Why Should I Care?: An Architect Experiments with Empathy

We Architect (INTJ) personalities often have a reputation: Exacting. Rigid. Even dispassionate.

People we care about don’t always know how much we value them, as we rarely express our full range of feelings. Most Architects are quite comfortable with emotional distance. We find more satisfaction in developing our aptitudes than in addressing ineptitudes, like difficulty connecting with others on an emotional level.

But this distance isn’t always our preference. It’s often just a result of discomfort with open human emotion – and openly emotional humans. We may find others’ feelings to be tedious, confusing, or stressful. We don’t always know how to give what’s wanted of us in times of emotional need, and a lack of ability, when perceived as a lack of willingness, can make us seem uncaring.

We don’t necessarily recognize this difference in ourselves, either. It can be easier to wear a mask of indifference than to face openly what can feel like a personal flaw – itself an emotionally challenging reckoning. If you’re a fellow Introverted, Thinking (I-T-) personality type or have one in your life, maybe you can relate. Empathetic ways of connecting aren’t a likely or easy thing for Architects to embrace.

Why Should I Care?

“Why” is a powerful driver for Architects, and for me, personality type theory has helped answer some uncomfortable internal questions: “Why do I feel disconnected from others?” “What can I do about it?” And, “Why should I even bother?”

For one thing, it showed me that the way I am is uncommon. Architects make up only about 2% of the population, and I am a unique individual within my personality type, just as everyone is. So, while I might seem unusual to others and they to me, it’s not a bad thing, just a difference.

And it helps me understand other people’s differing needs and communication styles – why certain things matter more to each personality type. It gives me insight that helps me relate better with people and, unexpectedly, makes me feel much closer to them. For this Architect, understanding equals connection.

But most importantly, personality theory has helped me appreciate that I am undeniably an emotional creature. There are no unfeeling personality types. I’m more reserved and less sensitive to others’ feelings than many people, but it’s just lower expressiveness and receptiveness, not lack of emotion. It was a big deal for me to realize that the components of emotional connection are available inside me and that it’s okay to engage them in a way that works for me.

It’s a matter of respecting willingness, ability, and need. And I am willing to practice my ability to connect emotionally with others when I see a reasonable need. I’m deeply attracted to the positive actions and beneficial effects that emotion can spur: generosity, compassion, loyalty, joy... lovely, essential things.

As for ability... Ummm... *Thankfully* I have access to really interesting research as well as to some great ideas for personal growth that my fellow writers have published on our website. One that especially inspires me is the notion that emotional connection can be practiced through action: a person who doesn’t easily share in emotion can nonetheless offer caring support to others.

How Can I Care?

A valuable experience in this vein came when I was having pho with a couple of Introverted friends I don’t see too often. (Shocker, eh?)

One of them, a Logistician (ISTJ), got a phone call during the meal and excused himself, returning after a while to say he needed to leave. I could tell that he was distracted and that the call had upset him. We made friendly goodbyes, but even an Architect could see that his cheerful manner was forced. Uh oh.

I wanted to reach out to my friend but was (yet again) up against my discomfort and confusion as to how to connect. And I was quite sure that his default preference was for privacy; he’d certainly never asked for emotional support from me, even though we’d been friends for years. That just wasn’t the kind of friend I had been to him...

You see, we I-T- personality types often avoid or conceal emotion. It would have been a LOT more comfortable for me to ignore his unhappiness, and easier for him not to have me witness it. But maybe stepping beyond those preferences could improve things practically, and nothing’s more Architect-y than that. Okay, then.

So, I ignored our usual pattern and asked what was going on. His pet was with the vet, and it was serious. Damn, homie. I saw a chance to practice empathy as a skill – not necessarily through emotion, but through supportive action. I offered to go to the vet with him, and he seemed a little surprised but agreed.

We sat in the vet’s office waiting to face results and decisions that would likely range from bad to worse, and I tried to support my friend as he dealt with the situation. (Feeling personality types may be rolling their eyes at how basic that sounds, but we’re talking I-T- types, here.) We talked through the likely outcomes. We talked about having pets. About the unpleasant responsibilities – and inevitable sadness. I’d been there before too.

My companionship was clearly a significant comfort, yet nothing I was doing was emotionally adept – I was just talking and listening with concerned reason, a logical skill set applied to a human need. Because he’s my friend and it’s logical to support a friend. Merely by being there, I helped him – though the intensity of emotion was his alone, he wasn’t alone.

That experience taught me that when it comes to connecting in emotional situations, it’s not the emotion that’s most important to me, it’s the connection. The idea that people can care deeply even when feelings aren’t near the surface. Empathy can be practiced as an act, and I think personality types less comfortable with emotion benefit immensely from doing so.

For one thing, those of us least skilled at giving emotional care may also have trouble accepting it – even when it’s desperately needed – unfamiliarity breeding pointless deprivation. But personality types like Architects can practice empathetic care far better than we may think, and through such practice, we open ourselves to care as well.

And I-T- personalities can be surprisingly good caregivers in some ways: we aren’t likely to oversaturate a situation with emotional resonance or pry into privacy too forcefully. We can be sensitive to others’ difficulty in sharing deep feelings because we know it well. I urge such healthy experimentation from the bottom of my heart. It can be incredibly satisfying.

My friend specifically thanked me, much later, for keeping him company that day. The fact that he mentioned it at all is significant, as discussing our feelings is uncommon between us. It was obviously a meaningful moment, and my participation did some solid good for someone I value – and for me.

One of the hardest things for people with the Architect personality type to say is, “I don’t know how to do this.” And emotional matters can be off-putting because they have no sure technical solution. But what this Architect is learning to say – occasionally – is, “I care, and I’ll be there.”

So, why should I care? Because sometimes it’s the most logical and effective solution.

Further Reading

Emotional Intelligence and Analysts: Finding What Works

Emotional Intelligence: Having “Smart” Feelings

Empathy Is Important Regardless of Your Type

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