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How it Feels to Not be a Feeler

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It’s not an uncommon experience for me. This morning I sat in a group of women talking about how it FEELS when things are hard and how their FEELINGS can at times lead them astray. It was good to hear others affirm that sometimes you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes your feelings don’t match your knowledge and you just have to keep going in the direction of truth instead of getting pushed off track by misplaced emotions. And then my dear friend Renae said something like, “I imagine it must be so much easier for people who aren’t feelers.”

My first response was to be all, “Yeah, well. . . it isn’t! It’s WAY hard to not be a feeler! Thinkers have it rough, too!” But I just kept thinking about it. The truth is, we only ever experience life from behind our own two eyeballs. I don’t actually know how it feels to be a feeler. Sometimes I hear how they’re describing life and their own difficulties and it does sound exhausting. It must be hard to have all those emotions all the time! I feel like you could fit the extent of my emotions into a thimble and some of my sisters need a bucket. So for my friend Renae (and any of the rest of you feelers) I wanted to explain how it feels to be a thinker. What are the struggles? The strengths?

Of course, I’m only speaking from my experience. And for clarification’s sake—-I do have feelings. I cry at moving songs, I feel joyful when my kids accomplish major milestones (like playing independently for five minutes). I laugh. A lot. I am not without emotions, but I also rarely have the feeling that my emotions are controlling me or that they are difficult to manage. When Brian and I have conflict (which he hates) I often remind him that if he was married to an actual woman he’d be in for a rude awakening. Which is a joke. I am very much an actual woman, but I don’t have the same emotional responses I see in many of my friends, which helps keep our marriage pretty low-maintenance. Oh, and if you’re a Myers-Briggs person, my personality type is ESTJ if that helps you know where I’m coming from. While all of the things I’m going to express are my natural personality bents, it’s very true that I work against them when they contribute to sin in my life. Just because it’s how I would naturally respond doesn’t mean it’s right.

So here are a couple thoughts on what it’s like to not be a feeler in a world where it seems like that’s the norm for your peers and the general assumption about your gender.

I think about my face a lot. So there’s probably a moment you can point to where you knew you were different from the way you thought you were supposed to be. For me, it’s when I was a little kid and realized that what I most wanted for my birthday was for everybody to let me unwrap my gifts in private. I have an understanding that people want to see a certain emotional reaction when they give you a gift and I am not very good at that. And it feels like a weird pressure to try and make the right happy/surprised face. I have also noticed this when I was dealing with infertility and people would tell me they were pregnant. My first thought would be “Is my face doing the right thing?” because I knew it should be looking happy for them, but that wasn’t an entirely genuine expression for what was in my heart. I’m very aware of the disconnect between how people expect me to respond and how I might naturally respond.

There’s an emotions party and everyone is invited but me. I have an awareness that everybody else is feeling things that I don’t feel. That’s kind of a bummer. Friends are crying about dropping kindergarteners off or they’re anxious about an upcoming move or they’re thrilled for some vacation time. I feel like I experience these things, but in muted colors. I wonder if in heaven I will experience the full range of passionate emotions that right now aren’t available to me. It does make certain elements of coping with life simpler, but can also be a source of discontent.

Why can’t you people just do the right thing? I get irritated (hey! that’s a feeling, right?) when people don’t do the right thing because it won’t feel good. I don’t get it. You just do the right thing because it’s the right thing. I am not at all saying that I always do the right thing, but it is satisfying to me when I do in a checklist, duty-bound kind of way. I may not do the right thing, but it is rarely because the right thing would have been emotionally difficult or because wrong makes me feel good. I don’t sin less. I sin differently. Like, the kind of sin where you decide people are dumb because they won’t do the right thing just because of the emotional costs.

Conflict is humorous. I see you getting all mad about stuff. And I try really hard not to laugh. I view “The Real Housewives of Whatever” shows to be comedies and I enjoy them as such. I have a hard time taking people in heightened emotional states seriously (and while that’s true for conflict, I also struggle with having empathy for ANY extremes like super sad or giddy). This makes it hard to fight with me because my goal is to convince you of something and I don’t get swayed by emotions. Much.

