Inspired Feeling for INFP-Melancholics

When an INFP’s introverted Feeling function (Fi) is working well it integrates the auxiliary Ne, tertiary Si and inferior Te perfectly.

When Fi isn’t working the other functions come into play without balance or support and we end up grasping for genius ideas (Ne), trying to remember what worked before (Si), or looking for some kind of irrefutable logic to apply (Te).

How to use Fi (and why we don’t)

Fi at its most powerful is like an actor becoming a role he loves and knows inside and out.

Fi is knowing how things are supposed to feel and it draws on the other three functions to inform it.

Using Fi in this way is powerful but can feel a little fake. Being able to slip in and out of different roles or characters with ease seems too easy or strange, and we can feel insecure about our authentic self.

For example, when I learned to sing in a choir I simply imitated the kind of voice I was “supposed” to have. It took some confidence, and giving myself permission to do it. From my point of view I wasn’t singing with my voice, just imitating the inspired ideal of voices.

But for me that’s what singing is.

Singing in a small church choir was a pretty low-stakes game, and that’s why I could give myself permission to “pretend” to be a singer.

In other areas of life when it seems like the stakes are higher INFPs risk doubting and distrusting their Fi ability.

For example, in martial arts we’re warned against being someone who looks the part but has no true skill or power.

An INFP can take this to heart and reject the Fi approach, searching instead for a more authentic or objective basis of skill.

Building trust in Fi

I think without practice our Fi abilities fall into two categories. There are low-stakes contexts where we use Fi easily, and for that reason don’t prize it.

Then there are higher-stakes contexts where we distrust Fi because it feels unreal. And because we distrust it, we don’t practice it or explore it. It remains dormant or dislocated.

I think the answer is to learn to engage Fi and remain inspired by it even while practicing and improving our skills.

Imagine you’re learning to play the violin. You already have a Fi image of what it looks like, the feel of a highly skilled violinist.

But you don’t have the basic skills yet, and the gap between your skill level and the Fi image of playing like a concertmaster or world-renowned soloist is….embarrassing.

So instead of drawing on that feeling, you think “I’ll practice until I’m good enough and then I’ll start acting like it”.

But it won’t work that way because you’re rejecting your most powerful function out of embarrassment and fear. The fear of “who do you think you are?”

Practice with Feeling

The solution is to do both. Stand inside your Fi image of the highest skill and accomplishment, and bring that to your practice, no matter how basic or beginner-level it is.

Use the Fi to keep you inspired and engaged, facing toward your goal. And instead of looking like a fool or coming across as pretentious, you will bring to your practice the focus and sincerity of the very mastery you desire.

When a master of one instrument comes to learn another they don’t blush and cringe at their mistakes. They don’t cower and slouch like they have no idea what they are doing.

They bring the full bearing of their existing mastery into the practice, with the openness and patience of one who knows they have much to learn.

Anything less is self-sabotage.

Aren’t we all a bunch of snowflakes?

My latest article at MercatorNet takes aim at our disdain for those horrible “snowflake” Millennials:

I used to laugh along with derogatory stories about Millennial “snowflakes” who think they deserve special treatment in every walk of life just for being born.

But after a while I began to see it as morbid, like hearing an old man rail against his “useless” offspring, and all you can wonder is whether a good tree produced bad fruit.

Finally I discovered I’m actually a part of the Millennial cohort myself, and if I take off my scratched and dented hand-me-down grey-coloured Gen X glasses then what seems like cringe-worthy sensitivity and emotional weakness among my younger peers begins to look like something very different: authenticity.

Or at least the desire for it.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/arent-we-all-a-bunch-of-snowflakes/22444

Are you living your purpose?

I used to long to find my purpose in life.

I imagined it as a place I was meant to be, a career I was meant to follow, an ideal or a teaching or talent that would bring me fulfilment in life if I just poured my whole self into it.

I thought I had found it in being a “problem-solver” of the intellectual kind. But however great it seemed at first, thinking for a living eventually grew old.

