Since the birth of this blog two years ago, I have received quite a few messages, through comments and emails, from other lost, lonely and struggling souls – many of whom who identify with the Myer-Briggs Personality Type INFP, but also people who are simply sensitive, often introverted and feel as though they do not belong.
It has become very apparent to me that this world pushes some people to the fringes of society – and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re happier living on the edges than amongst the throng.
We belong in the corners and the crevices, behind the secret doors and within the hidden alcoves.
However, despite liking being “different”, it does make surviving in society difficult. Sometimes very, very difficult. And there are a lot of us experiencing those difficulties. So I thought I would start a weekly Questions & Answers post, where I transpose a person’s message for help onto a blog post and try and answer it as best as I can.
That way, it will help the person who is asking (or sometimes wailing out into the ether in despair) and also anyone else who stumbles across my blog who might be struggling with similar issues.
In my head, I have sort of, well, “anointed” myself as a little, quiet supporter for misfits all around the world. A warrior, fighting for those who are too sensitive, too quiet, too strange, and who do not belong, kitted out in silvery armour etched with gamboling kittens and books, and my trusty sword named Edgar Allen Poe – please, do not laugh, he is a rather sensitive sword (which makes battles rather tiresome, mind you, as he never wants to hurt the enemy, which completely defeats the purpose of fighting in the first place, in my opinion) and you will most likely hurt his feelings and I shall have to deal with the mess. Do know how badly sword-tears rust metal?
Edgar, however, approves of subterfuge tactics, which do not actually involve shedding blood, like encouraging and helping other misfits with words so that we can rise up and silently take over the world. Or at least feel a little less sad, tired, and alone.
This whole thing, really, was mostly his idea, conjured up so he could wriggle out of fighting our enemies, like Mean Corporations Who Care About Money Instead Of People and other Selfish, Heartless Nincompoops. Fortunately, it was a good one.
“I am an INFP female, 55 years old, but, in all honesty, not only do I not ACT my age, I certainly don’t FEEL my age, and I don’t look my age, either. I feel very much like I did when I was about 9 years old. I can remember my feelings of “not fitting in”, and how in the world to try to “look and act the part” so vividly; it’s because I feel those same feelings, now.
I crave time alone. I got exhausted on phone calls. I love to talk when the conversation is interesting, but I am so passionate and have such a hard time trying to explain myself and I feel so misunderstood that my talking is perceived as “excessive”. Although, I talk no more and quite often less than friends when we are talking together.
It’s just that THEY talk about the things that they all understand and want to talk about–things that I don’t really care about, understand, movies that I haven’t seen and don’t want to see, tv shows that I have never watched and have no interest in watching, etc. I want to discuss an amazing book I’ve read and how that book actually spoke to me, stuff like that. Sometimes I feel like I am being looked at like I have lobsters crawling out of my ears.
It is VERY, VERY hard being an INFP. When I get “labeled” a “talker” or “eccentric” or whatever, I feel that I have been somewhat permanently, dismissed.
I am also a musician, which just seems to compound the problem. I am extremely artistic and creative. I have taken on the “this is who I am, and if you don’t like it, too bad” attitude, and it works for me for a while, but deep down, in my heart of hearts, I just feel misunderstood. I am becoming worn out with dealing with people. It is getting to be just too much trouble to try to deal with. I would like to go back to teaching music in my private studio and not have to put up with he politics of dealing with a public school setting or all of the women that are found in same.
I have had my feelings hurt countless times, and I have forgiven, but I am at the point now that I am ready to not only forgive, but to just move on.
I am just too tired to continue to try to put forth the effort to fit my “square and eccentric self” into this round hole of “normal existence in day to day life”.
I love VERY deeply. I care very, very deeply. I do NOT give up on my passions and I am a champion for the children that I teach. They need me very desperately, a many of them have no one else. The problem is, I have poured out so much that I am beginning to feel that I need to be re-filled. If I were to try to explain ANY of this to anyone else, they would actually believe that I had lost my mind.
So, I just don’t even try. I just continue to suffer in silence. I have always, and still do, LOVE small spaces and to be closed in, by myself in the dark with only soft light, where no one really knows where I am, and I can read my book, by myself. I can have my dog with me and just sit back and read.
All of these things would literally make others want to look for the closest mental hospital to check me in to.