-I want to solve your problems. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true. When you’re crying about how hard something is, I’m going through a checklist of how to make it better. This is not likely to make you feel better. But along with wanting to solve the problem of the friend crying in front of me, I want to SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS. I see a problem in any environment I’m in and I can’t turn off the need to fix. I feel like most of my life is problem solving and the other part of my life is sleeping. This is how I have ended up in a couple state senator’s offices arguing for changes in how foster kids are treated. It’s a great trait to have when you can point it in the right direction. I also get frustrated when I can’t solve a problem (hey! another emotion word!).

-You look naked to me. Emotions are awkward to me. When people are really emotionally raw, I have the same gut reaction as you might have if somebody just started taking off their clothes in front of you. I want to avert my eyes out of respect for the other person’s dignity. I’m working on this and it’s not always a problem, but at times it has meant that I shy away from certain people or situations if I know there’s likely to be big displays of uncomfortable emotions. And I want to clarify—there is a difference to me between “big displays of emotion” and “honesty”. I love and value honesty. I want to be where there is honesty and I can handle it and will even deal with the emotions that come with it, but let’s not kid ourselves that all emotions are honest.

-You don’t overwhelm me. Okay, so I might feel awkward about your big displays of emotion and not be sure how to handle them, but they also won’t pull me under. I can listen to you and think about what you’re going through without getting emotional about it myself. I enjoy asking questions and listening to people’s problems and have a good bit of patience since it isn’t emotionally taxing for me. I got a degree in psychology and I remember telling one of my professors I didn’t think I’d go on to do more school so I could be a counselor because I just didn’t get as passionate about stuff and didn’t feel all the empathy other people felt. He told me that that’s why I NEEDED to be a counselor- people who are struggling emotionally may need somebody who is more calm and rational to help them work towards a solution and it helps to not be a person who will carry that emotional burden home from work with you. Sorry Professor, I decided to be a mom instead. . . and that same skill has proved pretty useful.

-I will burn bridges. Happily. If I have conflict with you that seems unresolvable or we have a difference of opinion on an issue that is nonnegotiable to me, I can be fairly quick to cut off contact. And it doesn’t really hurt me much. It’s really important to me to know I am being treated with respect and if I feel like that isn’t happening, I’m out. I don’t tolerate. . . well, there’s a lot I don’t tolerate. This is an area where I very actively feel like I’m being sanctified. Without the compassion of Jesus I wouldn’t keep investing in people that are difficult for me, but I am learning to see the value of working past those conflicts and being refined.

-I can be an unintentional troublemaker. Because I want to SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS, I will put myself in awkward positions to try and do that. I will meet with people in leadership, offer critiques, write letters to the editor—whatever I feel like will get my point across. Obviously, this can be alienating and can hurt people’s feelings. I hate that. Sometimes I forget about that part until after the confrontation is over because in my mind it’s just two people trying to fix a problem. In reality, there are emotions and egos involved and that doesn’t make it easy.

-My own deep emotions have to be handled seriously. And maybe privately. I do have really genuine deep emotions, but happy or sad, I prefer to have them privately. They feel very vulnerable and unmanageable and it takes some effort to sort them out for me. I have seriously had moments where I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling because having a feeling felt so foreign. In those really intimate, vulnerable moments I need for those close to me to understand how unusual my emotions are for me—that they signify something big. If somebody handles those rare moments of emotional expression in an insensitive way, it can have major longterm repercussions on my ability to have relationship with them (see above regarding my love of bridge burning).

So maybe writing this out seems entirely self-indulgent, but I bet there are a couple of you out there that have felt weird when it seems like everybody else is having all the feelings. And for my friend Renae- here’s a peak into my head. I hope we can still be friends (winky face). Much love to my mentor Kerri who taught me that even a woman whose children jokingly refer to her as “mostly dead inside” has much to offer the women around her.

I leave you with a quote from “Better off Ted”, a show cancelled all too early. Enjoy!

