The INFJ Coach

You Have the Right to Be Yourself

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #2 Manage Those Pesky Emotions

You know it, that flare of anger, that feeling of “I HAVE to say something, NOW!”  I know it well, it’s been the precursor to many of my most inappropriate outbreaks of temper.

Our “F” energy puts us squarely in the middle of the emotion of any situation. INFJs are easily hurt, and in reaction we can end up hurting others. But we don’t have to be at the mercy of our feelings, we can learn to recognize them and control ourselves until we can rationally consider the situation.

Here’s how I do it:

The First Step – Stop!

Unless you are faced with a truly dangerous situation, feeling the simmer of anger or hurt should always be a signal to stop and take stock.  When you feel yourself getting emotional, the first things to remember is, if at all possible, do not react! When we’re in this state our perception is off and our judgment is impaired – these are the times that we say and do things we regret later.  What makes it more difficult is when our emotions are engaged we often feel that we urgently must say something, now!  The combination of emotionality and a feeling of urgency is a clear tip-off that you need to step back and assess the situation.

The 6 Questions

Once I’ve refrained from reacting, I use what I call the “6 Questions” to sort fact from fiction:

  1. What are the bare facts of the situation? (Don’t include emotional information or impact)
  2. What am I telling myself about it?
  3. What’s the fear (or hurt)?
  4. Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?
  5. Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?
  6. What is important here?

An Example

To help you understand how the process works, here’s an example from my life:

My friend Michael was coming into town for a class on a Friday and was planning to stay at my house.  I’d assumed that he was flying in on Thursday afternoon and was prepared to pick him up at that time.  On Wednesday evening he called me and told me that he’d decided to take a flight that got in at 8:30 Thursday morning and asked if I would be available to pick him up.  My reaction was “What??  Oh no!!  I have plans for the morning through lunch – I can’t do this!” At that point I became upset, and felt that he didn’t care at all that he was imposing on me.

If I’d taken this situation through the 6 Questions it would have gone something like this:

1.   What are the bare facts of the situation?

Michael was arriving at 8:30am on Friday and was asking if I could pick him up.

2.   What am I telling myself about it?

He expected me to pick him up and entertain him all day.  He made plans at the last minute without considering how they would affect me.  If I don’t pick him up he’ll be abandoned in San Francisco. 

3.  What’s the fear (or hurt)?

My fear is that he’d be mad at me if I couldn’t, or wouldn’t pick him up

4.   Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?

I could ask Michael something like “It sounds like you’re relying on me to pick you up.  Is that true?”  I realized after the fact that he would have answered something like, “No, I’m fine, I have other friends in the city that I can hang out with, I just thought it would be fun to spend more time with you.”

5.   Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?

Michael is fine, he doesn’t need me to pick him up. 

6.  What is important here?

That I don’t make myself responsible for Michael – he can take care of himself.  

Exercises: Practice Managing Your Emotions

Create a “Trigger List” - List as many as you can think of for each: negative beliefs you have about yourself, negative beliefs you have about others, and negative beliefs about how the world works.  These tend to be your triggers for emotional outbreaks, and being aware of them will help you be prepared.

Learn to Use the 6 Questions – Think of a couple of situations that you were in where your emotions were triggered.  Try running them through the 6 Questions and notice how your assessment of the situation changes.

Practice Breaking – Practice putting the breaks on your reactions when you feel emotional.  Next time you feel yourself getting upset just stop – don’t do or say anything.  Retreat from the situation until you’re completely calm and then reassess your reactions.  Notice any assumptions you might have made and any misconceptions that might have fed into your emotions.

This is the second in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

16 responses to “10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #2 Manage Those Pesky Emotions

  1. Pingback: The Power of Non-Reaction | MANTRA

  2. Verdant March 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    This article, while offering good questions to break down an emotional situation, doesn’t in any way acknowledge the initial emotional reaction . In a way, a strong emotional reaction is valuable “signage” to the individual to do inner work. And the initial reaction is real and valid and cannot be discounted. The optimal thing is for the individual to address their own needs before actively continuing on the path of the intitial emotion and/or sharing it with “the other”.

    • Melinda March 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm

      Hi Verdant,

      I absolutely agree with you that there is information in our emotional reactions and I in no way meant to discount that – it’s just that it’s not what this particular article is about.

      And I’m not suggesting in step 4 that we share our emotional reaction with the other person, I’m suggesting that we ask questions to clarify whether our perception is correct.

      As for the individual addressing their own needs, it’s been my experience that when we’re in reactivity we have no idea of what we need, we are blinded by our emotions. What I suggest is that we don’t act on our initial emotions and that we take a moment (or a few) to make sure that our perception is clear before reacting.

      I appreciate your comments,

      Melinda

  3. Chihiro April 14, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Great example! We INFJs have problems that other personality types do not regard as a problem. I onced tried to think everything is simple and not a problem at all and ended up being upset and confused.

