I have a really weird thing that happens to me whenever I receive a bit of emotionally disturbing news. Whether it’s something small (like someone tells me I said the wrong thing at the dinner table) or something big (like getting hit with rejection or betrayal) my system immediately goes into shut-down mode. I freeze like a panicked animal, my throat, chest and stomach lock up, and the rest of me feels totally numb.
This numb feeling can last a few minutes, or it can last a few days.
When it starts to wear off, I slowly start coming out of it. Hesitantly, I poke at myself. Does this hurt? What about here? I try to gather the facts but all I get is an overwhelming sense of confusion. Then, the strong emotions come. Sometimes a sudden explosion of anger hurls itself through me. Or sometimes I end up in tears on the floor, shocked and a little scared at the intensity of my reaction. Then I go into detective mode again. What does this mean? And why did it manifest in that way?
When it’s all said and done it can sometimes take me a full two weeks to thoroughly process a medium-level emotional event and its consequences.
This is highly inconvenient when you’re trying to express how you feel to the outside world.
This is also why I suck at arguing. In the heat of the moment I’m frozen. My highly sensitive nervous system is flooded with stress chemicals, my introvert brain is struggling to react much more quickly than is natural, and my intuitive nature is overwhelmed by too many pieces of information coming too fast.
It’s been like this my entire life. I can never say what I’m feeling or why I’m feeling that way in the moment with someone else. It’s only days and weeks later that I get my a-ha! moments. But by then, it’s too late. The person to which I was struggling to express something has moved on. The argument or the event was over for them a long time ago, and now it seems weird that I’m bringing it up again at such a late date.
It wasn’t until I started meeting so many other INFJ and INFP personality types that I realized this is a common occurrence among us. It wasn’t until I started coaching so many other Highly Sensitive People (who are also highly creative people, empaths, and intuitives) that I realized there is a very good reason so many of us have turned to writing as a lifeline.
Writing is basically the only way we have of truly explaining ourselves.
This is also the reason, I believe, that so much of our writing is autobiographical. As we grow up and find ourselves as adults we go through things like anyone else. We go through abusive relationships, toxic workplaces, health problems, and mental illness. But for us, it’s incredibly difficult to sit in a circle and share with strangers, or even sit down at the kitchen table with our parents and describe what’s going on. Because, for us, every important experience we have is deep and wide, complicated and complex. Any experience has the potential to grow into a sprawling independent universe of thought and feeling in our own minds.
The only way to convey a significant part of our experience is for us to put it down in writing.
In writing we might not say exactly what we mean, but it feels private and quiet enough to bring us close to the mark. We’re able to be honest and open in a way that just can’t happen when there is another pair of eyes staring back at us, possibly waiting to judge us for our answers. In writing we can go over our words again and again, making absolutely sure that each word is the word we want to use, that each sentence or phrase will bring us closer to true self expression.
For all of you INFJs, INFPs, Highly Sensitive People, highly creative people, empaths and intuitives out there—no matter how you identify—you know that finding the right word at the right time is sometimes the only thing that can save you.
This is why writing is so important to us. This is why I see the same question asked all over the place online: Why are so many INFJs writers? (And to that, I would add that the same should be asked of INFPs.) It’s because we need it like no one else. It’s a lifeboat for us, a lot of the time.
Without it, our ships would have sunk long ago.
If you’re interested in learning more about INFJ writers (and INFP writers) and the unique challenges they face with both writing and creativity, pick up a copy of The INFJ Writer. And if you’re interested in coaching made specifically for INFJ and INFP writers, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk.