Introverted Sanguines and Extroverted Phlegmatics: the confusing middle-ground

This piece will get technical, so skip it if you aren’t interested in the minutiae of MBTI and temperament theory.

I’m mindful that when I pick people’s temperament I’m doing so in a subjective way based on my past experiences and the feel I have for people, in addition to more objective elements from a theoretical context.

Cholerics just feel hard and sharp to me. I can compare the feel of each new person to past examples I’ve collected (gotta catch em all!). I can identify patterns and key markers, and I can look at how they behave interpersonally and their overall direction in life.

Ambitious? High-energy? Disagreeable? Driven? The evidence will be there, and if it’s not, there’ll be a reason why it’s not.

I think this dual subjective/objective approach is good because it doesn’t rely entirely on how I feel about a person, but nor does it rely on disconnected data points. It has the strengths of both. It certainly has weaknesses too, but there’s no perfect alternative.

Any theory or system will have limitations. The only truly deadly limitation is to be oblivious to those limitations.

People who are hard to pick

I’ve encountered a number of people whose temperament is hard to pick.

The extreme cases are always the easiest: extreme cholerics, melancholics, sanguines and phlegmatics tend to be living caricatures of their type.

Cholerics in general are easiest to pick because of their disagreeableness and ambition or high self-regard.

Melancholics are probably the next easiest, though their tendency to try to fit in socially sometimes masks their melancholic aspect. Neuroticism is usually the key distinguishing feature of melancholics.

But the truly hard cases are the non-extreme versions of sanguine and phlegmatic temperament.

Sanguines are by nature more extroverted and phlegmatics are more introverted; the hard cases are therefore introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics.

Let’s get technical

In MBTI terms, cholerics are NT, melancholics NF, sanguines Se, and phlegmatics Si.

Note that cholerics and melancholics are defined by the combination of intuition (N) and Thinking or Feeling respectively, whereas sanguines and phlegmatics are defined by the orientation of their Sensing function – sanguines have extroverted Sensing and phlegmatics have introverted Sensing.

What that means is that while cholerics are always intuitive and Thinking, sanguines and phlegmatics can be Sensing and Thinking or Sensing and Feeling.

The functional stack

The standard MBTI labels like INFP immediately tell us a person’s top two functions, their dominant and auxiliary.

But in practice we all use four functions consciously, though with decreasing levels of ability and effort.

The label INFP tells us that this person has a dominant of Fi, and auxiliary of Ne. This means they must have a tertiary of Si and an inferior of Te.

In theory, at various stages of life and especially under pressure, people will resort to their tertiary and inferior functions.

So although an INFP is a melancholic (NF), under pressure they will draw more heavily on Si and Te as a complementary pair of functions.

Si and Te working together would resemble an STJ type… a phlegmatic, because of the introverted Sensing function.

We can therefore say that all NFPs have a secondary temperament of STJ, hence they are melancholic-phlegmatic.

Secondary temperament

We can extrapolate these tertiary and inferior pairs for all the MBTI types and thereby work out the “secondary temperaments”:

NTP->SFJ = Choleric-phlegmatic

NTJ->SFP = Choleric-sanguine

NFP->STJ = Melancholic-phlegmatic

NFJ->STP = Melancholic-sanguine

STP->NFJ = Sanguine-melancholic

SFP->NTJ = Sanguine-choleric

STJ->NFP = Phlegmatic-melancholic

SFJ->NTP = Phlegmatic-choleric

Bear in mind that these are just general rules of how the functions work together. Individuals might have developed or emphasised different combinations of functions.

For example, I’m an INFP, but due to peculiarities of my early life I learned to develop my Te and sometimes use it in conjunction with Ne while suppressing Fi.

In temperament terms I’m still clearly a Melancholic-phlegmatic, but the Ne-Te combination resembles a minor choleric influence that manifests as an internal pressure to get things done and achieve something.

Incidentally, combining two extroverted or two introverted functions like Ne-Te is considered unhealthy and unsustainable.

Introverted Sanguines

An ISTP friend once referred to himself as a “chameleon”, because he felt he could adapt his personality to changing circumstances with relative ease, though he noted that some adaptations were more taxing than others.

This same friend was difficult to type in temperament terms, as he appeared to lack extremes of any temperament.

