Have you ever wondered why at times your creativity and productivity seem to flow, and other times you can’t think straight and produce mediocre work? Why at times you are happy to be with people, and other times you are fed up with their presence? Each of us has a preferred way of approaching and ordering activities and tasks, and if we plan according to our preferences – when and with whom and how we collaborate, solve problems, make decisions – we naturally find authenticity, effectiveness and joy. The key is becoming aware of, and honoring, our preferences!
by Jennifer Harvey Sallin | originally published on Rediscovering Yourself
LEARNING ABOUT OUR PREFERENCES
I’m sure you’ve noticed that there are days when your creativity and productivity seem to unfold naturally; days when you go to bed at night with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Then there are days when everything feels stuck. Your mind is overwhelmed or unclear, you procrastinate and do mediocre work at best; at night, you sleep, but uneasily, knowing you might wake up to another non-flow kind of day tomorrow!
Have you ever contemplated why and what makes the difference? I teach a lot about this in my coaching sessions and courses. In reality, each of us has a preferred way of approaching and ordering basic activities and tasks. Knowing and being aware of these preferences helps you plan appropriately for your life, your career, your daily functioning, your self-care, and equally important, how and to whom you choose to communicate these plans and preferences. In essence, if you plan according to your preference, you will have productive and flowing days, and communication and collaboration will be a joy rather than a stress. If you try to work against your preferences, you face many more frustrating and unproductive days – and all the stress, problems and relational misunderstandings that come with them!
So how can we learn about our preferences? Let’s first have a look at basic activities. When we look closely at our daily activities and tasks, we start to see that they all can essentially be reduced to four main categories.These basic kinds of tasks are like building blocks that we can use to create and co-create our experience of our selves and our life. They are:
Our most basic animal functions, including touch, taste, hearing, seeing, movement, and general sensational awareness; sensing forms the physiological basis of our emotions, and our senses are mostly experienced as being unlinked to or outside of time (“here and now”). This also translates into “concrete” accomplishing – these are concrete tasks, doing, and getting done. This is the least “mental” of all of the building blocks.
Our subjective experience of our senses (as well as of our logic and creativity, as we will see shortly), the “feels like” quality of existence; the subjective experience of our emotion is in our feelings, and feelings experiences range from being outside of time to being dependent on time.
Our mental arrangements. Using our senses, feelings, and emotions, we develop memory and thought. Thoughts are like little “experience packets” that we can use to organize our inner mind. Our thoughts arise from pattern recognition and statistical learning, and result in rule making, abstraction, and logical analysis; this requires a sense of past, present and future, and recycles our senses and feelings in order to create a sense of time and identity. In very practical terms, logic is what we use to make decisions.
Our inclination to use our imagination to create new mental arrangements and to find creative solutions to problems. Using the “building blocks” of our sense and feeling experiences combined with our mental arrangement, to invent and innovate, we can ultimately construct new realities. While creativity is not unique to humans, the level of complex creativity does seem to be unique to us.
Many people have never considered that we each have a preferred way to do each of these activities, and a preferred order in which to do them as well.
Let’s take feeling as an example.
Joe loves to discuss his and other’s feelings, while Sergio has a strong distaste for talking about feelings. It’s not necessarily that Joe is emotionally intelligent, and that Sergio is not. Rather, Joe may prefer “feeling” in an extroverted or collaborative way – sharing feelings with others in real time, while Sergio may prefer to reflect on his feelings in a more introverted or introspective way in real time. Where Joe wants input in the feelings phase, Sergio prefers to have access primarily to his own feelings, without input.
What about logic?
We all must logically think through our options and make concrete decisions in life. How we each prefer to make decisions big and small, differs from person to person. Let’s imagine Joe, who we saw likes to discuss his and others’ feelings collaboratively; when it comes to making decisions however, he prefers to reason through the logic in an introverted or introspective way. He prefers not to have logical input from others during this phase, deciding first within his own mind what is the right course of action, and only then sharing his decision. It’s not that Joe is insensitive to others’ needs, but rather, he must have access primarily to his own thoughts in order to make a conscious decision. In fact, when he is making decisions in his own mind, one of the logical building blocks he is using are the feelings he took in from others during his feelings phase. The feelings he took in become elements of his decision-making process, and he will likely look within his own mind for the best solution considering the feelings of all. He will look for harmony in his decision-making process.
