Why things fall apart




Yesterday, my 6 year old daughter’s teacher told us that my daughter R. has been acting up in class. Mostly, it’s just refusing to do the current class activities.

When did this happen? I thought everything was going fine. R. can read Harry Potter and recently used “discombobulated” in a sentence which excites me to no end. So she still has to count seven plus two on her fingers. I was good at math but I don’t think it’s that big a deal if she’s not up to speed with the other kids.

At home, I drop everything when I get off work and spend time with her and her sister equally. We play whatever they want. Mom helps R. with her math homework and R. is usually done with her reading homework already. R. is pretty well behaved for a 6 year old INFP who can’t sit still for one moment. My wife and I write that off to her free spirit personality. I figured everything was okay.

Guess what? My daughter told me she hates being given extra time to do her math quizzes at school. It makes her feel stupid and she’s embarrassed that other kids can do the quizzes so much faster than her. She doesn’t like math, but he dislikes being bad at it even more. When did I forget what’s not important to me might be a big deal for her?

As INFPs, we have many areas in our life that we have to maintain whether it’s work, relationships, personal development, school, etc. If some part goes well, we put that part on autopilot while we concentrate on the areas that interest us. Autopilot is where we do the same things in any given area in order to maintain that area without having to focus our mental energies there.

So that’s what I did. I put parenting on autopilot. I came home, played with the kids, took them out to do stuff on the weekends. I gave them choices wherever I could and disciplined them when they wouldn’t do the things they had no choice about. I did it by rote. And that’s how things fall apart.

INFPs always have The Project that is consuming them at any given moment. Everything else goes into autopilot. The areas in autopilot eventually degrade to the point where we eventually have to focus our energies back in that area to get it back into our comfort zone. What we forget to realize is that, in doing so, we stunt our growth.

People grow as a whole, not in parts. We don’t go to the gym and just work out our arms for a 6 months and then switch to another part of our body. But that’s what INFPs tend to do internally. We focus on our current Project. Everything else is on auto unless it starts degrading and only then do we shift just enough focus to get things back to a comfortable level.

Unfortunately, entropy is a natural part of living. What isn’t growing is dying. So when we put things on autopilot, we’re actually letting those parts die a little. Sometimes, situations, things, relationships, those areas that we put through that roller coaster of growing and dying, just can’t be revived anymore. That’s when things fall apart.

We do a full focus shift onto the area that’s dying and isn’t reviving the way it did the other 20 times before and we can’t figure out why. All the actions we use to take to get that area back into the comfort zone isn’t working. We get a little panicky so we shift more energy there. The other areas that we had been putting energy into to just maintain are now degrading at a much faster rate. It’s just cascades from bad to worse from there.

It’s a nasty cycle and this is why it seems why things go from good to bad so suddenly for INFPs. One minute it’s great and wham, it’s bad. In truth it doesn’t happen suddenly, we just took for granted that once we got certain areas to a certain comfort level that it would stay that way.

So what now? I’ve got to stop being so obsessive about my Projects to the exclusion of other areas. I’ve always known that but knowing the answer and doing the answer are too different things. If I find a good solution, I’ll let you know. But for now, in the words of GI Joe, knowing is half the battle.

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11 Responses to “Why things fall apart”

  1. Dan

    Jan 26, 2010

    10:50 am

    Wow. I just have to say I can relate to this very well. And even have some recent experiences that put proof to it.

    It’s funny, but I used to be very knowledgeable about myself. I knew how I would react to any given situation, and I knew how I should react. (And was able to do it. A key phrase I had always used was “I can only control my actions and reactions in a situation.”

    But somewhere along the way, I forgot that. I forgot who I was, and I was letting my internal battle show up externally in my actions and reactions, pushing someone away with every single reaction. But wanting them to stay.

    Anyway, the relevant part of this is that I had put my relationship on auto-pilot. And hadn’t realized it. Because I thought I was devoting time and energy to it. But I was really going through the motions, not growing with it. Not because I didn’t care, but for the reasons you listed above. This time, when I had to focus on it again, it was too late…. and in the midst of it all, I lost control of my reactions and let them get the better of me.

    I sure wish I had been paying more attention. But, I have to say, as painful as it’s all been, I have grown over the last month. I’m not “me” yet. But I see where I fell, and I can now see where “me” is. The light is there, and it is only a matter of time until I get to it.

