(WHAT'S NEW: 10/23/15--I've been away for a good bit grappling with new challenges and the next stage of life struggles. But I'm coming back with a new article, and a new idea! It's about the INTP drive for creation and achievement. Along with the new article, I'd like to create a page dedicated to INTPs supporting other INTPs in business. If you need a product or service, why not go to another INTP?? You know will get a person who understands your approach to the world!)
One of the things I've observed in myself and in other INTPs is that our young adulthood can be particularly exasperating. Many an early INTP struggle seems to begin right at the point when we fly from the nest. It's the moment when, armed with our newly formed INTP consciousness, we launch into the world ready to rock n' roll.
We have a pure kind of excitement and trust in our INTP skills of observation and analysis. It's like we realize we have this amazingly versatile tool. A cordless drill/saw/staple gun combo. And we use it on EVERYTHING. We love it, because man, does it work!
Until…it doesn't. And then, watch out.
I call this stage of young adulthood the "Fix-It" Stage. It is marked by an aggressive, single-minded, over-confident use of The Tool. And when The Tool doesn't work, we aren't dissuaded. we use it again. And again. And again. And again. We keep using the same approach until we're so frustrated we want to scream.
The First Real Dose of Friction
Not long after embarking out into the world, we usually find our first friction. Our style of intelligence may or may not translate into school performance. We may find that other people are not so interested in the kind of knowledge we seek. We may feel the first stab of a sharper isolation. Not the mysterious, hard-to-pin down feelings of isolation in childhood. Now, we have a growing pile of real world negative experiences at our disposal. More people, more venues, and more changes don't seem to solve the odd disconnect we feel with people. We experience our first failed attempts to adapt (or adapt others to us). Yet, deep down, the powers and process we are using still feel great. Under the stings and frustrations and hurt feelings, we feel an enduring, fundamental sense of empowerment. That is the (for the most part) positive side of the Fix-It Stage. Until it becomes the worst part. That's what I'll explain. And what to do about it.
Check Out my Cool Telescope
As we leave childhood, our newly minted INTP skills feel pretty good. We are armed with a strong, inner confidence (even if the confidence doesn't quite make it to the surface). We realize we have potent powers of analysis. We realize that if we focus our minds and energies, we can truly decode and understand the outside world. As we drink in information and produce ever-growing theories, we gain knowledge. And without even thinking about whether we trust this process of observation and analysis, we trust it. It is us. It is what we do.
Early childhood development for an INTP is a very gradual and organic process when we learn about our positives and our negatives through trial and error without any objective guidance or assistance (unless we are around another INTP mentor who is wise and self-aware). Once we have a grasp on the breadth and reach of our skills, we start improving and focusing them. Soon, we realize that others don't share these skills. (In elementary school, most likely.) There is a time when we realize that we are doing something cognitively that others don't do. When we share selections from our Encyclopedia, we see a change in faces. They say wow. They blink. They begin to treat us like a leader, despite our lack of desire to be a leader.
In a way, it is like when humans first invented the telescope. We use this new instrument to peer farther and farther into the nature of the universe. And just as optical telescopes led to radio telescopes which led to x-ray telescopes, with each new generation of knowledge, we become more and more confident in our power to see.
Have you ever looked through a telescope? You put your eye up to the objective lens, and a faraway world opens up before you--an explosion of stars, the haze of a nebula, the crisp craters of the moon. But while you're looking, a person can slip right up beside you, and you'll never see the person. Why? Because often, by gaining one power, you lose another. By greatly extending the forward reach of vision with a telescope, we lose the rich range of our peripheral vision. In the same way, INTP-skills have blind spots. As we explore the universe, we fail to see some important things standing right next to us. These blind spots harbor misconceptions and mask some important objective truths about INTP nature, our own emotions, and our relationships with others.
