decided to finally read some positive-thinking material.

I cringed inwardly, having previously dismissed this material as over-hyped, delusional New Thought motivational rubbish (not too positive, was I?).

But I had a few experiences where it was obvious that my circumstances were reflecting my own inner state back at me, over and over again.

Relationships where the same patterns repeated endlessly no matter what I did; but the moment I changed my perspective, it was as if everything around me changed too.

(I discovered much the same dynamic in my approach to eating and diet: I thought I wanted to lose weight, but on closer examination I had complex motives and desires that were keeping me stuck.)

So I still cringe occasionally, but otherwise I’m enjoying the benefits of studying and applying the material produced by Esther Hicks, on positive thinking and the law of attraction.

Positive feeling for INFP/Melancholics

Although this material is accessible to everyone, it is perfect for INFP/Melancholics, because it focuses first and foremost on how you feel.

I’ve had half a lifetime of being told explicitly and implicitly that how I feel doesn’t matter at all. Feeling bad about objective reality is irrelevant at best and a moral failing at worst.

It seemed that introverted Feeling (Fi) and melancholic idealism were things that just wouldn’t (and couldn’t) fit into the objective world, and I’ve even argued here that we live in a world dominated by Sanguine, Choleric, and Phlegmatic values instead (that’s SP, NT, and SJ, in MBTI).

Feeling is judgement

It really sucks to feel bad all the time, and to believe on top of it that you must do your best to ignore these bad feelings, because…reality.

So how does positive thinking/law of attraction material make a difference?

For starters, it takes the judging function of introverted feeling seriously.

Your feelings are your “inner guidance system” that tells you whether or not the thoughts you are thinking right now are in alignment with your deeper desires and “inner being” (call it soul, true self, higher power, or whatever you like).

Feeling bad is therefore not a personal quirk or moral failing, it’s an indicator that you are thinking in ways that contradict your own genuine desires and your inner being.

And if you don’t heed the signals of how you feel, you will continue to experience circumstances that feel more or less exactly the same.

Turning life around

INFP/Melancholics are prone to depression and anxiety. Yet these are simply emotional indicators that we are, right now, focusing on thoughts that do not match our genuine desires, or our inner being.

Since our circumstances reflect what we are focused on, feeling bad means we are going to continue to feel bad.

It was no coincidence that having felt depressed and anxious for many years, I continued to feel depressed and anxious.

The more I tried to understand depression and anxiety, the more entrenched it became, because I continued to focus on it and look for reasons “out there”, in the world or in my own personality.

Eventually I concluded that depression and anxiety were an unavoidable outcome of someone with my temperament and personality living in “the real world”.

I became an expert at reinforcing my pessimistic view of the world, despite how bad it made me feel.

Nothing is more important than feeling good

My knowledge and experience in philosophy, religion, and all kinds of intellectual analysis were not very useful until I knew what I was looking for.

But now it’s obvious to me that we do in fact create our own reality, shape our own experience, by what we choose to focus on.

If you want to be happy, focus on things that feel genuinely good, or at least better than you currently feel, while trusting that your experience and perception will change as you begin to feel better.

This is a complete inversion of the “worldly” approach, which incidentally matches the inferior extroverted Thinking function (Te) of the INFP.

From a worldly/Te perspective, you can feel good when you accomplish your goals, and you should feel bad if you fail to achieve them.

But notice that as an INFP, this is my negative perception of “how the world works”. In other words, my negative view of the world is that it operates according to my inferior function, that people are only interested in accomplishments, achievements, and utility.

Suspicious!

Question your negative beliefs

Does the world really revolve around utility and accomplishments?

Does every single person on earth value achievement and efficiency above all else?

Is the whole world ruled by ruthless market forces?

No.

But in thinking this way, I sought out experiences that confirmed my thoughts, and I ignored or downplayed evidence to the contrary.

Playing the game of “Yes, but…”

Have you ever noticed what happens when you try to cheer up an unhappy person, or when someone happy tries to cheer you up?