Any STP should have NFJ as secondary temperament: Sanguine-melancholic.

But looking at the functional stack of an ISTP in particular, something unusual happens:

Ti – Se – Ni – Fe

The Se is what makes someone sanguine, but in an auxiliary position the Se is subordinate to the dominant Ti, and so its effect is muted.

Initially I would have been content to describe an ISTP as a Sanguine-melancholic. But the melancholic aspect is not as pronounced, and it can be confused by the strong influence of dominant Ti.

If we go only by the dominant function, then the ISTP shares Ti with the INTP – a choleric-phlegmatic – but without the Ne (extroverted intuition) that gives full flight to the INTP’s Ti.

The same pattern applies to ISFPs.

They ought to be simply sanguine-cholerics, since they have an NT combo in their tertiary/inferior positions.

But an ISFP has dominant Fi, a function that is shared by INFPs like me.

A sanguine-choleric ought to be the exact opposite of a melancholic-phlegmatic, yet I can relate to their Fi function.

Extroverted Phlegmatics

The same pattern applies to ESxJs, because the overall extroversion of the E-types shifts Si into an auxiliary rather than dominant position.

ESFJs ought to be phlegmatic-choleric, and they share dominant Fe with ENFJs who are melancholic-sanguine.

ESTJs ought to be phlegmatic-melancholic, but they share dominant Te with ENTJs who are choleric-sanguine.

A more balanced temperament?

What this all suggests to me is that the introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics are the most balanced of the temperaments. Lacking strong intuition they are missing the edge or “enduring impressions” that both cholerics and melancholics possess, and which can be understood as a kind of unconscious processing of the world around us.

Sanguines live more in the present moment of sensory stimulation while phlegmatics live more in the past of memory and experience. Cholerics and melancholics live more in the abstract world created by the unconscious processing of their intuition.

But for introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics these sensory orientations are subordinate to their dominant judging functions.


On reading omens part 2

I used to read the Yi Jing a lot, the Chinese Classic of Change.

I often received a result that included words like “It furthers one to have somewhere to go” and “It furthers one to see the great man”.

I baulked at these lines, not because I disagreed with them but because I had nowhere to go, and no idea who “the great man” might be.

Somewhere to go

Throughout my life I’ve often had a yearning to go somewhere, with the sense that once I got there I would find respite and a sense of identity.

But where was this place? All I had was a feeling.

Knowing the INFP temperament, I can see that this Feeling is the place I was yearning for. Not a physical location, but a feeling-place presented to my imagination as a physical location that I had to find.

It was a message from my innermost being, guiding me not to a physical place but to a Feeling where I would find rest and strength.

There was no mystical cave or temple monastery to go to in search of wisdom.

Or maybe there was, but I had already read so many stories of people who travelled to some mysterious destination only to find that what they were looking for was within them all along.

Without going out of your door you can know all things on earth, without looking out of your window you can know the ways of heaven. The farther one travels the less one knows.

– DaoDeJing

Find the feeling

The work I’ve done this past year with the Abraham-Hicks material has shown me that everything begins with the feeling.

It was not fruitless to have only the feeling of the mysterious place I sought; but it was a mistake to discount and suppress the feeling just because I could not find an obvious physical correlation to it.

The feeling itself was the place I needed to find and take comfort in and from.

This is especially true for Melancholic-Phlegmatics (INFP/ENFP) because our yearning and search for ideals means that we don’t always appreciate or move toward real instances of what we desire.

We might look around and see nothing that matches our desire and our ideal, so we tear down the ideal as too vague or too unrealistic or simply unhelpful.

But feeling better is the most helpful thing in the world. Feeling better is the reason why we pursue our ideals in the first place.

It’s not so much that achieving the ideal will make us feel good, but that feeling good is aligned with these particular ideals and desires peculiar to us as individuals.

Re-reading the Yi

Without resistance the idea of having “somewhere to go” elicits a feeling that is very uplifting. In this sense it matches the spirit of “seek and ye shall find”.

Some people know exactly what they want. But for others it’s better to know how we want to feel, and then let feeling be the filter and the guide that brings us to what we desire.