INTP in Young Adulthood - A Marksman Who Sometimes Can't Hit the Target
With a sharp blade of logic and observation, we win most debates and solve most challenges when we are young. Even when we don't prevail, we don't really mind, because we learn important information that we initially missed. We can then map where our efforts went astray and plot a new course for success.
Like a sniper engaging an endless succession of targets, we spot, analyze, aim, fire. Spot, analyze, aim, fire. Our energy comes from this process and its success. But what happens when that process does not lead to success? What happens when the result is consistent failure? Here is the problem with young adulthood in INTPs. Here is where you are in for grief.
For our mental sniper, imagine pulling the trigger, looking down range, and seeing that you missed the target. No biggie. You must have twitched, that's all. So you re-analyze, aim, shoot…
…and miss again.
Okay, bummer, but not the end of the world. Where were the errors of perception? Where were the errors of logic?
Okay, now you've got it. Hold your breath, squeeze the trigger, BLAM!
Now you're a bit angry. A little pissed. And even if you're too beaten down and weary to be pissed, you innately have a sense that you are GOING to hit that damn target.
Size it up…fire.
OH NO F-ING WAY!!
You slam that gun down, pick it up, slam it down, pick it back up.
Re-analyze, aim, fire.
(At this point, you probably have broken and smashed the gun. But I know the dark truth. Later, you come back, tape that gun back together, and start trying again.)
Have you had the emotional experience that I just described? Young adulthood in INTPs comes with the convergence of two things: in the midst of many successes, you make a few pesky persistent errors while being unable to let go of the impulse to fix them. This failure in the "Fix-It" Stage is fueled by blind spots. And even the best sniper in the world is going to fail to hit a target when it is invisible, hidden, or distorted.
Okay, no big deal. INTPs figure stuff out, right?
However, our fierce reliance on the INTP process works against us if the process itself is flawed. As INTPs, we always tend to look for external reasons and solutions. We never look at the process itself as a possible candidate. In the Fix-It Stage, we tend to run marathons in the wrong direction. We tend to sprint right past the real problem a few feet from the starting line.
Let's look at a few common missed targets:
1. I feel reasonably intelligent, and I learn quickly, yet I can't seem to do well in school. The kind of "knowledge" they want in school doesn't seem like real knowledge. It's a game I can't seem to figure out. Each time I try harder to adjust, I do even worse.
2.I try to approach people and socialize, but I can't seem to connect. People don't really care to hear what I want to say. I don't really want to talk about what they do either. So I study people even more diligently to connect better. I apply the results of my theories and observations, but I end up feeling even more removed from them.
3.I don't think I'm happy. Why am I not happy? I can think of several reasons why I should be happy. Or at least not sad. What is wrong with me? I make adjustments that should ensure my happiness. The result--still not happy.
There are two general versions of the Fix-It Stage. Although they might look quite different on the outside, they function quite similarly. The only difference is the amount of aggressive confidence. But make no mistake, even if you don't fall into the confident version of this Stage, I would bet that you are nevertheless falling into persistent Fix-It patterns.
The Confident Version of the Fix-It Stage
Let's say we're in college. Very early twenties. What are we like?
We definitely have our groove on. We have dozens of chapters of our Encyclopedias written, and we are hungry for more. Our brains are in drink-everything-up mode. We're eager for the next puzzle, the next stimulating conversation, the next conundrum to unravel. We're aggressive thinkers. We can be charming. We can be intoxicatingly energetic, both to others and ourselves.
But…we can be intimidating, we can be overbearing and quick to put the ideas of others down even before they have a had a chance to fully express it. Our intellectualism and disdain for emotion can made us look arrogant and condescending. Our delivery of the many results of our intellectual pursuits can appear judgmental and inflexible, even though we know they are infinitely flexible. Unless you can offer new information to an INTP or a more in-depth analysis that the INTP performed, you will be dismantled and shut down. And if you can't keep up with the speed of the INTP's thoughts and ability to communicate, you may become source a frustration. The INTP will then either display annoyance or withdraw if he or she is afraid that annoyance will hurt the other person's feelings.