Sergio, on the other hand, as we saw, prefers not to discuss his and others feelings; but in his case, when it comes to logic processes and decision-making, he needs input. He does best when he can discuss options with his entourage, receive input and feedback from others on logical considerations, and come to conclusions and decisions in a collaborative way. It’s not that he is “more collaborative” than Joe; he just prefers to collaborate with others in a logical way, rather than an emotional way. Interestingly, when Sergio makes logical decisions with others, one of the basic building blocks he will bring to the discussion are his feelings – the ones he felt inside during his introverted feelings phase. People like Sergio often discuss decisions in light of values and authenticity. He will try to find a collaborative decision with others in a way that matches his own inner values.
Based on what we know so far about Joe and Sergio, we cannot say that either is necessarily “introverted” or “extroverted” as a global orientation. Both are simply showing preferences toward introversion (introspection) or extroversion (collaboration) for a particular fundamental human activity. Also, none of the preferences we have seen so far is “correct” or “incorrect”, only different.
The same can be said for creating.
Sergio loves to create in collaboration. Discussing ideas and possibilities with others helps him to generate more possibilities and gives him energy to continue. He is more efficient and effective when creating in an extroverted way. Joe, on the other hand, is less efficient and effective when he has others’ input during creative phases. He is at his best when he is in his own mind considering options and possibilities. This is similar to their respective logic processes.
What about sensing?
Joe thrives on doing physical, practical, and other sensing activities with others. After being in his own head so much via his introverted creative phase, he needs to be with others during this sensing phase. He feels good “sensing” the world with others, taking in the physical environment and accomplishing concrete tasks. After coming up with ideas and options in his own mind, for example, he likes to make those ideas into a reality with others - on all levels, from the simplest (i.e. making dinner together or doing sport) to the more complex (i.e. creating a database for his research).
Sergio, after all the time spent with others, taking in input during his logic phase, he needs time alone. He needs to reorient himself toward his own body and senses, his own “here and now”, and the practical considerations of whatever he has been making decisions on. Sergio, during sensing phases, looks to be on his own or in quiet company, doing the most practical things on all levels, from the simplest (i.e. cleaning the house) to the more complex (i.e. training for a marathon).
So would we call Joe an “extrovert” and Sergio an “introvert”? Not yet. We need one more piece of information.
EXTROVERSION & INTROVERSION
As we see, all of us have preferences for introversion and extroversion during some daily activities more than during others. None of us is completely extroverted or 100 percent introverted, but we all experience alternating periods of introversion and extroversion throughout the day. Whether we are “introverted” or “extroverted” as a general preference, however, is about how we primarily relate to the world.
It can be seen in how we prefer to first “be” in the world, in new situations, at the beginning of each day. If we first like to take outer sense, feeling or mental stimulation, and only later process it internally, we could think of ourselves as having a general preference for extroversion; if we prefer first to sense or feel or think about the world from the inside, and are only ready for external input and simulation later, we could think of ourselves as introverted by preference.
For example, I start my process in an introverted feelings phase. First thing in the morning, I’m not ready for external input. I like to ponder my feelings alone, often through meditation and reflection. Like Sergio, only when I am ready to change tasks and take action do I find outside input useful. If I discuss my feelings with someone before I’ve had time to reflect on them myself, or if others tell me about their feelings before I’ve had time to fully contemplate my own, I often feel confused and somehow distanced from my sense of self. Other people, such as Joe, prefer to discuss their feelings aloud as they are experiencing them (extroverted feeling). But at the heart of it, Joe, Sergio and I may still all be “introverts” in general, if we all begin our process preferring inner awareness to outer input.
Put another way: all introverts are not created equal. Introverts don’t like to do everything inside their own heads by default. In fact, introverts like me need to connect with others through logic and creativity. Without input from others in these domains, I feel stymied and I’m rather scattered and ineffective. Therefore, I would be more extroverted when it comes to these aspects, but remain, in general, an introvert.
The same is true for extroverts. Being extroverted does not mean that you like input all the time and regarding every aspect of your life. For people showing an overall orientation toward extroversion, they may appreciate connecting with others around, say, the sensing and feeling activities; but when it comes to creating and logic processes, these same extroverts who would rather be left to their own ideas and thoughts.
