I came to the awareness that I was an introvert in my mid-twenties. That’s pretty late to find a name for the core of your being. I had always been an introvert though. I remember as a kid thinking that kids my age were boring or immature or played silly games, so I would go to their houses and hang out with their older siblings or their moms. I remember bonding with my friend Laura’s older brother while he sat at the kitchen and tested his blood sugar, and hanging out with her mom, drying the dishes as she washed them. Laura wasted time in her playroom with dolls or in the backyard pretending to be a squirrel, ferreting away acorns for the winter. Some friend I was.
I liked the quiet, calm, seriousness of adult friendships, even in first grade.
Later in my childhood, I remember only wanting to have One Friend. And it wasn’t the kind of obsessive, enmeshed friendship like most kids with One Friend have, it was a single friendship of practicality. I remember, by the time I was in 3rd grade, thinking it was too much work and a waste of energy to build and maintain friendships. I would just have to repeat the same process over and over again to acquire friends, and then maintaining all these friendships would result in having little time to myself. The work would be exponential. It’s easier to just have One Friend.
When I was in high school and college I started to build more meaningful friendships, (in part because I didn’t move around as much) a few of which last today. But I realized that my introversion and need for solitude negatively influence my ability to be a good friend. I am more emotionally reserved than most; I don’t readily share my innermost thoughts & feelings, I sometimes seem callous and cold, hard to crack, aloof, disinterested, snobby. I hate small talk and chit-chat, I don’t understand why people waste so much time just hanging around not doing anything (I came to realize later that this was also the same reason I hated dating!) I didn’t know why I came across that way, and I didn’t know how to change it. I wasn’t owning - and working with - my introvert.
In my mid-twenties I had a really good conversation with a (drunk) man I knew who was probably the most introverted person I had met – so much so that I thought he was aloof, disinterested, snobby, antisocial. He told me what he had realized about himself, and how his introversion had influenced the way he is perceived by others – largely inaccurately. I realized that I have huge capacity for caring, love, compassion and bonding with others, but it has to be in my own bizarre way.
Later I was working at a chemical dependency clinic for a woman whose behavior I was frequently appalled by. I normally was quite able to forgive people’s indiscretions and choose not to associate with people who I didn’t respect (hello, aloofness!) but I was unable to escape this woman. She suggested that I take a personality test, which she thought would help me understand her – or at least improve our interactions. I took the test, and realized that she was right.
I am an INTJ.
My personality is characterized by a desire for order, rationality and practicality. I need quiet time alone to reflect and recharge, to process my thoughts. I think more than I care to speak, and when in a situation when I have to speak more than I can think I say the wrong things. (Oh, maybe that’s why I hate talking on the phone!) I value truth over emotion, and can come across as abrasive because of this. I don’t like to spend my precious, limited capacity for social time with people who I don’t really really love and respect, so come across as aloof, uncaring, cold, antisocial, disinterested, even snobby. I value and respect action more than words, and rational thought more than connection and emotion. I want to fix things, find a solution, improve a process – and that desire seeps into my friendships. If there is a solution to a problem, whether you want to hear it or not, I will probably say it. I tell the truth even when I probably shouldn’t. I often treat even un-solvable situations as mysteries that just need to be unraveled.
I have always struggled with understanding the desire to socialize. I don’t open up easily, and I sometimes feel that even my very closest friends don’t know me that well – and I’m generally OK with that. It’s easier for me to share information than to connect emotionally. I find it impossible to be friends with someone who I don’t respect, or someone who seems aimless or not serious enough for my taste. It’s hard for me to engage others in conversation, especially if I know it will not be a lasting relationship. I hate wasting time with small-talk, I hate repeating the same “getting to know you” chatter over and over again. I hate “social” time at meetings. I often easily answer people’s questions, with little that I am not willing to entertain, but don’t easily slip into the social relay of returning the question. My standards for the people I associate with are extremely high. I would rather be alone that with people who don’t meet my requirements for friendship. (So although this sounds super harsh, if you’re my friend you should probably puff your chest out a little, pat yourself on the back, and be pretty proud of yourself. You passed the introvert challenge!)
Because I know this about myself, because I know I need alone time which I no longer get and that I have little patience for silliness or fruitless endeavors, I wonder if I will be able to share myself fully with my child. Do I have the capacity to completely express my love in the way a child needs? I am very loving, but often not very expressive.
Will I be able to love a child who is unlike me, who has endless capacity for socialization, who loves the social “game” of interaction? Will I be able to respect a child who is not constantly seeking answers, solutions, improvements? Will I have the patience for all that is not practical? And the big, scary question – if I can’t figure out how to respect a child who is so unlike me, do I have the capacity to love that child?
