The truth about the holiday season

Three steps back, one step forward


Every year around Christmas and New Year I feel sad, lonely, and forgotten. A part of my subconscious imagines all the joy everyone must be experiencing, and I instinctively engage in emotionally self-harmful behaviors in order to distract from difficult emotions. It’s ironic how the chosen distractions turn pain into numbness, but upon feeling numb one wishes to feel something through further indulgence.

I learned something new from this year’s experience, though at no trivial cost. I could feel lonely during any time of the year I “wanted” to, so why Christmas specifically? The root of suffering during this season is that I feel unloved. People go home to visit their families, so no one is really around for several weeks. Our own family had lunch on Christmas Day and it was fine, but I still became somewhat unhinged after that. I feel unloved for many reasons, but it can simply be stated that I was never given ample opportunity to internalize my family’s love for me as a child, and that I am still underdeveloped in this aspect. Also, in comparison to everything else going on around, my Christmas holidays are a time characterized by mutual neglect of both family and friends.

Even if Christmas is more isolating than usual, there are two assumptions I can attack in order to break the chain of things from devolving into emotional torture:

  1. Everyone is busy and I have no cause to bring down anyone else’s spirits with mine, so I’d rather suffer in silence as if this is all some secret punishment I deserve.
  2. I shouldn’t be thinking so much about myself during Christmas.

The second point is the fallacy that I wish to address presently. When I feel unloved, it’s because I’m not loving myself. Somehow I forget to do so during Christmas, when perhaps it’s the time I need it the most. My longing to love others pains me also, but I should not neglect my basic necessities.

Congratulate me on accepting my new job?

I won’t mince my words: my brain is messed up, from the higher levels of abstraction down to the chemical level. Coming from a background of lifelong emotional suppression and addiction, I have long suspected it and yet I’m still surprised by the details of this conclusion. There’s an adage that we have to be particularly mindful about what new vice replaces the old one we’re trying to overcome. After reading about how to process emotions, I’ve confirmed one of my least favorite hypotheses about my life:

It’s not enough for me to make smart decisions; I must work hard to embody the things I believe in.

When I was introduced to the world of emotions three years ago, I learned to find out what makes me feel good. But my sources didn’t really discuss balance and the bigger picture, so I’ve now realized that I’ve been unknowingly regulating my emotions in an unhealthy manner on a daily basis for years. It seems I typically either over-regulate my negative emotions or try to manipulate myself into feeling positive emotions and then under-regulate those positive emotions. This is my addiction, and it’s very very bad for discipline, willpower, motivation, or any of the things that drive us to work towards our goals.

In light of this information, I must accept my new full-time role as supervisor of my mind and body. There is no other way. I must find out what makes me feel uncomfortable. I must learn to accept that discomfort and operate towards my goals regardless of it. I must switch off the music to my ears. I must be willing to abandon everything I think I know, once again, and purge aspects of my behavior that I may have mistaken for my personality. I’m scared. I’m terrified. But I must be brave. I know this is what needs to be done.

If this is what I am right now, it’s not like I have anything worth losing in the first place; there is no tragedy in this.

Brilliant or stupid?

INTPs love ideas. We love ideas for their own sake. Why pursue happiness when you can pursue ideas? These ideas don’t have to be practical or useful to be beautiful. We are known for having numerous hobbies and projects, and an absolutely dismal completion rate for these projects. When we stick to one thing for an extended amount of time, we tend to get bored and end up switching to something else. The saying “the proof is in the pudding” does not seem to apply to us, because coming up with the idea is often enough satisfaction for us as it is. Taking such tendencies to the extreme, such as too frequently allowing the brain its dopamine hit without actually having achieved anything, can lead to problems such as chronic procrastination, addictive behaviors, and attention disorders. Another natural consequence of our admiration for ideas, especially if we don’t engage in enough disciplined practice, is that we don’t get as good at carrying out our elaborate plans. This means that when we have an exceptionally precious idea, that we’re determined to bring to life without question, there may well be a deficit in skill and a resulting mismatch between what we dreamed and what we end up with.

Enthusiasm, ideals, optimism, and naivety are usually what inspire me to make my ideas happen. But the work involved is almost always harder than initially imagined, and what tends to happen is that I trade in my feelings for that logical state to keep me focused. At some point near completion, I’ll realize I’ve lost the ability to appreciate the beauty and context of the original idea. Maybe my work disappoints me. Maybe the idea was silly all along—how did I ever think this idea was genius?