You both play the “Yes, but…” game; only you play it in different ways.

The positive person says “Yes, your situation has some difficulties, but there are positives to it as well…”

I acknowledge how you feel, but there are ways for you to feel better.

The negative person says “Yes, there are some things in life that seem okay, but there are negatives to it that you mustn’t ignore!”

If you’re intent on playing the game negatively, nothing and nobody can stop you. There’s no limit to the negative aspects you can discover in life if you really try. You can find, or create, down-sides to everything!

And for the same reasons, you can find, or create, a positive side to everything too. Even the very worst experiences strengthen your desire for something better.

One step at a time

I have to give full credit to Esther Hicks’ material for helping me change how I feel. It’s not just the basic principles, but also finer points like knowing that we can’t make a sustainable jump in feeling from “horrifically depressed” to “overwhelming joy”.

It can’t be done, and the desire to make these kind of leaps is in fact a form of self-sabotage.

But starting out with the intention to “feel better”, and taking small steps in feeling “less bad” is the way to slow down the negative habits of thought we’ve been practicing for decades, and make lasting improvements in our thoughts, our mood, and our whole experience of life.

Fixing a melancholic

Harry Potter is an excellent allegory for how a melancholic engages with the world.

The contrast between “normal” life and the melancholic search for meaning is wonderfully depicted in the revelation that a secret world of witches, wizards, and magic exists alongside, but carefully hidden from the muggles.

The quick derogatory explanation that Harry’s aunt, uncle and cousin are muggles – that the whole of Harry’s small world up to that point is a muggle world – immediately validates Harry’s deep dissatisfaction with life.

Breaking a melancholic

Melancholics correspond to the MBTI types ENFP, INFP, INFJ, and ENFJ. The combination of intuition and feeling typifies the melancholic temperament.

For NFJs, feeling is externally oriented, seeking harmony with others. For NFPs, feeling is internally oriented – arguably the most mysterious and introverted of the cognitive functions.

INFPs have introverted Feeling (Fi) as our dominant function. It’s hard to describe, but imagine your feeling state dominating your conscious experience prior to, and seemingly independent of, any other aspect of experience.

Imagine watching a movie with an intense soundtrack that dominates and overwhelms everything else, including dialogue and visuals.

This soundtrack is inescapable.

The health of an INFP might be viewed as a function of the coherence between the soundtrack and the rest of the movie. If the two don’t match, there is dissonance that reverberates through the score, and the INFP is then caught in a feedback loop where the only option is to shut down, retreat, sleep it off.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to live “normally”, while the soundtrack plays heavy, leaden themes that wear me down. The thought of living a “normal” life….the thought that a normal life is all that there is, all that is possible, is deeply destructive.

The soundtrack of introverted feeling informs me constantly that this is not what I want. But through my formative experiences and my subsequent worldview I’ve persisted in this unwanted direction.

Suppressing the dominant function

A dominant function can’t be truly suppressed in the sense of eradicating it. But if a soundtrack continues long enough in monotonous tones of protest, you can learn to ignore it for the most part.

The functional stack of an INFP is introverted Feeling (Fi) , extroverted Intuition (Ne), introverted Sensing (Si), and extroverted Thinking (Te).

Learning to ignore my Fi, I turned to the lesser functions and tried to live through Ne, Si, and Te.

This matches the common experience of neglecting one’s dominant function in favour of the inferior function, a stage of life that IIRC corresponds to the 20s-30s.

My inferior function of extroverted Thinking is all about efficiency and goals. Te-dominant people revel in achievements and outcomes; but Te in the inferior position is a far more modest and limited version.

Ignoring my Fi, I tried to view life through the lens of Te. This translated into a very uneasy, irritable and stressful form of goal-directed motivation, and an intense, acute, but wearying analytical mindset.