This is one reason why many people struggle to place themselves adequately on the scale of extroversion-introversion.The terms “extrovert” and “introvert” seem to imply only one mode of doing everything, but it’s more complex than that. There are activities we do well while collaborating, and others we do better while being in our own minds.
OSCILLATING ENERGY – PERIODS OF INTROVERSION & EXTROVERSION
All day, every day, for our entire lives, we are oscillating between these periods of extroversion and introversion; more specifically, we are oscillating between a need to collaborate with others’ minds, and the need to have exclusive access to our own minds. We oscillate between “ourselves” and being “part of something bigger”, so to speak.
Let’s look at Joe and Sergio again, imagining now that they both have a general preference for extroversion.
This is Joe’s process:
extroverted feeling –>
introverted creating –>
extroverted sensing –>
This is Sergio’s process:
extroverted logic –>
introverted sensing –>
extroverted creativity –>
Joe likely starts his day by taking in others’ feeling and making sure everyone feels okay, then goes inside his own mind to imagine what his options are, then is ready to take concrete actions with others, and finally is ready to make decisions in his own mind. Sergio likely starts his day by checking on the “plan” and making decisions about the day, then he takes time to be physically active or otherwise in the “here and now”, and then he is ready to create with others. Finally, he is ready to be in touch with his own feelings and emotions. What happens next? The process starts over.
As we see, our oscillation between extroversion and introversion occurs naturally whether we are aware of it or not, and in healthy situations, coincides with a change in activity/focus of attention (from sensing to creating, from logic to feeling, and so on). If we are currently in a meeting, collaboratively working on creating a campaign with our business partners, there will come a moment – even for the most extroverted among us – when it is time to switch tasks and change orientation. Since the task has been creative and the orientation toward sharing our minds with others, we will naturally make a move inward, to be “with ourselves” in our own minds (an introverted phase), and we will, depending on our preferred activity ordering, move to another type of activity, such as feeling. We will take time to get in touch with our inner feelings about the outer activities of the creative phase we’ve just completed.
Of course, after a period of looking within, and with the information we gathered about ourselves from the time of inner reflection on our feelings, we will once again be ready to collaborate with others, typically moving to a third activity, such as logic. We may be ready, with the inner knowledge gained from our introspective period, to make a collaborative decision.
After a period of collaborative decision-making, we will need to go back in to reflect and touch base with ourselves, going into the last of the basic activities: in this case, a sensing mode, which is non-linear and gives us time to “just be in the now”. It is here that we can unconsciously process what happened during our extroverted creative, introverted feeling, and extroverted logic phases, and take concrete actions to realizing our ideas and plans. At some point, we will once again have had enough alone processing time, and it will be time to reach out and collaboratively create again, thus restarting the cycle.
Creative moments can be very complex (creating a campaign) or very simple (daydreaming about a vacation). The same can be said for logical moments (deciding which house to buy or whether to take the 3.30 or 3.35 bus), sensing moments (making love or making dinner), and feelings moments (heavy grief over loss or feeling happy while listening to a song).
Why is it important to know whether you like to create in community or alone? Or whether you prefer introverted to extroverted logic? Because it makes an inestimable difference in how you plan for your life, your career, your daily functioning, your self-care, and equally important, how and to whom you choose to communicate these plans and preferences.
Let’s think back to Joe, who prefers extroverted feeling: Joe often tries to communicate his deepest feelings to his boss who prefers introverted feeling. Unsurprisingly, he often runs into miscommunications, and consequently, frustrations. Feeling unheard, misunderstood, like other people don’t care. In coaching, I would help Joe decipher that while he prefers extroverted feeling, his boss prefers extroverted logic. With this knowledge in hand, Joe learns to present to his boss the logic of his choices, rather than his feelings about it, and thus much more accurately and effectively gets his point across and his needs met. Then, I would help Joe make sure that outside of work, or within his work team, he finds other people who share his preference for extroverted feelings. This way, he knows to whom he can turn when he really does need to discuss his inner feelings (since, in Joe’s case, his boss doesn’t “speak his language”).