I know that I will figure out how to love my child, whether like me or not. But right now it’s so hard for me to imagine being able to provide all the things that an extrovert needs from a parent. Can I handle having an endless parade of kids and noise and games in my home?
But really it comes down to one question – if my child isn’t an introvert, am I going to suck at being her mom?
I always thought personality tests were silly and aimless and a waste of time, until I found so much between the lines of the test I took. I understood myself and my interactions with others so much better. I wanted to know what everyone else’s personality was, so that I could analyze, categorize, and establish the best course for interaction and understanding. Ironically I chose to marry someone who is nearly identical in personality categorization – an INTP – and my main frustration with him is the inability or lack of desire to think ahead, plan for every possible scenario and have 50 plans of action in place. Perfect “P” behavior. He likes to sit back and wait to see what happens before deciding how to react. Oh, the horror.
So I decided that in order to establish whether I am going to be a horrible mom to a potentially extroverted child, I needed to do some research.
I found the strengths and weaknesses of INTJs:
- Not threatened by conflict or criticism
- Usually self-confident
- Take their relationships and commitments seriously
- Generally extremely intelligent and capable
- Able to leave a relationship which should be ended, although they may dwell on it in their minds for awhile afterwards
- Interested in "optimizing" their relationships
- Good listeners
- Not naturally in tune with others feelings; may be insensitive at times
- May tend to respond to conflict with logic and reason, rather than the desired emotional support
- Not naturally good at expressing feelings and affections
- Tendency to believe that they're always right
- Tendency to be unwilling or unable to accept blame
- Their constant quest to improve everything may be taxing on relationships
- Tend to hold back part of themselves
Oh shit. This is not looking good for parenting. OK, here’s some info from the same site about INTJs as parents. Maybe this will help:
INTJs as Parents
"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth...
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable." -- Kahlil Gibran
As parents, INTJ's main goal is to raise their children to be intelligent, autonomous and independent. They want their kids to think for themselves and make their own decisions, and so are likely to give them room to grow, and to challenge their decisions and thoughts at key points in their lives.
The INTJ is not naturally likely to be an overly supportive or loving parental figure. Since their own need for expressions of love and affirmation is relatively low, they may have difficulty seeing that need in their children who have Feeling preferences. If they do see this sensitivity, they may not recognize or value the importance of feeding it. In such situations, there will be a distance between the INTJ and the child. This is a problem area for the INTJ, who should consciously remember to be aware of others' emotional needs.
And for good measure, and since we’re in research mode, we may as well complete the trifecta of self, child, friendship:
INTJs as Friends
INTJs are usually difficult to get to know well, and difficult to get close to. Those who are close to the INTJ will highly value them for their ideas and knowledge. Although INTJs are generally very serious-minded people, they also have been known to enjoy letting loose and having fun, if others pull them into it. They also can be really good at telling jokes, and exhibiting a sarcastic wit with a poker face.
The INTJ is not likely to choose to spend time with people who they feel don't have anything to offer the INTJ. They especially like to spend time with other Intuitive Thinkers, and also usually enjoy the company of Intuitive Feelers. These personality types love to theorize and speculate about ideas, and so can usually relate well to the INTJ, who loves to analyze ideas.
Many INTJs believe that they are always right. In some INTJs, this belief is quite obvious, while in others it is more subtle. Some people may have a difficult time accepting what they see as a "superior attitude" or "snobbery". Not to imply that INTJs are snobbish, just that some people with strong Feeling preferences may perceive them that way. And some individuals simply have no interest in the theoretical pursuits which the INTJ enjoys.
Sadly, al this information gave me little assurance that I will not be the World’s Worst Mama. I may be a loving but distant, analytical and judgmental parent with high expectations. That’s not really what I want for my child.
But I already know that the parenting choices I am making are creating a bond between baby and me, even if at the expense of the quiet solitude I crave. It has been an ongoing adjustment to parent in the way I am choosing to – sometimes an adjustment that seems impossible or not worth the loss of myself. I am choosing to forfeit my comfort in solitude for the benefit of my child’s emotional growth and security. I have evaluated my options, weighed the pros and cons, and made a decision for the course of action I will take. I will take the hit for the benefit of my child. I can handle that sacrifice, knowing that it is part of a thoroughly-evaluated plan for my child’s happiness and success, whoever she may turn out to be.
I have to own my introversion.
Maybe I won’t be the worst mama ever. It remains to be seen, but I think I will be able to find a way to wrap my reserved, analytical, solitude-seeking arms around even an ESFP. Oh, the horror.