Why intuitive people feel lonely in this practical world

This article was originally published on BrendaKnowles.com. It is republished here with permission from the author.

I lost a friend this week. I first met Tim in high school. We were never romantically involved, in fact, he dated two of my good friends. But I had always admired him. In the 80s, he introduced mohawks and The Butthole Surfers to our tiny high school. I remember learning that he used egg whites to get his hair to stand up straight.

I held him in high regard for his brilliance and bravery. He wowed our AP English teachers with his perceptiveness and well-written papers. He could hold his own on any philosophical, political, or psychological discussion. He had the courage to be authentic and ballsy when most kids (including me) succumbed to peer pressure.

As a kid, I never knew what to say to Tim. My introverted brain felt too sluggish and timid to keep up with his quick wit and unique thinking. I mostly listened when he held court within our social group.

Somehow, in our late thirties, we connected online. I was finally able to communicate my thoughts without feeling intimidated. I had finally found my voice, and Tim was receptive to my writing and ideas. His positive reception and understanding felt really good. Only a few people in my life had offered me that kind of understanding and encouragement.

He shared his writing with me and encouraged my introspection, personal growth, and creativity. He inquired about my life and work. I learned that he played every musical instrument and shared his talents with underprivileged kids by giving them instruments and teaching them how to play. At one point, he emailed me an excerpt on the Greek philosopher Epictetus, explaining that Epictetus pioneered the philosophy that we choose how we think, feel, and react to external stimuli. I’m still pondering that.

I can’t say if he was an introvert, but he was introspective and intuitive as hell.

Are you an intuitive or sensing personality type?

According to Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, there are two ways we take in the world: sensing and intuition.

We all use both methods to a degree, but people who have a sensing preference are more comfortable with facts, details, past experiences, and the information that is available to the senses at the moment. Sensors prefer what is real and verifiable. They tend to be practical people. They make sure plans are carried out.

Those with a preference for intuition like and trust information that is abstract, conceptual, “big picture,” and future-oriented. They see possibilities. They read between the lines. Intuitive processors make intuitive leaps in thinking and judgment based on patterns or associations they’ve collected and stored in their mind. They tend to see what could be. They are the dreamers and idea generators.

Intuitives ask, what if? Sensors prefer, what is?

Are you an intuitive or a sensor? Take the free personality test from our partner Personality Hacker.

Not understood = loneliness

According to Personality Hacker and Myers-Briggs studies, those with an intuitive preference (represented by the letter N in Myers-Briggs personality types, such as INFJ or INTP) make up about 25 percent of the population while sensors (represented by the letter S) make up the remaining 75 percent.

Both intuition and sensing are valuable to society. Sensors provide stability, realism, and function. Intuitives provide innovation, perspective, and future-thinking.

The hurt comes in when either type is not valued or appreciated.

Given that sensors make up the majority of the population, their realistic methods are often viewed as the way to be. Sensors are valued and rewarded for their focus on logistics, money management, time management, efficiency, and other practical skills. Like a mohawk in a farm town, intuitive thinking can seem strange and mysterious. Intuitives are okay with not being practical because we prefer novelty, creativity, and big-picture thinking, but it hurts when we are not understood or appreciated, or worse, told we are wrong and should change. If that happens, we feel lonely even when we’re with people. Sound familiar?

Just like an introvert trying to act like an extrovert, it takes more energy to act and think like a sensor if you’re an intuitive. It takes a lot of energy to go against the norm too, so often intuitives hone their sensing skills just to fit in.

Discovering my intuition

Discovering I am an intuitive was as big as discovering I am an introvert. As an INFP personality type, my spiderweb thinking, lack of interest and follow through in mundane practical things, penchant for ideas over facts and mental leaps from A to C without mentioning B, leave me feeling inept, odd, or not understood in a lot of situations.

Sensors also seem to put a high value on productivity. Measurable and tangible output is the ideal. As a writer who spends a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing, I often feel subpar when it comes to tangible output.

I don’t care about breaking down things into tiny parts. I want to look at the whole and explore it from different perspectives. I love talking about big concepts like motivation and relationships versus local news or sporting events. Not that I won’t take interest in those things if they are a part of something I am passionate about, but it will take effort.

A lot of times,  I just “know” what I know based on observing subtle nuances in the environment or in someone’s body language. I then subconsciously compare what I see to patterns I’ve collected over my lifetime. There is no explaining how I reached my conclusion. Most sensors would never trust that kind of knowing, therefore the majority of the population doubts or discredits my perceptions.

