I can count on one hand the number of times I've cried. The first was when a kid called Robert punched me in the teeth. I was nine years old and the crying completely rattled me. It's when I realized that emotions were not fragile but borne of righteous indignation.
I cried again a decade later when a big relationship ended, but I had to watch the devastating "Schindler's List" to draw forth the tears. And I cried during my pregnancy when a song about a sick baby came on the radio (Wires, by Athlete). For about an hour, I was inconsolable. Then rationality slipped back into control.
I did not cry when my kids were born. I did not cry, or rant, or panic when the Twin Towers tumbled. Or when Princess Diana died. Or during any of the events, happy or sad, that are able to reduce entire nations to tears.
I did not cry when my father died. The experience was so alien and unprocessable that I couldn't connect to it. My grief consisted of sitting on the sofa in the small hours of the morning, drinking tea. I didn't talk to anyone until that evening, some 14 hours later. Then, I urged my newly grieving mother to think of all the money she would save on nursing home fees. I bear a heavy guilt for this, naturally. It was a terrible consolation to offer someone as fragile as tissue paper.
At home, I say the "L" word about once a year. I operate a strict no hugging policy with everyone but my closest family. Holding hands feels like inappropriate touching. As for cheek-kissing casual acquaintances - honestly, someone should file a complaint.
And I've deleted and rewritten the preceding paragraphs a half-dozen times. I feel weird writing about INTJs, because I have no idea what it's like to be an INTJ. I only know what it is like to be this INTJ. And I feel more weird writing about myself. Sharing and soul-bearing on the Internet feels like handing over part of my brain. I'm just not comfortable with that degree of vulnerability.
I am not a robot.
My emotions run deep. They just don't surface very often. Sometimes they whisper so quietly that they are not heard at all. I dislike that others may think that I'm uncaring and indifferent, because that's a false impression. As an INTJ female, I can be deeply sentimental and I often feel intense emotions. I just don't pop the champagne cork and let those emotions splatter the crowd.
So how can we still-watered INTJs express our feelings? Here are some suggestions that don't run counter to type.
1. Subtly do something nice for someone
When INTJs express emotions, they tend to do it in a kinesthetic way. Words are cheap. They don't mean much unless they're backed up by planned and deliberate action. You may never be the one to give hugs. But others will appreciate that you wash the dishes and change their flat tire. For action-oriented INTJs, changing lightbulbs is an excellent metaphor for love.
2. Be present
INTJs can be distracted as distracted can be, especially when something bores us. But when we listen to someone and then follow up on things that they say, it means that we care about them. The ultimate gift that an INTJ can give another is our presence. Making that person the center of our attention, even for a few minutes, is a genuine expression of our affection.
3. Focus on the happy
INTJs are realists and realism is a deathtrap. On a bad day, it can push you from healthy skepticism to bitter cynicism. And cynicism sucks. It sucks the joy out of people, work and life. To combat cynicism, it helps to show happiness as openly as you can. Happiness is the antithesis of cynicism. It's also one of the easiest feelings to express since it's unlikely that you will feel mocked or vulnerable when showing optimism, amusement, hope or joy. Muhammed Ali never went three rounds over a smile.
4. Name your feelings
Even the most repressed INTJ has an idea of when they feel "good" or "bad." Unfortunately, these are whisper light, gossamers of words, too flimsy to carry the weight of elation, or apoplexy, or sorrow. Are you feeling appreciated? Confused? Frustrated? Misunderstood? Taking the time to develop a strong emotional vocabulary can help you to articulate your feelings with pinpoint accuracy. Plus, it's far easier to confess to an emotion you've defined and labeled, instead of a shapeless "feeling."
5. Mirror others
Most INTJs are not pre-programmed with an emotional outlet valve; rather, we learn to express our feelings through conscious observation and deliberate mimicry. While other people talk, we watch and scrutinize their words, their body language and their gestures.
And then we steal those expressions.
Yup. The key to expressing our feelings is blatant and unrepentant theft. We do this not because we lack self-expression, but because acceptable public self expression is clothed in the actions of extraverted-feelers. So why not copy the pros?
6. Tell a story
It's the magic of storytelling: the author can arrange words in a certain order and make others feel something. And the best stories develop mood using the technique of "show, don't tell." In other words, you evoke a character's emotional state by describing their words, actions and motivations. You don't write, "his mom was angry with him." You write, "'Gideon Smith,' mom bellowed, 'Get in here this instant!'"
Framing your feelings as a story is effective on two levels. First, it adds perspective to your feelings so you can rationalize them better, and it has a mood-lightening, comedic effect. It's hard to confess that you're feeling stressed at work and are beginning to doubt your own abilities. It's easier to describe how you couldn't get out of the house for an hour because you had to find the perfect shade of lipstick. Most people will read between the lines and know where you are coming from.
7. Let it out in private
The (few) real-life INTJs I know enjoy crying at movies and books, as long as no one is around to see. A good cry can blow off steam, even if you can't connect with the underlying emotion.
8. Touch and feel
Some INTJs are comfortable with small non-verbal gestures such as putting their head on someone's shoulder, locking eyes or casual touching. If you enjoy that, then go for it. Touch registers as warmth and reassurance better than any outpouring of language.
9. film yourself
For emotions or situations you are really struggling with, you could try the age-old technique of filming yourself expressing how you really feel. The first time around, you probably will be appalled by your language, gesticulation or facial expressions. But it's a jump point for gaining greater self-awareness. Since rationals must continually outdo themselves, you can use the exercise as an opportunity to practice your skills and become more competent.
10. Be solutions-oriented
I have a suspicion that, for most INTJs, it's never enough just to express your feelings. There's another step - "Now that I have this emotion, what do I do with it?" "How do we fix this situation for the future?"
INTJs silently shape the world they live in. Applying a rational fix is a highly productive way for us to deal with our emotions since it allows us to close off the situation without wasting time on the murky detail. With any luck, you'll pass straight from point A (having a feeling) to point C (fixing it) without ever stepping foot on the path of self-expression.
11. Choose to open up
Fair warning, this is the "just do it" part of the article where I recommend that you stop being a numpty and you call me out for being a closet ENTJ. But hear me out. INTJs can be reserved and walled-off. Or we can be open and animated. These things are a choice. Sometimes, you just have to spit it out. And if you honestly don't know what you're feeling or if you're feeling anything at all, say that. The other person will have to deal with your reticence or find a clever way to draw you out. In which case, bump them straight to the top of your friendship list because that relationship is golden.
12. Forget feelings
Life is hard and sometimes it makes you feel things you don't want to feel. Or it makes you feel nothing at all. You could obsess about that and go for therapy. Or you could accept what you can't control and get on with life.
Getting to the root of your feelings can be liberating and motivating ... for some. But if keeping your feelings locked in is not making you unhealthy then what's the downside? Who does it help to wear your heart on your sleeve?
I believe that I'm doing a good-enough job despite my distaste for touchy-feelies. I have curiosity, and ambition, and confidence, and common sense. Those things mean more to me than emoting every experience.
And that, I think, deserves higher praise.