I describe this as a “problem-solving” attitude to life. At one stage I even looked to problem-solving as a possible strength or “vocation” in life. But problem-solving didn’t leave me with any lasting solutions. I could critique and analyse and deconstruct, but it wasn’t fulfilling, and it wasn’t creative.

Rehabilitating introverted Feeling

What I’ve been working towards (now that there’s nowhere else to go) is the rehabilitation of Fi.

Positive-thinking has been instrumental and life-changing in this respect; it might be more accurate to call it “positive-feeling” since how I feel is the first indicator and measure of the thoughts I am thinking.

But the goal-oriented mindset has been deeply ingrained in me. I even approached “feeling better” from a goal-oriented, problem-solving perspective.

Yesterday I realised that like everything else, engaging in a problem-solving attitude doesn’t bring me lasting solutions, it just attunes me to further problems. If I really loved solving problems, the good news is that there is no end to the available problems to solve.

But since a problem-solving attitude is wearying and detrimental and ultimately unsatisfying, it’s time for me to find something else.

Enjoying life

You can try to enjoy life as the solution to a problem, or to achieve the goal of “feeling better”. But to really change, I have to stop trying to solve problems or achieve goals and instead start enjoying life for the sake of enjoyment.

The difference is profound. Seeking to enjoy life tunes me in to all the things I can enjoy. It lets me forget about “keeping score” with whatever problems I’ve been trying to solve or goals I’ve been trying to achieve.

I feel physically different, because ignoring Fi introduced unnecessary tension into my mind and body, and employing Te was an additional effort.

I can honestly say that in the past 20 or so years I haven’t “let go” of that problem-solving attitude except for occasional instances of revelry or relaxation.

20+ years of internal conflict, unnecessary effort, and unremitting tension come to an end when I choose to enjoy rather than solve, and appreciate rather than answer.

I feel rejuvenated, because I’m judging by different criteria now. The considerations and concerns of extroverted thinking don’t matter at all to introverted feeling. At most, they’re my fourth priority instead of my first.

Choleric Villains: a Kung Fu Panda case study

Lately I’ve been thinking about and discussing the two basic types of choleric. I’ve also been watching a lot of Kung Fu Panda with my son. So let’s use the villains of Kung Fu Panda to explore the two types of choleric and how they function!

Tai Lung 

Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2 feature well-developed villains with sympathetic origin stories.

The villain of KFP1 is Tai Lung, an orphan snow-leopard adopted and trained by Master Shifu in the Jade Palace, who so excels at martial arts that he and his teacher both assume Tai Lung will become the Dragon Warrior.

But when Grand Master Oogway decides Tai Lung is not Dragon Warrior material, Tai Lung is outraged. He goes on a rampage and is eventually defeated by Oogway and imprisoned.

In simple temperament terms, Tai Lung is clearly choleric.  He is proud, ambitious, confident, angry and vengeful against those who have wronged him.

He pursues his revenge with the determination and focus of a choleric, having already displayed extraordinary patience, biding his time until the opportunity to escape presents itself.

Having escaped, he immediately returns to his goal of obtaining the Dragon Scroll, convinced that he is – or deserves to be – the Dragon Warrior.

Lord Shen

Lord Shen, the villain of KFP2, is the scion of a family of peacocks who ruled Gongmen City and brought joy to the people through their mastery of fireworks.

When Shen begins experimenting with fireworks as a potential weapon, his parents consult a soothsayer who warns that if Shen doesn’t alter his course, he will be defeated by “a warrior of black and white”.

Interpreting the prophecy, Shen takes his army to wipe out all the pandas in China and thereby avoid his fate. On his triumphant return Shen’s parents are horrified and banish him.

Like Tai Lung, Shen is proud, ambitious, confident, angry and vengeful. He bides his time while further developing his explosive new weapons and awaits the opportunity to exact revenge (symbolically) against his now deceased parents, returning to his ancestral home before setting out to conquer all of China.

Using MBTI to unpack temperament

The similarities between Shen and Tai Lung as cholerics are obvious. Of course they are also villains, which makes the comparison very direct.