Veronica:  It’s like my feelings are itchy.

Linda:  Oh, it sounds like something human is trying to find its way out of you.

Veronica:  Yes, I think it’s an emotion. Like joy, or spicy food.

Linda:  Technically spicy food isn’t a . . .

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Linda:  Maybe that itchy feeling you have is guilt. Guilt is a powerful emotion. Every Thanksgiving it makes me take three planes just so I can visit my racist Aunt Cookie.

Veronica:  So this is guilt, huh? In the past I’ve always just counteracted this feeling with other emotions. Like sugar. Or drunk.

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31 Comments

  1. I. LOVE. YOU. Thanks for expressing what a lot of us feel–oops, experience. 🙂 Although I am an INFJ on Myers-Briggs, my F and T are pretty even, and constantly battling it out. It kind of depends on the circumstances. But yes, I’m mostly dead inside, shed nary a tear when my kids went to kindergarten (mostly there were war whoops and hallelujahs), rarely cry at movies while my husband has tears streaming down his face, and can listen to others’ problems without being overwhelmed by emotion.
    God definitely can use the less feel-y among us. 🙂 Love ya, Maralee.

    • I agree, Kerri. I’m also an INFJ. I can have a valid opinion without putting emotion into it, and tend to look at things logically. However, there are still people (thinkers) I meet who I can’t quite understand, but I think this author did a beautiful job of making sense of it. I think I understand my mother-in-law so much better now. I do think I’ve had moments where “I’m naked” for my listeners and then it’s equally disheartening to me and I want to take back the words so they don’t feel that discomfort, haha.

  2. Thanks for writing this out. I find it fascinating and helpful. And there’s lots I want to talk about and new questions to ask.

    I do want to clarify my statement because although all this good discussion has come out of it, I feel (ahem, feel) that my point might have been misunderstood, even if it didn’t offend you. And, well, we care about word care. It was a direct response to question 8: “Often it is easy to idealize writers of the Bible, such as Paul, and assume they do not struggle with the same heart issues as us because they personally knew Jesus, or seem so in tune with the Spirit.” And I was saying, or meant to be saying, “Yes, I get that. I sometimes idealize thinkers (versus feelers on the MB) and assume they do not struggle with obedience because they make decisions with their heads, not their emotions.” I meant to be giving it as an example of flawed reasoning and not necessarily a thought pattern I nurture or even ultimately believe.

    On another note, I loved this insight into Maralee Bradley. I’m not sure how much of the handling emotions (or having them) relates to other Ts on the Myers-Briggs. T versus F, as I understand it, relates primarily to decision-making. Do you trust your head or your heart more? Although I find the expression of emotions (or not) equally fascinating, I’m not sure it can be explained by the same terms — there are emotional Ts and non-emotional Fs, just as there are shy extroverts and non-shy introverts (that’s me).

    Love this stuff. Love you. Feel it. Think it. Know it. 😉

    • I’m always mystified by the “head or heart” question because I can’t tell the difference. Honestly. So maybe that means I’m all head? I really don’t know.
      And I like your clarification, although I equally like when you just say stuff and we get to sort it out 🙂
      Love YOU!

  3. Wow, so interesting! There were some that I could completely relate to, and others where I think completely opposite. People making (wrong) choices because of how it will feel, instead of just dutifully doing right, and the last one about handling your emotions seriously and privately totally hit home. I’m so thankful for my feeler husband who can sense emotions deep in me and can draw them out and help me work through them, because sometimes I can’t do that on my own. At all. Burning bridges in relationships didnt make sense at all to me, until I, ahem, thought about it a little more. I have a super loyal faithful side to me: when I committ to something, I’m all in. Before that point, if there’s conflict or difference of opinion, I burn the bridge. But it my mind, there was never a bridge to burn. Once there’s a bridge, there’s no way I’m giving up on you.

    I’d love to sit down with you and Renae and Kerri and hear more. Fascinating.