IDENTIFYING YOUR AUTHENTIC PROCESS
These cycles can take place over an entire day, in the span of one meeting or conversation, in just two minutes, or even over months during long-term planning or projects. However, the most effective way to begin to understand your own preference ordering process is to reflect on your typical day.
REFLECT ON THESE QUESTIONS
→In an ideal world, how do you most like to begin your day when you first wake up?
The key word here is 'ideal'. This about your ideal day - not what you have to do, but what you would most prefer to do. Do you prefer to talk to others, or get input from them, first thing in the morning? And if so, what kind of input - plans, ideas, feelings? Or do you prefer to "live in your own space" for a while before engaging with others? If so, what kinds of things are in your (mental or emotional) space - plans, ideas, feelings? Or are you just getting practical things done?
→What activity do you naturally gravitate toward as you change orientation (extroversion to introversion or vice versa)?
Notice what you prefer to do once you’re ready to change task and orientation. If you start your process in an extroverted way, you will naturally go into introversion, and vice versa. What is on the agenda then - plans, feelings, ideas or practical here-and-now tasks or awareness?
→And after that (during the next extroversion/introversion switch)?
When you sense that you are ready to change task again – to reach out and collaborate or to go inside – notice again what kind of activity you prefer.
→And then (during the final extroversion/introversion switch of your cycle)?
You will change one last time here...
And the process starts again from the top.
You go back to your first order activity and orientation and repeat the cycle.
To illustrate, I'll share my own answers to these questions: I prefer to be quiet and alone first thing in the morning, and feeling tends to dominate the start of my “personality action cycle” (introverted feeling). I do best when I have time to “just be” before I start collaborating, taking in input, making decisions or taking action. Put me in a room with an extroverted logic person in the early morning, and I will be stressed and he will be frustrated. I might think he is pushy and insensitive, and he might think I am slow and indecisive. Neither is necessarily true - we’ve just crossed paths at the wrong moment in our respective processes. But once I’ve had time to meditate and contemplate life or my day, I then naturally feel ready collaborate, to take in input and create with others (extroverted creativity). So that’s when I start working with others. For me, after some hours of coaching or otherwise collaborating, I find I need a break from linear thought and from others' presence. I go inside my mind again, getting back in touch with myself through an introverted sensing activity: yoga, a walk, having a snack, straightening up, playing the piano, etc. (introverted sensing). Once I’ve had enough of a sensing break, I’m naturally ready to be with others again, and to make practical decisions and plans (extroverted logic).
Notice that I, and others who share similar styles, am only ready to make logical decisions after I’ve had time to reflect (feel), discuss creative options (create), and be in the moment (sense). You can imagine that having logic at the end of my process can be challenging for decision-making. I can be slow at deciding, because I need time to fully process – to go from the first order preference (introverted feeling) all the way through to the last (extroverted logic) to make a fully aware and sincere decision. For me, it is important to have time to process options in order to feel that I have decided of my own free will. If someone demands that I decide now, I may not respond well, and may lose motivation to participate in decision-making.
This is very challenging to a person who wants me to make a quick decision (for someone whose first order process is logic). I can look very slow and be incomprehensible to others who don’t understand this way of functioning. Without understanding that I fundamentally differ from others with differing preferences and processes, I also risk seeing myself as unusual, difficult, overly dramatic, ineffective, or “odd”. At the same time, I may be tempted to judge others who demand quick logic as cold, calculating, manipulative or insensitive.
The same is true for other combinations of preference ordering: when extroverted feeling collides with introverted logic, when extroverted sensing collides with introverted creating, and so on, communication can become quite challenging. The key becomes understanding yourself, and learning how to understand others’ preferences as well, so that you can choose the right times and the right ways to interact and communicate effectively.
It is therefore essential that we go through our entire process in a healthy way, so that we can make appropriate logical decisions, take proper care of our bodies and minds, pay attention to our own and others’ needs, and so on. People who get stuck at various phases in their process often struggle intensely with such things as: taking a decision, knowing how they feel, receiving appropriate feedback, getting adequate help, slowing down, and taking proper breaks. I will discuss this more in detail below (Jungian “shadow”).
The essence of this extroversion-introversion “oscillation process” is that each phase functions as a generative steppingstone to the next phase. Making decisions serves to produce feelings, which generate creativity, which in turn guides sensations, which inspire decisions…and the cycle continues on and on. Of course, the orders differ from person to person, but how this process unfolds is a generally consistent pattern for each of us, and getting through the entire process is crucial to our authentic and healthy functioning.