Disclaimer: Not all villains are choleric and of course not all cholerics are villains. But cholerics have qualities that lend them to being either great heroes or great villains….great anything, potentially.

But there are specific areas of difference between Tai Lung and Shen that can be observed in real-world cholerics too.

Power in oneself vs power over others

One of the most fundamental distinctions between cholerics is the nature of their ambition, which directly relates to their underlying skills or cognitive functions in an MBTI context.

Tai Lung is a skilled warrior. He is very nearly the most skilled warrior in the world of KFP1, which is the foundation of his pride and also the means by which he pursues his ambition to be recognised as the Dragon Warrior.

In MBTI terms, Tai Lung has introverted intuition (Ni). 

Like all the cognitive functions, it’s hard to understand Ni if you don’t have it. As a non-Ni user, the best I can grasp is that Ni-users intuitively know how to do things.

Intuition is simply unconscious mental processing. The difference between Ni and Ne (extroverted intuition) is that Ne unconsciously processes information and patterns about the external world, while Ni unconsciously processes the user’s own actions, skills, and “how to do things”.

Strong Ni users seem to have a knack or talent in at least one area, sometimes many. They know how to dress well and present well. They take to hobbies and skills with instinctive sureness.

They might not be able to explain to others how they know, because the processing is unconscious, but in art, music, sports, or martial arts, their skill is evident.

For an Ni choleric (INTJ or ENTJ) ambition is channeled through this innate facility.

Hence Tai Lung’s pride and ambition are all about his own excellence, being the best. In his own mind he is the Dragon Warrior, and therefore deserves the Scroll that promises to further enhance his already superlative skill.

Non-villainous cholerics with Ni might describe their ambition in terms of being the best they can be, or wanting to compete with themselves (as an INTJ friend put it).

After all, Tai Lung doesn’t want to conquer all of China, he just wants to be the best.

The kind of choleric who does want to conquer all of China

While Tai Lung is the embodiment of kung fu as an individual skill honed to near-perfection, Lord Shen will happily destroy kung fu in the pursuit of his own ambition.

Instead of the power within himself, Lord Shen cultivates power over others, beginning with his intuitive realisation that the fireworks created by his parents could be used for violence.

This detail of Shen’s origin story is a perfect clue to the kind of intuition he wields: extroverted intution (Ne).

Ne is all about patterns and connections in the external world. As an Ne-user I can fully appreciate Shen’s recognition that the explosive power of fireworks could be “repurposed”. NB: but as a melancholic the idea doesn’t appeal to me!

Shen’s power is almost totally externalised, as represented by the cannons he invented and the army of wolves and gorillas he commands. While he has kung fu skills of his own, they are clearly insufficient to achieve his true aims and ambition.

Lacking the innate talent of the Ni choleric, Lord Shen’s ambitions are not grounded in his own personal attributes. This is reflected in his willingness to destroy his own ancestral home in pursuit of something greater.

Instead of being motivated by his own innate skill, what motivates an Ne choleric like Shen is the self-evident truth that bigger is better:

Soothsayer: “Are you certain it is the panda who is a fool? You just destroyed your ancestral home, Shen!
Shen: “A trivial sacrifice, when all of China is my reward.

Yet at the same time, Shen’s Ne is apparent in his respect for the Soothsayer, a fellow Ne user whom he spares in part to prove her wrong, but also in recognition of her own gifts.

As a fellow Ne user, Shen is intrigued by the Soothsayer’s predictions and insights. He sends her away only when he is confident that his own path is certain.

The weakness of cholerics

In temperament terms, an Ni choleric would be choleric with a secondary temperament of sanguine, and an Ne choleric would have a secondary temperament of phlegmatic. But that’s an “all things being equal” scenario.

In practice we can see that different cognitive functions can be exaggerated or diminished through circumstances, formation, and our own choices.

