10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #5 Protect Your Heart

 Heart

I’ve said it before – one of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are. And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are! 

Like most F’s I seek harmony. And when one of my friends or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself – “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?” But this is a form of self-absorption: we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person. We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some Tips for Dealing with Others’ Upsets

Don’t take it personally – When someone else is upset, it’s about them, not you. Even if they lash out at you or blame you – remember that everyone loses perspective when they’re distraught. Keep your cool and give them the gift of your compassion.

Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t – Telling someone the “look at the bright side” or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except negate what they’re feeling. You can provide a safe and nurturing space for someone who’s upset by just listening and encouraging them to talk about how they feel.

Watch out for perennial victims – I used to work with a woman who always focused on the worst aspect of any situation. When she started a new job she’d immediately identify who “hated” her. Every setback was a disaster, every problem was the worst thing she’d ever dealt with. For years I rode these ups and downs with her, worrying about her latest insolvable problem or dysfunctional relationship. I finally recognized that her life was spent moving from trauma to trauma. I learned to provide a sympathetic ear and bits of feedback when I thought she could handle it, but I stopped getting sucked in to the drama of it all.

Avoid taking on their pain – Your compassion helps, your hurting along with the other person doesn’t. This also goes for all the painful input out there – TV news coverage of disasters or violence, commercials showing abused animals, even graphic movies or TV shows. Staying whole will enable you to use your compassion and caring to fuel contributions to solutions, taking on others’ pain will only weaken and distract you.

I know, all this is easier said than done. But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

Exercise: Who Owns This Problem?

Like the 6 Questions in Manage Those Pesky Emotions, you can use a few of questions to explore the emotions around interpersonal upsets. When you find yourself dealing with an upsetting situation, ask yourself:

  1. Who owns this problem? The person who is impacted by the problem is the owner, not you. In the example above, my friend’s problems belongs solely to her, in no way should they become my problems. The only exception to this is when the other person is a child or a defenseless creature – then ownership is shared by everyone.
  2. Have I contributed to the problem?
    If the answer is “yes” the question then becomes: What can I do to make it right? (and it’s often as simple as apologizing)
    If the answer is “no” the question then becomes: Do I want to help and is it appropriate for me to do so?
  3. What do I want my involvement to be? Make sure that if and how you help is your decision. You should always have final say on how much you want to help, and what contribution you are willing to make.

This is the fifth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

9 thoughts on “10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #5 Protect Your Heart

  1. I have a “perennial victim” in my life, and I know I need to disengage from feeling her hurt and trying to make it all better. But how? I have tried just listening and not trying to fix the situation, but I care enough to want to make it better (more precisely, I want to help her see that she has the power to change her life, or at least her perception of it) so I have a hard time not getting frustrated. I struggle with this daily. I KNOW it’s not my job to make her happy, but I have a hard time living that. How do we learn to disengage enough from our friends who won’t help themselves?

    1. Hi Becky,

      I know – it’s so hard to deal with someone you care about who’s stuck in a victim place. And when much of their conversation is complaints it’s even harder.

      If the other person isn’t open to honest feedback then our only choice is to find our compassion and accept them as they are. We need to remember that they’re struggling, their behavior is a cover for other anxieties and deeper feelings that we probably know little about. They’re doing the best they can. And we need to accept that this is who they are, that they are unable, at this point in their lives, to be the person we wish they were.

      As far as distancing yourself, if you can’t cut down on your interaction with the other person, you can limit the amount of time you’re willing to listen to complaints. I do this by remaining factual when the complaining starts and not “going there” when the emotion kicks in. I keep my sympathy focused on the other person’s pain around the situation rather than the drama they are creating (eg. They say: “I can’t believe I have to drive into the city three times a week for work! They just made me do it because I’m the least popular…” You answer: “Wow, sounds like you’re having trouble connecting with your co-workers” rather than “Oh that’s awful! How can they do that to you?”)

      I hear that you care about this other person and that’s what you have to offer them, your compassion in the troubled world they’ve created for themselves.

      Good luck,

      Melinda

      1. Hi Melinda,

        Tagging on to an older thread but I have a similar question pertaining to your response. I’ve been in a long term relationship with my best guess would be an ISTP or possibly but less likely an ISFP (He rarely expresses raw emotion other than anxiety or occasionally anger and social isolation from someone who’s “wronged” him including me) However the wrinkle in the picture is that I didn’t wrong him, he cheated on me multiple times physically and emotionally early in our relationship. I had confidence going into the relationship and clearly set my boundaries but somewhere along the way I lost myself. In addition when faced with this major slap
        in the face, the idea was repeatedly planted in my head by him leading up to my discovery that when expressing my gut feelings I was behaving disrespectfully, irrationally and paranoid. I credit our long distance situation with some of my leniency (and of course some plain old denial that he could have this complete alter ego) and after many long and painful talks we resolved it was  clear he has some attention seeking habits and insecurities of his own self worth which is why he craves validation even if it means hurting the one person who would have done anything for him: “nothing to do with you, let’s keep fighting, I’ll do right by you.”