A dominant feelings person like me will probably always relate to the world primarily through a feelings lens, with sensing, logic and creating coming in some combination in second, third and fourth order. If that same person, like me, shows a general preference for introversion, she will likely relate to the world primarily through her inner feelings. This will be her authentic “first step” in her interactions with the world around her. It will be her challenge then to appropriately plan her life and activities according to her authentic process, such as choosing appropriate working conditions and relationships, and as well to communicate this effectively to those around her.
THE SHADOW SELF
Our “Shadow Self” is the self we create when we go through the activities of our “personality cycle” in an inauthentic way. For example, if we prefer to feel the world from the inside, in our “shadow function”, we force ourselves to collaborate and take in the feelings of others, instead of being aware of our own feelings first. If we prefer extroverted creating, we force ourselves to create alone. If we prefer introverted sensing, we push ourselves to do activities with others, perhaps telling ourselves it is “selfish” to take time for ourselves or that we are social “losers” if we prefer our own company.
Anja, an introverted feelings person, has a social expectation (as many introverted feelings people experience) that she should be more “sociable” and extroverted. As a consequence, she may force herself to be an extroverted feelings person in first order. As her first way of relating, she may invite people, explicitly or implicitly, to talk to her about their feelings. She will seem welcoming and encouraging, and may receive social approval, but this will be short-lived, because she has just started a cycle that is inauthentic to her preferences.
Picture a day in Anja's life: She prefers to feel life first from the inside, but has instead just spent her first hour at work listening to other people talk about their feelings. She feels exhausted on the inside, wanting nothing more than to get a break people “who always talk too much”. Needing to switch tasks, she naturally moves into a creating phase, and oscillates back to introversion. If she were being authentic, Anja would create in community with others; as an “extroverted creating” person, like Sergio, she creates best when she discusses possibilities with others and gets immediate input and feedback on her ideas. However, since she is now exhausted by others’ feelings (after having “politely listened” to them for the last hour), she doesn’t have any more mental space for people’s creative ideas and input (though she technically needs them) and she forces herself to be creative on her own.
What do you think she will create in this phase? Often, creating in the shadow cycle turns to fantasy. She may imagine wonderful but unrealistic ideas, or she may be blocked completely. We can just imagine her frustration – needing feedback but wanting to be left alone. At some point, mired in her “creative block” and tired of hearing her own recycled and frustrated thoughts, she needs to change task, and naturally moves into a sensing phase.
Instead of sensing alone, which would be her authentic way to do this activity, Anja – having had enough of being in her own mind – reaches out. However, she feels stressed by people and by herself, so she doesn’t choose a healthy way to express her senses; she goes to smoke a cigarette with her colleagues. She neither wants to smoke, nor wants more “chit chat”, but it seems the only thing to do in-group that does not involve more work. She needed to get out of the office! But these people keep talking! She’s frustrated by the superficiality of their discussions and doesn’t feel good about herself after smoking, so she goes back up to her office and sits alone. At last, no more chit chat!
But now it’s time to make decisions about how she is going to accomplish her creative ideas, and she naturally switches tasks to logic; however we can be sure her logic process has been poorly primed by her day so far. She’s going to have to think of the “rules” of life and make decisions based on them. So far in her day, she has seen that: “people talk about themselves too much and rarely take an interest in me, I can never realize my creative ideas or find the perfect solution, no one is interested in my ideas, and people are shallow and I am too weak to resist addiction”. What kind of life decisions is she going to make based on these “life observations”? They are not going to be very joyful and hopeful. Maybe she’ll decide that she “has to do everything on her own” and “can’t trust others”.
When it is once again time to switch tasks, she restarts her cycle, her shadow cycle, and goes back into an “extroverted feelings” phase. She goes home to see her husband and children, and we can imagine that she won’t be the most pleasant person to deal with. She launches into complaining about her day (extroverted feeling), which eventually exhausts her and makes her go into her own mind again. Following her cycle, she moves into her creative phase, where she spends time alone looking for creative solutions to her life’s troubles (introverted creating)…and we can imagine her creative solutions veer more and more toward fantasy. She imagines a perfect job, with a perfect boss, and other unlikely solutions. In fact, she needs input from others to help her creativity stay realistic and grounded, but she is trying to solve her problems on her own (after all, she had decided in her logic phase that she “needed to do it all alone”).
