Our “shadow side” can be a mysterious part of ourselves that represents our secretly-held desires — and it can be a catalyst for growth.
Everyone has a shadow. Physically, our shadow is the dark spot cast by our bodies blocking the light of the sun. Psychologically, our “shadow” is the unconsciously developed part of our mind, the part we can’t control or see. It represents aspects of our behavior that are opposite of our usual ways of doing things.
Our “shadow side” can come to the surface and take over our behavior when we’re under stress and go into self-protection mode. We might act in unusual or immature ways as we manifest this unfamiliar part of ourselves. It’s completely normal to experience our shadow side, and when it does, it can be an opportunity for growth and reflection, challenging though it may be to face it.
One important part of Carl Jung’s work was to help people reconcile with their shadow and develop their whole selves to achieve inner peace. Part of our shadow comes from our consciously believed social norms and ideals. The part I want to focus on involves how we view the world and solve problems based on our Myers-Briggs personality type.
Ironically, for extroverts, their shadow will be introverted. For introverts, our typological shadow is extroverted, and is the extroverted side of ourselves we are least comfortable with.
Jung’s theories about introverts can help us understand how each introverted Myers-Briggs personality type encounters their shadow. According to his theory, each type develops a certain mental process as their dominant way of understanding and responding to the human experience. This represents their highest value, and they will strive toward certain goals because of it. Yet this also means they will develop the opposite mental process in their shadow — and this can be a mysterious, fascinating, and even terrifying part of themselves that may represent their secretly-held strongest desire.
In this article, I’m going to explore the four pairs of introverted personality types that represent Jung’s four introverted mental processes and how each type can reconcile with their shadow side.
(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality assessment.)
Types: ISTP, INTP
Dominant Process: Logic, Categorization
Both the ISTP and INTP develop the dominant process of Introverted Thinking (Ti), which gives them a strong internal sense of logic. Ti makes them masters of connecting causes and effects, and putting things into categories, and as a result, they may excel at things like catching a ball, fixing a broken machine, or coming up with a retort in a debate. In other words, Ti is the genius that figures out how things work, that responds to new situations, and that comes up with strategies on the spot for reaching a goal. It’s been called fluid intelligence; it reacts to objects or ideas and rearranges them in the moment.
Shadow Side: Relationships, Feelings
When ITPs are dealing with people instead of objects and ideas, their shadow side may pull at them. Relationships with people aren’t like relationships with objects; you can’t figure out how they tick and use them like tools for your own purposes without getting in serious moral trouble. ITPs often react to relationships and dealing with people’s feelings in one of two ways: by avoiding them or by opening up to them too quickly in order to get the messy process of getting to know people over with.
Ironically, they may be secretly fascinated by relationships, but unsure how to approach them. If people aren’t as predictable as objects, the ITPs’ shadow may want to either run away or try to control the process in a strict manner. This manifests when they respond as if the relationship has already been worked out when they learn one thing about the other person — problem solved! — and there’s no need to listen more to find out about the other person’s changing needs. This may lead to ITPs coming off as either distant or superficially friendly, or perhaps even pushy and manipulative.
How to Overcome Your Shadow
If you’re an ITP type, accept that there will always be a certain level of ambiguity that comes with dealing with other humans — and that’s OK. Embrace your spontaneous side, as this can help make people less scary and more intriguing. Then, relationships will seem less like obstacles to be overcome and more like adventures to explore to discover greater meaning.
ISTPs, try bonding with others by doing fun physical activities together, like fixing up a car, going on a bike ride, or making home improvements, so you can get to know them and learn their social cues in a low-pressure environment. INTPs, try reframing relationships as research to help you learn more about the other person rather than to reach a predetermined goal. In doing so, you will reconcile your need for predictability with an appreciation of the variety that others’ unpredictable feelings bring to life.
Types: ISFP, INFP
Dominant Process: Personal Values, Uniqueness
ISFPs and INFPs rely on Introverted Feeling (Fi), which helps them develop a strong sense of their unique personal values, tastes, and preferences. They become attuned to their own distinctive sense of beauty and goodness, seeking this with all their heart. They look outward at others and develop an appreciation for the uniqueness in everyone, especially the marginalized or those whose value others don’t understand. They may dream up an ideal world where they can live among their favorite things, their favorite experiences, and their favorite feelings, for example, finding a book series or TV show that they deeply resonate with and watching or reading it over and over. They may also choose a career that lets them work with people who are often misunderstood, like children with disabilities. Introverted Feeling guides their interactions with others and provides an ideal of what they want to become and how they want their life to turn out.
Shadow Side: Objective Standards, Rules
As every ISFP and INFP probably knows, this personal sense of goodness inevitably encounters the shadow of external systems, rules, and standards. As much as the IFP types appreciate their own unique values, something in the back of their mind will always tell them that the outside world doesn’t accept their views and isn’t as beautiful and kind as they are. In fact, the outside world can be downright ugly, brutal, and judgmental. They might, for instance, struggle to meet the demands of a competitive school system or job application process.
IFPs encountering their shadow may wonder if their personal values are useful in a world with exacting standards, a world that seems to dehumanize everything as it judges its value according to soulless, objectifying criteria. Their talents often heal hearts better than making money, so the world may judge them of little worth. If they share their deepest feelings with others but are not understood, they may wonder if they are deluded about finding value in them. They might even find themselves becoming part of this judgmental world as their shadow starts judging others unworthy of their own standards.
