10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #9 Stop Trying to Control the World

BossyDon’t you just love it?  That feeling that everything is going as it should?  In my blog post The Illusion of Control I talk about how we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got things under control.

As “J”s we have a natural desire to arrange circumstances, correct problems, make sure that things run smoothly.  Add our “F” energy to that, all that mushy desire to make sure everyone is happy, and we can end up really overdoing it.

It feels good from our end, arranging things for other folks, but I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not fun to be on the other end of that energy.  When I was growing up my father used to decide what was best for me and then badger me endlessly until I did things his way.  I’ve never felt more disempowered and small than I did after giving in to his pressure.

I talked about defining and protecting your boundaries a few weeks ago, but my topic today is about identifying and respecting the boundaries of others. Because, really, the only person we need to control in life is ourselves. The only circumstances we are entitled to arrange are our own circumstances.  The people in our lives have their own approach to solving problems and if they need our help they’ll ask for it.  And yes, we can organize the heck out of committees, events and special occasions, but the only way we can make sure we’re not overrunning everyone else is to ask permission and accept the answer.

Exercise:  Practice Letting Go

This exercise requires that you step out of your routine and pay attention to your assumptions.  This can be difficult for an INFJ, there is often an inherent feeling of correctness to our opinions, they can feel so right that we forget there are other perspectives.  You can overcome this “assumption of correctness” by stepping out of your personal perspective and taking on the perspective of an “observer self.”  As an observer self, you become neutral, watching yourself interact with others as if you’re watching a movie.

  1. Over the next week, start paying attention to the small decisions you make where you assume that your way, or the way it’s always been done, is correct.  These are the little things, like making the assumption that you and your friend will always have lunch at your favorite restaurant, automatically planning to arrive at a movie 20 minutes early, assuming that you and your neighbor will walk at the same time every day (these are all, by the way, examples from my life).
  2. Start letting the other person decide.  Check in with them to see if they want something different.  A casual way to do this is to say something like “We always go to lunch at Scotty’s, would you like to try someplace else?”  or “What time would it work best for you to leave for the movies?  If you’re in a group and plans are being made, try staying quiet and let the group make the decisions without your input.
  3. For each experience ask yourself the following:
      • What was it like to give up control?  Uncomfortable? Scary? Or was it freeing, a relief?
      • What was the outcome of the new decision?  Did things work out worse, better or the same?
      • How did the other person/people respond to being consulted or making the decision?
      • What did you learn?

Exercise: Who Do You Want To Be?

Who do you want to be when the time for decisions to be made?  Think about your role in your family, friends and co-workers lives and design a set of rules for where you want your limits to be.  By deciding before the fact you’re more likely to be aware as you navigate through this tricky terrain.

As an example, here are my rules:

  • Don’t try to “fix” anything for my adult daughter.  This means that if even if I see her struggling with something I don’t jump in with a solution unless asked. Letting other adults work out their own issues is a sign of respect, not neglect.
  • When I’m planning something as part of a group:
      • Voice my opinion as an opinion, not as a declaration of the way things should be.
      • Listen to the suggestions of others openly, recognizing that their ideas might be better than mine.
      • Step back from the desire that everything be planned, stop worrying about what might happen and just let it happen, knowing that I can handle whatever comes up.
  • Ask for permission before planning, “fixing” or taking over someone else’s effort.
  • Take “No” for an answer.
  • Recognize the fact that just because I think my ideas are right doesn’t mean that they really are.

This is the ninth 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.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #7 Seek Approval From Within

This is Called
Image by AJ Brustein via Flickr

I spent some time reading an INFJ online bulletin board and was surprised and embarrassed at how many of the posts just shrieked “poor me!”  It showed up over and over again –  “nobody appreciates me!”  “I’m so sensitive!”  “he did this to me, she did that…!”

I was surprised both by the quantity of the complaints and by the fact that the people posting them seemed to feel so victimized.

However I was embarrassed because they sounded startlingly similar to the whining that often is going on in my own head.

Which made me realize that all that complaining is pretty unappealing. Even though it’s true that INFJs are sometimes overlooked and underappreciated, it doesn’t benefit us to focus on it.  In order to reach our full potential in life we need to stop seeking external validation.  We need to accept the fact that our power is subtle, our passion is quiet, and our strength is internal.

We need to stop relying on the approval of others to feel good about ourselves.

It’s not as hard as you might think:

Create an internal measure of validation – Identify your own values, what’s important to you, and determine the worth of your actions based on those. If you’re passionate about helping others then your work tutoring illiterate adults is priceless, no matter what anyone says or doesn’t say. And if you get some praise for it, that’s nice, but stay connected with the fact that helping someone is what’s important, getting external recognition is a perk.