The 5 unmet needs of the intuitive person

Again according to Personality Hacker, there are five basic needs that often go unmet in an intuitive’s life. They are:

  1. Freedom and space to explore — An intuitive must feel free to make connections, see patterns, and explore their inner and outer world.
  2. Permission to self-define — Most sensing individuals are happy to follow the “life template” of school, work, marriage, home, kids, and retirement. Intuitives are not. They are dying to live life on their own terms.
  3. Intuitive connection, conversation, and community — Intuitives often settle for one-sided relationships. They act like sensors to get along with most people. They are starving for the connection and understanding of other intuitives.
  4. Making an impact and influencing your world — They must have influence on the world. They want to make the world a better place.
  5. Mentors and action plan — Intuitives need a mentor to help encourage and guide them to create and implement an action plan.

Feeling less alone

When I meet someone who fulfills those unmet needs, it’s like coming home. I feel understood and not alone. Finding another member of the intuitive tribe is such a rush. Diving deep into the thought and idea ocean with someone fills me up and gives me energy. It’s been my experience that intuitive conversations are electric two-way currents with participants riffing off each other’s ideas with ease, much like I did communicating with Tim or how I imagine Tim playing in his jam bands.

My friend dove into the intuitive ocean with many people. He made people think with his positive attitude and genuine interest in them. He gave us space to talk and share and asked us questions. He didn’t follow the “life template” and in doing so he gave others permission to explore and self-define. He served as a mentor and definitely impacted lives. My intuitive tribe got a little smaller this week and that makes me sad, but I’m grateful for having known such an individual. I hope to coach and encourage others like he did me. The following Epictetus quote seems appropriate for honoring him.

We have all a certain part to play in the world, and we have done enough when we have performed what our nature allows. In the exercise of our powers, we may become aware of the destiny we are intended to fulfill. — Epictetus

Are you an intuitive? Do you ever feel lonely in this sensing-dominant world? Or are you a sensor? Do you feel frustrated by intuitives and their non-tangible, unrealistic thinking?  retina_favicon1

Brenda Knowles is a personal coach who helps introverts gain confidence to be their true selves and enhance intimacy and understanding in their relationships. Learn more at BrendaKnowles.com.

Read this: Why do sensitive introverts withdraw?


  • Jim Harry says:

    Being an INTP and IT leader in a corporate setting can be very trying and stressful due to many of the points that you make above. “There is no explaining how I reached my conclusion” really identifies something I struggle with all the time. From projects to performance evaluations, most others need to understand how I came to a decision or conclusion, but is often difficult to put into words. Most of my time is spent thinking about those things that brought me to a conclusion and how to best articulate it. Then the last 5% of the deadline is spent actually writing what I need to produce. 🙂

    • I know! We have these big globule of ideas which make it hard to break down into succinct answers/directions or we make an intuitive leap and others don’t follow us. I personally love it when we are allowed to just do our work but know it’s necessary to convey info to others. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Fantastic article! I felt like you really understand the inner life of the intuitive tribe!

  • Fortunately I work for a woman who allows me to explore and test my ideas, without having to explain how I got the idea in the first place. But for most of my life, this has not been the case. This article describes me to a T, as well as my daughter.

  • A Augustino says:

    Being an Introvert, is the ability to become “addictive” or having an “addictive personality” more prevalent?

    • I’m not sure of the research on that, but my gut says no. Usually, introverts are more prudent and less impulsive than extroverts. For example, extroverts tend to have more sexual partners and engage in casual sex more often. Sorry that’s my only point of reference for now. Great question, if you find out more let us know.

  • Oh, hey look, it’s my life! I’m an INTP and very often feel this way. Thankfully, like some others here, my supervisor understands and lets me do my thing.

    At a previous job, this wasn’t the case, and I left on Wednesdays having a panic attack about going back Saturday morning (barista job). I also run into this when playing board games like Catan. I look at the bigger picture, and people just can’t handle that I’m not making their idea of the best move.

    I believe this has also played a HUGE part in my lack of mental health over the last 8 years.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences Rachel. Always interesting to hear how others feel about learning and thinking as an intuitive. Love the board game example. Would your mental health improve if you could find more like-minded people?

  • thejoyfulmisfit says:

    I’m an INFJ.. and I always wondered what the difference of being a sensing person and an intuitive person was.. This article was insightful in giving me an answer.

  • Meg says:

    Hmm… I think this isn’t just for intuitives, but for most introverts. Many introverts are quite intuitive even if they are sensing types. I am an ISFP, but due to my tertiary Ni I am very intuitive.

    • Meg says:

      There is also a certain bias against sensing types that they aren’t as creative, imaginative etc. as intuitives, which is stupid. Everybody can be intuitive. I think the main difference is that intuitives have a harder time putting their plans into action, and they live more in their heads.

