(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!)
I haven't written for a while. A long while. It has a lot to do with the reason I created this site in the first place. As well as the title to this article. Let me get you a drink while you make yourself comfortable. I'll explain.
In addition to giving INTPs an honest, respectful, and safe place to share what it's really like to be INTP, my wish for The INTP Experience was to give younger INTPs something I didn't have--the guidance of an older INTP to make sense of life and steer me away from mistakes and misguided paths.
I remember years ago seeing Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac talking about reaching out to young, new female artists. She would tell them, let me be the one who made the mistakes so you don't have to repeat them. Let me be the one who paid the price. Let me help you do better than I did.
That always resonated me.
But that also means that when I don't think I'm a particularly good mentor (because I'm struggling to find my own way), I have no wisdom to share, and it’s difficult to write. That's why I haven't been around for some time. I'm still working hard to navigate and chart my latest course. However, something occurred to me recently. Even though I don't have all the answers yet, I still have gathered some important, new insights.
So what I will share is this.
What happens when the sharp, choppy storms of youth deepen and stretch? What happens when daily frustrations transform to deep, enormous conundrums that years upon years cannot seem to unravel?
That is the curse of middle age. And that is a particularly debilitating form of poison for people like us. We thrive on quick analysis and definitive solutions. That is our salvation. But what if you can't solve the equation no matter how much effort you expend?
It's hard. It's dangerous. And it steals our most precious reasons for slogging forward in the journey of life.
So perhaps I can help you survive in the face of it.
Powerful Emotion as Our Anti-Strength, Our Nemesis
Several of my earlier articles focus on the important, but widely misunderstood, role of emotions in our lives. Many sites talk about how emotion is absent or stunted in us.
Our problem is not missing emotions. Our problem is that emotions are too hot to handle. Our problem is that we lack the tools to handle emotions in a calm, healthy way.
My observation is that the negative motivates people far more than the positive. A person finds his or her strength only when compensating for something he or she lacks. Our challenge as INTPs is strong, painful, hard-to-manage-and-endure, emotion. And we turn to our greatest strengths--analysis, observation, creativity, and deconstruction--to get us through rough and tumble life. We are often so effective at unplugging the connection to our emotions that we even convince ourselves that we don't have them. But we would be colossally wrong.
As an INTP, you must never go down the road of thinking you lack normal emotions. To do so is avoidance and denial. As long as you refuse to address the reality of your emotions, you, my friend, are lost and beyond hope.
What Happens When the Storms are Huge and Long, Long, Loooooooong
I have written before to give you emergency strategies on how to stop the mind-churn, the toxic thoughts, and how to overcome acute emotional pain and stress. This article is different. What happens when you find yourself in a much longer and grinding slog.
Maybe it's the kind of thing more common in someone later in life. Like me at 45. The more fiery tribulations of my younger INTPs brothers and sisters tend to be quasi-judgmental. Black and white. Seen and dismissed.
But overly quick, logical solutions are often misguided, because they are founded on incomplete information or blindness. We make little mathematical errors that accumulate. Those fractions and remainders have a way of coalescing and germinating. They grow into colder climates of icy, enduring tortures. For me, the cold war broke out from a deep and hidden conflict between two warring sides within me.
You will probably face your own flavor of conflict, based on what you've suffered and what haunts you. That part is personal to you. Our grand INTP encyclopedias-of-everything can be a potent enemy here. Why? Because the importance of everything grows the more you understand. Problems don't just skim on the surface anymore, rising and falling beneath the waves. These days, I don’t see transient little problems that get cut down with my sharp sword of intellect. I see problems now with layers upon layers of complexity. Unsolvable puzzles that push to the limits of my abilities. Beyond them. My brain can't hold and order it all anymore. The structures have reached the limits of my competence. It's like holding too many things in my arms. No sooner do I bend down to pick something else up, when I drop something I was already holding.
What are my two warring sides?
Let's climb into the boxing ring.
In the red corner, we have the part of me that has always felt isolated and alone, even in the midst people. You aren't literally alone, but the "togetherness" you feel is simply made up of people needing you. To make decisions. To be the spark. To be the last word and the vision. That part of me wants to be happy for once. That part of me wants to be understood and to have someone stand by my side. Just one person. That's all that part of me wants.
In the blue corner is the part of me that has always been looked to as the stable one, the wise one. That part of me didn't have a normal childhood, because both of my parents had traumas and issues of their own. When my father became mentally and physically ill, I became the parentified child. The teenager who had to be the parent of his parents. That part of me feels calm and safety when putting others ahead of myself. Even a kind of pleasure when I take care of them. That part of me feels good being the rock in the storm. That part of me is the selfless protector. (But now I suspect that the calm and happiness I feel is just a form of relief. Because if I fixed the world around me, the world could no longer be threatening and unpredictable.)
So the war happens when my protector side is tired and wants to stop because it is making the "true" me unhappy. But if I stop being selfless and the rock in the storm, then all of the people who rely on me will darken and blame and attack me. Which in turns makes me feel viciously guilty (or afraid?). Even if they have no right to demand from me, or take from me, I still feel guilty stopping.