Re-reading the Yi Jing in this light, in a strictly personal, private interpretation, the meaning is much clearer than before because it is unconstrained by worries about objectivity, historicity, and consistency with how others might have read it or are reading it now.

In the reading of omens none of that matters.

Why explaining myself makes my ankle hurt

I see meaning and significance in many places.

Like an Augur – someone who could read omens in the flight of birds and other seemingly random occurrences.

Recently I went to see a physiotherapist about chronic stiffness and discomfort in my shoulders and neck, and he immediately traced it my right hip having rotated forward.

I saw it as signifying how I’ve been forever trying (unsuccessfully) to put forward a more practical, worldly, and conscientious part of me in an almost defensive posture that asserts the dominant side of my body.

Not long after seeing the physio I had a recurrence of inflammation in my left ankle, an old ache that leaves the joint feeling unstable and sore.

Again, it’s not that I go searching for an interpretation. I just immediately saw it as connected to my timidity about my own personal beliefs.

In fact both the hip and the ankle correspond to an issue I’ve raised before: the pressure for a Melancholic/INFP to conform to objective, shared reasoning and logic.

In MBTI terms it’s the INFP struggle with inferior extroverted Thinking (Te).

The INFP dominant function of introverted Feeling (Fi) is intrinsically subjective and difficult to describe or communicate, let alone explain or justify.

Other people (even other INFPs) tend not to understand our Fi approach and request or demand explanations or justifications for our beliefs and choices.

Taken to an extreme, an INFP can end up utilising inferior Te to try to “translate” nebulous yet powerful Fi judgements into more commonly accepted language and contexts.

This effort to translate is – like an artist or a comedian having to constantly explain their art or jokes – taxing, demoralising, and at odds with our dominant mode of being.

How can you justify yourself?

The pain in my ankle signifies my hesitance at putting forward my own personal beliefs and judgements.  I’m much more comfortable asserting broad generalities and carefully weighed observations.

But I can’t stand upon these measured justifications and explanations because they aren’t really a part of me. Like my hip, I’ve tried to push them further than they are meant to go.

The sad thing is that in conversation with others I’m so preoccupied by the effort to frame and contextualise my own beliefs that I end up losing sight of what those beliefs are.

I know my own thoughts deep down, but they’re unpracticed and wordless after years of trying to explain myself in other people’s terms.

When I talk to others I find myself trying to work out where they stand and what they believe, as if I can then build a bridge from their world to mine.

But what if that isn’t possible? What if people aren’t interested or able to see where I’m coming from, no matter how straightforward and simple I draw the map?

And at the heart of it all is not a genuine desire for others to understand me, but a fear of their judgement if they misunderstand me.

That’s why I have a pain in my ankle, because I’m afraid to put my weight on my own personal, private, unerring belief. I’m afraid to stand on it, because of how others might judge me if I drop the defense of framing and contextualising, justifying and explaining myself.

But there’s a simple remedy to this ailment.

I don’t need to justify or explain my beliefs to anyone. I simply don’t need to justify or explain my beliefs to anyone.

My beliefs do not need to be explicable or justifiable. I do not need to internally audit my thoughts and feelings in preparation for giving account.

After all, most people don’t want justifications or explanations beyond the most basic. No one but bullies demand justifications, and even their demands are more about power than about justification per se.

The genuinely curious ask questions and try to understand.

After all, justification implies permission or approval, and nobody needs permission or approval for their own beliefs.

Other people might criticise you or mock you if they don’t like your beliefs, but that’s not really about beliefs, but about how we interact with others.

If I want my ankle to stop hurting, I need to stop speaking in impersonal, cautious generalities. I am not, after all, an objective and impartial person. I’m not meant to be, and no one is.

What I desire and appreciate is the freedom to not explain myself or justify myself in this way; the freedom to not reach for the most justifiable or relevant aspects of my experience, and stop hiding behind the most plausible words I can conjure.

I don’t want to be at pains to cast myself in a sympathetic light anymore, always translating my thoughts into what I think other people will find easier to relate to.

NB: Yes, I realise this reads like an explanation of why I don’t want to explain myself, but…I don’t have to justify this!