Celebrate your accomplishments – Don’t wait for someone else to acknowledge your triumphs, do it yourself.  Just finished the first draft of your book?  Treat yourself to a day off where you can do whatever you want.  Had the courage to take on a tough assignment at work?  Buy yourself a new leather portfolio to help you feel a touch more professional at the meetings you’ll be attending. By acknowledging your own successes you’re not only recognizing the value of your work, you’re also reducing your reliance on others’ approval.

Understand that you can still be right even if no one else agrees with you – There are times when I just know I’m right about something and no one around me will acknowledge it.  When that happens it can feel like my knowledge doesn’t mean anything because no one else sees it. I suspect that most INFJs encounter this – our insights are often so subtle that they can appear to have been pulled out of thin air to our less intuitive companions.

You’ll always be frustrated until you accept the simple fact that sometimes you’ll know more than the people around you.  Again, it’s about understanding that your wisdom is solid, deep, and enough.  You don’t need the recognition of others to confirm that you know what you know.

My coach once called me a “silent warrior” and that resonated with me.  I think that is a great way to look at the internal power, insight and strength that INFJs carry with them.

Exercise: Identify Your Values

One of the best ways to determine the value of your actions is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your values.

  1. Make a list of the things that are most important in your life (aside from your basic needs such as food, clothing, etc). My list, for example, would include the following:  loyal friends that I can laugh with, time with my daughter, finding the best way for me to help others people, my home, reading, doing work that matters, creating something meaningful, and learning.
  2. Review your list with an eye towards looking for your values – they should be easy to spot.  The values that come out of my list are: friendship, laughter, family, helping others, nesting, reading & learning, creativity and contribution.
  3. Keep a list of your values and make it a living document – mature it by adding other areas as you notice them.  Use it when making decisions and compare how you spend your time with what’s on your list.

This is the seventh 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.

 

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #6 Stay Connected To the World

Parkpop 2009 - The girl in the crowd
Image by Haags Uitburo via Flickr

INFJs are typically pretty internal folks.  As Charles R. Martin states in the book Looking at Type: The Fundamentals, “For INFJs the dominant quality in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, ideas, and symbols.”  And with this internal focus we can sometimes lose touch with what’s going on with the people around us. We might think that our desire for interpersonal harmony would balance this out, but that desire often just makes us more anxious and even more internally focused.

Here are a few ways to turn that focus outward:

Be aware of your impact on others – There is a woman who contributes to an online coaching bulletin board who drives me crazy.  Her posts, which are often are overly long, typically contain words and concepts that the rest of us don’t understand.  She loves to lecture on theory, and can get snippy when she’s crossed (and yes, she’s an INFJ).

I suspect that if you asked her, she’d say that she’s viewed as highly intelligent, skillful as a coach, and maybe a little feisty when someone oversteps. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that many people on the bulletin board see her as an arrogant know-it-all, who’s also a bit nasty.

What’s sad is that she’s probably a very nice person who is unaware of her impact on others. And what gets lost in all her noise is the fact that her posts frequently contain excellent advice for new coaches, and she often is able to ground discussions that have gotten out of hand with clarity and common sense.

Give people the benefit of the doubt – We (everyone, not just INFJs) tend to fill in the blanks.  When we don’t have full information about others we tend to make up facts to complete the story.  Then we act as if our story is true.

The key here is to remember that we don’t know everything about other people, even those closest to us. When accept this and stop assuming we know it all, suddenly the grumpy guy up the street becomes a mystery (why is he so sad?), the annoyingly clinging friend gets our compassion (I wonder what her family life is like?), and we recognize that there’s probably a story behind that angry co-worker.

Take up your space but only your space – the womanfrom the bulletin board that I wrote about earlier is a perfect example of someone taking up too much space (both figuratively and literally).  If she paid attention to how long others’ posts are, and that they typically offered advice rather than extended monologues about theory, she would realize that she was out of step with the majority of the participants. If she adjusted her posts to fit in with the rest of the bulletin board I suspect that she would be seen as a valuable contributor.

The same is true for all conversations, both in-person and virtual.  Think about the Facebook over-posters, we can’t hide them quickly enough! Or the person who dominates a conversation with an endless monologue about themselves, punctuating it with questions that are seemingly about us but are really just about topics they want to shift to.

However, INFJs also need to be aware of the flip side – we also want to make sure not to take up too little space in our dealings with others. Don’t stay quiet when it’s your time to speak, don’t hide your light in deference to others.

Exercise:  Explore Your Impact

Over the next week use the tactics below to assess your impact on others.  At the end of each day jot down what you’ve learned and what changes you’d like to make in your behavior.

