What People Believe about INTP Emotions: Introducing the Hog and his Wash
You probably are quite familiar with the common wisdom regarding INTPs and emotion. It goes something like this:
The preferences of INTPs are thinking (Ti) and intuiting (Ne). INTPs have far less competence with feeling functions, leaving them somewhat cold and unemotional.
You've heard something like that, right? Well, I say hogwash.
At a glance, it might seem like that's the truth, but the reality is very different, much more surprising. In fact, it might shock you. Deep down in the world of the INTP experience, where we can't easily see, we are not un-emotional. Our emotions are actually SUPER-CHARGED.
Displaying emotions is a very different issue than feeling them. For example, you can have a terrible headache without outwardly showing that you're in pain. To understand the complexity of what is going on, we have to challenge the very notion of a "preference." What is a preference really? Let's say you have amazing agility, physical height, and accuracy. You naturally begin playing basketball, and you excel. Is a preference like that? Is it something so good and strong that you can't help yourself from doing it?
I say no, it's not that simple. I'm going to show you that skills only solidify and take shape as a preference when something else comes first. You don't know it's a bright clear day until you've already experienced dark and rainy ones. To fully recognize a strength, you have to compare it to a weakness. And for us, that weakness is hard-rocking, hotel-room-trashing emotions. They can easily be too-hot-to-handle.
The Power of Negative
Let me ask you a question. Which of the following would make a bigger impression on you?
A. A lovely walk in the woods full of fragrant wildflowers.
B. Disturbing a nest of bees and getting stung 3 times.
Which experience is more potent? Which would stick with you more? Which would teach you a more enduring life lesson?
I think B, no?
It's more intense, more arresting. The memory of A might be delectable, but it probably will dissolve into a big pot of similar memories. The information you gathered there will be soft and nebulous. The memory of B, however, is seared into your brain. You remember every step in great detail. It's like someone grabbed the video camcorder that lives in your head and hit record.
Negative is powerful. Pain imprints. We REALLY don't like pain. In fact, we hate it more than we like pleasure. We will analyze situations that cause us pain in an effort to learn how to avoid them in the future.
And therein lies the magic word. Avoid.
The Chicken and the Egg: Preference or Avoidance?
Let's meet Ivan and Irina INTP.
They are cute-as-a-button five year old children. Awww, aren't they sweet?
But already, they are carrying wounds. Particular wounds. They were inflicted by times like these:
*In trying to assemble a complicated toy, they just can't seem to get it right. They get really FRUSTRATED. The feeling that wells up in them is terribly strong. They feel so emotional that it feels like a coming volcanic eruption. They either need to scream, break something, hurt themselves, or cry (or all of the above). All of those things have consequences that they don't want to face (provoking something else, embarrassment, etc.), but the feeling is so strong that they can't hold it back. They might grab handfuls of their hair and pull. Or growl. Yet, their desire (or need) to assemble the toy correctly won't let them stop. Other children just leave behind what is frustrating them or cry for a little bit and move on. The INTP will vent an emotional outburst, then swing from intense anger to intense embarrassment because of what they've done. Big swings. Big highs and big lows.
*In a certain place or with a certain person, they feel enormous feelings of happiness and meaning. It's so powerful that they want to share it with others. But not just share by explaining it like a dissertation. At first, they assume that others feel the same strong emotion and want to feel it together. However, when they reach out and try, it becomes very clear that the feeling is not shared. The rush of positive emotions swings to sharp embarrassment and confusion. Again, the swing is extreme. Other people would be disappointed, but try again later. The INTP may vow never to repeat this very unpleasant experience and never reach out to that person again. Ever.
For INTPs, the emotions can be like carrying a huge, overfull pot of soup. The chaotic swings and the ever present danger of spilling can feel dangerous. We develop a natural desire to Avoid the negative and dangerous ones, to keep the soup from sloshing and knocking the pot out of our hands. We learn to walk carefully, calmly. We try to keep balance.
In general, we believe that all observations contain important information about the workings of the world, including emotions. We turn our rational functions onto our feelings to analyze and understand them, to find their meaning. Even if the raw emotions are positive or otherwise manageable, the process of mixing focused thought with emotion super-charges them. The emotions can feel very deep and meaningful. That's not a problem until we get violated, embarrassed, or not valued. Then, the super-charged emotion blows up like a ticking timebomb. Again, the emotions are primed to be more intense than for other people.
Given that emotions can be radioactive for us, we become adept as using rationality to box in the dangerous animals. Every time they get poked and start pacing in their cage, we use rationality to blanket the emotions and keep them within controlled, safe parameters. In short, our Avoidance has crystallized our rational preferences. We've learned what we're good at, and what we're not.
So why are the seas so stormy for INTPs? First off, it's not our fault. Some people are simply more sensitive to certain stimuli than others. Some people can't stand the smell of perfume. Some can't stand rough fabric on their skin. Some can't stand bright light. For INTPs, the experience of emotions is like listening to music with the volume blasting. We like the music, but if it's too loud, it's painful to the ears. Even if it's not, the blaring music has a tendency to disturb the neighbors. For most types, weathering a bad emotion is like a sailing a lake with choppy water. No big deal. It passes. But for INTPs, it can be like a hurricane. Howling wind and driving spray. You get off the boat looking like Nick Nolte after he was arrested. We learn to become good meteorologists to avoid the storms in the first place.
Some types, namely the idealists, actually wrap themselves in feeling and intuiting for understanding and making decisions. To them, emotions are a guiding light, a best friend. Emotions are the antithesis of danger. Because of that, idealists are our mirror opposites. They trade our thinking functions for feeling functions.
Have you ever asked an idealist to EXPLAIN how they see the world or what their emotions have taught them? Or to summarize all that they've experienced? It's a train wreck. They struggle to string together linear thought and language. They stumble, keep correcting themselves, and talk in circles. Although their emotions are perfectly clear and enduring, their thoughts tangle into huge knots that they can't seem to unravel. And THAT feels bad to them. Their Avoidance is thinking functions (and also sensing functions; however, those aren't our preference either, so we don't differ in that regard). They flee that pain for the safety of their primary competence, feeling and intuiting.
Why the INTP in Your Life is a Treasure
If you are reading this because you love an INTP and he or she is confounding you, I have great news for you! If you're beginning to believe that your INTP is just incapable of loving you like a normal person, this is your lucky day.
Let's say the INTP in your life isn't showing you his or her emotions. There is a simple reason. Your INTP doesn't feel safe enough with you to do so. But don't take it personally. Your INTP probably has reached the point where many of these emotions can't even be "shared" with him or herself.
However, those emotions are there, and they are super-charged. Isn't that exciting??? As you plug into them, you are in for a wild, fun time. The positive emotions will be a rush. Pure and powerful. Almost childlike. If you have become lacquered over and jaded in your own life, you can let those uber emotions energize you. But, of course, the negative emotions will be equally as strong. If your INTP gets sharply angry with you (and then withdraws and is cold toward you because he or she is battling to quiet them), just know that they don't want to feel that way. Translate their anger by dividing it in half and respond to that. It's not as bad as you think it is. It's just dialed up LOUD (or at least full of perceived meaning for the INTP). Help them come back. Help them calm. To do that, engage their thinking functions while delicately letting them know that it's okay to feel things. The emotions will come and go. They won't cause lasting harm. Every emotion doesn't have to mean something enormously important and permanent.