Mine, Yours, and Ours
An INFJ Confronts Marriage and Finds Herself
Khrystine Kelsey, October 16, 2019
My relationship with my husband is the most interesting and compelling in my life. Sometimes I feel as if my marriage is the only relationship in my life. Being married is easily the hardest thing I have ever done, but being married is not unpleasant. I am not saying that I wish I weren’t married or that I feel oppressed in my marriage—though I have felt all those things at one point or another—but for me personally, marriage is an all-consuming project that requires energy, commitment, and sustained effort. Unlike my job or school, I can’t get mad at it and pretend to quit. I can’t design the perfect schedule/office/routine that keeps it under control. I can’t take time off. Unlike my other projects, I can’t just ignore my marriage until inspiration strikes. Mostly, there’s no faking it. As an introvert in an extraverted world, faking it is a lot of how I survive.
My ESTJ husband is profoundly different from me. In our tutoring business and teaching careers, he covers math, science, and engineering, and I cover arts, social studies, and writing. This contrast is just the most superficial of our differences. We know each other very well, but we understand each other very little. He says I lack common sense while I am baffled at his inability to pick up on social cues. I know some things bother him, but I cannot understand why they matter; there are things he does to bother me, and I don’t understand why he seems surprised when my response is exactly the same every time he does them. We have had very hard times, and in fights we can be mean, but we also trust each other more than many couples I have seen. We both prioritize our relationship above others, and we keep each other close—both literally and figuratively. Originally, I had intended to explore these dynamics through our respective psychological types. However, in exploring our relationship, I discovered how many expectations and judgments I bring to our relationship based on my own type. These challenges are not immune to the type of my partner but also exist independently of him.
Saeed and I both extravert our judging functions, which means our perceiving functions are introverted. Perceptions are understood based on how they fit with us subjectively. The outer world flows inward. When it comes to organizing those sense impressions, “judging” them, our energy flows outward. This happens almost seamlessly: as soon as a sense impression comes in, it becomes something to make sense of. The fact that we introvert a perceiving function and extravert a judging function is the only similarity in our type code, which probably accounts for some of the keeping each other close that I mentioned earlier: we feel safer because we know the other person is “organized” somewhere. Saeed’s first question any time I answer the phone is “Where are you?” He told me once this was equivalent to asking how I am. If I’m home when I’m supposed to be at work, does that mean I’m sick? If I’m home when it’s dark out, on the other hand, or with good friends, he knows I’m okay. Similarly, I don’t get worried if he hasn’t called all day because I know his schedule. Our ways of organizing and judging this reality, however, are very different, as are the ways we perceive it in the first place.
Saeed, even when speaking in a non-business or scientifically oriented context, will use the term “past performance.” For example, he might say something like “Based on past performance, your sister will cancel dinner with us at the last minute.” This is likely due to his auxiliary introverted sensation (Si), which, according to Carol Shumate, “relies on the past to understand the present” (in press). John Beebe’s eight-function model associates the second auxiliary position to the good parent, and indeed Saeed’s use of this function does strike me as somewhat parental. Shumate further said that Si is involved in “creating a secure environment,” which is a priority of Saeed’s as well. I have felt physically secure with Saeed from the beginnings of our relationship. Saeed feeds people—literally. When we were dating, he often brought food over for me or my family, and after we have a fight, he usually apologizes by making me breakfast or bringing me lunch. Early in our relationship, I observed aloud, “I will never starve with this man.” It was one of many remarks I made aloud without thinking, and I immediately felt shy because it seemed so primal, so committed, so already married. Any time I voiced one of these uncensored thoughts, I was amazed that Saeed never flinched—in fact, I think my praising his physical caretaking skills made him proud. There is a traditionalism, almost a conservatism, to Si’s appreciation for history and security. Saeed was not shy about expressing a desire for home and commitment very early in the relationship—promising me a “house like this” while we were at a friend’s, for example. For me, this overt demonstration of his love and commitment was attractive, disconcerting, romantic, and confusing. However, sometimes Saeed’s Si comes out in ways that are too parental for my taste, like when he screamed at me for standing in front of a microwave or when he lectures me about how I spend my money no matter how many times I have extracted his explicit acknowledgment that “That’s your money—I can’t tell you what do with it.” (This is always followed by “But … ”)