  • Ask questions – the easiest way to find out how you’re perceived is to ask someone you trust about how they see you.  Keep the subject bite-sized by asking about a specific event rather than a general question (i.e. Ask “Did I seem oversensitive with that woman back there?” rather than “Do you think I’m too sensitive?”)
  • Pay attention – When you’re in a conversation, look, listen and receive rather than just sending.  Notice if the other person looks interested or bored, listen to their responses to check in on how the exchange is going, use your intuition to get a feel for the vibe of the conversation.  And if your antenna picks up something negative, ask about it with a simple question like “Am I going into too much detail?”
  • Put yourself in their shoes – INFJs like to share and can often do it too much.   Sometimes when I’m ready to launch into a story about my day, or a review of my opinion about something, I’ll ask myself “Will this be interesting to the person I’m talking to? Would I want to hear about this from someone else?”  The answer is often “No, it’s actually pretty boring!”

This is the sixth 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.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #4 Learn to Say “No” and Mean It

Stop SignBoundaries are a loaded topic for me.  Like many INFJs it’s hard for me to say “No” to someone I care about, and I have the tendency to want to look to others to for happiness.  It takes work for me to get clear about how far I’m willing to go in some situations and to communicate that to others.

I didn’t learn much about healthy boundaries when I was growing up, so I’ve turned to the experts.  What follows is the information I found on how to figure out what’s right for me.

Rights of the Assertive Person

One of our basic rights is the right to say “no” when we don’t want to do something.  David Richo in his “Rights of the Assertive Person” from his book How to Be an Adult elaborates further:

Richo’s list of rights:

  1. To ask for 100% of what you want from 100% of the people in your life, 100% of the time.
  2. To enjoy emotional and physical safety.  No one has the right to hurt you, even if she loves you.
  3. To change your mind or make mistakes.
  4. To decide when and whether or not you are responsible for (a) finding solutions to others’ problems or (b) taking care of their needs.
  5. To say No or Maybe without pressure to decide in accord with someone else’s timing.
  6. To be illogical in making decisions.
  7. To have secrets, to decide how much of yourself or your life you choose to reveal.
  8. To be free to explain your choices or not (includes not having to make excuses or give reasons when you say No).
  9. To be non-assertive when you see that as appropriate.
  10. To maintain the same principles, skills and rights of assertiveness with your partner, parents, children or friends.

Visible and Invisible Boundaries

This is a list I’ve extracted from Anne Katherine’s terrific book Boundaries: Where You and I Begin. She describes how she sets boundaries:

  • I set my physical boundary by choosing who can touch me and how and where I am touched.  I decide how close I’ll let people come to me.
  • I set my emotional boundary by choosing how I’ll let people treat me.  One way I do this is by setting limits on what people can say to me.
  • Healthy, safe expressions of anger by people I’m close to are acceptable. In appropriate anger from an inappropriate person [e.g. strangers] is not.
  • Setting emotional boundaries includes deciding what relationships I’ll foster and continue and what people I’ll back away from because I can’t trust them.

What’s Appropriate?

Katherine also provides a list of what’s appropriate based on orientation:

  • If you’re looking up to a person for guidance, supervision or parenting, you are not his peer.  If he’s your dad, minister, therapist, or boss, you are not required to parent or counsel him.
  • If you’re looking down to a person because she’s a child, a client, or a subordinate, she is not your peer.  She should not be counseling you.  And you should not give her inappropriate personal information.
  • If you’re looking across to a person, she’s your peer.  You support each other.  You confide in each other.  Giving goes both ways.
  • If you’re doing peer things with someone you look up or down to, something’s wrong.  A boundary is being crossed.
  • If you’re looking down or up at someone who’s a peer, something’s wrong.  A wife is not a subordinate.  A husband is not a boss.

 

Exercise: Define Your Boundaries

As you read the lists above you might notice that adhering to them requires lots of decisions. How much do you want to reveal?  Is that person a peer or subordinate?  It’s helpful to explore your answers ahead of time so that as situations occur you’ve already figured out where your boundary is.

Create a Will/Won’t List  – This exercise is designed to identify your boundaries with the people in your life. I use Will/Won’t Lists anytime I find myself struggling with not wanting to hurt someone or feeling like I’m being asked for more than I want to give.

