Originally posted August 6, 2010.
It’s occurred to me over the course of the past couple of days that i didn’t really explain what i meant by the title of my last entry, nor did i really explain why i feel that my intellectual journey to atheism is at least a little bit exceptional… Basically, it all comes down to my personality. i have been interested in the inner workings of human personalities, as well as the different methods of typological analysis out there, for several years now, and i’ve done a lot of personal reading and research on the subject in my spare time. There are a number of different personality typological systems out there, but the one that i find most compelling and accurate is probably the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
Based on the work of Carl Jung, the MBTI analyzes and classifies an individual’s personality based on four basic factors:
-How they focus their attention or get their energy (Extroversion or Introversion)
-How they perceive or take in information (Sensing or iNtuition)
-How they prefer to make decisions (Thinking or Feeling)
-How they orient themselves to the external world (Judging or Perceiving)
The idea is that each individual person will prefer to use one or the other of the two functions for each of those factors, and based on which functions they prefer, they will develop a psychological type. Their type arises from the interaction of these four preferences, as well as environmental factors and individual quirks. Behaviors, skills, and attitudes developed by an individual are thus highly likely to be based on his or her type, and each type has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.
NOTE: Many of my skeptic and atheist friends have expressed distaste with my citing this in conversations. The concerns i hear mentioned generally run along the lines of “it’s no different than astrology… any of these could be worded to fit anyone.” This is simply not a fair assessment. Any amount of time spent reading about the various types will demonstrate that the written descriptions, even of closely-linked types, are both specific and distinct enough that they do not represent “one size fits all” categories under which any individual could be manipulated into fitting. Furthermore, and most importantly, Astrology is a prescriptive system; the MBTI is a descriptive one. The four-letter type is essentially a statement of individual preferences, not hard and fast limitations. Just because someone’s personality is Sensing or Feeling does NOT mean that they are incapable of using iNtuition or Thinking. What it means is that Sensing and Feeling come more naturally to them, and are thus more likely to be used than the alternative. The MBTI does not seek to put individuals in clearly marked, restrictive boxes. It seeks to describe already-extant behavioral patterns, and individuals are encouraged to work on developing their utility with less-preferred traits while acknoweldging their natural strengths.
According to the MBTI, i am an INFP (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). Basically, i tend to be quiet and reserved, and my energy tends to come from within myself rather than from interacting with others, so i often need alone time to recharge my batteries. i tend to be a big picture person and often apply meaning to information i take in and using my imagination to think of alternative possibilities beyond what i can get from my five senses alone. i tend to value personal considerations over objective criticism and make decisions based on how i feel about a situation rather than cold hard logic. Finally, i tend to withhold judgments and delay decisions; i prefer to keep my options open and be flexible in case of changing information or circumstances rather than decisively and inflexibly locking myself into a course of action.
In more detailed terms, i have a rich inner emotional world that is often hidden from others. i tend to present a calm, pleasant face to the world, often appearing tranquil and peaceful to others, with simple desires. The reality of the situation, however, is that internally i am feeling life extremely intensely, often hiding severe depression or seething anger (among other things) beneath a calm, serene exterior. And this makes sense, given that my primary mode of living tends to be internally focused, dealing with things based on how i feel about them, or how they fit into my personal values system.
As a group, INFPs tend to focus on making the world a better place to live in. They tend to constantly seek the meaning and purpose of their lives, as well as how they can best serve humanity. They are idealists and perfectionists, and tend to drive themselves hard in working toward their own self-determined goals. INFPs are highly intuitive about people, and use their intuition to help guide them and use discoveries to help find value in life. They are always seeking to find underlying meaning and truth in their lives, sifting every encounter and new piece of information through their values system to evaluate if it can help them define or refine their own lives’ path.
INFPs tend to be thoughtful and considerate; they are good listeners and have a talent for putting people at ease. They are reserved in their emotional expression, but tend to have a deep well of caring and genuinely want to understand others. They tend to be quite warm with people they know well.
INFPs don’t like conflict, generally going to great lengths to avoid it. When they are unable to avoid conflict, however, they always approach it from the angle of their feelings, focusing more on how it makes them feel than who is objectively right or wrong. This has the tendency to make them appear irrational and illogical in conflict situations. On the other hand, INFPs are very adept at mediating and helping to solve other people’s conflicts, because they intuitively understand the perspectives and feelings of others and genuinely want to help them. On a related note, INFPs tend to be flexible and laid-back… until someone violates one of their values. In the face of such violations, INFPs become aggressive defenders, fighting passionately for their “cause.”