He has a point. Si is in my eighth position—what Beebe calls the demonic/daimonic position. Functions in this position tend to undermine our conscious plans in ways that are very distressing and even destructive. Beebe described this “demonic personality” as “a beastly part of myself that nevertheless can occasionally be an uncanny source for the infusion of redemptive spirit into my dealings with myself and others” (2006, p. 42). In practice, Si demonic means that I “ignore financial and/or bodily health,” and my memory tends to “exaggerate insults, mistakes, and embarrassing moments” (Shumate, in press). A simpler way to think of it is that all those things Saeed is good at and finds valuable, I am bad at. I am not very good with my sensing function in general; even my egosyntonic version is my inferior function. Furthermore, that sensing function is extraverted sensation (Se), which is present-oriented and doesn’t want to be “fenced in” (C. Shumate, lecture, 2019). Saeed wants to be a homeowner with a wife who knows how to keep house. I want to live in a hotel so someone else can clean up after me and I can check in and out any time.
Saeed is not overly traditional about gender roles, or at least not dogmatically so. He expects to help around the house, respects my education, and never makes me feel like a “good wife” should be at home. However, we were both raised in patriarchal cultures, and he has the double bias of being the privileged male and having highly developed Si. Megan Malone (2017) pointed out:
The ESTJ may feel like the INFJ isn’t doing their part to provide or take care of practical things at home. In relationships with male ESTJs and female INFJs, this relationship can quickly take on stereotypical gender norms, which may seem natural for the ESTJ but be a source of resentment for the INFJ. (p. 24)
I do feel resentment, along with the shame of not being good at taking care of things. If anything makes me doubt my ability to live with another person, let alone be married to one, my sense of inadequacy in taking care of our home is it. A few times I have hired someone to come clean and organize. Saeed thinks this ridiculous, financially wasteful, especially for something that should come naturally. Except it doesn’t. He does not know, probably cannot know, the fear, anger, and loathing I feel, the demonic rage that comes up when I try to use my Si. I feel as if I’m being swallowed or imprisoned. I hate myself, I hate him, and I hate the institution of marriage. I believe I have other complexes around mothering, around sexual assault and space being violated that play into this. Nevertheless, my feelings are very intense, and I sometimes find myself hating him for wanting such domesticity from me, for not seeing how hard keeping house is, for not appreciating how hard I have to try to do the mediocre job I do. Undoubtedly, I would have these feelings around homemaking regardless of his type or even of being married. If I lived alone, I could avoid the problem for longer, but not indefinitely. Then again, no one would judge me for hiring a housekeeper.
I am also judgmental of Saeed, and while it is hard for me to imagine, perhaps my judgement pains him as much as his judgment crushes me. Coming to accept that I am judgmental has been strange for me. After all, I am so “nice.” I am “accepting.” I think there are a few reasons my judgment is less obvious than Saeed’s. First, Saeed’s judging function, extraverted thinking (Te), is his hero function. It is the first thing he does. My judging function is auxiliary extraverted feeling (Fe). Second, he is an extravert and I am an introvert. In general, my energy orientation makes me appear slower, and I am less likely to share my judgments. Third, thinking judges impersonally while feeling judges contextually. Feeling judgment is a slower process because the specific context has to be considered, not just the rules, system, or law as it exists. I perceive something with my dominant introverted intuition (Ni), then evaluate it (Fe), and only then will I consider expressing my opinion if it is contextually appropriate. Saeed talks as he’s thinking and does this in order to process his perceptions.