  1. On a piece of paper or Word document create three columns.  At the top of the first column put “Who” and the other two columns are “What I Will Do” and “What I Won’t Do” (see sample below)
  2. In the “Who” column list the significant people in your life or someone who you’re having difficulty setting boundaries with.
  3. In the next two columns list what’s ok and what’s not. In the sample below I’ve listed my boundaries for my family and in general.
Who

What I Will Do

What I Won’t Do

  My Family
  • Understand and accept that they are different from me
  • Be as kind as possible
  • Be respectful
  • Recognize Xmas and birthdays
  • Be kindly honest
  • Respond when they reach out to me
  • Be submissive
  • Feel guilty
  • Engage in games
  • Respond to disrespectful communications
  • Attend family gatherings when I don’t want to
  • Tell them what they want to hear just to keep the peace
  Others in General
  • Be as honest and straightforward as possible
  • Be vulnerable
  • Be proud of my coaching career
  • Extend myself for others when appropriate and to an appropriate degree
  • Be submissive
  • Do things I don’t want to do just to be nice
  • Judge
  • Give unsolicited advice
  • Agree just to be nice
  • Be ashamed of things I like (like watching TV)

Exercise: Practice “No” Sandwiches

As INFJs we can have trouble saying “No.”  We don’t want to hurt feelings or create disharmony.  But in order to observe our boundaries we need to get good at saying no.  The No Sandwich is a great way to do it.

The components of a No Sandwich:

[Statement of regret or acknowledgement]  [Straightforward No]  [Positive follow up]

Statement of regret or acknowledgement – This is an honest, but positive, statement either expressing real regret or an acknowledgement of the other person’s position.  A statement of regret can be simply “I’d love to go but …”, “I’d really like to help but…”  The key here is, again, honesty.  If you say you’d love to go you will be invited again, so don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

If you really don’t feel regret, the first part of your statement can be just an acknowledgement of the other person.  Examples are “I appreciate you including me but…” or “I know that this is important to you but…”

Straightforward No – Keep your “no” simple.  You don’t need to give a reason (which can imply that negotiation is possible) you just need to say no thanks.

Positive follow up – This is just a respectful and kind statement to cement your “no” and take the sting out of it.  They are statements such as ” thanks so much “, “maybe next time” (but only if you mean it), “good luck” or “have fun.”

Here are some examples of a No Sandwhich:

“I love that you want to include me, but I can’t make it.  Have a great time, the weather should be beautiful!”

“I can see that you’ve put a lot of thought into this, but I’m going to do it the way I originally planned.  I appreciate your effort, though.”

“That looks delicious, but no thanks.  How about giving some to Grandpa? He loves cookies.”

“I know that this is important to the school district, but I won’t be able to run the book drive.  Why don’t you sign me up to help collect books?”

If you want to include a reason, by all means do, but don’t argue about it if the other person pushes back.  Consider a statement of “That looks delicious but I’m watching my weight” as an absolute, and if the other person says “Oh, just one won’t hurt,” smile and move away.  You’ve said no.

The truth is, though, that no matter how gentle we are, sometimes people still won’t like our answer, which can be painful for an INFJ.  Our desire for harmony and our concern about hurting others can feel overwhelming when we say “no”.  However, it’s part of life and being an adult to set limits and accept the fact that others won’t always agree with our decisions.

This is the fourth 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.

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.

Field Guide to the Loner: The Real Insider (Psychology Today)

This is a terrific article from Psychology Today on Introverts.  Even though in the article we’re called “loners” it does a great job of illustrating the fact that much of the time we’re quite happy to be alone.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/field-guide-the-loner-the-real-insiders

It’s True – They Might Not Like You

As I tried to chat with the woman sitting across the table her gaze slid away from mine.  I scanned the rest of the women in the group only to realize that no one was talking to me.  It suddenly occurred to me that the only person interacting with me at this shower was my friend, the bride-to-be.

Then it hit – they didn’t like me!  It wasn’t that they disliked me, but they clearly didn’t like me.

So here I was in my worst nightmare.  I remember the fear as far back as elementary school, the belief that if I’m not liked, if I’m rejected, then…what?  The world would come to an end?  Time would stop?  I’m not sure what I believed would happen, but that jittering fear was always with me when I thought about social events.

So how did I feel, facing the rejection I’d feared for most of my life?

I was bored.

That’s all.  No shrinking into my seat in humiliation, no fervent wishing I was a million miles away.   I just realized that it was going to be a long afternoon.

And, as I thought about the group, I understood.  Most of the women were suburban moms in their early thirties with kids in elementary school.  And there I was, mid-fifties, divorced, with an adult daughter.  I was just too different, I think I made them uncomfortable.

Once I realized that no one wanted to talk to me, I settled back in my chair and just let the activity wash around me. Most of the women there had been friends for years – they chatted about their kids, planned potlucks, talked about their husbands.  It was pleasant, this murmur of friendship and sharing, even though it didn’t include me.  I was an outsider, but it didn’t really matter because no one was paying any attention to me.

I ended up loving that shower, but not for the usual reasons.  What I loved was how comfortable I felt even though I didn’t fit in. There was such ease in not loading up the experience with needs – the need for acceptance and approval, the need to be one of the gang.  I’d carried the fear of not being liked with me all my life; what a delight it was to find that when the time came to face my fears, they simply vanished.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place