  4. haha that quote cracked me up!
    Okay, so I totally thought I was a feeler, because I am a big crier at movies and even commercials, BUT…now I’m questioning that because I am so similar in all these ways (except the critique ones, I’m just too lazy to do that kind of thing). I can’t even believe how much I was nodding and saying, “yup, yup, yup!” to all of these.

    Question: Do you ever laugh uncontrollably when you shouldn’t have that reaction? Because I do that all the time. It makes me feel like a psychopath, but then I just laugh even harder because it’s sooo socially the wrong thing to do, and I know it, and it’s ironic. Argh! Or maybe that’s just me…..

    Sarah M

    • Oh, oh Sarah, YES! Funerals? Hilarious. Awkward moments? Hilarious. People getting worked up about something that bothers them? Hilarious. I didn’t exactly hear what person just said? Hilarious. Yes, I have many moments of inappropriate laughter. I have no idea why that is- is laughter just my default? Am I trying to distract from other emotions? Probably. But yes, the less appropriate it is, the more I feel compelled to laugh.

      • Oh good, I am equally glad it’s not just me (I have never met anyone else who does this–or they just don’t admit it!) and equally sorry for you, because I know how awkward it can be. And how hard it is to stop when you’re having a crazy ‘shouldn’t be happenin’ laughing fit.
        Sarah M

  5. This is such a great post! Most of my college friends learned not to invite me to watch chick flicks (they called me soulless) b/c I couldn’t get caught up in the romance, and yes, laughing at the wrong parts.
    I loved the line about your husband should appreciate that he didn’t marry a real woman! Haha. I always thought that was one of my selling points too! (Although, too bad for my husband, who’s favorite movie is Pride and Prejudice.)
    Thanks for validating those of us who can sometimes feel out of place when we hear others stereotype women as emotional creatures. I thoroughly enjoyed this!

  6. I nodded my head to a lot of this. I’m not a typical emotional girl. I used to be very emotional and timid but something changed. I’m not sure what happened but I’m not what I used to be. And I thought I was the only weird one that laughed at inappropriate times. Glad to know there are others!

  7. I love this post. I am very much like this sometimes and, when I do have an overwhelming emotion, it actually frustrates me that I either can’t name it or describe it sufficiently. I’m also always the teacher that, just before summer break, can never understand why some of my colleagues want to hug me. We will be back after summer, after all, and I’ll keep in touch by checking their FB updates;)

    Thanks for so eloquently describing what I would never be able to put into words. And, I promise to never judge the facial expressions that you make or don’t make during Husker games.

  8. I really resonated with this article Maralee, probably because I am an ISTJ on the Myers-Briggs test (like you, except an Introvert). I also had no strong emotions about dropping my first child off for the first day of Kindergarten (“Why are these people crying? We’re going to see them all again in 3 hours!”) , and I think that’s why a lot of my friends were guys when I was growing up. It was just easier in some ways.
    One of my daughters is a rollercoaster of emotions, and I don’t know how to help her — I just hope my more emotionally intelligent husband has some insights. It can also be (insert emotion) ‘frustrating’ to try and navigate through the choppy emotional waters of the women’s groups at church and it’s easy to feel like an outsider, or like I’m emotionally-challenged instead of being able to explore or rejoice in why the Lord created me this way. It’s definitely nice to feel like I can turn emotions off at times…but not so nice to dig down into the deep well of emotions when I need to and try to figure it all out. And definitely not in front of other people. Anyway, thanks for the insights. It was good to read aloud to Judah so that maybe he can have a better understanding of me. I also tell him how lucky he is to have such a low-maintenance wife 😉

  9. I am a thinker. This article rang so true it gave me an emotional response and now I’m confused again 🙂 Joking….this is the best thing I’ve read all year and I’m glad I’m not alone!

  10. Thank God there is another person out there like myself. Yes, I am a woman with the same personality combination. I can’t thank you enough for posting it.