Feelings become inaccessible. Introspection is silent. Emotions do not compute. But I’ve come so far and put so much into the work; I can finish it and I might as well. Trust in the self that could see the beautiful forest before, even if I can only see ugly trees now. The idea always turns out to be brilliant or stupid, and before you finish the project both outcomes seem simultaneously probable. What is this, quantum physics? Why can’t the idea just be mediocre? Why does sustained effort always have this emotional cost?

Fe grip during my trip

I gambled my life and future on this trip. We’ll see if I was a smart gambler after all.

Ah, the infamous Fe (Extraverted Feeling) grip. The Fe grip is a mood or state that Introverted Thinking dominant people fall into sometimes. It is associated with visible expressions of emotion and can seem rather uncharacteristic of their typically logical mindsets.

Every INTP experiences it differently. This is just my own hypothesis, but I think that emotionally unaware INTP adults tend to experience the Fe grip very infrequently and only for a short duration, emotionally aware but immature INTP adults (like myself) tend to experience cycles between “normality” and the Fe grip, and mature INTP adults start to get good at managing their energy/triggers and even deliberately manipulating their mood if they need to.

In this post I will talk about my own personal Fe grip, in particular during this trip. For a brief history, I first became emotionally aware about two years ago after my first emotional breakdown, and as I started learning I experienced a long Fe grip—two months. It was pure bliss, and I was almost overwhelmingly happy all the time. (I guess contrast is such a powerful thing.) Eventually that ended and I fell into cycles of intense logic and isolation followed by cheerfulness and almost normal feelings of sociability. And in my current stage, I’m simply learning how to detect and interpret my energy levels and triggers. However hard that sounds, it’s harder than that.

I think the main MBTI theory focuses on triggers for the Fe grip, starting or ending it. While I do have triggers as well, the typical outlets of anger and frustration for INTPs do not apply to me so much except with someone specific. Instead, I believe the primary thing for me to look at is my social/emotional energy levels. For starters, bad things happen if you don’t acknowledge your emotions (especially if you aren’t aware of them). That’s all I’ll say about that. The basic energy level then is the “introvert battery.” You’ll see this analogy a lot, and it just means that an introvert (as opposed to an extrovert) spends energy when interacting with other people and they need to recharge their energy by having quality alone time.

My current theory for me is that cycling between the default cold INTP state and the overly sentimental and sociable Fe grip is usually caused by charging energy for too long without spending enough, and then often discharging all too quickly due to overeagerness and poor management. A cycle can last between a week and a few months, with the Fe grip lasting at most 50% of the period and usually closer to a third or less. The problem with letting these involuntary or inadvertent cycles happen is that both phases get exaggerated. You don’t want to speak to anyone. You neglect even your closest friends for up to months. You’re possibly productive, really bad if you’re not, and highly stressed either way. You live without balance in terms of exercise and diet. And then suddenly you don’t wanna work you just wanna play and you really want to make new friends you clearly don’t have enough close friends and you wanna share your innermost thoughts and emotions and just hang out and you catch up with your best friend for hours and you have a great time and think why not do this next week again and this is great you feel like you’re almost normal you want this feeling to last and why not go further then you make a new online acquaintance and express a mutual interest in—BAM. Next cycle hits. You’re gone for months again.

So, if you can prevent these rough cycles by balancing your energy, then maybe you can tap into logical efficiency and still maintain a satisfying social life as you see fit. I think I’ve spent most of my trip—two months and counting—in the Fe grip or near it. Is that unhealthy or suboptimal? In this case, I think not for a couple of reasons.

