What does it look like when our cognitive functions go awry? I’ll use myself as an example.
I’m a fairly mentally-organized person. I make a plan from the collected ideas in my head and funnel them into a strategy to execute in the real world. I’m good at keeping my mind orderly and organizing resources into effective actions. But the other day when I found myself dropping the ball on everything I touched, I had to think…what in the hell has gone off?
It made me consider our usual way of being in the world and how this looks when something stressful or unexpected or traumatic occurs and we are forced to start using cognitive functions we aren’t in good control of. Maybe we are in a situation that demands we use a feeling function when we’d usually use a thinking one, or an intuitive function when we’d usually use a sensing one. Either way, when we find ourselves in that situation, we’re bound to drop a lot of balls.
So when I caught myself making mistake after mistake, I had to stop and think about what was going on.
It had started when I had woken up and considered my list of errands and tasks that needed to be completed for the day. Here’s what I knew: I had to strategize the optimal use of resources by considering when the best time would be to accomplish each task, what would be the most effective order to accomplish that task in, and what resources I had available that made this day the most optimal day to do it all. I also knew I did not want to get out of bed and do any of it. However, when I considered the costs versus benefits of doing all my errands that day instead of putting them off yet again, I forced myself to get out of bed. That was my first mistake.
When I eventually found myself at the post office, half an hour into an awkward multi-zipcode package mailing mess, I went to type my PIN after swiping my card to pay and could not do it. I typed and retyped and retyped and could not fucking remember my PIN. That never happens. I knew something was wrong.
And the mistakes didn’t end there. I forgot things, ordered things incorrectly, bizarrely arranged tasks in ways that didn’t make sense. I was acting like a very bad P. That was when I started thinking about the role of shadow functions. I had been under a lot of stress at the time. In fact, the main stress factor in my life at the time was ambiguity of expectations at work and at home. Not knowing what is expected of me (because those expectations are either constantly changing or are based off of subjective values) causes me to lose my confidence in my ability to handle things. I get confused. The mind of the Ni-dom is a swirling nebula of connections and ideas but underneath that chaos is an underlying order, a drive for sense and Truth. Anyone looking at my mind might lose sight in an instant, but I never do. I follow every strand, every thought. When I looked at the actions I had taken that day, I couldn’t figure out why I did them that way. Why I forgot things. Why I was making mistakes that I never make. I was confused.
Ni gathers and handles conceptual data while Te finds effective ways to execute and manage it. Fi applies the values and personal meaning whereas Se supplies all the raw data that INTJs utilize. Te looks for objective goals and standards to measure success by. Te says, “We need this report done by noon and these things finished by three.” Te knows what to do and how to do it. Ni looks for better ways to do it.
Throw in some ambiguous expectations, some drama, some uncertainty, some subjective values, some emotions, some physical instability, and some bullshit, and you have a very ineffective INTJ. At the time I had been surrounded by all of that, and that confusion had finally manifested in my mind and actions. It was like I was on a ball struggling to keep my balance with everything being thrown at me (and failing).
When anyone of any type ends up in an unfamiliar territory, they are likely to find themselves in this position. They can’t use their lower-stack-order or shadow functions as well and what they do use isn’t adequate. Maybe they utilize Se when everyone expects Si. Maybe they use Ti when everyone expects Te. It makes us feel like less capable people. It sucks to be the odd man out, the feeler in a room full of thinkers; the intuitive in a room full of sensors, the P in a room full of Js. But we’ve all been there.
So what do we need to do to get back on course? First of all, utilizing your weaker functions more often will help you develop as a person. However, relying on them all the time in denial of your dominant and auxiliary functions will be tough and render you less effective. So, find a way to bring your dominate and auxiliary functions back into use. Spend time in environments where those functions are needed and appreciated. If you find yourself in a setting that suppresses your strengths and demands more of your weaknesses, consider whether you are in the best environment. Not all types are equally effective at the same things and that’s okay. We can’t all be good at everything. It’s important to feel like our contributions matter and honor our abilities.
In my case, as soon as I took the time to understand what was going on in my life and why I was feeling so off, I got back on track and things got better. It’s true that we can’t control everything but we can certainly do something about some of the things in our life. Remember what you’re best at and do more of that!
Have you struggled with finding yourself in a situation where you were less effective? Share your experiences with the rest of us!