  11. I’m an ENTP dating an ENTJ. It’s magical to date a girl who I don’t have to worry about offending very often, and our relationship is incredibly smooth due to us both being so blunt! Incredibly well written article, and it was funny to me to hear about how you “write people off that don’t hold value in your life any more”. It’s what I call “circle theory”. Your inner circle (like family) is protected and loved above all else, while those in the outer circle come up against a wall of near indifference. If it doesn’t make sense to keep them in, then they are escorted out.

    Fi (introverted feeling) thinkers have the circle theory. Fe (extroverted feeling) thinkers, (like me) don’t. So while I related to almost everything there, the circle theory was disconnected from me and fascinating.

    From my experience, it’s the Si (sentimental side) of the ESTJ that brings out emotions. Memories, family, traditions, things that are sentimental. ESTJ’s from a broken home have an especially hard time feeling. Not sure if you’ve plunged into the functions yet, but it makes it easier to feel things as a thinker if you understand what actually makes you feel. Especially when it isn’t obvious to you 🙂

  12. I can so relate to this. I am an INTP and sometimes cannot relate to my ENFJ girlfriend. I sent her a link to this so maybe she can understand why I don’t get super emotional about things.

  13. I did resonate with most of this article; I’m an INTJ with my T being my strongest asset to deviate from the center. However, I did find fallacy in a portion of your argument. I’m willing to seek clarification, but it seems a little crass:

    “I don’t sin less. I sin differently. Like, the kind of sin where you decide people are dumb because they won’t do the right thing just because of the emotional costs.”

    Now, I’m taking into account that you stated beforehand that “rarely” you make the decisions to do wrong because they are “emotionally difficult” otherwise or because “doing wrong feels good” (implicit that, you may still commit these “sins’ but it is “rare”), but this quote above is a bold claim to which I would tell you to get off your high horse.

    I’m sure that thinkers and feelers may sin the same way. Every act of malice or injustice is equivalent as there is no moral quota (except societal law) that classifies “wrong” from “wrong-er”. The difference between the two dichotomies is that feelers often make the decisions off of gut impulse, and will likely convince themselves that their decision was “out of their control” or that “it was right at the time”. Thinkers, however, hold themselves subconsciously more accountable in that they do wrong willfully, knowing it is wrong and that there is no one to blame but themselves.

    Correct me if i’m wrong in your intent, but you otherwise propose an interesting argument.

    • Well, you certainly aren’t the first person to label me crass 🙂 I appreciate the interaction and yes- this is all a huge oversimplification and wasn’t meant as a fully thought out theological argument. I have been told that I am a person without vices, which is what I’m trying to clarify. I may have fewer overt sins and many more covert sins. Those of us with a high value on tradition and rule following can appear to be more moral, but that isn’t accurate. No high horse here, I promise.

  14. Thank you for sharing a bit of insight as to how it “feels” to be a “thinker” type. My guy is a thinker and I can say that I remain baffled by his lack of outward display of emotions coupled with his emotional sensitivity when I choose to highlight how stoic he seems LOL. While I can say that both types have their pros & cons, I think that when it comes to relationships, it’s good that both types build strong support systems through friendships with “like” individuals – i.e.- feelers with feeler friends and thinkers with thinker friends. Trying to have a heart felt moment with a thinker can make a feeler feel more alone while trying to have a long winded intellectual debate with a feeler may make a thinker frustrated. If both types can appreciate the gifts of the other (feelers go to thinkers for rational solutions to business type dilemmad and thinkers consult feelers on ways to better communicate), I think that the relationship can be okay. Otherwise, its an effing frustrating and annoying nightmare LOL I know that my guy would like me to share my thoughts/feelings with him but as a thinker, hes not really equipped to deal with me. I may need to shut him out at times until I am ready to discuss things with him in a rational way that he can understand. Thinkers can be coldly annoying at times LOL

  15. Great post. Have read so much on topic over the years. I am also a woman who is same ESTJ and appreciate several of your descriptions, very accurate about my way of processing and approach. Sometimes I have felt off or out of place in a group of feelers who are unaware of how I process differently. All the types bring great strengths but reading this tonight made me feel accepted for whatever my strengths and weaknesses. Thank you for putting into words!!