This leads to more and more addictive behaviors as Anja moves into her sensing phase, and the gap between her reality (logic) and fantasy (creating) grows too wide to realistically bridge. As she moves into the logic phase, her depressed and pessimistic views on “the way life is” become more sure.
And the shadow cycle continues. She is living in the shadow of what she really prefers, and she is paying the highest price: access to her authentic self and all she could be and create in a positive way.
What is so fascinating is that this very cycle I’ve just described (extroverted feeling –> introverted creating –> extroverted sensing –> introverted logic) may be a perfectly natural and authentic cycle of functioning for other people. For Anja, it is a shadow life, but for Marcus, to whom this same cycle is innate, we see a much more natural and productive scenario:
Picture a day in Marcus' life: He arrives at work, taking in people’s feelings, which gives him energy to get creating. With the feelings input from others around him, his creativity is sparked and he is ready to step back, go inside his own mind, and be creative. Perhaps he goes into his office at this point, closes the door, and gets to researching or writing. He does this for a while, fleshing out his creative ideas, and after a time moves into extroverted sensing. He needs a break from his own ideas, and goes to reach out to his colleagues. “Want to have a coffee?” he asks them, and he sincerely wants this. They go to the café and discuss nothing in particular, or simply sit in the sun for a few minutes, or take a walk, and then Marcus is ready to get back to his own mind: introverted logic.
With his creative ideas fresh, and feeling connected to others and to his own self, he returns to his office and gets to practical decision-making. On his own, he analyzes and sees what is possible, all the while letting his own mind determine what he wants and how he wants to move forward with his projects. Likely, he uses everything he has taken in so far as a guide for his decisions: others’ feelings, his own creative ideas, and others’ physical presence. After he becomes clear on what he wants, what is possible, and takes a decision, he will at some point become ready to reach out to others again. Perhaps then he goes home, is ready to discuss his projects with his wife, hear her feedback, play with the kids and discuss their days, and after a time, he goes back into his own mind… his experience is quite different from that of Anja!
GETTING OUT OF OUR SHADOW
Let’s imagine how Anja could arrange her day differently, to honor her most authentic preferences. Perhaps she goes to work later in the morning, after she’s had time to feel and be present with herself, perhaps via meditation or simply taking her time to move more slowly and intentionally (introverted feeling). She is now ready to start work, and ready to enjoy collaborative creativity with her coworkers (extroverted creativity). The group’s creative ideas flow, and when it’s time for her to switch activities and orientations, she is in the mood for a break. She takes a walk outside on her own (introverted sensing), allowing her unconscious mind to process the progress that was made in her creative session, while she enjoys being in the “here and now” on a sensorial level, on her own. When she returns to the office, she is ready to re-engage with her colleagues, to make collaborative, concrete decisions on the creative possibilities and ideas previously discussed (extroverted logic). Decision taken, she is ready to go home. When she arrives, she takes time to process her feelings inwardly through an active meditation - even if it's only 10-20 minutes (starting her authentic cycle over with introverted feeling). She does this before engaging with her family, and they wait for her, knowing that having this time is important for her. When she comes out of her feelings phase, she is open and ready to spend a joyful evening with her family, creating a nice dinner together and then perhaps reading a book on her own and discussing tomorrow’s plans with her husband and kids. She goes to bed feeling joyfully engaged at her work and within her family, and feeling solid within herself. She is grateful for today and excited for tomorrow. (Of course, it's never so clear-cut as I've presented it here, but we can make these phases in our day clearer with intentional planning and communication).
In your own case, how can you tweak your daily schedule to better match your own authentic phases? If you need to connect around feelings, do you have someone you can reach out to regularly to talk? If you like to have a clear plan to start your day, are you giving yourself enough time to put that in place, before taking in in put of getting practical things done? Observe yourself over the next days and weeks, and you'll start to see a rhythm - when your preferences are strongest and where they ask you to put your attention. Honor that, and see how you can plan for that, as much as possible. Find a way to communicate your preferences to your family, colleagues, and your own inner critic, so that you can get the space to do what replenishes you and motivates you to be your best self.
