to feel

As an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Personality Test – standing for Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging – I grew up taking somewhat perverse pride in being an unfeeling robot. I would sometimes become upset and irrational, sure, but any negativity would always blow over in less than a day. I was cool, calm, collected, unshakeable.

Looking back, this is largely because I had an extremely stable childhood. I am lucky enough to have a warm home with wonderful parents who continue to cultivate my nascent talents and foster high self-esteem. My emotional detachment would not have been possible in some of the situations I grew up around. It was from observation, not experience, that I learned money doesn’t equal happiness. That the most seemingly-normal families don’t necessarily keep smiling after the doors close behind their guests.

The flip-side of not dealing with hardship as a child is that adult life sometimes leaves me floored. The years have shown me how unfair it can be. Illness, loss, rejection, heartbreak can strike when you least expect – or all at once. Bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. It takes much more than a day to recover from some of those things.

Clichés are cliché for a reason, especially this one: it’s not what happens to you, but how you handle it. These moments are precisely when my robotlike demeanor has been put to the test. How do you teach an INTJ to feel? And not just to feel, but to maturely and healthily process those emotions?

An easy first step is by empathizing with artistic works. Although here, too, a certain amount of experience is necessary to turn theory into practice. It wasn’t until facing my first move away from home that I cried at Toy Story 3; it took my first real breakup to understand why stories of pure friendship like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants are so formative and necessary.

Another is through learning how to help loved ones through rough patches. For a long time, it was very difficult for me to comfort upset friends who confide in me or begin to cry; I didn’t know what to say or do. But I really want to help, and so I try to figure it out through observation of more outwardly compassionate friends.

It’s easier to fill my robotic heart with the secondhand love which comes from caring for others, than to soften the metallic walls and apply those same comforting techniques to myself. But now, in what has proven to be the most tumultuous year of my life thus far, I need to carve out enough time to let myself process everything and prepare for what comes next.

It is not a sign of weakness or failure to let myself cry. It is simply part of the full spectrum of human experience. Because life charges onward, in all of its complexity and difficulty and beauty.

I want to, even when it don’t make sense, even when it don’t make sense
Actually I want to more when it don’t make sense
So please, don’t let it get to you
I know that you won’t realize it, but it’s still all up to you
I know that you won’t, I know that you won’t realize it
But it’s still all up to you

You’re not gonna get it exactly how you want it
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try
It’s not gonna feel the way that you expected
And it’s going to hurt to figure it out
But if you’re patient
And you’re kind…
– Rostam, “Don’t Let It Get To You”

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