        After this it got to the point where  I knew he was sorry but I felt like I had to be maternal in my instincts to get him to open up and then very verrryyy slowly it did start to happen. Problem is now we have a close bond but I feel like I fall in the perennial victim or nagging mom category when expressing my fears and concerns as he occasionally starts to shut me out or exhibit a relapse. 

        My intuitive side tells me that since his behaviour was exposed things have gotten better (at the surface at least), more communicative and more inclined to honesty but there is still an imbalance in emotion and effort on his part and anytime I bring it up his immediate response is “what did I do now?” *slam door!* I don’t want to be the mom but I don’t feel the real shift in him yet for me to become the fully trusting lover and I know it frustrates him to no end but that’s the reality of his actions and my right to protect myself. I assure him it will fade over time. I am a welcome part of his family and friend’s interactions, he is very affectionate and loves me but there is still a selfishness and this -sweep any discomfort under the rug- clause that sends me reeling.

        How do I remain supportive and keep my boundaries as an INFJ when he has not resolved to forgive himself or fully move past his old ways? I chose to stay and was well aware of the work, the pain and the potential for more disappointment (which has sadly but not surprisingly been many) along the road to mutual respect and honesty. Is that being too pragmatic? Should I bother looking for answers? I Guess that’s the INFJ side of me telling me I’m wise enough to be tough enough but I’ve reached my boiling point more often than not lately and I’m starting to wonder if I’ve become so numb that I won’t acknowledge the truth: that I don’t need intuition to see any shortfall on his part is a sign of an inevitable heartbreak. And so I project my feelings…

        “There are no victims only volunteers” and I’ve served my heart on a platter so many times it’s definitely routine. However I’m waking up now to a new reality, he is not me, I will never fully understand why he did what he did, and though I had a right to put my foot down with the unfaithful/insecure/dishonest and insensitive behavior I don’t want to be bullied or worse yet turn into one trying to straighten out our relationship alone. Ceasing the infidelity and de-prioritization of our relationship was the bare minimum I expected from him and I need to him to understand that he has to one, forgive himself; and two, go further than that by including himself in discussions of us, our future, our struggles and most importantly be able to to stand up to things that hurt us so he can regain my trust and confidence. I don’t want to grow to resent him but feel like it’s getting a little late in the season for complacency.

        Should I stop waiting for a resolution and answers that won’t come, or is couples therapy a fighting chance? Maybe there is there another way to get in that ISTP head of his? I’m out of ideas, got any?…

      2. Thanks Melinda,
        That’s really helpful. I don’t think I could ever not help or listen to a friend, but I think the key is to start to look after yourself. I’m trying to respond to the actual incidents my friend/family member is concerned about and no longer acknowledge the drama they create. When my flatmate comes home in a visible bad mood, I used to tread quietly around her and even sometimes feel guilty that I was having a good day and ‘had it too easy’ and so let her dump all emotional baggage on me, listen to all her stories about her bad day and how hard her life is, without her ever asking how I am. Now rather than treading carefully around her I listen to what happened (“I’m just so busy, work is so crazy, I have so many people to see and places to go and things to do and I’m just so tired”) and rather than buying into her drama and self pity I try to provide constructive advice (“Maybe you should say no to some invites, or re-evaluate and cut down on the amount of extra activities you are involved in”)…

  2. I wish I knew how to avoid taking on others’ pain. I even have to be careful to insulate myself from ‘rectreational’ drama — I no longer have a TV, and have to vet movies and books carefully. If you get any good tips, I’d love to hear them.

    1. I hear you, Tim. The only way I can continue to watch most TV dramas is to remind myself that for the actors the trauma is *good* – gives them more opportunity to act! I think that carrying other’s pain is part of the price we pay for the gifts we get from our sensitivity – our ability to “know” and read between the lines. When I think of it that way it doesn’t feel like quite as heavy a burden.

      I don’t have any additional tips, but please, all you INFJs out there, add your wisdom to what I’ve written!!

      Take care,

      Melinda

  3. This was great, I really needed this. With all the bad emotions in my house, whenever someone is having a bad day, I tend to take their emotions, and it really sucks. This is great!

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