The Weary Version of the Fix-It Stage
Not every INTP will have such outward and aggressive confidence in his or her skills. Maybe you never felt confident socially, even though you feel confident intellectually. You may have been marginalized or ignored. You may be used only for entertainment, but not meaningful relationships. When you try to be serious, you may get completely ignored.
Or, your isolation may be even more sharp. You may find social interactions an impossible conundrum. Nothing seems to work. And the fear of trying again is crippling. Sometimes you may feel like an entirely different species. The result? You may choose solo pursuits where you are engaged and challenged while completely alone.
In this version, the Fix-It Stage is still a cycle, but it's more tiresome and self-defeating. You KNOW you should be able to solve these problems of isolation or stumbles in performance (such as school), but each time you try, you end up with failure. The repetitive nature of the Fix-It Stage in this version is the enduring, masochistic belief that the problem is you. Now, if only you could finally get the solution right….
What is Going Wrong?
The major lesson needed to fix the Fix-It Stage is to understand that our observation and logic do not penetrate deeply enough.
(Really? Wait. Did he just say that? We aren't logical enough?? WTF? The dude just lost it.)
Hold up. What I'm talking about is a matter of quality versus quantity. We have tons of QUANTITY of analysis in the Fix-It Stage, but we are suffering from a insufficiency in QUALITY. A dash of deeper logic goes a long, long way. Bucket loads of off-kilter logic is damaging and crazy-making.
The Blind Spot You Must Stop Missing
Although we feel very in control and not given to emotions, we kid ourselves into thinking we don't have them as much as we do. And even when we acknowledge them, we tend to make excuses if our (true) emotions might hurt the feelings of, or anger, another person. Why? Because another person's emotion is just as painful to endure as our own bad emotions. Worse, actually.
Emotion is painful, and emotion makes it hard to think and return to a state of calm. Even at the best of times INTPs are wary of emotion, but in the Fix-It Stage, emotion is public enemy number one, because it feels incompatible with the process we so love. Mind you, I'm not talking about the big, big emotions. Those, we recognize pretty well. I'm talking about the more normal, gentler emotions. We tend to miss the importance of those within us entirely.
How Does Our Missed and Misunderstood Emotions Damage Our INTP Process?
Let's say that a person has a very powerful fear of being robbed or assaulted on a city street. Maybe it came from childhood or was planted by parents who were very afraid of going into the city. Now, this person is going to college in the city. This fear has become a constant threat, ready to erupt in the form of the physical symptoms. Pounding heart, tight chest, fast pulse and breathing. And INTPs hate feeling that kind of physical anxiety.
One day, some unsavory character standing in the alcove of a building calls out to our college student. The crush of fear hits, even though our INTP didn't even hear the actual words the person in the shadows said. The student runs.
After this experience is over and the acute fear subsides, the INTP brain kicks in to protect the student from this bad event ever happening again. The student begins to monitor the exact time of day, the position of the sun and shadows, the patterns of people on the street. The INTP maps new routes and is careful to walk just the right distance from both the street on one side and the building on the other. The analysis of the situation grows and deepens as she constructs this new body of knowledge. And during this process, she doesn't feel any fear. She feels calm. Out in the streets, the fear remains controlled so long as her navigation remains controlled and she successfully avoids all potential threats.
But there's one problem. That man in the shadow was actually old and homeless and was calling out to ask for food. He wasn't a threat of any kind. In fact, there has been no crime on that street for seven straight years.
But does any of that matter to our frightened INTP student? No, because the experience of the emotions themselves has caused an erroneous (but common) logic error. If I feel afraid, then there MUST be danger, because if there were no danger, I wouldn't feel afraid. The emotion is treated like objective information rather than a mere chemical process. Real fear can have no foundation whatsoever. But it never seems that way to our brains when it is happening. Our brains say danger-real-beware. It is very difficult to re-assert logic and challenge fear when you are in the grip of it.