Myers said that the biggest relationship problem she happened to see in her practice was the conflict between those making thinking and feeling judgments. They seemed to have the hardest time communicating (Myers & Myers, 1980/1993). I suspect this difficulty has more to do with the fact that thinking and feeling are judging functions than that they are any more oppositional than the other pairs we see in the theory. That judgment matters, especially if it is immediately apparent. If I do something foolish (usually having to do with my inferior sensation) and Saeed insults me for it, I get very angry. I am not just angry because my pride is hurt, although that is a factor. I am angry that he does not see that insulting one’s wife is a foolish thing to do. I am angry that he values whatever “thing” I just “ruined” over our relationships, my happiness, my feelings, me! I am angry that he would rather have a fight and make us both feel bad than just clean up the mess, repair the break, or do whatever needs to be done. I may have done something stupid, but he is making it worse, and that is even more stupid!
My reasons for my anger are reasonable—they make sense, they’re coherent, and they may even be “true.” But they are also all feeling judgments. Every single one of my reasons is based on value judgments, context, and the preference for harmony over discord. A thinker’s judgment is based on none of those things. “X” is a foolish thing to do and should be known as such, regardless of who is doing it, where they are, or why. It is “a universal law which must be put into effect everywhere all the time” (Jung, 1921/2014, ¶585).
I can be quite vicious in my feeling judgments, even if they are not expressed. I have quite a bit of forgiveness, understanding, and patience for human foibles—unless the foible is making someone else feel bad. Then I have no mercy. However, since learning more about the function hierarchy for each type, I have opened to the possibility that feelings may be as mysterious, anxiety-provoking, and unfathomable to my husband as sensation is to me. According to Shumate, ESTJ’s “can fail to see feeling states, [and] deny that they exist” (in press). This oversight is baffling to me. While it is convenient and perhaps even accurate to complain that Saeed is at least as out of touch with emotional reality as I am with physical reality, making this judgment makes me feel both hopeless and mean.
Jung said we should not try to force someone’s lower functions into consciousness. Regardless of any moral considerations, it just doesn’t work (Jung, 1921/2014, ¶670). Nothing makes me want to run away from marriage like the idea of being a traditional housewife, and if Saeed could suddenly understand my intense feelings, he would likely be overwhelmed. If he actually felt as unworthy as I admittedly want him to feel at times, he might tell me I deserve better and leave. I’ve played that scenario with men before. I believe this pattern occurs due to my introverted feeling (Fi) being in my sixth “bad parent” position and my extraverted thinking (Te) falling in the trickster position. Introverted feeling in this position tends to set impossible standards while extraverted thinking as trickster often results in attempts to take control having the opposite of the desired effect (Shumate, in press).
When this understanding first dawned, I felt vaguely angry about all this—angry that I wasn’t a better housewife and that Saeed wasn’t more understanding about it, angry that Saeed wasn’t more in touch with his feelings or mine, angry that the theory seemed to suggest that we don’t understand each other and never will, angry that I want to be understood. I also recognized that I was emotional for other reasons. I had just written very demanding exams for my Ph.D., my bank account was negative because I had not worked much due to the aforementioned exams, and I felt very over-extraverted upon tending to the needs of my students at the beginning of the academic year.
The more I study psychological type, however, the more validation and insight I find. Interestingly, I related to a lot of the experiences ENFJs described in the informal communications I had with them and I have even reported an ENFJ type on online personality tests. I am definitely an introvert, but my extraverted feeling is strongly developed. ENFJs have the same top two functions as INFJs but in reverse order. They lead with their extraverted feeling and follow with their introverted intuition. Lenore Thomson’s description of an INFJ describes how I experience myself while her description of an ENFJ describes how I actually live my life (1998). Myers compared the dominant function to a general and the auxiliary function to his second-in-command. In an extraverted personality, the general is on the battlefield calling the shots. In an introverted personality, the general is in his tent, still leading but rarely visible; rather, the second-in-command relays messages to the troops and appears to be the one taking action (Myers & Myers, 1980/1993).