I am just so tired. Does anyone else feel this way? If so, and I’m sure that you do, how do you cope? What do you do when you get so hurt and laughed at about “talking too much” when you suddenly believe that you might have picked up on something in a conversation that you can relate to and explain yourself?
What do you do when you are so deeply hurt in your workplace and so close to retirement that you just can’t really leave? I am at a complete loss and I am actually thinking that I would much prefer to stand behind a bar in a restaurant and serve mugs of beer to people that I don’t have to get so “close to”, I can “chat” a bit if I have the energy, or not, and then, at the proper time, I can leave with my purse.
Any suggestions from anyone???”
I feel your pain.
When I say “I feel your pain”, I don’t mean it lightly, the way some people do when they say it which often makes you annoyed at their insincerity: I honestly feel your pain, because I have gone through the same kind of pain.
Though I am a little younger than you are, I have been told that I am wise beyond my years – of course, you may disagree – and hopefully I can give you some suggestions to ease your suffering.
First of all, there is nothing wrong you with you. You just have a heart, one a little more powerful than most, and a personality which does not mesh well with the rest of society. There is nothing wrong or strange about wanting to sit in a dimly lit room with your dog, where it is quiet and safe, and read, preferably for the rest of your life. There is nothing wrong or strange about caring very deeply, or feeling too much.
Your problem is that you are burnt-out from prolonged, unfulfilling interactions with society. No-one understands you, and when you reveal your true self, even just a brief glimpse of it, you are subtly rejected, which, being sensitive, stabs you to the core. You yearn to speak on subjects that matter to you – the books you read, the world of the imagination, philosophy – but no-one else seems the least bit interested, and you are left alone and baffled, unable to form a connection with anybody.
What you have to realise is that you will never receive the validation and understanding that you crave from most of the people you meet. It simply isn’t possible; it’s like trying to describe what a jungle is, exactly, to a fish. So my advice is – and this is based on experience – don’t even try.
I, myself, have launched into effusive bursts of talk, only to be looked at strangely, my skin burning with shame and rejection. To protect yourself, then, stop letting glimpses of your true self seep out, because people who reject your true self don’t deserve to see it. If you must interact with people who do not understand and never will an atom of your being, then act. Play pretend. Make it fun, which will make it less tiring; see it as game, a secret show you are putting on that only you know about.
And then exit from the interaction, as quickly and politely as possible. Any friends who don’t understand you and just drain your energy – cut them from your life. For once, be a little selfish, and take care of yourself, and spend your time doing things you like to do, rather than talking about things you have no interest in.
But what if, as in the case of work, the unfulfilling and prolonged interactions are constant, and exhausting?
There are a few solutions to this.
One, is to start carving out as much alone time as possible at work, by eating lunch in your own office or classroom rather than with everyone else, or even escaping into the toilet cubicles with a book.
It’s best, I’ve found, to establish a shy and retiring persona in the eyes of others, as that way there is less expectation that you will be talkative and chatty, and you will be less exhausted.
You can also make excuses to avoid interactions with people (there is no shame in this as it allows you to preserve your own energy), either by professing you are unwell and are therefore not in the mood for talking (say it as politely as possible, not bluntly) or that you are very busy, and “exceedingly sorry that you do not have the time to chat.”
In addition, you can try and spend more time with your students, who are, because they tap into your empathy, perhaps a little less draining to interact with than the women at your workplace. To stop letting phone-calls deplete your energy, you can try (though sometimes you simply must answer some calls, as per the requirements of your job) to use Text Messages and emails more often.
However, in the end, these are merely attempts to put Humpty Dumpty back together using plastic tape. It doesn’t solve the problem, which is that you are a retiring and extremely introverted person forced into an environment that requires you to be extroverted on a daily basis. It’s like forcing a man who can only walk two miles a day due to lung problems to run a lap of his entire town in under five hours. It’s agony, like you are screaming inside every minute of the day and will do so until you retire – trust me, I know.
Thus, if you follow these tips, you are still going to be tired – just less so. You might even become more stressed and tired because people might start thinking you are aloof or snobbish, or asking where you start disappearing to all the time, and why, exactly, you aren’t eating lunch with them anymore or answering their phone-calls. If you think you can tolerate work by inserting these little “breathers” into your day, then everything’s good, and you will be able to wake up in the morning without feeling miserable.
However, chances are, if you are anything like me, the only true solution to your problems is to find another job, where there is less pressure or need to interact and put on an act.