I wasn’t fulfilled by mastering complex ethical problems, and as my job in ethics came to an end I began to feel increasingly devoid of purpose and even prospects.

My grand spiritual quest was in stasis, my PhD ran into a brick wall, and the books I wrote didn’t provide the sense of purpose, direction, or income I’d hoped for.

The four temperaments taught me that ideals and meaning and therefore purpose in life were fundamental to my sense of self and my worldview. Yet thanks to my deeply pessimistic and world-weary outlook, I regarded these things as unreal.

Getting into positive thinking via the Abraham Hicks material has helped me enormously. But it only just occurred to me that I’ve still been looking at the world through the filter of my past disenchantment and despair of any real meaning or purpose.

What is purpose?

The real reason we want purpose is because we think it will feel good when we have it.

Try to analyse purpose and it loses its mystery.

Purpose is, after all, just an intention or a goal. It’s what you pro-pose or put forth.

But melancholics won’t be content with an arbitrary goal or a self-generated intention.

By our very temperament, we desire something greater and more powerful than ourselves, and that means something inherently mysterious.

That’s why all my attempted goals and paths lost their appeal as soon as I considered trying to make some kind of career out of them: what I sought was, by definition, to reduce them to predictable, repeatable and therefore non-mysterious processes or outcomes.

Mysterious power

And yet there was something I had encountered however briefly in my years of searching. I came upon it while trying to emulate the “acting without acting” of the Daoist canon. I think I hit upon it by accident and succeeded because there were no instructions, no real method, just a description and a feeling.

What I had was best described as a “mysterious power”, a product of faith, feeling, and intuition that I allowed intermittently to flow.

I found it again last night, trying to put my baby daughter to sleep.

I remembered the sense of ease, the feeling of alignment, the certainty (faith) that it would work because (mystery) I was aligning myself with this great power that creates, guides, and nourishes all things.

The feeling is most like those dreams where you discover you can fly just by focusing in a particular way with a kind of expectation and gentle certainty that allows you to find invisible footholds in the air, or simply levitate as easily as drawing in a deep breath.

It’s the feeling you get when you change ever so slightly the angle or focus with which you regard a familiar scene like your own living room. Everything changes and you suddenly appreciate it in a whole new light with a feeling of clarity and buoyancy like a gust of wind has filled the room and stirred everything in it.

Or like a lens suddenly coming into focus, and everything is sharp and crisp and you feel your control over that act of focusing, while everything else is securely in the flow of that mysterious power.

I never knew what to call it, and I tended to lose it in the past as soon as I ran into cold hard thoughts about “reality”.

But last night I allowed it to come to the fore, and with it came a shift in perspective. I wasn’t exhaustedly trying to get my daughter to sleep so my wife and I could relax, instead I was lovingly helping her to sleep so she could rest and refresh and grow.

With this mysterious power guiding me, buoying me and uplifting me I felt not only that I had the energy and the patience I needed, but also the sensitivity and the guidance to find the easiest and best path forward.

Better yet, that by staying in this feeling of power I was already on the right path, and everything else was coming together to make it work out perfectly.

Is purpose right for melancholics?

Whatever this thing is that I find fulfilling, it doesn’t match the idea of purpose. It’s much more like a way of being than an external goal – yet it is satisfying in the way that I always imagined an explicit purpose or direction would be.

It suits the melancholic longing for authenticity, meaning and the ideal.

So maybe that’s the purpose of life for a melancholic: to find authenticity, meaning, and the ideal; not for the sake of accomplishing other tasks, but as the goal in and of itself.

I’ve said before that being a melancholic is a bit like living in a fog. You can hear everything going on around you, but you can’t really see where you are going. This can lead to worry and anxiety, but it is also what makes us desire the ideal – because the ideal is always right no matter what is going on around you.

And when you know how to act, how to be, then you can at last be authentically yourself.