  4. annie July 21, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Ohmigosh I am book marking this page. I am an INFJ and recently (after 12 years of marriage) became an Army Wife. I have been able to control my emotions, for the most part, within our marriage, but with frequent deployments (TDY’s temporary duties) I find myself as unstable as a 2 liter of Coke invaded by Mentos. This helps me so much. I hate blowing up over situations my intellect knows I shouldn’t as it they are beyond either of our control. I become riddled with guilt afterwards. My husband is very sweet and understanding, thankfully. I have been working very hard to adjust, and yet frequently fall short. The check list will help, if I can remember to reference it! ;)

    • Melinda July 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Annie,

      I’m so glad you found the article helpful! I have trouble with this one too, those out of proportion reactions are so clear when we’re looking back at our behavior but are so cloudy when we’re in the middle of them!

      Even if you can just achieve the first step – stop! – you’ll be ahead of the game – so much damage is done in the heat of the moment.

      And you’re right, it’s easy to forget, especially when we’re triggered. I wrote my “6 Steps” on a big yellow index card and keep it handy on my desk.

      Take care and thanks for your comments.

      Good luck,

      Melinda

  5. Jennie February 7, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Another question I ask myself is, “Is this my emotion that I’m feeling, or is it someone else’s emotion?” Many of us INFJs are emotional sponges for the emotions that other people are feeling. Our NF gives us a very high degree of empathy, but sometimes taking on other people’s emotions can be too much to handle.

  6. Re February 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    This is awesome. I have to deal with this kind of outburst a lot- there is so much fighting- and being an INFJ, it makes me sick to be around my family, and that doesn’t make me a great person to be around. Thanks!

  7. Meghan May 30, 2012 at 8:48 am

    “I HAVE to say something, NOW!”
    Oh how many times I have had that exact thought that has led me to say some hurtful things in retaliation to a situation that was not so bad. My mother has been trying to teach me this exact lesson you have written about so many times. I’m trying to get better at this and I have found for myself that counting in my head to about ten before I make a mistake with choosing my words really helps if I can remember to do so.
    Thanks for the article! I am going to try and keep practicing this.

  8. mathiasphilippe August 17, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks for the advice. I already tried to do that, it’s very hard to control anything when you actually loose control. Let’s keep doing as I suppose it’s also a question of habit.

    • mindye04 August 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      I hear you, Mathias! It can be really hard to control that burst of temper, but you really can create a new habit of pausing and thinking.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Melinda

  9. Larissa October 1, 2012 at 10:38 am

    I am an infj. After reading your post I realize that I already control oubursts and take the steps you’ve noted. Many times I feel that my emotions are not compatible to my thoughts (intellect) and to the actual facts that caused such emotions; so I do my best to consciously analyze the facts and reasons themselves without emotional output. Doing so, I feel that at times I keep things inside and become somewhat passive-agressive.
    Since many times I hold back my emotions (specially the strong ones) I feel like I am not authentic for not showing my real self. I want so badly to be authentic and at the same time I don’t want to be unfair with those around me. I also feel things deeply however I refuse to be illogical. Such a paradox! I don’t know my boyfriend’s personality type but he’s definetely an extravert, “thinking” and judging type. He’s highly intellectual and simply hates too much expression of emotions. It’s hard work to deal with people with opposed personality traits but it’s quite rewarding because it makes you practice opposites. When I feel locked down with an issue I ask him to help me with his reasoning and I explain my point of view and he tells me where my logic is failing. He tells me what separates me from other women is that I am logical and reasonable. What he doesn’t know that I put tremendous amount of effort in order to be that. I am glad I found your posts because I am currently working on myself and am in search of inner contentment without outside validation. In other words I am working on finding or creating myself within myself. I can relate to everything you say and it makes me feel like I am not such an “alien”. I am struggling with friendship because I feel quite lonely at times and as much as I am interested in people I just have no patience for them! I socialize well and I am a pleasent person even in silence. I just cannot relate to people’s superficiality! As much as I am emotional inside I could be cold outside. As much as I care I show disinterest. As much as I love people I could be impatient with them. So I practive to be warm and Attentive but it drains my energy!!! I love the world and I see beauty everywhere but I am interested in reality and when I see it I see the pain and disharmony and I know I cannot fix it so I just don’t want to be a part of it and just live my life- however never on my full potential. Can you understand me?

    • mindye04 October 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

      I absolutely understand you, Larissa, I indentify with everything you say. It’s obvious you’ve done a lot of work on learning about yourself and how to deal with your feelings, and on stretching! You could be writing this blog :)

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts,

      Melinda

  10. Emerald November 8, 2012 at 4:55 am

    Hi! This is a great post.. but I’d like to ask, what if we actually need to tell people when we’re hurt and annoyed with them? So that they know that they’ve hurt us, and that they can avoid it in the future? If we just give the impression that we’re always okay, won’t people step all over us? I hope these questions don’t sound too silly- thanks!

    • mindye04 November 15, 2012 at 10:12 am

      Hi Emerald,

      I’m not suggesting that we don’t ever tell people when they hurt us, I’m saying that we have to be careful WHEN we confront people. If we do it in the heat of the moment chances are we won’t be really clear on what actually happened and that we won’t handle it well. I try to make a practice of waiting until I’m fully calm and the subject has lost it’s “charge” before I approach the other party. I may even talk it over with a friend if I can’t get clear on whether my feeling are on target or not. Then I talk it through with the other person, telling them how I feel and checking in on their side of the situation.

      Melinda

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