  16. This is a great contribution. I am an ENFJ male. Although being an F has been a major part of many of the best elements of life (my career, my writing, being a confident gay dad who is the primary caregiver to twin sons), it is also extremely tiring and often confusing to be a feeler. There is an INCESSANT subjectivity that makes it hard to march forward, which is often the best thing to do. In addition, I work in a company and field completely dominated by feelers (executive coaching) and sometimes it is a living hell! I often want to shout, “YOUR FEELINGS ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT! AND NOT NEARLY AS UNIQUE AND SPECIAL AS YOU THINK!” Separately, I think there is a special understanding and alliance between thinker women and feeler men because we are both not conforming to gender brainwashing. (Final note, I think your urge to solve problems and move ahead is more of an SJ thing than a T thing).

  17. I am an ESFP and this article helped me TONS with a friend I have. We are pretty darn opposite. She is an ISTJ. It can be hard, awkward and frustrating to communicate with her. I feel at times I’m being slightly judged for being too “me”, like talking, laughing or being loud! I’m intrigued and highly envious of Thinkers and Judgers. They seem to have all the answers (or at least know how to get the answer) and have a plan to get where they want.

    Thank you again for the article. Most helpful.

  18. So funny! ENTJ girl here so yeah.. I get you. It makes for a lonely world once you’re married.. I always got along better with guys. Thankfully God put me in families (husband’s side also) that have a lot of guys. Still.. I struggle in women’s groups at church and just always have this sense “I’m too much for people.” I can even tell my gaze is too intense by the way people look at me. Small groups are rough because it’s mostly about ‘feelings’ it seems so I end up blabbing without a whole lot of structure to what I’m saying (cuz it’s not my comfort zone).. and it makes me ‘feel’ not like myself! I leave groups gasping for air. But if we were playing ping pong LOOK OUT! Or if I were in a work meeting BAM!.. totally clear and concise communication. Ugh.. Just gimme a project and leave me be.

  19. This is a great article–very informative. I’m typed infp, and I can imagine this mindset you have (like a fairy story), and relate to thinking about my face!
    I enjoyed peering into your perspective. Thank you.

  20. Pingback: Fridays @ Five (June 9, 2017) – Personality Type and Personal Growth | Personality Hacker

  21. Just out of curiosity, what is your husbands personality type?

  22. Thanks for this article which gave me, a Feeler (INFJ), a good insight into what it is to be a Thinker. I’d like to address one thing, though. Note your emphasis on the Thinker’s goal of solving problems. Laudable, as such; but . . . (a) Feelers are no less interested in solving problems; and (b) a person can’t solve a problem until he or she understands the problem fully and accurately. My experience is that Thinkers (understandably) consider themselves as having “solved” a problem when they come up with a “logical” solution–the elements of the “logic” defined as a Thinker would define them–and then resent the fact that the Feeler in question doesn’t celebrate the validity of the Thinker’s logic/solution. And that’s . . . illogical behavior on the Thinker’s part because it has not acknowledged that part of the equation is validly bound up with feelings . . . which the Thinker does not and perhaps can not understand. It’s as if a Thinker who does not understand what the numerals 4 and 7 indicate, and indeed denies the validity of their existence, were to assert that the solution to 3 + 5 + 4 + 1 + 7 is 9 rather than 20 (ignoring the 4 and the 7). “9” does not solve the problem. A Thinker solution does not solve a Thinker/Feeler problem; and a Thinker’s insisting on the triumphant “logic” of a Thinkerish solution is, to say the least, extremely irritating to the Feeler not because it makes us feel bad but because it is manifestly inaccurate. Be logical! It’s only when the Thinker acknowledges the valid existence of the Feeler component and joins with the Feeler in attempting a tandem solution to a tandem problem that a true solution can be approached. So, Thinkers, even if you can’t see or understand 4 or 7, grant that they might exist; and, for valid solutions, consult with and respect those who do see and understand 4s and 7s–the Feelers.

  23. Great article! As a feeler, it helps me understand my thinker boyfriend a little more!

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