The Thinking trap for INFPs (Melancholic-Phlegmatic)

As a child and teenager I wasn’t obviously good at anything. But I enjoyed reading and occasionally I had good insights or creative solutions to problems that arose within the home.

So at some point I was marked out as “intelligent” by my parents and some teachers, and that became part of my self-perception.

By High School I had internalised the message that I was intelligent but lazy, and needed to apply myself more.

But even then I knew that my intellect was somehow different to others who excelled at maths and physics. They seemed a lot more hard-headed and mentally quick.

My intelligence felt weird, with idiosyncratic peaks and troughs of ability.

Being a problem-solver

I studied philosophy at university – the ultimate generalist discipline – and my subsequent work in bioethics cemented my self-image as someone good at solving problems or “making sense” of complicated or confusing issues.

Along the way I cultivated all kinds of interesting and unusual topics, because I believed that my greatest attribute and value as a person lay in my thoughts and ideas: the way my mind worked.

Thinking too much

Yet all this time I’ve been a compulsive thinker. I think constantly, composing thoughts and opinions on all kinds of subjects day in, day out.

With strangers and acquaintances I’m reserved and reticent to speak, but with close friends and family I talk almost incessantly.

For me, this way of speaking is a learned behaviour. I taught myself to verbalise my incessant thinking process, and for many years my personality was comprised mostly of my “interesting topics” thought out-loud to others.

INFPs aren’t Thinkers

I remember visiting China years ago and being unable to communicate with all the new people I met. I felt terrible, like a non-person, because all my value was tied up in the content of my “interesting” thoughts and ideas.

In recent years I’ve come to accept that INFPs aren’t really “Thinkers” after all. I might be good with words and have some creative ideas…my whole outlook on life might be intriguing and different, but this is quite different from the standard model and expectations of an intellectual or a Thinker.

This wouldn’t really matter, except that I took to heart these expectations and in my own way I tried to push my intellect to the fore.

Do I think constantly because I enjoy it, or because I believe it’s my greatest value and best quality?

Honestly it’s the latter. If I stop thinking…I start to feel like a nobody. If I don’t communicate my thoughts, I start to feel very very ordinary.

But the irony is that the people closest to me don’t really value me for my ideas; they’re more likely to be annoyed by my incessant sharing of my thoughts.

And when people do find value in what I’ve written it feels completely normal and straightforward, and I feel happy for them.

In other words, I’ve greatly outlived the usefulness and gratification that once came from being told “You have great ideas!” or the sense of identity that came from being told I was intelligent and should apply myself.

A more authentic self

I would like to put away my thinking, problem-solving, and interesting-idea hats. I’m tired of wearing them, and I don’t need them anyway.

I never used to talk that much, back when I was happiest. And my friends never looked to me for ideas or points-of-view.

And even when good ideas come and they are appreciated, it’s easy and cannot be forced. Like the augur reading omens or the seer having visions, it’s just there. Not a process but a perception.

So don’t be lured into the thinking trap, fellow INFPs. Our value doesn’t lie in trying to imitate our INTP cousins. Whatever insights we have are eclectic and unpredictable, not the careful analysis of introverted Thinking, but the broad strokes of introverted Feeling.

It’s like the difference between a surgeon and a shaman, but no one will offer you a career pathway to being a shaman.

What do we look like when we stop trying to imitate other temperaments? That’s the question we can only answer for ourselves, not by thinking, but by allowing it to happen.

In hindsight, the ideas and subjects I gravitated towards weren’t “interesting” to me, but meaningful, and it’s this strong but ineffable sense of meaning that lies at the heart of the INFPs authentic self.

In search of authentic self-expression

I trained myself to respect and revere objective, logical, and dispassionate analysis.

I idealised an approach that takes all the personal meaning and enjoyment out of a subject, holding it carefully in check until the facts are verified and any risk of falsehood or misinterpretation is eliminated.

I made personal satisfaction subordinate to external validation.

Philosophy demands the most severe internal criticism of our own beliefs. We are supposed to be our own harshest critics, because that is the path to real knowledge and understanding.

