I participate in a variety of groups on Facebook, with a variety of involvement. With some, I’m a bit of a lurker, others, I’m much more active. Even have friends from some of these groups. They reflect my interests, or the interests of friends of mine, people who have asked me to like their pages so they have more traffic. Pretty normal, I should think. A few of the groups I’m involved with are personality type groups. They’re not a place to be tested or confirmed, really, just a place to review thoughts and to understand our world. People like to belong, to have a place that understands them, their thoughts, wants, dreams, fears, et cetera. Some find that only in the physical world, some only in the digital one. Most are somewhere in between. For me, there are a couple of communities that I can really only find online, because they’re not particularly common. One of those is this personality group, dedicated to the rationals, the NTs in Myers-Briggs parlance. As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I’m of the subset INTP.
What that means, in brief, and with nowhere near enough nuance to be truly accurate, is I’m more likely to pick something apart to see how it works than to take someone else’s word for it. I spend quite a lot of time researching personalities. I’ve taken multiple personality tests, originally just to confirm, lately to test for accuracy before I recommend them. I know myself well enough to understand just how accurate this type truly is for me. I don’t define myself that way, nor do I define anyone else. I don’t do these tests to find out who I am or who others are; I do them to understand what might be, what could be, what is. I’m more than just four letters or three numbers or a couple of colors, just as anyone else is. We are individuals with free will, capable of incredible acts of kindness and evil, and misdirection, to others and to ourselves. Our minds are powerful, fascinating tools that should be nurtured, not abused, not shut down, not ignored, not trained to obey, but trained to think, to be your own person, to question, to answer, to wonder. How awful would it be if we could be so easily defined by a few questions? Boring! What these do is give me a starting point, a place to begin my information feast. As Auntie Mame* has said, “Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are STARVING to death!”
In the rationals Facebook group, the leader has been throwing out a few things on empathy and being a highly-sensitive person (HSP). His comments implied to me that a person typed as INTP would be an unlikely choice for an HSP, something with which I disagreed. It rattled around in my head for a while, making me wonder – am I an exception, or are we really sensitive?
The typical definition for an INTP generally includes something along the lines of incapable of empathy, someone with questions about the world and how it works. One who’s province is math and science, rather than music and art. Someone who is emotionless, not dissimilar to Mr. Spock or any other Vulcan from Star Trek fame. Perhaps a more accurate one would be Data, the android from the same franchise (did I mention the predilection for science-fiction and fantasy?). Incapable of actually feeling emotion, his curiosity about humanity is well-established. Some even go so far as to paint INTPs as practically sociopaths, willing to step over anyone, caring about no one but themselves, disregarding the reactions of others to things they’ve said or done.
That’s simply not true. There are those who don’t really experience emotions strongly, surely, but from what I’ve seen, from many a bulletin board or forum where the INTPs – who generally do NOT like being the center of attention – gather to ask and answer sincere questions, it would appear that in fact, we have a rich emotional life – internally. Of course, I can speak only for myself from experience, and gleanings from the aforementioned forums, boards and blogs, but it seems to be a fairly common thread. Some are of the opinion that we don’t express often because we can’t – not that we don’t feel strong emotions, but that we don’t know how to express them adequately, so that the object of that expression understands. Then there are the emotional explosions.
This is where the highly-sensitive part comes in.
While the definition of a highly-sensitive person has more to do with the physical world, the emotional one can hit with the same force. Perhaps a better word to use would be ’empathy.’ That seems to be the greatest source of the emotional overflow, the empathy. From what I’ve seen, from what I’ve learned firsthand, we can be highly empathetic. In a room with strong emotions – positive or negative – we can be hit with reactions of others. Since we don’t tend to outwardly express our own feelings, that builds up, overwhelms, and eventually boils over. What seems to be an uncharacteristic outburst over something that doesn’t seem to deserve such a strong reaction could well just be a reaction to the straw, the last straw, the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ve not fully analyzed it myself, oddly, but I’ve read where that may be a need to not just step away, but to understand what happened. It’s a need to get back to the strength of rationality and step away from the weakness of emotion. No, I’m not saying one is better than the other; for some people, the emotion is the strength, and the rationality is the weakness. So it would seem that rather than lacking empathy, we may have a bit too much. I know whenever I watch someone getting injured in a video – say, someone slipping on ice – I get a sharp twinge in the location that was hurt. Every time, even when I expect it. It doesn’t have to be a major injury. It’s not the same as pain, but it is the sense that something is wrong, something has been injured. Kinda hard to explain if you don’t feel it. This is something that empathetic people may experience, that sociopaths may not.
There’s more. One of the questions on the quiz asks if art and music create strong emotions. They do. Always have. From what I’ve read, that’s not all that uncommon among the INTP crowd. Again, feeling and expressing do not always go together. I don’t startle easily, but I’ve always been sensitive to lights and sounds, textures, and the aforementioned high-emotion moments. Thunderstorms and fireworks used to make me cry. Not because they scared me (okay, thunderstorms did make me a little nervous), but because they HURT! I would experience physical pain from the percussion of the thunder, the explosion of the firework, and the brightness of lightning or the sparkling flares in the sky. Growing up, I could feel the barometric pressure drop. I’ve known others who could, as well as those who thought we were making things up. I could smell subtle scents that might mean something is infected or someone is near, because of the way their coat smells after walking outside in the cold. No, not making that up. I hear things many others don’t. I smell things others don’t. I feel subtle differences in texture in clothes and food – can’t really handle eating beans, for instance, even refried and mixed with meat. I can feel the texture, without being told it’s in there. Mushrooms just gross me out, but if I don’t know they’re there, I’ll eat them.
I don’t know if those things are common in the INTP world. The empathy thing appears to be more common than thought by professionals, outsiders looking in.
*From the book, not the musical with Rosalind Russell – which I adored – that got paraphrased because apparently audiences were pure then. Loved the book, too. Not a huge fan of the one with Bea Arthur. Just didn’t seem right somehow.
Curious? If you think you can be honest with yourself, you may want to take this test to determine if you might be a highly-sensitive person. It gives you some idea what it means.