      • I love your ISFP insight Meg. I have an ISFP friend who is incredibly creative, a musician. Yes, everyone can be intuitive, but for some it is a more natural preference. Like introversion and extroversion. We’re all on the spectrum between the two. My intuition tells me you’re right about intuitives having a harder time putting plans into action.;) I know I do. I’m an INFP.

  • Alice says:

    Hmm… I’m a sensor, though I could relate with a lot of this. I wonder why? *sarcasm* Probably because this applies to any imaginative/artistic person, not just intuitives. Please stop writing articles about how sensors are practical and unimaginative and boring.

    • What type are you? Are you an ISFP? See my above response to Meg. I agree sensors can be creative and imaginative too. No doubt and perhaps better at putting their plans into action. There is still a difference in preferred ways to learn/think between sensors and intuitives. Intuitives do not have a monopoly on creativity just like sensors don’t run all the quantitative practical things. Sorry if you were offended. That was not my intention. I just wanted to highlight the differences.

  • Judith says:

    Thank you for using your loss in such a positive manner. Guess you’ve already achieved your goal.
    It’s one of the saddest and soul crushing thing when our intuitive knowledge, which cannot be readily explained, is viewed with suspicion. I find that I need to fight to retain my ground and not be shunted into questioning my reasoning and logic thus self doubting which can be quite exhausting. Knowing there are others like me helps as i know that we stick together!

    • It is tiring to have to find words and ways to explain your intuition. I sometimes feel like an inarticulate speaker. Writing things down helps in that I can edit and pare down my amorphous thoughts. 🙂 You are definitely not alone!

  • Micah says:

    Great piece! So perfectly captures things.

  • evy says:

    I agree with all of above, but I need to point out that efficiency and optimization actually are primary characteristics of INTJ (my type), therefore not only a basic characteristic of S.

  • What do you all say when your intuition is dismissed? I have found myself “playing dumb” and saying “okay, thank you.” It’s awkward to be put on the spot. Is there a kind way to help sensors understand? Take solace in the fact that our intuition has turned out to be true in many instances, even if it’s years later when we had our first hunch. Another thing that bugs me is that my logical explanations come to my head days or months later. Then, it’s too late to explain my intuition.

    • It is disheartening when our intuition is dismissed. I know I feel incompetent trying to explain my thought process to sensors. They want concrete reasons or facts for the way I think. I’ve learned to build my case by having backup examples or data to support my intuition. For those sensors close to me, I keep hoping they will bear witness to my intuition and its accuracy enough times to believe in it. I also fully admit sometimes I jump to conclusions and my intuition is wrong (like when I swear I know how to get somewhere without using a map) but it’s almost never wrong when it comes to how I feel.

      • Yes, our intuition can be wrong. If our intuition proves right, the results speak for themselves. If sensors want to think how they think, I suppose we can then agree to disagree.

  • Ellie says:

    Please, research cognitive functions. EVERY single person has an intuition, sensing, thinking and feeling function. If you research more, you will realise that most likely, ALL OF YOU are actually sensors. ISFJs and ISTJs, too.

    • I’m not sure if you’re referring to me when you say to research cognitive functions but I’ll respond anyway. Absolutely we all have and use our senses, intuition, thinking and feeling. Usually, one is our more dominant function. It feels more comfortable. Thanks for pointing out the fact that we all use the various functions to some degree. Most of the population in the U.S. prefers sensing over intuition (75% vs. 25% for intuition), so depending on who you are referring to, yes most likely they are a sensor just based on population distribution.

  • Claire says:

    This is so stupid. How would you feel if I, an ISTP with a dominant introverted thinking function, wrote an article about how thinkers are WAY smarter than feelers and that feelers are dumb and weak. You are an INFP, right? That means your thinking function is inferior and therefore your weakest one.

    All of this intuitive bias makes me cringe. You just want to feel special and better than everyone else, even though you aren’t.

    • I would never intentionally say other types are inferior to mine. ISTPs have lots of skills and preferences I admire. I like to explain the differences and allow them all to be appreciated. This world needs all kinds of thinkers and influences.
      So you think my post is stupid. Ok. Perhaps that is because I wrote it from an intuitive’s perspective. If you read the post over again I don’t think you’ll see anywhere where I called sensors inferior, just different.

  • Sam says:

    The MBTI test is completely inaccurate and biased towards intuitives. I highly suggest you read about cognitive functions, to get a better understanding. EVERYONE has both an intuitive and sensory function.

    • I would agree that more intuitives are drawn to MBTI. Both women who created it were intuitives. It’s also based on personality ‘theory’ and the ‘concepts’ of personality and relationships. People who prefer intuition often love theories, concepts and psychology.

      Yes, we all use sensing and intuition daily, just like introversion and extroversion. I mentioned this in the post in the section I copied and pasted below.

      “According to Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, there are two ways we take in the world: sensing and intuition.