THE GIFTED ALARM AGAINST SHADOW LIVING
What causes a person to live in their own shadow? Social expectations, stress, trauma – basically, anything that might lead us to believe that our most natural way of functioning is somehow unacceptable or inferior. In my own case, I was raised in a family that was always busy. There was very little room in our family routine for introverted feelings. I adapted by living in a shadow because, as a child, I was not in control of my schedule. On a grander scale, Western society highly values logic, and has less respect for feeling; it also values extroversion over introversion (see Susan Cain’s Quiet for a well-written overview of the history of extroversion and introversion in Western Society). Messages of intolerance or incomprehension can be felt from parents, teachers, caregivers, siblings, cultural and religious leaders, peers, and so on. And then, many of us are simply unaware of our own preferences, because we've never had a language for it or have never thought to take the time to observe ourselves in this way. And perhaps, even with awareness of our preferences, social structure can sometimes hijack control over our daily routines – constraints or limitations of work schedules, family commitments, or other predetermined roles, schedules, timelines and expectations. So, authentic expression often takes negotiating with our outer real-life constraints, while constantly tweaking them to better match our inner world and needs.
In my experience, I've seen that gifted people tend to suffer inefficiency and “shadow” living more acutely than non-gifted people – this because of the intensity and complexity of their minds, and their high sensitivity to injustice. While all people have pain and suffer at times in situations of “shadow” living, many may feel their pain as more of a “background noise” rather than a loud alarm. Gifted people, with their high sensitivity and tendency toward introspection, often hear a loud alarm. Their urgency for solving problems and finding optimal solutions makes this structural language of particular relevance and urgency for them.
Also, gifted people very often, though not always, tend toward introversion and have a high focus on creativity, while showing less of a general focus on sensing. This can cause misunderstanding in environments where people are highly extroverted and/or are highly focused on sensing. High extroverts may consider introspective gifted people as sullen, “too serious”, “too intense”, or unrelatable. People more highly focused on sensing tend to be more practical and concrete than those more highly focused on creativity, which can lead the former to judge the latter as “eccentric” or “impractical”. Many gifted people, often already feeling out of sync with their surroundings, risk taking these judgments very much to heart, coming to believe that they really are “too much” or “not enough” for others. Their self-judgments can become self-sabotaging and self-destructive. With understanding and a structural language to communicate their preferences, suddenly their way of being in the world seems much more natural and neutral. They are neither better nor worse than others, only different. (note: I am currently working on a book that expounds upon the subject of giftedness and self-knowledge of personality structure.)
In terms of communication, when gifted people don’t understand that they differ from others in these key ways, they can resort to dysfunctional social interactions, such as binocular behavior, which cause compounded pain. My goal as a coach is to help gifted adults understand themselves well, to understand others well, and to develop and create healthy lives based on authentic self-expression. Understanding personality styles is a foundational aspect of reaching this goal. If you're hearing your own "gifted alarm", feel free to reach out for support. We are here to help you get out of your own shadow!
Note: Much of how I’ve conceptualized personality process and authentic expression is structurally inspired from popular typological assessments based on the personality typology of Carl Jung, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. One easy way to find out your “Jungian Preference Ordering” or personality process is by taking one of the versions of the test (a popular version called 41 Questions is found at www.41q.com), and then finding your own profile on one of the related sites such as www.personalitypages.com, or even Wikipedia. Your profile will read something like: ESTJ, INFP, ENTJ, and so on. Note, however, that my own language differs from that of the typical typological testing language: where I say “creating” the test says “intuition”; what I call “logic” the test calls “thinking”. And remember, any test is only a pointer and a conceptual guide – it is up to you to subjectively confirm and authentically live your process.
ABOUT JENNIFER HARVEY SALLIN
Jennifer is the founder of InterGifted and is a psychologist, coach and mentor who specializes in providing training and mentoring for gifted coaches and other helping professionals who support the gifted; in performing giftedness assessments; and in mentoring profoundly gifted adults. She writes extensively on giftedness and self-development and you can find her articles here on InterGifted’s blog and on her own blog at Rediscovering Yourself. She is based in Switzerland and works with gifted adults throughout the world. You can learn more about her here, and feel free to reach out!