As musician, this might mean, as you said yourself, opening a studio and teaching students one-by-one or in small groups privately, which eliminates co-workers and where the only interaction you have to withstand is with your students and their parents.
You could also try seeking a job with a different organisation, perhaps a smaller one, with less people and less pressure to talk, where you just teach, finish the lessons, and then go home. At the time, you should try and sock away more money into your retirement fund so you could perhaps retire earlier, and sink into the solitude you crave, and try live on less, so you can, for example, work only part-time and still survive.
I would not look longingly towards retirement as the gateway to peace and serenity. I don’t know where you live, but here in Australia, both women and men retire at 65, so it’ll probably be a good decade or so before you can leave the workforce. You need to find peace and serenity now. Finding a job more suited to your social needs, saving away more chunks of money so you can perhaps retire earlier – or have more freedom to hop from one job to another in order to find the right fit – and perhaps working part-time is the best way to do this.
As for not being able to find anyone to relate to, you could start a blog to pour out your feelings and experiences, as I did, or join a forum where you can meet other INFPs (like Personality Cafe), in order to fulfill your need for meaningful interaction without the downside of having your energy drained.
It’s also Okay to be a loner. Offline, I do not have a single friend who truly understands me, and, partly due to other issues unrelated to being an INFP, spend much of my time alone, or simply with my siblings who, having grown up with me, are well-acquainted with my eccentricities and do not reject me for having them (even though they don’t understand me).
If you don’t have any siblings or family members where you can be yourself, that’s fine, too. What I have realised, finally, after many years of pain and loneliness, is that you don’t need other people to understand you or validate you. In fact, if you’re very honest with yourself, you don’t even truly need to talk philosophy or books with other humans; just enjoying the books or thinking about life is often rewarding enough.
As long as you are spending your time in activities that bring joy to you, like reading, and understand and validate yourself, that is enough. The world has over seven billion people in it. It’s impossible for everyone to have someone understand them, and the truth is, no-one really understands or truly validates anyone; we’re all trapped inside our own universes, filtering the world through our own minds; we’re all extraordinarily unique, and some part of us will always be a secret to other people.
Even the people who you see fitting in, laughing cheerfully and happily, have moments when they are alone and they feel as if no-one in the whole world truly understands everything that goes on inside their heads. As INFPs, we are just aware of this alienation a little more keenly than other people, and because often we are markedly different from the majority, the loneliness and lack of validation is compounded. And besides, sometimes, we don’t even understand ourselves! Being human is funny like that. It’s all a grand mystery, and we’re stuck right in the middle of it.
I truly hope this helps you in some way, even if only a little, and I would love to hear how you are as time goes on. Take care. You are not alone in your suffering.
If you have a question yourself – or perhaps a lament – you can write a comment, or send a message to my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t promise that it will get answered (sometimes questions overlap; sensitive and shy people tend to struggle with similar problems) on this blog, but I always make a point to try and reply a private message to every email I receive.
Perhaps I could make this Q&A a weekly sort of thing – it feels so grown-up and professional! – what do you think?
I do love helping people with their problems; it makes me feel like I am doing my part to ease suffering in the world even though I don’t have wherewithal to tackle big issues like starvation yet. There is so much suffering in the world, and if I dwell too long on that fact, I can’t function, so I try my best to focus on what I can do. Tears don’t help anyone; action does.
If it weren’t for my anxiety, I think I would have loved to be a counselor, though perhaps the sort of counselor who heals people through words or talks over the phone rather than in person. I’m better at solving other people’s problems rather than my own, which is both funny and sad, like so many things in life. Well, it’s always a possibility, even if it seems an impossibility at the moment — obstacles are also funny like that.
I love all of you. I love humanity, and I love people (at least from afar; I like watching people a thousand times more than I like talking to them) – it’s just there’s a lot of good mixed in with the bad, and the negative is often harder to ignore than the positive. Just yesterday there was an article in the news about a teenager inculcated with terrorist ideologies who shot a civilian near police headquarters in Sydney, and the dark cloud of that event still has not left me. It’s frightening, on a personal level, and it’s saddening. I will never understand why people hurt, kill, torture, exploit. Never.
Edgar would like to communicate to everyone the following message:
“Words are stronger than swords.”
It’s true, in a sense, I guess. Words can change minds, which changes lives, which then changes the world. But I do think some people in the world respond better to a knife at their throat than an appeal from thousands of suffering people – don’t you?