    Thank you. Your blog is really becoming important to me, and helping me re-understand myself.

    Do you have any books you would recommend about INFPS?


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    Dan, I’m so happy your getting something out of this blog. In my head, I know it’s just not me that goes through these INFP behaviors, but sometimes, it does seem like it is just me. The blog helps me too.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t found any books or sources specifically for INFPs. Many of the online descriptions for INFPs found at various online personality psychology sites are very ego flattering, but they’re also very general and I think could be applied to many other types. They also don’t talk about the negative things about being an INFP. You have to take the good with the bad.

    I always recommend the book the New Personality Self-Portrait to INFPs. It compliments the Myers-Briggs very well and that’s the test I recommend to friends to help them figure out what will make them happy.


  2. Sue London

    Jan 26, 2010

    7:09 pm

    You just described my life. Seriously. And this week I’m having I’m having to deal with one of those things that fell apart so it is even more poignant.

    What I don’t see is any way to curb our enthusiasms. INFP attention is a difficult beast to tame.


  3. J

    Jan 28, 2010

    10:40 am

    Very true post. Couldn’t have said it any better myself. I’ve had this conversation w/ people numerous times…and I’ve been on both ends of it. We may think things are going “good” b/c there are no problems rearing their ugly heads, but in truth, it’s just going thru the motions and one day, it “suddenly” shifts. But being “aware” definitely helps!


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I think that’s why my most important relationships are rarely formed with other INFPs. It’s kind of like looking into a mirror and seeing all the bad things about our behaviors.


  4. J

    Jan 28, 2010

    5:05 pm

    Right, and even though there might be a really strong “soul” connection w/ another INFP, if both of them go into autopilot mode, and things fall apart, that usually (in my younger more naive days) forms a cycle which is hard to break w/ two INFP’s. My observation anyways….(maybe just w/ two very unaware INFP’s?)


  5. Zkairos

    Feb 7, 2010

    3:58 am

    I can relate to this too… This reminds of this movie “Click” starring Adam Sandler…


  6. Marky

    Feb 26, 2010

    6:06 pm

    OMG! I laughed so hard at this part, “INFPs always have The Project that is consuming them at any given moment.”

    Is this true of just us or do other types experience this?


  7. Maeve

    Jun 26, 2012

    12:06 pm

    Fascinating. I’ve thought about this enough over the years to figure out that autopilot is bad bad bad. I just never figured out why. Things always fall apart for me. Feeling successful one minute, disastrous the next. This is true for even newly formed situations where I take my focus away briefly to address something else and wham….it turns to crap.

    In my experience it’s loss of perspective too. Sometimes a situation can look worse than it it, because I’m refocusing and haven’t kept track, so naturally things look out of control.

    If someone figures out a successful way to manage INFP processing, let me know. I can’t ever seem to sort my messy life out…:-)


  8. Vivid

    Apr 10, 2013

    10:08 am

    Wow, is there any hope? I can’t sustain interest in just one thing forever, and yet this is exactly what happens when I turn to something new. The extreme of this manifests in missing important appointments, forgetting to feed animals, and forgetting to interact with people outside my family. Pretty much the only way I can sustain “maintenance” on something important that is not my main project is considering it a part of my most important ongoing life values like a happy spouse. Still figuring it out.


  9. John

    Nov 2, 2016

    5:30 pm

    Yes, I remember once, nearly 2 decades ago, my brother-in-law said to my wife that I was obsessive. I was taken aback but brushed it off. He was referring to my various interests which I would almost all-consumingly get into. Things such as certain music or bands, guitar maintenance, playing music, a personal website project, family history, fitness, outdoor swimming, etc etc.

    I actually couldn’t understand why they didn’t have any really big hobbies that they were passionately into!

    Now though, I see that I really will get massively into a particular thing–especially if it’s creative. And it will make me lose focus on other things, and it can last many months. Rather than sit watching TV for hours in the evenings and at night with my wife, I might go off to my office and get stuck into my project. These things really do need to be curbed or disciplined.

    I think my INFP nature finds it hard to stick to strict schedules, or be creative on command, and when I’m really stuck into a project i just don’t want to stop when I’m experiencing that ‘flow’ that people talk about. I’ll look up at the clock, see it’s 4pm, and realise that I forgot to eat lunch! Funnier still, is when I stand up from the desk, and get a twinge of pain, and realise that I really should have gone to the bathroom about 3 hours ago!


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