A rich inner world

Are there splinters in the windmills of my mind?

In April, I took an online Myers-Briggs text. Myers-Briggs is a personality test and indicates how you approach decision making – and how you interact with the world.

My result was ISFJ, labeled “The Nurturer.”

OK, whatever. I wasn’t investing a lot of thought in the results. It was, after all, an Internet test.

But something in the written results caught my eye.

As an ISFJ, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you take things in via your five senses in a literal, concrete fashion…

IFSJ’s constantly take in information about people and situations that is personally important to them, and store it away. This tremendous store of information is usually startlingly accurate, because the ISFJ has an exceptional memory about things that are important to their value systems. 

It would not be uncommon for the ISFJ to remember a particular facial expression or conversation in precise detail years after the event occured, if the situation made an impression on the ISFJ.

ISFJs have a rich inner world that is not usually obvious to observers. 

Wow, that’s me. Very much so.

I’ve always described it as “living inside my head” and it’s probably a great basis for the imagination suited to writers and artists. But it doesn’t always make friendships, relationships and social situations easy.

I developed a healthy imagination as a sick kid, forced by nasty allergies to play indoors. I also sharpened my powers of observation during those years. I am, as the ISFJ analysis suggests, that person with a memory like a steel trap.

I remember events, people, places and dates – and more importantly, the emotional texture that was surrounding that particular event. I remember one neighborhood gossip pumping me for information because, as she said, “nothing gets by you, kid!”

That rich inner garden kicked into high gear in grade school and high school as a coping mechanism. I’d run into challenging situations – being shunned by other kids or being teased, or having someone beat the crap out of me  –  on almost a daily basis.

When the conflict escalated, I started seeing it all through my mind’s eye and imagining it Life Is Beautiful style, as if it was all just a TV show that I was watching – or starring in. It was a creative way to cope, though a therapist would probably have a field day with that and call it ‘disassociative.”

In high school I became deeply involved in fictional worlds, both as a voracious reader and a writer. I created my own stories. But except for a few friends, it all essentially remained in my head.

Going to college at 18 broke through that shell in some necessary ways. I made some close friends and learned to live in a more interactive world.

I don’t think I’m a terribly shy or reserved person. I’m not antisocial or misanthropic. But I still live, in many ways, in my head. Why? Self-protection is the obvious answer.

This approach is sometimes manifested in my language and writing. A friend of mine commented a few years ago after not seeing me for a while that he had to remind himself about “Patrick speak” – a mixture of metaphors and foreshadowing where the real meaning was buried three or four paragraphs in.

I’ve also had to weed this approach out of my writing. Good journalism counts on a solid lede to tell you what the story is about. Burying the lede means people might stop reading before the real news reaches them.

I’ve tried to be more aware of this with friends and co-workers. It’s a necessity, especially at work, for people to understand where you’re coming from and what you’re thinking.

But if I had to be brutally honest, I’d say that even with the very closest people in my life, they’ve only seen a portion of that inner garden. Even after all these years, I still hold those cards close to my vest.

One of my biggest hopes with my remaining time in college is that it continues to be a transformative experience, and leads me to learn new ways to share that rich garden of ideas in my head in a way that makes me feel comfortable, confident and empowered. Like me, it’s a project that is still a work in progress.


  1. A read this with a great of understanding. You chose a difficult road Patrick. Behind the smile, behind the public mask we wear, lurks the real person.If you found someone to share that person with, you are more blessed than most of us. Happy Days to you and may your garden grow and flourish. Love , Alice

  2. As an INFJ, the “mind like a steel trap” must obviously be an S (sensing) characteristic. I have a memory for the impression / intuitive recollection of events that happened. Less precise – 🙂

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