But I ventured into philosophy not because I loved what I found there, but because I saw it as the best place to continue my search.

I couldn’t relate to philosophers who specialised in the works of some entirely mundane and spiritually dry thinker, because I didn’t understand differences in individual temperament.

I didn’t realise that most philosophers were intellectuals building careers out of their areas of interest and priding themselves on the quality of their thinking.

There’s a big difference between “I love being right!” and “I’m terrified of being wrong”, yet the latter is how I related to the more choleric philosophers I met, those who were most keen to be at the forefront of contemporary thought.

My motivation was more of a search for answers arising from a deeply spiritual orientation driven by the burdens of a dysfunctional formative life coupled with my melancholic temperament.

I had little actual interest in philosophy unless it fed into my search directly or indirectly via the intellectual skills that were supposed to lead to truth.

But this isn’t really about philosophy. It’s about my deeper sense that all my beliefs, thoughts and actions are open to scrutiny and I must find external validation for them if I expect to avoid censure, criticism, or mockery. Philosophy merely presented a pathway to validation.

So how am I to authentically express myself when I’ve internalised the need for external validation?

It is frustrating beyond belief to feel as if every thought and every word must pass through a filter and be denatured before I can communicate it.

I’m afraid that if I don’t filter, my own words will be used against me. So the onus is on me to ensure that everything I say and do can be defended against.

Which means I’m expecting someone – maybe everyone – to turn against me at any time, if I give them the ammunition.

I used to find satisfaction in ensuring that my articles were watertight. Using my philosophical training I was careful to couch everything in appropriately modest terms, never over-reaching.

It’s a worthwhile discipline in the right context, learning to replace empty assertions with “if you accept this premise, then you must at least agree that my conclusions are reasonable”.

But the process itself is wearisome and grounded in anxiety and fear of humiliation. The satisfaction is merely in being unassailable, not in having truly expressed myself.

What does authentic self-expression look like for me?

I think it must be devoid of fear, the kind of fear that leads to self-censorship and the deadening compulsion to research, double-check, qualify and hedge.

I think it must also be driven by some kind of inner need for exploration and development of my own thoughts and ideas – a genuinely pressing desire to work something out.

After all, that’s what is most satisfying in my own life. Working out the answers that are most meaningful to me.

99% of the writing I do each day is my own, for my own personal meaning and with myself as the audience.

The service-provider state

My latest article on MercatorNet takes the providential view a step further by speculating on what good might come out of the dismantling of traditional moral structures and principles in society and the state.

Like an internet service-provider, we will increasingly expect the state to keep us connected and free from unwanted interference, the perfect venue for the exercise of autonomy.

And despite its association with various ethical issues, autonomy is not a bad thing. It’s a part of our humanity and deserves exercise and respect.

The rise of individual autonomy is not intrinsically evil, nor was the paternalism of the past.

But with providence in mind, the overall trend suggests a development or evolution of our social and political structure, and it’s no accident of history that the rise of individual autonomy came on the heels of the most horrific expressions of collectivism and statism.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/same-sex-marriage-and-the-service-provider-state/20793

God writes straight with crooked lines

My latest article at MercatorNet brings a providential view to bear, for those disheartened or dismayed by the same-sex marriage postal vote result:

…it would have surprised me if this society, in which we’ve seen moral norm after moral norm explode in the face of individual autonomy, suddenly bucked the trend by voting “No” to same-sex marriage.

This is an individual perspective. I wouldn’t try to convince people not to campaign, if they feel that is what they should do. For me, campaigning would have felt insincere.

Because what inspires me is not the thought of victory in battle, winning the culture war, or defeating the enemy through cunning, effort, or good strategy.

What inspires me is finding the right path to tread, a path that will always lead in the right direction no matter what is going on in the world around me.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/god-writes-straight-with-crooked-lines/20733

introverted Feeling

Introverted Feeling is a really weird function.

It’s the dominant function of INFP and ISFP; it’s also the auxiliary function of ENFP and ESFP.

I’ve read and listened to lots of descriptions of introverted Feeling (Fi), but hardly any of them feel right to me.

To me, Fi is like an inner landscape of a strange world with diverse terrain. The things that happen in the real world are mirrored in this inner landscape.

So when something happens that you don’t like, it feels as if the inner landscape has become a kind of dark, arid, and rocky mountainside where you’re struggling to find your footing.

When something arduous and oppressive happens, it feels like you’re mired in a horrible swamp, up to your waist in thick mud.

When something unexpected and wonderful happens, it feels like you’re suddenly in a beautiful mountain valley on a warm spring day.

These changes in feeling can be rapid and intense, and they can occur without you even leaving your room.

In an ideal world, a healthy Fi dominant person would use this inner landscape to navigate the real world. We would make choices and seek out directions that take us to good-feeling places in our inner landscape, and avoid actions and circumstances that take us to bad-feeling places.

But as mentioned in my previous post, Fi is extremely hard to describe, especially when we’re young.

We all assume from a young age that everyone else is like us on the inside. So when people act in ways that make us feel really bad, we assume that they also feel bad, but that somehow feeling bad doesn’t matter.

At other times we are explicitly pressured to act according to external parameters that conflict with our Fi, and we are also pressured to provide non-Fi justifications or explanations for our own choices and actions.

Not only do we get cajoled into situations that feel bad, but being forced to justify and explain ourselves also feels bad, as it denies the integrity and authenticity of our introverted Feeling.

Someone calls you and says “Can you please do this for me?”…and your Fi presents you with an endless, stagnant swamp you’re being asked to cross.

But what do you say?

You can say “No”, or “I don’t want to.” But some people won’t be satisfied with that.

Can you say “Doing that for you would feel like being plunged into a foul and interminable swamp”?

I don’t think that would go over too well.

But “I don’t feel like it” sounds capricious and flippant.

So what do you do?

You look for “reasons” or excuses that explain and justify your refusal.

“I’m busy that day”, “I have things to do”, “I’m overloaded at the moment.”

It’s not that these things aren’t true, just that it’s not how your mind works.

You haven’t sat back and thought “Can I help them? No, I can’t because I have too much to do already”.

So you end up having to translate your Fi into a reason that is completely un-Filike.

Over time you develop the unpleasant feeling of being a foreigner in your own country, translating your inner world into something that others deem acceptable.

The good news

Ah, but there is some good news.

The good news is that once you understand your Fi, and the lesser functions that are undermining or inhibiting it, the path to feeling good again is relatively simple.

I’ve discovered that so long as I recognise the interference of Si (intrusive memories, adherence to customs, past experience, old habits and sensory immersion), and the interference of Te (the demand for outcomes, explanations, efficiency, and step-by-step planning), it’s possible for me to take whatever I’m currently feeling and simply change it.

I might be presently mired in a swamp or stuck on that barren, rocky slope, but if I remove the hindrances I can fly in an instant to an idyllic forest, or a sublime mountain peak.

I can go somewhere magical in that inner landscape. I can let my feeling be the substance of my conscious experience, rather than some unhappy by-product of external forces and conditions.

I can – as terrifying and counter-intuitive as it might sound – let my Fi be the guide to my choices and direction in life.

And in that capacity, it really does feel like something miraculous. It really does feel as though “feeling good” has the power to substantively change my experience of life.

 

I just don’t feel like it

The INFP functional stack looks like this

Dominant: introverted feeling (Fi)

Auxiliary: extroverted intuition (Ne)

Tertiary: introverted sensing (Si)

Inferior: extroverted thinking (Te)

The problem for INFPs is that society privileges Te and Si over Ne and especially Fi.

This means that focusing on effectiveness and outcomes (Te),

or on past experience and “what worked before” (Si)

is more rewarding than

seeing abstract connections between things (Ne),

or having a deep and mysterious nonverbal inner landscape that tells you what you like and don’t like (Fi).

Yeah, that last one is a bit of a mouthful and I’ll have to unpack it later if possible.

So from childhood most INFPs are taught to put their tertiary and inferior functions ahead of their dominant and auxiliary.

This is problematic because our tertiary and inferior functions are generally weaker, less developed, and require more energy to use than our dominant and auxiliary. Depending too much on your tertiary and inferior functions means you’re not working with your strengths.

For the INFP it also means we’re not being authentic. We’re living according to the imposed values of Si and Te…demands we can meet, but at an awful cost.

The cost is that we feel awful.

Our dominant function of introverted feeling doesn’t go away. It keeps telling us “this is bad…this is bad…” even while we persist in letting our tertiary and inferior functions drive us.

We end up in this unfortunate state because for most of our lives we’ve been asked to justify and explain ourselves in terms that the broader society will appreciate; yet the very nature of introverted feeling is that it’s extremely difficult to describe or communicate to others.

Sometimes the best we can say is “I don’t feel like it”, which is not considered valid by many people.

So we stretch ourselves to come up with “reasons” that actually feel (to us) like excuses. But excuses are the only language some people will listen to. And if you can be reasonable enough, you can convince these people of your position.

They might disagree, but they’ll at least acknowledge that you’re playing their game. At least you’re giving them something to disagree with.

It’s a formative experience for an INFP to be relentlessly pushed for an answer, explanation, or justification, when really we were operating on feeling the whole time.

The people pushing for “reasons” aren’t necessarily bullies, they’re likely operating from a different function. They’re assuming that the INFP has clear and concise reasons for their behaviour, reasons that are easy to articulate and communicate.

So when the INFP struggles to communicate these reasons, the interrogator doesn’t understand the apparent reluctance or resistance. From the interrogator’s point of view, the INFP must be too afraid or too embarrassed or too malicious to share their reasons.

For the INFP, the interrogator’s scrutiny itself comes across as an indictment, an implicit charge that the vague, inarticulate world of introverted feeling is faulty and inadequate. The prolonged and persistent attempts to get an INFP to explain themselves just reinforce the INFP’s sense of being incomprehensible to others.

From what I’ve seen of other INFPs, I’m guessing I’ve gone pretty far down the road of training and depending on my tertiary and inferior functions.

But these tertiary and inferior functions are crippling when they exceed their station. I’ve begun to notice the many occasions in which Si and Te states of mind or impulses surface, to detrimental effect.

In my writing, these manifest as the internal pressure to arrive at decisive conclusions, explain my points exhaustively, be unassailable in the position I take, consider all possible objections, research everything to ensure I make no mistakes, and try repeatedly to communicate my meaning as effectively as possible.

None of these are bad things to aim for. But what happens so often is that my initial burst of inspiration is crushed and suffocated by the sheer burden of these demands.

I might have a meaningful idea I feel strongly about (Fi), that draws on some abstract connections or patterns I’ve noticed (Ne), but a third of the way in I’m already wondering “who cares about this? What’s the point?” (Te), or I’ve researched the issue in question and utterly derailed my train of thought by overloading it with new data (Si), or I’ve tried to adhere too closely to conventions of genre and the light-hearted piece I started with has turned into a weighty, leaden recount (Si).

There’s nothing wrong with Si and Te, but if what really drives you is Fi and Ne, then denying those functions is going to make you feel drained, worn out and depleted.

 

 

 

 

To Hell with an Aussie Halloween

Inspired by the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia, my latest article at MercatorNet questions the authenticity of…well, everything, including authenticity.

On the one hand, Halloween in Australia is profoundly meaningless, deeply inauthentic, and the kind of culturally vapid, commercially-driven embrace of superficial Americana that our own cultural elites always warned of.

On the other hand, an increasing number of Australians feel like doing it. It’s an authentic expression of their wishes and enjoyment. And what could be more authentically Australian than people doing what they want, because they enjoy it?

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/halloween-and-other-nightmares