  1. I came here to reset my stress levels. When you know almost nothing about Europe, trying to research and plan everything is a stressful activity. I could spend a whole month planning how to spend the next month, but that would necessarily neglect the quality of the month spent planning. I have a huge tendency to over-research and fall into analysis paralysis. I said no to all that and yes to impulsive decisions and relying on strangers to help me.
  2. Relying on help from strangers. It would be difficult to do this in a hard logical state. In fact, the logical conclusion anyway would be that I need to charge as quickly as possible and risk falling into the Fe grip in order to make the most of social interactions and not burn out trying to figure out things on my own.
  3. Being more reliant on instincts. An INTP in the Fe grip can struggle to force themselves to be logical, have an obviously biased sense of perception, and feel rather conflicted about it. Traveling is such an unpredictable and subjective experience anyway, I felt that yielding logic in favor of instincts was better for making sense of things in a short period of time without the stress associated with thinking.
  4. Buridan’s ass. Similar to above reasons, but sometimes a decision simply can’t be logically computed or the decision doesn’t really matter in the scope of things.
  5. Distorted sense of judgment. Canonically speaking, the Fe grip is associated with being triggered by stress, manifesting as unpleasant emotional outbursts, and resulting in all sorts of social paranoia fueled by emotional securities. My experience is the opposite in this case, with a distinct lack of stress and my Fe mood being rather optimistic. As an example, I don’t tend to rule out the possibility that a stranger I’m meeting up with (especially a woman) could be a serial killer. (This is logic speaking.) In fact, I can be rather paranoid about it. In one case, I even met up under ideal conditions for a serial killer, though I was clearly wondering whether those conditions were coincidental or not. My Fe mood said “well I hope the dinner is nice at least.”
    Another important implication was not worrying too much about what people thought about me. A negative Fe mood can cause all sorts of negative thoughts about people’s motives and being puzzled about why people are being so nice to you. I mean, I still had these kinds of thoughts because of my past, but thanks to my Fe grip being underpinned by childlike naivety, I’ve internalized these surprising social experiences through a positive lens. Perhaps even too positive than is realistic. But good memories can’t hurt, right?
  6. No logical nightmares. There is nothing more torturous than what I call a logical nightmare. (It’s something that only happens to me.) In the past, writing as much as I have during this trip was a specific trigger for nightmares, though mostly also because I wrote for misguided reasons. Now that I’m writing because I want to, although it still seems like too much in terms of the time it takes, it’s good to find out that it doesn’t cause me stress anymore.
  7. Willingness to make mistakes. ‘Healthy mistakes’ will be made and it’s good to not just accept that reality without beating yourself up over it, but to even enjoy it.
  8. Get inspired. Being overly sentimental about everything can be a source of inspiration for INTPs. Unfortunately there has been a lack of suitable outlets for me while traveling. Sigh, I wrote a poem and went through all the associated stuff… really not a healthy thing from an objective point of view.
  9. Eat less. I usually eat 50% more than what I have been eating during this trip. My brain is really energy inefficient and also generates stress as a by-product, but lack of stress and staying out of logic mode has made a huge difference in my appetite. While I’ve saved money as a result, it’s quite a disadvantage in terms of trying out different kinds of foods when a few Hungarian pastries is enough for a day.
  10. Combating laziness. I’m extremely lazy and I’ve managed to respect my laziness while still doing a fair bit. It’s mostly to do with activation levels, and my craving for meaningful social interactions has given me a fighting edge.
  11. My lists are always too long so I’ll end here even if I missed something. Although I make a lot of edits like when I remember later. :S

There are certainly downsides too, but I believe it’s been quite okay for me to be in the Fe grip for all this time. Despite my lengthy description, I’m still actually quite bad at reading my energy level or figuring out whether there’s actually two levels (social and emotional) I need to distinguish specifically. Quality of interactions matters a lot; different people/situations drain different amounts of energy. In theory, some rare people even top up energy when you spend time with them. I’ve never felt lonely this trip, per se, but sometimes on consecutive days I switch from “man I really want friends here” to “damn there are too many people now,” even if there was no change in number of acquaintances.

The end of the Fe grip

The Fe grip will always end; the only question is when and how. I’ve been expecting it for most of this trip actually, just anticipating the crash. Somehow it just hasn’t happened yet, despite how much energy I’ve expended. I guess there must be something that’s different from the circumstance at home that has allowed me to sustain a positive charge no matter how I have spent my energy (often unexpectedly). I don’t believe that exploration does that for me. Exploration makes me tired, and it’s something I keep having to force myself to do during this trip. (Although I do tell myself it’s okay to not explore.) That said, I’m very curious by nature, and my curiosity can be sustained for a very long time under ideal conditions.

It’s important for me to note that I’ve been emotionally overwhelmed several times during this trip. A large part of that is because I’ve experienced so many firsts, and first times always leave a stronger impression on you than subsequent times. My main emotional outlet this trip would have to be crying. I used to be really good at crying as a child, and I lost that ability due to how I coped with the trauma of emotional neglect I unknowingly went through. Crying feels much better now, and I wonder if there is some special interaction with my introvert battery.

The Hiddening

If this Fe grip ends with a hard crash into cold logic, it’s a possibility that I’ll act like nothing from my trip ever happened for a few months or more. What trip? What new friends? What inspiration? On the other hand, if I land smoothly and can regenerate and maintain a reasonable balance as I try to approach so many aspects of my life afresh, maybe I’ll be able to integrate the me I’ve discovered during this trip with my present situation at home. I have no idea how it will go.

I gambled my life and future on this trip. We’ll see if I was a smart gambler after all.