Thomson described what it looks like when one’s dominant function seems to fail the individual. One’s usual modes of operating do not seem to work as well as they once did, and the individual feels stuck: “This feeling of being stuck is always the give-away. It tells us that our attitudes need work” (Thomson, 1998, p. 83). Thomson focused on the need to develop the auxiliary function (1998), whereas Marie-Louise von Franz said that, generally, the lower functions are those that need attention. Von Franz mentioned a rare exception, however. She claimed that some people are “distorted types” (von Franz, 1971/2013, p.12): in the case of a distorted type, the person has developed one of the lower functions more consciously than the dominant function. As the youngest child in a family of five with a narcissistic father, I was rewarded for my skills in mirroring, charm, and diplomacy. The general emphasis on extraversion and popularity in my culture was similarly encouraging, as was the idea that women should be emotional caretakers. Von Franz pointed out that most people experience their most-used function wearing thin at some point in their lives, and in some ways, it’s easier for distorted types when this happens. For them, it feels like a coming home rather than a new stage of adaptation or development: “They are like fish who can return happily to the water” (1971/2013, p.12). Thomson’s commentary on what it looks like for an ENFJ whose extraverted feeling begins to wear thin, therefore, is highly applicable. She pointed out that for extraverts, introverted functions are often experienced negatively. In some ways, they remind the extravert of the ways they cannot properly adapt to society, which to the extravert is the same thing as reality itself. Extraverted judging types often experience their introverted perceptions “in negative terms: as something to be gotten under control” (Thomson, 1998, p. 340). Of course, the problem is that perceptions, regardless of the direction the energy flows, are irrational and not actually subject to control. Thus, the extravert is doomed to failure.
For an ENFJ (or distorted INFJ), intuitions that contradict one’s feeling judgments may be ignored (Thomson, 1998, p. 340). For example, many times I have been disinterested in doing something and felt as if my whole body is dragging me away from it. Usually, this reaction involves someone asking me to substitute for them when I have already been working a lot, or acquaintances (not close friends) making social invitations, but it has also happened when close friends or family have asked for help with something. I can’t say no, so I say yes, but something negative invariably ends up happening: I get sick afterward, I’m left somewhere unfamiliar without a ride, whatever I am supposed to be helping the friend with ends up not working, etc. My intuition knows this but I cannot rationalize it.
Thomson explained that as the extraverted feeling function seems to burn out, the lower functions kick in (this is true any time the dominant function fails, regardless of which function it is). They are still less conscious, however, and may not help the situation much. Thomson pointed out that our psychic coping skills do not try to make us happy; they simply try to avoid internal conflict (1998). Thinking, for example, might rationalize extraverted feeling judgments—I really do have to go the extra mile, I really am doing more for her than she does for me, Saeed really is mean, these people don’t deserve me, I am a bad person for wanting to say no, if I don’t do this then others will suffer, etc. One can see how these thoughts seem to have impersonal logic and objective standards but lack the critical insight of more developed thinking. Rather than true critical thinking that might scrutinize the logic of my beliefs, my INFJ extraverted thinking in the trickster position manipulates to justify what I am already doing, thus preserving my psychic status quo.
Inferior extraverted sensation simply looks for ways to escape (Thomson, 1998). Indeed, when my extraverted feeling function burns out, I fantasize about running away, being all on my own, and having no responsibility to anyone but myself. It’s not a pleasant fantasy, however, even if it sounds ideal for a moment. Apart from the self-criticism and guilt I feel for having it, I begin to wonder if the only way for me to get my needs met is to be alone. Is there something wrong with me? Am I just not meant to have love, friendship, and festivity? Von Franz (1971/2013) described the inferior function as “the door through which all the figures of the unconscious come” (p. 72). Indeed, as I slip through the door of my escape fantasy, I find myself again faced with my shadows, witches, tricksters, and demons: I can’t pull myself together to care for others; I am so selfish that it is better I don’t even try, and so on.