Of course, you really can't blame our brains. If a mean person punches you, then you experience a sharp emotion. That feeling sears into your brain. It ensures that you remember what happened and prepares you to deal with a situation if it presents itself again. The next mean person you come across, you can decide to run or to fight. But in either case, you are prepared. Emotional lessons often are important. However, many other times, emotional lessons are skewed and complete fiction. But even erroneous emotional lessons will feel like 100% truth.
Learn to Be Honest With Yourself About How You Feel
In Fix-It Stage, we build huge systems of logic to incarcerate emotions that we perceive as dangerous. But then we lose sight of them altogether. We scurry around doing our INTP things no longer appreciating the little radioactive emotional seed fueling the whole process just off the edge of the map. We need to understand and accept when we feel anger, when we feel hurt, but especially when we feel disappointed. These emotional states are part of the human experience, and they affect us more than we are ready to admit. But unless we are aware of them and begin to develop the ability to let ourselves admit and experience them, our efforts are only leaving us worse off and spiraling towards a crisis and crash.
There are three emotions particularly to watch out for. Why these? Because they are medium emotions. Ever hear the one about the frog and boiling water? If you dump a frog in hot water, he jumps out. If you put the frog in cool water, then slowly heat it. He will not perceive the slow change and cook. Medium emotions are the most likely to cause harm, because they work on us without triggering the kinds of emergency responses that the big emotions do.
The three emotions are:
I start with this emotion because it is very common and pervasive, and it causes a package of problems that can spawn all sorts of ugly offspring in our interpersonal relationships. It is also the hottest burning fuel of the Fix-It Stage when it morphs into Frustration. But let's focus on annoyance itself for a moment. Annoyance is the half-anger that erupts when something violates our expectations. It is a semi-hot, semi-aggressive, outward-directed emotion. For example, if we are trying to make a serious statement and the other person can only be flip or dismissive, that causes annoyance, because our expectation is that the person should care about what we have to say and take the time (and have the ability) to listen.
Annoyance is okay and natural. What you shouldn't let it do, however, is let it propel the INTP process faster and faster. Frenzied brains lead to mistakes and make us feel, well, frenzied, and out of control. That's not a good feeling place to be. The other thing that annoyance spurs us to do is immediately cut loose from the thing that annoyed us. To dismiss it. Banish it. But having a hair trigger causes you to shoot things that shouldn't be shot. Before we expel something from our lives, we have to take a breath. (Many breaths, actually.) In the totality of issue at hand, is it the right thing to do? Will we regret it later. Will we lose something that we will miss?
2. Disappointment, especially of people.
Everyone wishes for a partner in crime, whether it be a friend or a lover or a family member. But "partner in crime" means very different things to different people. There are certain activities that turn you on as an INTP. They are the things you most want to share. Some examples? Sharing our Encyclopedias; building them together; getting emotional support when all of our control mechanisms fail; and knowing that someone is dedicated to giving us help and assistance when needed.
How do you feel when you launch into a conversation because you think you have a kindred spirit in front of you, and it falls painfully short right before your eyes? Or how about when you ask a person to please stop doing X and please start doing Y if they really want to help you, and they never stop doing X and never start doing Y? These things are very disappointing. However, because we INTPs get accused of being judgmental, arrogant, cold, etc., we generally try very hard not to prove these things true. Instead of looking down on someone, or finding fault in others, we tend to blame ourselves and deconstruct our behavior. We think of all of the ways we might change our approach and expectations of people. However, I have some important news for you. You are disappointed. And you are allowed to be.
We really don't like hurt as INTPs. We are almost blindly fast at building protective constructs over the top of hurt when we feel it. Anger in response to hurt is an uncontrolled lashing out, but that too masks hurt. I find it much, much preferable to whip myself into an internal rage at someone rather than let the anger tip in the other direction and become hurt.
