Saturday, October 22, 2011

INFPs and Addiction

When I was in college, I took a course in Jungian Thought (heady stuff, especially when you factor in bong hits while pondering the idea that we're all carbon, so at the molecular level, how can you say you're "you" and I'm "me"--how do we know we're not just two parts of a single larger entity comprised of all of us?) and things like that. Our professor, Charles Haynes, had us take the Myers-Briggs, and I turned out to be an INFP. Now, you know these personality tests: we do tend to change as we mature, so every time we take them, we get a different result. Well, over the years, I've taken the Myers-Briggs two other times, and guess what? I'm really consistent in being an INFP.

The INFP is a comparatively rare type, which fits in quite nicely with my being, in general, an odd duck. We are also uniquely prone to addiction problems, due to our sensitivity and discomfort with pain.

But I was thinking about intuition and feelings this morning--and how much I am driven by both, rather than by sheer logic or rationality. Someone who meets me and doesn't know me well is likely to get the impression that I'm a bright, logical person who only reaches conclusions after considering the evidence. And I can do that; I certainly teach that. When I'm making decisions, I have tried to operate that way.

Yet at a very basic level, I don't. Instead, I start with my feelings (and if it's a person, it'll be how I feel when I'm around them or what I sense about them). Classic empath, in other words. If something feels good or right or honest or moral or like it's the truth, that is my starting place and then if I have to defend a course of action, I will marshal the evidence to support it. Now this is academically dishonest, and I once even told Professor Haynes that, expecting to be chided, but he just laughed. "I do that too," was all he said.

Many of you have seen me moan and groan on Facebook about grading papers. It's precisely because I find it so draining to actually assign a grade. I don't mind reading them; it's the GRADING that gets to me. I have to be fair, so I have to set aside all my subjective stuff (feelings, intuitions, hopes for a student, irritation with mental laziness, etc) and land on a grade that is fair and objective. Consequently I have had to fail papers when I totally agreed with what the student was saying; it was just a weak argument fraught with logical and grammatical errors. Or I've given A's to students when they've written papers which with I deeply disagree; but if it was a pretty sound argument and the essay was clean, there you go.

It's this clash between my values and ideals and the simple reality of things that is bound to disturb me. Yet I deal with that clash when it involves things that don't threaten my own value system. The way I am able to respect people with vastly different views than mine (say, when it comes to politics) is because, most of the time, I intuit that we desire the same good ends. What we disagree about are the means. The means are debatable.

If I realize we don't share the same end (say, someone hates gay people because they think we're evil); and then my intuition is borne out by some gentle probing that shows me their mind is snapped shut and their heart is a block of stone--goodbye. I have no more time for you.) You could say my own mind and heart are just as snapped shut. But that's MY value system. I'm gay; I know I'm not evil. One thing you cannot do is dissuade me from my deep conviction that no one is innately evil. That feels totally wrong to me. I'm going to think you've just gone awfully off-track, and I prefer to not be blasted by your hatred. We all know where hatred has tended to take the human family.

So why did I used to have an alcohol addiction?

I do NOT deal well with the clash I've been describing when my value system is threatened by my own behavior or words. THAT is when I would drink. Something inside me would niggle and gnaw at me, and I thought drinking would make the feeling go away. What I didn't see was that consuming alcohol didn't make me feel better; it was more likely to make me act out even more in direct contradiction with my own value system. I would lie to others; I'd lie to myself; I'd erupt in anger; I would disregard other people's feelings and do things I knew were hurtful. Truth got muddled and I got lost in a world of hurt.

For me, recovery has been a process of getting back in touch with my own value system and aligning my words and actions with it. My alcoholism put the brakes on that. I'm relearning how to trust my own feelings and intuition--what I didn't see before is that they have everything to do with my value system. I spent far too much time tamping those down when ironically, they are who I am, what I am, my little spot in the cosmic unfolding.

"The body's carbon is simply carbon. Hence 'at bottom' the psyche is simply 'world.'"
--Carl Jung


FROG'S new PAD said...

HEYA! i think i am an INFP too? hmm...i blogged or noted about IT somewhere...can't find it now. What i do recall is my 'horoscopal' description said i would make a good teacher...seems we remember the stuff about the description(s) of us that applies to what we scotch tape ourselves to?


as well, when i last graded papers, i did this "thing" to make me be objective...G-grammar gets 1-3 points, MS-makes sense gets ? points, and some other categories..varied upon essay.
ok i ramble. sending YOU PEACE. and hugs

Joyce said...

"Makes sense" is a pretty good criterion. LOL

Alex said...

I loved reading this. The part at the beginning about bong hits and college actually cracked me up, and I knew this was going to be a good article. Just discovered I'm also an INFP so I found this really helpful. Thank you!

Joyce said...

My pleasure!