Thomson (1998) described how the extraverted feeling type becomes controlling, demanding, and perfectionistic when extraverted feeling is wearing thin: “Their relationships aren’t mutual. … But the problem isn’t people’s ungrateful receipt of their efforts. It’s the EFJ’s insistence on controlling others’ behaviors, the impossible standards they’ve set as evidence of people’s devotion” (p. 345-346). I wrote in the margin, “Do I do this?” Yet I know I do. I have seen myself be rigid, controlling, and judgmental—angry that I cannot say no. I have seen myself indulge in unhealthy or irresponsible behaviors, sometimes even being secretive about them, in order to reward myself for working so hard. I have seen myself neglect my own needs simply to keep from inconveniencing someone and then felt betrayed when they do not do the same. I have made myself sick to get out of things. And for what? Because it is better to be physically sick than to destroy the image I think others have of me as responsible, charming, and helpful? An image I don’t even know they have? By being selfless, I become selfish. By being open, I close myself off. By being nice, I become a real bitch. The problem of opposites isn’t in my marriage—it’s in myself. As I said, faking it is a large part of how I survive.
Thomson (1998) said the following about EFJs:
[They] experience their very real desires for space, relaxation, and self-interest as weaknesses to be overcome. This is what makes their relationships unequal. They unwittingly assume a position of superiority, as though they were intended by fate to [c]ompanion others, without needs, flaws, feelings, and potential of their own. (p. 348)
Indeed, from the time I was a little girl, watching my mother cater to my father, hearing what made a good wife in church, listening to stories like Cinderella and Persephone, it seemed like there were only two options: sacrifice or isolation. Keeping in mind that I am actually an introvert, isolation often seems preferable. Thomson advised that burnt-out EJs (or IJs with burnt-out EJ functions) should tap back into their perceiving functions. They can take a break from organizing or evaluating the external world and pay more attention to the information flowing from the internal one.
I looked up from my book at the ESTJ man sitting across from me. For a minute, I could perceive how those Si comforts could be vitally important for him. After all, ETJs make the same futile attempt to control their sensory input that EFJs do. When his extraverted thinking fails to work and starts to wear thin, how nice the security of home, of tradition, of a good meal and fond memories would be. I asked myself what my introverted intuition requires and found myself thinking of journaling, listening to music, feeding myself with images, and giving myself plenty of time to dream. I realized that those activities seemed to engage my extraverted sensation as well and that perhaps engaging this function was another way of letting my judgment rest.
I started to feel my mood lighten and gradually grow more vibrant. If these impossible standards were all in my head and if I was actually becoming hurtful, deceptive, and selfish because I refused to take care of myself, maybe I really didn’t have to keep sacrificing myself. Perhaps if I trusted myself and let my intuition lead me before making value judgments, I wouldn’t be so tired. I was somewhat aware that I was tricking myself into this: I have to be more selfish for the good of the community! Yet it clicked, and this time the trickster was my ally. It is vital that I nourish my intuition.
If Saeed is the extraverted thinker, perhaps I should just let him be the extraverted thinker. I do not mean this in terms of allowing him to “carry” my non-preferred functions as von Franz warned against. Rather, I mean my feelings and evaluations don’t need to compete with his thinking and organizations. I don’t need to impose order and rigidity to protect my feelings and keep my introversion from being overwhelmed; I just need to take space. I need to care for myself.
Saeed is not a feeling type, and he does not say “I love you” often. His usual good-bye is the much more practical “Take care.” Once in a while—before I leave for the airport, when I’m sick, or when one or both of us is worried—his voice is softer, and his tone is different. I know when he says “Take care” like this, the words mean “I love you.”
For both our sakes, I will do as he instructs.
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