Seeing a World of Possibilities: The INTP Personality Type

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Unconventional thinkers and ardent seekers of clarity and understanding, INTP personalitiy types want to know their world in a deep enough way that everything finally makes sense. As an INFP personality type myself, but just barely, sometimes I’d swear I’m an INTP instead.

Some time ago I wrote a couple of articles on the personalities categorized as INFP by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, an instrument based on the theories and research of Carl Jung and developed by Jung, Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers (see: “A Dreamer’s Life: The INFP Personality Type” and “The INFP Personality Type: More than a Dreamer”). I wrote the articles because INFPs are a relatively uncommon and often misunderstood type. Being an INFP myself, and having worked with so many other INFPs striving to understand themselves better, I wanted to help folks become more acquainted with these “idealists” and “dreamers.”

The Myers-Briggs is a self-report, forced-choice inventory that categorizes individuals by where they derive and how they direct their energy (introversion versus extraversion), how they gather and process information (intuition versus sensing), whether they’re guided in their decision-making primarily by their subjective feelings and values versus objective facts and logical, deliberative thinking, and whether their general approach to dealing with life and its circumstances is organized and methodical (judging) or more open, flexible, and receptive (perceiving).

Some individuals are so solidly aligned with a particular preference on each of the dimensions the instrument measures that their personalities are captured quite accurately by the typical four-letter designation. But others aren’t as accurately described because of how tenuous their alignment is on the various dimensions. For example, when it comes to the dimension of introversion versus extraversion, I’m unmistakably an introvert. I’m also without a doubt prone to rely mostly on my intuition as opposed to my senses when it comes to taking in and absorbing information about my world. So there’s little doubt that I’m an IN personality type, and coming to realize, understand, and appreciate these aspects of myself has been of great benefit to me. But when it comes to whether I make my decisions primarily on my gut feeling and values versus logically deliberating all the facts, things are a lot less clear. I’m just barely an F as opposed to a T according to the Myers-Briggs. When it comes to how I make my decisions, I generally go with my gut, but I sure do ponder a lot. Similarly, when it comes to my general approach to life, whether I’m more open and flexible versus organized and methodical is also a fairly close call (though not quite as close a call as is the case with F vs. T). For these reasons, there are aspects of my personality that make me more like an INFJ, INTJ, and an INTP type. Having spent some time over the years learning about the unique characteristics of these types, I thought it potentially helpful to others, especially those who identify primarily with the “dreamer” types I wrote about in my prior articles but who still might not fully identify as such, to take a deeper look at the other IN types, starting with the INTP or “Thinker” personality.

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Most people who know me would swear I’m an INTP as opposed to INFP personality type. Sometimes, I’d even swear that myself, despite the fact that every time I’ve taken the Meyers-Briggs, I’ve come out an INFP, although, as I mentioned earlier, just barely. I can understand why I’m primarily an INFP, because I’m usually led by my gut. But like most INTPs, I’m often analyzing, trouble-shooting, looking for and pondering the “patterns” in nature, and getting lost in my own private world of “endless possibilities.” There’s a lot of “thinker” in me.

INTPs can spend a lot of time inside their own heads and can therefore come across as distant and aloof (a criticism that’s been leveled against me countless times). Some Meyers-Briggs authorities describe INTP types as the archetypal “absent-minded” personalities who make good theoretical physicists, etc. But above all, INTP personalities are ardent seekers of clarity and understanding. They want to know their world in a deep enough way that everything finally makes sense. Because they are always looking for the logical solutions to problems, they can sometimes be disregarding of the role subjective feelings can play in some people’s decision-making. This can lead them to be perceived as less than understanding of those who are more guided by their feelings as well as insensitive to their cares and concerns (another criticism I’ve sometimes received over the years).

INTP personality types tend to be unconventional thinkers. Always looking for and perceiving the possibilities, they’re prone to innovate and find novel solutions to old problems. They have a penchant for coming up with new theories and paradigms and are also good at poking holes in existing ones. Although they can seem a bit eccentric at times, INTP types have probably pioneered more breakthroughs in various fields of understanding than any of the other personality types.

I’ll have more to say about the INTP personality in a forthcoming article. And in some follow-up articles, I’ll be delving into the INTJ and INFJ types. Hopefully, as was the case with the articles on the INFP type, these can generate some robust discussion that might not only shed additional light on these personality types but also help individuals with these personality types to better understand and appreciate themselves.

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