As to the mundane details of everyday life, INFPs tend to have a low awareness of such things. A stain on a carpet may go unnoticed for months by the same INFP who meticulously brushes a speck of dust off the cover of a project notebook.
INFPs tend to prefer not to deal with hard facts and logic, preferring to focus on the Human Condition. This makes it difficult for them to deal with impersonal judgment, seeing it as ineffectual and invalid. As a result, most INFPs will avoid impersonal analysis, though some develop the ability to be quite logical. Under stress, however, INFPs will often misuse logic in a fit of anger, often throwing out fact after (often inaccurate) fact during an emotional outburst.
INFPs have very high standards and are often perfectionists. As a result, they tend to be very hard on themselves and don’t give themselves enough credit. This can also lead to a perceived need for external personal validation, as some INFPs can sometimes fail to trust their own feelings of self-valuation, if only temporarily or in specific circumstances. Without resolving this conflict of their high ideals and the daily requirements of living, INFPs will never be truly happy with themselves and may become confused and paralyzed with indecision over what to do with their lives.
INFPS are usually talented writers. They are often uncomfortable and awkward expressing themselves verbally, but have a wonderful ability to define and express what they’re feeling on paper. INFPs also appear frequently in social service-oriented positions, such as counseling or teaching. They tend to be at their best in situations where they are able to work toward the public good without having to worry too much about hard logic. INFPs who function in their well-developed sides can do great and wonderful things for which they will rarely give themselves enough credit.
On a deeper level, these four typological preferences can be seen as the result of a combination of four basic functions–Sensing, Intuition, Feeling, and Thinking–when processed through either Introverted or Extroverted modes. Each four letter type is derived from an interplay of these four functions in varying modes and degrees of dominance. The Dominant function is the type’s preferred role, where they feel most comfortable. The Auxiliary function supports and expands on the Dominant function and always fills a complementary role to the Dominant. The Tertiary function is less developed than the Dominant or Auxiliary, but generally matures over time, serving to round out a person’s abilities. Finally, the Inferior function is the function with which the person is least comfortable, often acting like their Achilles Heel. However, like the Tertiary, the Inferior does tend to strengthen with maturity. As an INFP, my four functions are as follows:
Dominant Introverted Feeling (Fi): INFPs live primarily in a rich inner world of introverted Feeling. Being inward-turning, the natural attraction is away from world and toward essence and ideal. This introversion of dominant Feeling, receiving its data from extraverted intuition, must be the source of the quixotic nature of these usually gentle beings. Feeling is caught in the approach- avoidance bind between concern both for people and for All Creatures Great and Small, and a psycho-magnetic repulsion from the same. The “object,” be it homo sapiens or a mere representation of an organism, is valued only to the degree that the object contains some measure of the inner Essence or greater Good. Doing a good deed, for example, may provide intrinsic satisfaction which is only secondary to the greater good of striking a blow against Man’s Inhumanity to Mankind.
Auxiliary Extroverted iNtuition (Ne): Extroverted intuition faces outward, greeting the world on behalf of Feeling. What the observer usually sees is creativity with implied good will. Intuition spawns this type’s philosophical bent and strengthens pattern perception. It combines as auxiliary with introverted Feeling and gives rise to unusual skill in both character development and fluency with language–a sound basis for the development of literary facility. If INTPs aspire to word mechanics, INFPs would be verbal artists.
Tertiary Introverted Sensing (Si): Sensing is introverted and often invisible. This stealth function in the third position gives INFPs a natural inclination toward absent- mindedness and other-worldliness, however, Feeling’s strong people awareness provides a balancing, mitigating effect. This introverted Sensing is somewhat categorical, a subdued version of SJ sensing. In the third position, however, it is easily overridden by the stronger functions.
Inferior Extroverted Thinking (Te): The INFP may turn to inferior extraverted Thinking for help in focusing on externals and for closure. INFPs can even masquerade in their ESTJ business suit, but not without expending considerable energy. The inferior, problematic nature of Extraverted Thinking is its lack of context and proportion. Single impersonal facts may loom large or attain higher priority than more salient principles which are all but overlooked.
But why does my personality and the way i became an atheist make me an outlier in that regard? Simply stated, the majority of atheists out there tend to be Thinking types who came to their lack of belief through physical evidence, hard logic, and scientific reasoning, whereas i stole in through the back way of personal values and intuitive, imaginative philosophy. i’ve been described by a close friend as “an outlier among outliers,” and this, more than nearly any other description of myself, seems to be exceedingly accurate.