Pride and humility for melancholics

It’s telling that in Conrad Hock’s spiritual advice for the four temperaments, he extols melancholics to cultivate faith in providence, whereas humility he prescribes for cholerics:

The choleric must combat his pride and anger con­tinually. Pride is the misfortune of the choleric, humility his only salvation. Therefore he should make it a point of his particular examination of conscience for years.

The choleric must humiliate himself voluntarily in confession, before his superiors, and even before others.

Ask God for humiliations and accept them, when inflicted, magnanimously. For a choleric it is better to permit others to humiliate him, than to humiliate himself.

Given how dominant cholerics are, perhaps this explains why pride and humility are such central themes of religious teaching and cultivation?

Ever since Cain slew Abel, people have been muttering “f***ing cholerics!” under their breath. There’s a reason why choleric issues get so much attention.

Rethinking spiritual priorities

I’ve devoted a lot of time to unpacking the spiritual theme of pride, because it holds such significance in religious traditions.

In theory we all suffer from pride. Augustine identified it as the root of all sin, and Cassian poetically captured the devil’s fall from heaven as the fault of pride, mistaking his own glory for something self-created rather than the gift of his creator.

But there’s something very melancholic about fixating on the wrong spiritual diagnosis and running with it.

And while everyone is susceptible to pride in theory, and while pride itself can legitimately be defined in very broad terms, still it doesn’t mean that humility is the correct spiritual antidote for a melancholic.

Humility or pessimism?

I think I was drawn to the idea of humility, because in its theological context it means “seeing one’s true dependence on God”. For a melancholic, this can appear very attractive because we are prone to pessimism and despair anyway.

When your ideals have been systematically crushed, it’s tempting to embrace “humility” as a form of consolation, making a virtue out of giving up.

But puncturing pride just isn’t the same priority for melancholics as it is for cholerics.

We melancholics are supposed to instead have faith in providence, telling ourselves “things are not as bad as they seem”. And the underlying logic of providence is, to a melancholic, almost distressingly positive:

God loves you, and God is in control of everything. The creative power behind all existence wants you to be happy. Your entire experience is a work of love aimed specifically at you.

So as the beatitudes remind us: chill the **** out!

Mistaking happiness for pride

If you were to take seriously God’s love and providence, it might bring you dangerously close to feeling good about life.

You might even feel a strange inner glow that could, if you’re not careful, be mistaken for pride.

We think of pride as being “full of oneself”, and “self-satisfied”. So as not to take any chances, we therefore err on the side of being empty of any and all positive feeling about ourselves.

But to avoid confusion, I suggest we instead ignore the issue of pride completely. Keep it simple: Providence + Love => Happiness

If God cares about our happiness, isn’t it okay for us to care about our happiness too?

If God loves us, isn’t it okay to love ourselves as well?

This is the point where all the pride talk would normally strike us down.

Love yourself? Ha! What an ego! Full of God’s love? I can tell you’re full of something. You think you’re special? Such arrogance…you’re supposed to hate your life in this world, remember?

But assuming we’re all melancholics here, we need to accept we are not the intended audience for that.

Pride talk aimed at cholerics is like trying to protect your home from a raging bushfire.

Pride talk aimed at melancholics is like tipping a bucket of cold water on the warm embers that might have stopped you freezing to death in your sleep.

Isn’t it okay to be happy?

We’re told that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and I’ve always interpreted it one way only: that we should all put ourselves last, and if we are sincere then our sincere humility will be rewarded in the next life.

But in the context of pride and temperament I think it should be taken both ways: if you are first, you should put yourself last. If you are last you should put yourself first.

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low.”

Don’t just topple the mountains, but raise the valleys too. If you are proud you should learn humility, but if you are a miserable unhappy melancholic you should at least consider that feeling good and putting yourself first is not a sin after all.

The proof of this is that real humility will bring greater happiness to a choleric. Their pride does not bring them happiness, it brings them frustration and vexation and anger.

We might look at egregiously arrogant cholerics who project success and happiness, but we know that their arrogance is hungry and grasping.

What more proof do we need that the genuine feelings of love, self-acceptance, and self-respect in us are not pride at all, but the fulfillment and grace of our own melancholic journey?

Is it time to consider the lily?