Tai Lung’s excessive ambition was fostered by Shifu, his adoptive father and teacher. Shifu encouraged Tai Lung’s desire to be the Dragon Warrior:

Tai Lung to Shifu: Who filled my head with dreams?! Who drove me to train until my bones cracked?! Who denied me my DESTINY?!?

Things get a bit subtle at this point, but I think the “filled my head with dreams” aspect would relate to Tai Lung’s introverted Feeling function (Fi) in either a tertiary or inferior position; my guess would be inferior.

Fi is all about ideals, meaning, and “dreams”. But in an inferior position, Fi is very rudimentary.

At various stages in life our inferior function is more influential, and it’s common for people to suppress their dominant function and be driven by their inferior.

In Tai Lung’s case, that would mean his dominant extroverted Thinking (Te) was suppressed, and his inferior Fi was engaged and stimulated by Shifu’s excessive encouragement.

So when Tai Lung is denied the long-expected meaning of becoming the Dragon Warrior he is enraged and goes on a pointless and destructive attack on the valley, ending in his defeat by Oogway and imprisonment.

Living under the shadow of rudimentary Fi, he actually weakens his “efficiency”, his Te, and loses everything of value.

A healthier choleric would have had a clearer sense of his own goals to begin with. He would have found a different way to excel, even if that meant spurning the Jade Palace altogether.

Ironically his loss of control showed that he had less confidence in his own abilities, because he had tied them so strongly to the specific “dream” of becoming the Dragon Warrior.

The search for meaning is his downfall not only in this first instance, but in his subsequent effort to obtain the Dragon Scroll.

The weakness of Lord Shen

As an Ne choleric, Lord Shen has extroverted Feeling (Fe) and introverted Sensing (Si) in his tertiary and inferior positions; but in which order?

There’s a case to make for either option: ENTP or INTP. Honestly, I’m not sure which is correct.

But his character flaws certainly relate to extroverted Feeling, which is all about harmony with others. For Lord Shen it was his parents’ horror and rejection following his attempted genocide of pandas that scarred him. Shen thinks his parents hated him, and is unable to reconcile their repudiation of his actions with their parental love.

But even prior to the incident, it is curious that Shen didn’t buy into the foundation of his parents’ power – the colour and joy that their fireworks brought to the lives of ordinary people. If Shen had more well-developed Fe he ought to have been more appreciative of that relationship between his parents and their subjects.

The frightening aspect of Lord Shen’s Fe is that he massacred the pandas without realising the effect this would have on his parents, and without having previously heeded their worries and fears about his attempts to weaponise fireworks.

It’s suggestive of psychopathy – not only that he would massacre the pandas but more importantly that he would fail to understand his parents response!

What went wrong with Shen?

Unlike Tai Lung, there is no indication that Lord Shen was misled, or that his head was “filled with dreams”.

What seems more likely is his parents’ failure to properly educate their son and instill in him more compassion or care for others. By the time he was willing and able to massacre all the pandas in China, it was already too late in his development.

While this indicates a failure to develop Fe, it also suggests (or rather, my brother suggested while discussing this question) an Si-related failure to fill a young Shen with formative memories that would reinforce the virtues of compassion, benevolence, and mercy.

Shen’s attempt to use his intellect (Ti and Ne) to conquer China with gunpowder is a merciless and violent recapitulation of his parents’ “conquering” Gongmen City through the joy and wonder accomplished by their fireworks.

Without an appreciation for the happiness of the people and the virtues that go along with that, Shen would see his own path as a bigger, better, and more glorious version of his own parents’ success.

Cholerics in real life

Learning about the four temperaments helped me understand myself, but it also helped me understand how and why some people act like complete a***holes when it seems like they should (and maybe do) know better.

Cholerics in general are weaker in the “feeling” functions of the MBTI. In Big 5 terms, they are more “disagreeable” than “agreeable”.

Villains with troubled origin stories aside, cholerics tend to be proud, which they might prefer to describe as being objective about their own strengths.

