The Tin Man was wrong all along. When he rapped on his chest, all he heard echoing back was hollow emptiness. Everyone else could hear it, too. The Tin Man decided that he’d been built without a heart.

Isn’t that just like an ISTJ? The Tin Man was so attuned to only what he could observe that he missed what his friends did not. “He was tender, he was gentle, and awful sentimental,” but it took some paying attention to notice it.

ISTJs bottle up their feelings tighter than a tin man in a rainstorm. It takes a lot of oil before we loosen up enough to share our sensitive side and a lot of time before we will feel comfortable enough to act on it.

In our opinion, those feelings are messy, unpredictable, easily misconstrued, and lead quickly to embarrassment. They get in the way of our daily noble quest to keep the world a tidy place. We prefer, like the Tin Man, to show how we feel about things through loyalty, commitment, and follow through. In other words: action.

If you need to go to the Emerald City, we’ll get you there without a lot of fuss in the process. But we bring our hearts with us. Here are five ways the ISTJ shows their sensitive side along the yellow brick road.

1. The mask slips off

Because ISTJs tend to keep their feelings hidden away, it’s easy for the casual observer to think they don’t have them. First impressions might imply that they simply don’t care about what they just heard or witnessed, that the work project isn’t interesting or the movie isn’t entertaining or that your friendship isn’t solid.

This lack of instant reaction is our normal mask, and it’s incredibly useful for what we do. As observers, ISTJs walk through life analyzing incoming information and running it through filters to make sense of it. Offering an opinion or a reaction early in this process feels ludicrous. We need time to process things before we deem an emotion is appropriate or even necessary.

As a matter of fact, if we smile, make eye contact, do small talk with you—or in the case of the Tin Man, sing in front of you—you know this is a big compliment. Taking off the mask means we are trusting you with witnessing our sensitive side.

2. We throw an intimate party of one

ISTJs are introverted observers. Our sensitive sides don’t come out in a crowd. We spend a lot of time carefully and thoughtfully placing value on things that we care about and keep them locked up safely in our tin-armored chest. If we hand you the key, you are in for a world of surprise.

The ISTJ’s sensitive side responds to things like flower fields and sunsets over the ocean. Music, nature, art, books, and dance appeal to our love of patterns, appreciation for details, and the sublime execution of masters in their field. Using sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste in a context of beauty or thematic elements resonates with us.

ISTJs will introduce you to a favorite piece of art in a museum, a novel read in childhood, a breathtaking yellow brick road, or a fantastic song because it feeds our soul. Sharing that experience is an encounter with our sensitive side, and it’s revealed privately.

3. We defend you

The Tin Man carries an ax and he’s not afraid to use it. While the ISTJ won’t emote on our own behalf, we will for others. We stand up for the underdog, the helpless, and the abused. Our sense of justice and fairness for others overrides our self-protective instincts and we will willingly champion for the greater good.

This carries over to the people in our inner circle of friends and family. If you see us rushing to your aid, know that it’s spurred by a very real sensitive side, and it will manifest in practical actions as opposed to tears. If you have a need or are hurt, we will stop everything we’re doing to be there at a moment’s notice. We toss aside our routines and comfort zones for you, which, if you know us, is a big deal indeed.

We are heaping affection on you when we do things like shovel the snowy drive or pay the bills. We offer caring in the form of stability and security. We stick around when things get hard. As the wizard says, “They are called good deed doers!”

4. We take the time

When an ISTJ wants to show you their sensitive side, it’s prefaced with spending some time on the road with you.

The ISTJ builds a relationship by observing you in multiple scenarios. We build long term memory (Si boxes) for you with each interaction. This gives us a sense of how and where you fit into our life. The closer we think you might be to a match, the more conflicted our actions might appear.

After all, we wouldn’t want you to think we had feelings about you! Not without a plan in place. For us, trying to decide whether to trust you is more about proving that you accept us the way we are. While it’s hard to personally offend an ISTJ, that armor has a chink in it.

The wizard saw it and knew exactly what to say: “In consideration of your kindness, I present to you a small token of our esteem and affection.”

Nothing hurts us more than being misjudged as heartless and nothing wins us faster than hearing someone acknowledge our heart exists. We want to be appreciated for who we really are as much as you do, but if you don’t take the time to find out what makes us tick, we are helpless to do it for you. Like the Tin Man, we don’t have the vocabulary.

We simply keep showing up and hoping for the best.

5. We get awkward in the best way

ISTJs aren’t known for their subtlety, especially when it comes to showing their sensitive side. Keeping those pesky emotions under control takes a lot of work and if they build up, the lid could blow off.

This isn’t pretty. We don’t weep, we ugly cry. We don’t clap, we scream and jump. Instead of saying, “I love you,” we babble incoherently. We figure the only way to escape emotional pain is to move to another country. There’s never a tidy middle ground, which means no matter what, we are going to regret our display of emotion five minutes from now and very likely forever.

But when we care, we care all the way.

Don’t forget what happened to the Tin Man when he finally let himself cry. He knew that bringing his emotions forward would freeze him up again. His friends could have left him there, useless, but instead they softened him up with the oil of appreciation and encouragement. They refused to go on without him.

An ISTJ’s heart is faithful and true, with a sensitive side we offer to all who take the time to know us. “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

Jolie Tunnell
Jolie Tunnell is an author, freelance writer and blogger with a background in administration and education. Raising a Variety Pack of kids with her husband, she serves up hard-won wisdom with humor, compassion and insight. Jolie is an ISTJ and lives in San Diego, California where she writes historical mysteries. Visit her at