When we experience hurt, we have to be very careful that we are not acting in all sorts of indirect ways in an effort to avoid acknowledging and feeling hurt.
To Really "Fix-It", Stop Running on the Hamster Wheel and Re-Analyze Your Own Emotional Fuels
If you have a leaky faucet, the best thing to do is fix the leaky faucet, not start digging up the entire municipal water system. What I've observed is that INTPs are experts in finding and tearing into any problem imaginable, except their own emotional state and the things that honestly fuel their emotions. If you are experiencing a recurring problem, stop for a moment and look beyond all of the many variables that you have been weighing and trying to solve. Come back to the common denominator: you. What is down there fueling that recurring issue? Is it annoyance or disappointment or hurt? Something else? We are so eager to pull out our hammers and saws and pliers…. But is it possible that all of this effort is an indirect way to NOT grapple with the way you are feeling?
The bottom line: The Fix-It Stage is about over-eagerness to use INTP core tools to attack problems while missing important information about ourselves and others. We incorrectly believe that these raw INTP skills are the answer to everything. Why? Because it feels good when we use them. But that's the problem right there. Feeling not good is part of the human experience. We need to grapple with those feelings honestly without roaring past them in a mental Ferrari.
All of that effort to avoid and suppress emotion only makes it harder to exorcise and resolve.
Over time, the frictions of the Fix-It Stage can resolve in some areas, but deepen in others. For a while, we are quite sure we have it mostly figured out. But as years progress, long term disappointments and slow, eroding failures to hit our targets ferment into deeper discontent and confusion. In a way, all of the aggressive energy of the Fix-It Stage tends to burn itself out and run its course. It slowly darkens into a less flashy stage in mid-life. Maybe I'll call it the Duty Stage. But that's a story for another day.
I see a lot of pain being expressed by young INTPs, and lots of spirals turning and turning. The answers are closer than you think. Find those blind spots and shine a light into them. Expand your powers of observation and turn your analysis deeper and inward. You will see the truth of what is fueling your conundrums. That process that you trust so much is a great one, but it needs an upgrade to 2.0 to avoid running marathons so long that you forget where you were trying to go in the first place.
Some Quick Shorthand Techniques
*School Issues: Want to do well in school, but the work bores the hell out of you? The Secret: You are bored by the kind of work necessary to do well in school. It's not a conundrum. It's really quite simple. School performance is a unique set of rules. It does not equal the pursuit of knowledge. Solution: Do the boring work in bursts, then reward yourself with something you like. Switch back and forth between the two. If you are under impossible deadlines, let the stress motivate you for the marathon, then reward yourself for an extended time when you are finished. REALLY reward yourself. Follow through and don't be a martyr to yet another task.
*People Issues: Recognize when you are annoyed and disappointed. Also, recognize when you feel good with someone. Allow yourself to craft the interactions and your expectations to maximize the good times and avoid the negative times. You are never going to figure out a way to fix a mixed situation and make it a 100% percent amazing one. Therefore, take the good and trim the bad.
*Task Issues: Feeling that you are under unrelenting pressure? Step back. Ultimately, you are pressuring yourself. What is fueling that pressure? Some else's expectations? A reluctance to upset someone? It's easier to maintain harmony by sacrificing yourself. But is harmony the point, really? What is so bad if someone is upset? What do YOU want? Work on your emotional boundaries. One way to do that is to imagine pushing everything uncomfortably pressing on you out to a distance of 10 feet. Inside that 10-foot radius, you are safe and untouchable. While all the bad is storming outside your bubble, feel yourself calming, breathing deeper, and your heart rate slowing. You'll be amazed what a difference this will make. Afterwards, think about yourself and your needs in the safety of your personal space.
In all cases: try to stop chasing the external solution for a moment. Consider: What are your own motivations and feelings that are fueling you? Do they need to validated? Embraced? Are you fighting a fight that isn't going to bring you happiness?