It creates an impossibility. I can't embrace one way of being without violating the other.
I've tried to navigate these inevitable collisions. I've tried to delve to profound depths in order to understand each side, both on an intellectual level and an emotional level. I've gathered many insights and many points of wisdom. But ultimately, the two still clash. Do I become the highly regarded warrior who is miserable and lost inside? Or do I become the fully realized individual, but judged and punished for no longer giving what so many have come to expect from me?
Maybe some of you out there in middle age feel a similar rift within themselves. Like plate tectonics. Two continents grinding out colossal quakes that tear apart the earth where they meet.
The Fatal Path of Hopelessness
So let's say that you are in the midst of a long, long grinding battle between you and the other you (whoever that may be). Or between you and the world. The grind is painful. Sometimes you feel hopeless. Maybe you feel so entirely hopeless that you don't really (if you're being honest with yourself) see much point in going on with life at all. If you rise up to fight, the emotional storms strike you down. So you linger… Churning. Getting nowhere. Wasting away.
How do you change? How do you overcome a long, painful path? How do you endure long enough to emerge finally on the other side?
That's the answer.
The magic of clouds.
Beating the Storm: See Each Cloud, Not the Storm, and Watch it Drift By, By, By
What is a cloud, you ask?
A cloud is a strong emotion that moves in. And for INTPs still in denial, let me explain that by emotion, I mean that physical sensation that is anti-calm, that speeds you up, that makes your heart beat faster, that makes you feel trapped, like SOMETHING IS WRONG, like SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE. That particular emotion is anxiety. It is cold sweat. It is DIScomfort. It is the biological urge to fight or take flight.
These negative emotions tend to be our undoing. Why? Because more than anything, we don't want them around. We leap up in the effort to "fix" them and make them go away.
But emotions are not indications of fact. They aren't information that must be acted on. They reflect all sorts of things. Yes, there is some fact within them. But there are also influences of old traumas, the press of old patterns, and even a reflection of your physical state, such as whether you've gotten enough sleep or are hungry.
Emotions need exactly two things from us as INTPs.
Even after I tell you, you will fail to provide these two things without practice. Trust me.
So listen very very very carefully and understand that what I'm about to ask of you goes against your nature.
First, You Need to Acknowledge the Emotion When it Arrives
You might think this first task, acknowledging an emotion, is so elementary that you do it naturally. But I assure you that you don't. Your first goal when feeling an emotion is to make it go away, which is the opposite of accepting it. As an INTP, you identify important information, you analyze it, and you act. But in the wheelhouse of an emotion, you are doing all of that under stress and with faulty logic. What I want you to do is look up at the stormy sky and see the dark cloud there. The emotion. Say to yourself, oh, look, there is a negative emotion. I'm feeling that right now. Yes, I feel it. I accept that I am feeling upset right now. And I know that although I am upset, it will pass. When it does, I will no longer feel upset. Nothing is wrong.
When you accept that the emotion exists, you don't fight it.
You allow yourself to feel something without trying to fix it.
Second, You Need to Let that Emotion Drift With the Wind and Float By
You have now acknowledged in emotion and allowed it to exist. Since you have not jumped into emergency action to fix it, you have already achieved a certain distance from it. You can put your life and reality on one side and the emotion on the other. They are separate. The emotion exists in a different world. Emotion is your physical state. It is a temporary pain that will pass soon.
So now you are standing with your feet on the ground, and up above you that separate, passing emotion is floating over you in the form of a cloud.
As you say to yourself, yes, that is interesting, I feel that. It is an emotion that I am experiencing…
…watch the cloud (and emotion) continue to move with those prevailing winds…
…watch it slide…
… onward in the direction of the breeze…
…then toward the horizon…
…then very far away from you…
Take a deep breath. Feel the calm and ease and lack of tension in your muscles.
What did you just do?
You allowed an emotion to exist, you validated it, and you understood that it was apart from you, not interwoven into your core being and logic. You felt the separateness, then you let that emotion pass by and leave you.
Feels good, no?
And it is healthy, because denying emotions, or being blind to them, tortures you and causes dreadful mistakes. It causes you to spiral deeper into a terrible kind of self-cannibalism. You cannot afford any of that when you are on a long, arduous road. Not if you have any hope of survival.
It's All About Endurance--Big Problems Take Time and Muddy, Messy Solutions
When the magnitude of the challenges facing you grows and the complexity overwhelms your capabilities, you must find a way to survive the long road. Otherwise, fatigue and hopelessness will be your undoing.
To survive requires that the toll on your body and psyche be reduced. That is where the techniques of this article come into play. Try turning those recurring, painful emotions into mere clouds in the sky. Let them exist, let them have their moment. Then, let them pass you by.
Those huge problems you are facing now are a measure less terrible.
Get some rest.
Do something that makes you happy.
You have another day of battling ahead of you, so recover your strength for coming challenges.
And be well, my friends.