My latest piece at MercatorNet is part 2 of my parenting tips from a low-energy father. Therein I advise we draw on providence and find ways to be happy, for the benefit of ourselves and our children:

Parenting doesn’t end at getting things done. Parents aren’t machines. We model not only our behaviours and skills to our children, but our entire worldview and the moods and personality traits that accompany it.

We can, in a sense, “do everything right” but still inhabit a joyless existence, and our children are powerfully susceptible to the long-term influence of our attitude to life.

That’s why good communication is not enough, and why – for my own sake, and for the sake of my children – I set out learning how to change how I feel.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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?


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.

Sin and Feeling

One of the things that bothered me about the typical definition of sin in Christianity is the focus on actions and eternal law.

“Law” is a metaphor. God doesn’t have laws any more than our legal system has a “spirit”.

But it’s a strong metaphor because what we call “law” stands like a guide and a container for our actions and choices.

Perhaps you could say that human law, justice, judgement and punishment are a reflection of this divine thing that is properly nameless and wordless but must be translated into human terms if we are to talk about it.

Sin as action

Sometimes we do things that we know (or come to learn) are wrong, and we struggle with our own conscience over them. In fact moral theology has many caveats to this basic dynamic that include the formation or malformation of the conscience, the broader context of culpability, and so on.

A good judge takes into account all kinds of extenuating and aggravating circumstances.

But sin itself never really spoke to me in this context of action and law and judgement.

Sin as state

I’ve been thinking about it lately because someone asked me a question regarding sin, confession, and the problem of psychogenic illness and temperament.

I suspect the problem is that long-term anxiety and depression, and the temperament that predisposes me to these states, deny me any clear sense of the path before me, or that the root cause of my problems is ultimately my own transgressive actions.

If you can see the path, then yes you will know when you’ve deviated from it.

But if you can’t see the path, then being told that your actions are the root cause of your suffering is about as helpful as being blamed for being lost in a fog.

That’s not to say that I lack a sense of actions that are transgressive or immoral. Rather, the root cause of my suffering in life was not obviously related to any particular action or disposition.

It’s as if everyone was saying “just stay on the path and you’ll be fine. And even if you step off the path, you can return because God is forgiving”. Meanwhile I’m nodding politely while wondering where this path is exactly.

Finding the path

I think my temperament, and my Feeling function in particular, conceives of the world in a different way.

That’s probably why I was drawn to Eastern religions in my youth. Dharma is basically the same as Eternal Law, and the Dao is basically the way, but each has a richer, more substantial context in relation to the divine. Not that Christianity is really any different, it’s just a question of emphasis:

Do you emphasise God as judge and divine legislator? Or do you emphasise God as the path, the “way” itself, the outer boundaries of which are roughly marked with moral warnings?

Before I learned any Christian philosophy or theology, it seemed obvious to me that the moral law was the outermost perimeter of a deeper spiritual reality. Clinging to the moral law was like going to a beautiful mansion in the hills, and then stopping just inside the fence.

Yes, if you want to live in God’s house you can’t go outside the fence, but why on earth would you? Do you sit comfortably in a friend’s living room, loving their company, yet continually fretting that you might any moment fall off the edge of their property?

Private prayer

I think a lot of this goes unsaid in people’s personal relationship with God. People yearn to feel connected to God somehow, and that’s what is really important.

And some types or temperaments are completely fine with the idea that their actions help or hinder this relationship, and that confession or asking for and receiving forgiveness is the best way to remedy that relationship.

For these people, it makes sense to promote concepts of sinful action, eternal law, and forgiveness as the core dynamic of God’s interaction with the world.

But if you’re lost and living in a fog, it might be due to a number of factors that don’t necessarily fall under the standard definition of sin.

It might be the result of other people’s sins. Or it could be a kind of sin that isn’t commonly known or understood.

From a melancholic/introverted-Feeling perspective, there’s not much point trying to confess a Feeling. Yet this strong Feeling function so overshadows everything else that it not only blots out our sense of the divine, not to mention happiness, but it also obscures our own role in giving rise to this obstacle.

That’s what gave me this intense thirst for understanding. The hope of understanding my condition brought knowledge, insight, wisdom, to the fore rather than moral uprightness, sin, or forgiveness.

A person lost in a fog doesn’t need forgiveness, they need clarity. They need to know the lay of the land so they can stop falling into holes. They need a light, and in that light they can find the path.