The stories we tell ourselves

One of the things I’ve realized about myself is that I tend to loosely adopt other people’s opinions in place of my own. This sounds like a very INTP thing to do, and it probably extends to other ‘P’s as well. ‘J’s are typically characterized as being arrogant and judgmental, but I think that’s a little erroneous if for no other reason than that it sounds like a value judgment. That’s what ‘P’s like to say about ‘J’s, giving themselves an advantage in the “who is a better person” game, but the truth is a little more nuanced. ‘J’s, I believe, have more conviction. They have their truth, and will rarely change their minds. ‘P’s have no truth, so we tend to adopt the truths of ‘J’s and elder ‘P’s.
This tendency is both advantageous and problematic. It is advantageous because it allows one to develop compassion for people and a broad, nuanced understanding of many subjects.
On one Myers-Briggs forum, I remember one poster positing that INTPs struggle early in life because their nature is in direct opposition to everything about modern, socialized life. However, by their third or fourth decade in life, their highly developed observational and analytical capacities have allowed them to adapt and flourish — often ahead of other types who are more naturally suited to the modern, highly superficial environment. All types engage in personal growth (development is a sign of psychological health), but due to their observational and analytical nature, INTPs seem to have more potential for it. Lucky for them, since they start at a deficit. A deficit in what? I don’t know, but as children they will lack a lot of self esteem and confidence that their peers are naturally bestowed.
The reason it takes a few decades for INTPs to hit their stride is that it takes a lot of time for INTPs to fully inhabit and experience multiple narratives. In my experience, each narrative takes about 3 years to play out. Furthermore, INTPs ability to integrate these multiple narratives is something they have to teach themselves and teaching one’s self something takes a long time. INTPs are not only quite rare in the population, but also quite different from most of the population. Due to these two factors, they tend to be quite isolated both by intention and as result of their nonconformity. This then leads to a lack of the external feedback that can accelerate growth. However, with so much time in their own heads (and their observational and analytical predisposition), INTPs develop a strong capacity for introspection that comes in handy later in life. I’ll explain one way. Many people encounter some kind of crisis in their lives, be it a mid-life or quarter-life crisis, or religious re-evaluation. In effect, they encounter a narrative shift. Their truth changes. Elder INTPs can navigate these more smoothly as a result of their introspection and their history of regular narrative shifts. Their competence also allows them to integrate the new and old narratives, and avoid extreme reversals in narratives.
This all sounds quite grand for an INTP. Childhood sucks, but if you tough it out you get some awesome talents and potential. There is another dark side to this tendency for narrative adoption, though. When ‘P’s encounter something new, they remain quite ambivalent and neutral about it for some time. They don’t have an opinion. In my case, I sometimes don’t have opinion or feeling about something until well after it is over. Sometimes I will say that I have a delayed emotional response. It’s only after I’ve done a lot of processing and switched perspectives that I develop a feeling. I think the perspective switching is really critical. Reading a paragraph somewhere or remembering something in your past can switch your perspective.
Perhaps the differential between those perspectives is what allows me to develop an opinion or feeling. I can compare the two perspectives and come to some kind of conclusion. ‘P’s are quite sensitive to the relativity of truth. The only way to evaluate an area without absolute markers is by establishing two or more guideposts and assessing the differences between them. Doing this (switching perspectives) takes time, which is why it seems like I have a delayed emotional response. ‘J’s tend to have much more immediate responses. The only time a ‘P’ has an immediate response is when they’ve already evaluated the situation beforehand. I suppose you could say that ‘J’s have an absolutist frame of reference, and so it’s a much quicker response. It’s like plugging in a variable in to an equation, whereas ‘P’s have to re-write the equation each time.
I’m getting off track a lot here. I’ve thought about this stuff a lot over several years and I haven’t written it down before, so it’s not proceeding in as well-structured a way as I’m used to writing.
Back to the dark side. My tendency to adopt other people’s opinions in place of my own has gotten me in trouble before. I’m thinking of two situations in particular and they both proceed in the same fashion. I have a friend, Person A (who is likely a ‘J’) who has an unsavory opinion about Person C (someone we interact with frequently, but is not part of our group, usually in some position of authority). They tell me this opinion, I take it in. Later, I talk to Person B and we end up talking about Person C. Person B has a pretty neutral opinion of Person C, but I inexplicably adopt Person A’s opinion as my own. In effect, I am speaking badly about Person C behind their back — but what astonishes me is that I don’t even have such an opinion. It would be one thing if I truly felt that way and said it, but I don’t. In one instance, this ended up biting me directly in the ass. The other time, who knows — maybe I started some bad blood.
It sounds like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I think the reason why this strikes me so deeply is that in both cases I really admired Person C, and I ended up speaking badly about them.
Why do I do this? My usual explanation is that it’s mostly me trying to fit in. A large part of bonding is a shared experience — most of the time, this means talking shit about something or someone you both dislike. So someone has to offer up some shit-talking to get that started. In those instances, I decided to start it. That’s a result of me trying overwrite my introvert tendencies: “I’ll try and make friends this time instead of just being the quiet but dependable guy.” Afterwards, I get sick and feel more committed than ever to just keeping to myself.
While writing this journal, I came up with an alternate explanation. I adopt the opinion in order to quickly deflect attention. Like I’ve said, I usually take a long time to develop a solid opinion, if I ever do. So you could say my opinion is in a state of superposition, oscillating between many choices. When someone turns the conversation towards the subject in question, I give a quick opinion and this solidifies ‘my opinion’ in that person’s mind. Why do that, why deflect? Because I want to go back to observing. It’s easier and more enjoyable for me to observe. Explaining myself requires time and energy since I generally take pretty nuanced stances. I only feel comfortable doing that in certain circumstances. Moreover, what’s very likely is that I haven’t developed a way to properly articulate my stance, so I’d just be speaking confused, conflicting gibberish.
But honestly, in the two instances I’m thinking of, I probably just wanted to appear tougher and more opinionated than I am by adopting the opinions of friends I respected. Sadly, I ended up engaging in dissonance with my true self and all the emotional turmoil it engenders because I was speaking badly about someone I admired.
Recently, I’ve become concerned about some of the narratives I’m inhabiting right now. I’ve learned a lot from them, but I think it’s time for me to slough them off and begin with a bright new skin. I feel that yearning. They are not serving me well any longer and remaining in them is starting to create dissonance with my true self. The problem is that I’ve never done a directed narrative shift, it’s always been very organic. This will require some pretty drastic shifts, upheavals even.
The stories we tell ourselves