Day 19: The Head or the Heart? / by Jeff Tacklind

Are you familiar with the MBTI?  The Meyers Briggs Type Indicator?  For those of you that aren’t, this is referring to a test created around Carl Jung’s four principal psychological functions.  For each letter there is actually a pair…I or E, N or S, T or F, and P or J.  When you take the test, you’re scored somewhere on the spectrum between poles and then assigned the letter you’re strongest in.  The four letter sequence places you within one of 16 different personality categories.

I’m an INXP. 

Now, if you were paying attention, you’ll notice a little hiccup in my third category.  The T or the F is replaced by an X.  This refers to the spectrum between thinking and feeling.  The X means I land right smack in the middle of the two.  At least I did at first.  It has changed a few times since then.

Some would say that an X means the test isn’t working.  In other words, I’m emotionally confused.  They might be right.

I’ve always struggled with the role of emotions in my life.  My dad is an engineer, which means he’s almost entirely a T or thinker.  In our discussions, it wasn’t that emotions weren’t validated.  But when push came to shove, they were best checked at the door.  Because emotions are messy.  Feelings can change, sometimes dramatically.  A decision based on feelings was risky.  Potentially even dangerous.

So, I’ve done my best to act like a thinker.  I pursued engineering for several years before reluctantly admitting I found most of it uninteresting.  I then pursued analytic philosophy, because that fit with the part of me that loves to ask why.  But I always felt as if I was playing a part.  I could handle the conceptual physics or the philosophy of mind, but, in the end, I was driven more by the deeper questions of meaning and identity.  I was drawn more to the mystics.  The Kierkegaard’s and the Dostoevsky’s.  The ones with angst.

Because there is an emotional side of me that has been dying to get out.  It first started showing up as physical pain in my shoulders.  It was as if my emotional sensors weren’t working.  I lacked the emotional intelligence and language to even identify the feelings I was having.  That is until they starting creating enough pain that I couldn’t ignore them any longer.

I started seeing a spiritual director, and it has saved me from a downward spiral that I couldn’t get out of myself.  My early sessions were remedial.  I don’t know if you’ve seen “feeling flashcards” or the page of different facial expressions that help you choose the emotion you’re experiencing?  Those saved me.  It is amazing the power of naming feelings.  Jealousy.  Resentment. Anger. Fear.  I’m sure it was like coaching a first grader.  But slowly I began to not only recognize my emotions, but to experience them.  Not to stuff them or avoid them, but to remain in them.

Because, if you don’t recognize them, they have so much power and control.  They possess you, not the other way around.  But to see them, to notice them, and to name them, allows them to pass on by. 

And as they do, I find I experience a depth of living that I was missing out on.  Controlling emotions is certainly valuable at times, but avoiding the hard ones means you’re also missing out on the good ones.  Ignoring the hurts means also losing out on the joys.  Feeling others’ pain allows you to enjoy their pleasure.

And what I’ve found is that the parts of myself that have atrophied are getting stronger and stronger.  It makes me a better husband and father.  It makes me a better friend and pastor.  It makes me a better Jeff.  Because I’m actually an INFP.  There, I said it.  And while this means I’ll probably never be the best scientist or academic philosopher, it does make me a pretty good pastor and contemplative. 

And with it, the pain has almost entirely left my shoulders.  It comes back every once in a while.  But when it does, I identify it.  I name it.  I allow it to pass through.  And, as a result, I stand straighter.  More confident.  More my true self.