For Ni cholerics, their strength is the innate talent facilitated by introverted intuition, coupled with extroverted thinking (Te) that helps them be very goal-directed and efficient.

For Ne cholerics, their strength is the systematic world-modelling comprehension of introverted thinking (Ti), enabled and given full-flight by extroverted intuition.

Being strong and disagreeable is advantageous if life is a competition. But cholerics struggle when they seek to “win” at non-competitive goals or attributes such as being agreeable.

A common trope for successful cholerics (villainous or not) is to reach the pinnacle of success only to realise that they have neglected or even harmed the things they valued but did not excel at.

That’s why the choleric “solution” is essentially a softening or slowing down where it might otherwise be easier for them to fight, compete, and perhaps win. It’s for cholerics, I think, that we have the spiritual advice to embrace weakness, meekness, humility, and poverty of spirit.

Stages of positive thinking

My journey into positive thinking has gone through a couple of different stages so far.

Decrease negatives, increase positives

In the first stage my focus was mostly on feeling less bad.

I tried to soften the impact of my most negative thoughts on a number of subjects, and at the same time inject more optimism into my life on other subjects.

The biggest positive of all was the thought that this positive-thinking stuff might actually work!

I liken this stage to being a beginner at any skill or hobby: a beginner tries to decrease the number and frequency of their most egregious mistakes, the kinds of mistakes that make them want to give up entirely.

At the same time, a beginner benefits from being inspired, star-struck even, by the greatest examples in their field. These positive examples inspire hope and optimism.

But a beginner really has no idea of the scope of the skill. They can’t even imagine how much time or effort will be required to gain proficiency. Even if they think the task is enormous, they really have no idea how enormous it is.

Watch your thoughts systematically

Eventually I had the feeling that I wasn’t making as much headway as I would like.

I’d seen some genuine improvements, but they were more haphazard than the material suggested they should be.

I mulled on this for a while. It had been perhaps six months since I really started, six months of unsystematic practice.

Finally it dawned on me that I really needed to work at this. When they said “every thought is either making you feel better or feel worse”, they really meant every thought.

I decided to make the effort to focus on every single thought, daunting though this may seem.

This is just like when the beginner realises they must seriously apply themselves in order to gain skill. It’s all very well to dabble in a skill or art and see occasional improvement following occasional inspiration, but eventually you want to see your efforts rewarded. You want to make real progress.

And the effort paid off rapidly.

I very quickly observed that indeed each and every thought either contributed positively or negatively to my emotional state, with a 1:1 relationship between thoughts and feelings.

The greatest byproduct of this close attention to thoughts was to rapidly reduce the severity of my negative thoughts.

Paying such close attention, my mind suddenly made the connection between the negative thought and the negative feeling, and automatically softened the thought accordingly.

Wanting more

It’s been a couple of weeks since I started observing my thoughts like this, and the results were impressive.

But gradually I began to feel as if I’d plateaued.

It’s great to reduce the severity of negative thoughts and feelings, but the absence of negativity is not the same as positivity.

Feeling neutral isn’t the same as feeling good.

Breaking the feedback loop

The explanation for this plateau appears to be a kind of feedback loop.

Reducing negatives is great, but if we are consistently focused on external reality as our point of reference, we will never advance beyond that point.

In learning a skill we would always be exposed to a teacher and peers who are more advanced, pushing us to improve our own performance.

But in positive thinking, your experience always reflects your own thoughts. Therefore, the answer is to let the quality of our thoughts improve without regard to external reality.

Don’t let external reality be the determinant of your thoughts or feeling. In practice this might mean taking the time to “meditate” and allow thoughts and feelings to improve, trusting that external reality will eventually catch up.

Otherwise, we will keep repeating the same quality of thought over and over, and experiencing the same quality of experience over and over.

Breaking the feedback loop is as easy as letting go of that focus on external reality. Why let the momentum of past experience determine how you feel?