How to Overcome Your Shadow
Strive for a healthy balance between your need to appreciate uniqueness and understanding when objective standards are needed — without living in fear of being judged unworthy. It’s important to judge how to spend your time, who you spend it with, and what you put into your mind, for instance. But while you do make judgments based on your strong feelings of the good and the beautiful, you can separate these judgments from whether a person is valuable. If you always remember that people are innately valuable, even if they have some bad qualities, then maybe this will help you to accept and love yourself in spite of the flaws and mistakes that you rightly judge to be bad. Foster a sense of self-love.
ISFP, start by exploring the physical world around you so you can produce things of beauty such as art or music that you can appreciate without needing to subject them to others’ scrutiny. INFP, trust in your spontaneous meaningful experiences to find pieces of your ideal out in the world around you, making it less scary and soulless — you might start by asking others about their values and listening so you can understand their perspective. Remember, external standards have a place where they can help us make good decisions, but your power is to treat others — and yourself — like the special individuals they are.
Types: ISTJ, ISFJ
Dominant Process: Memory, Personal impressions
The ISTJ and ISFJ both use Introverted Sensing (Si) as their dominant process. Si takes in the sensations of the body and involves deeply reflecting on these sensations and their meaning. Think of important daily events, such as sitting around the dinner table as a child and conversing with family members or going to school, church, or sporting events. Try to remember the feelings you had, the sensations you experienced — sounds of laughter, smells of familiar grass, the feeling of picking up a baseball from the dirt and throwing it at home plate. Now imagine that you relive a version of these experiences whenever you go back to your home, school, or church.
ISJ types live in a world where every experience has meaning. Each new experience is compared with previous ones to gain deeper meaning from the richness of the context. In turn, each memory becomes more powerful when re-lived. Si connects ISJs to places, people, and groups that they have good experiences with, and helps people realize the good that exists there even when others want things to change. ISJs often remember forgotten facts about people they’re familiar with, and they add support to tried and true organizations.
Shadow Side: Possibilities, Fantasies
However, this intense focus on their own experiences can become a burden when ISJs face their shadow. Their perception of the world is so firmly based in their own impressions that they can sometimes get a distorted view of what’s going on around them. They appreciate when things stay the same, so changes can be unsettling — after all, what happens if everything they like about a person or organization suddenly changes too? Their shadow may gnaw at them with all of the possibilities of what could go wrong and what they might lose. At its most extreme, they may dream up paranoid scenarios that make them feel that others are out to get them or that those who want to change their familiar world actually want to destroy it.
How to Overcome Your Shadow
Get to know people better. When you find people you trust, you can learn to avoid panicking when unsettling things happen. For ISTJs, this often means getting to know the rules and policies that people live by and seeing them keep them. Be a part of a community organization like your children’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA), your local church group, or the public library. If you’re confident that others are going to follow the rules, then even if things change, the change will be somewhat predictable, and you can be sure that what you love won’t disappear.
For ISFJs, this will often mean coming to understand others’ points of view better and broadening your social circle (even if it’s just by a bit). The more you know and love people rather than ruminating on possibilities, the better you will trust that these people probably will not maliciously do anything to harm you or damage the organizations and traditions you cherish.
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Types: INTJ, INFJ
Dominant Process: Insight, Deep Patterns
INTJs and INFJs both use Introverted Intuition (Ni) as their dominant process. This means that their highest ideals are their own insights into the law-like patterns of the universe. In other words, Ni makes someone interested in deep ideas. INJ types are often described as being in their heads a lot, or being insightful about matters that other people rarely think about. They see the patterns underlying others’ behaviors and can make connections between ideas that reveal new ways of understanding the world. INJs who study politics and culture may come to understand the reasons for political polarization, while those who study relationships, for example, may have powerful insights into why some marriages fail and others succeed.
Ni often gives INJ types a vision of beauty and perfection and inspires them to bring this vision to others. They may know how to solve intractable problems or how to accomplish projects thought impossible in innovative ways. INJ types like Plato and Karl Marx imagined ideal societies and provided biting critiques of the world in which they lived.
Shadow Side: Performance, Finished Product
Unfortunately, this focus on the life of the mind can sometimes develop in INJ types the shadow of unrealistic perfectionism. They may spend so much time dreaming and putting ideas together that they forget — or neglect — the difficulty of implementing their ideas in the “real” world. They may stumble over their words or have trouble integrating in social groups who care more about the everyday matters of life than intense philosophical dilemmas. They may also rush to implement their ideals and become discouraged when they cannot achieve what seemed so clear and perfect in their minds. For example, they may know how to write the perfect novel or solve world hunger or create the perfect design for their homes…but when they try to deal with the “messiness” of the world, their theory falls apart.
How to Overcome Your Shadow
Recognize that as good as your ideas are, they will not effortlessly become physical reality — and for the really big ones, you probably won’t be able to make them “real” all by yourself. Learn to be patient, and teach yourself how the world works and how to work with other people to bring your visions to pass. You may also need to try and fail multiple times to get it right — that’s just life — but this can be a good thing, because each time you’ll learn more by putting your ideas into practice, as opposed to just keeping them perfect in your head.
Specifically, INTJs can learn about the systems of ideas that other people have devised and how to fit their insights into them. I’ve found, as an INTJ myself, that learning about ethics and political philosophy has helped me put my ideas into context and see how others have thought about the same issues I’m grappling with. This will give you an idea of the process and procedures for making good things happen.
INFJs, reach out to other people and discover their feelings and values, which can help you see how your insights might benefit them or how you could refine your ideas by seeing what others value. Instead of trying to achieve perfection first in your mind and then creating it in the world, use your inner visions to guide the gradual try/fail cycle of life to refine your ideals through practice.
If you want to learn more about introversion, Jungian types, and how the mind works, subscribe to my podcast Introvert University, available on Apple, Google, Spotify, and more.
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