      We all use both methods to a degree, but people who have a sensing preference are more comfortable with facts, details, past experiences, and the information that is available to the senses at the moment.”

  • Lily says:

    “Freedom and space to explore — An intuitive must feel free to make connections, see patterns, and explore their inner and outer world.
    Permission to self-define — Most sensing individuals are happy to follow the “life template” of school, work, marriage, home, kids, and retirement. Intuitives are not. They are dying to live life on their own terms.
    Intuitive connection, conversation, and community — Intuitives often settle for one-sided relationships. They act like sensors to get along with most people. They are starving for the connection and understanding of other intuitives.
    Making an impact and influencing your world — They must have influence on the world. They want to make the world a better place.
    Mentors and action plan — Intuitives need a mentor to help encourage and guide them to create and implement an action plan.”

    Oh, so sensors don’t need freedom or time to explore? Sensors don’t want to rebel against society’s view of life? Sensors love social constructs? Sensors are shallow and don’t want to connect with others? Sensors don’t want to make an inpact in the world?

    Well, guess what… I’m a sensor, and all those points that you made describe me perfectly. Argue all you want- you’ll still have to admit that this article is stupid and biased.

    • I obviously struck a nerve. Not my intention at all. Of course, sensors want to rebel and love freedom. I never said sensors are shallow. The point of the post was to show how those with an intuitive preference can feel like outsiders because we don’t process the world as literally and succinctly as those with a sensing process. I also intended to provide encouragement and validation for those who rely on intuition to learn and process the world. Having to explain our thought processes and intentions is not easy. It can feel lonely and we often feel misunderstood.

  • Charity says:

    The “sensors” are proving your point with their comments! Demanding you do more research and check your facts…everything you are complaining about is spelled out in the very beginning of the article.

  • Mars8 says:

    i rly feel everything that u said. as an ENFP i am always analyzing and trying to pick apart how people work, how they think etc.. bc i feel so different from everyone else and i wish i could go into the mind of a Sensor, just for a day, to understand how they process the world. i’ve always felt like the way i perceived things were different but i never knew how to explain it. thank you for your insight!

  • With the hugely imbalanced intuitive/sensing dynamic, it’s totally understandable that intuitive thinkers feel so misunderstood. The idea of self-definition, though, plays a huge role in this and the gravity of that role didn’t really click until now. The world will not always be able to understand you, which is why you must be able to support your own thoughts and actions through self-definition and awareness. The second you understand that your passion and daydreaming and need to explore are valid, you are your best mental/emotional advocate.

  • Another INTJ here, and the article definitely resonates. I am a female engineer, so surrounded by many introverts, but most are also more sensors than intuitive. I am now in my 50’s and have spent much of my life feeling like a freak, in many ways. I’ve never known another female INTJ (at least well enough to realize she was one). I definitely grew up in a family (and a culture) where extroverts are considered not only superior, but introverts are somehow flawed, they need to be fixed. I finally made peace with my basic nature in my 40’s, but didn’t consciously realize why I’ve done as well as I have (despite this “flaw”) until I read the book “Quiet” several years ago. Total game-changer for me.

    I have always been great at solving problems – making leaps from A to C, or even D,G, or H. I always blamed myself for being a horrible communicator and advocate, since I couldn’t get others to follow along, or understand my conclusions. At times, I even started to doubt my judgment – my “gut” – despite being right way more often than wrong. And there are definite “people skill” challenges for me, I am considered “blunt” and “cold” by folks sometimes. I married an ESFJ, so that’s been really good for me. Thirty plus years of seeing the other side of things, of having a complementary point of view, a totally different approach to life. It has helped me to work more effectively with all personality types, but it’s been a slow road, and I regret I didn’t learn a lot of this sooner in my life and career!

    I was surprised at some of the hostility in the feedback you have gotten – like you – I totally appreciate the value of my ESFJ husband. I have never considered myself superior to him, just stronger in certain areas – just as he is stronger in (MANY!) others. I think you write from the perspective (like me) that our basic personality traits are often not appreciated, or not even understood, and therefor are undervalued and even dismissed. In groups, it is the outgoing, dominant, quick-thinking, hard facts people who often lead the way. But situations sometimes need deliberate meditative thinking, looking below the surface, and considering the long-term consequences, or how things are intertwined. I am better at this, if not at articulating it in a persuasive way all the time. As I made peace with who I am, and developed confidence and conviction, I have learned to not back down on things that really matter to me, but also to pick my battles carefully. Again, wish this didn’t take me so long to figure out – spent some very frustrating, unhappy years (which I of course completely blamed myself for!). I made up a lot of lost time once I found my groove, though. I hope others can use your insight to find their own best way a lot sooner than I did! I’ve worked very hard to help my INTP daughter through this mess. She found the introvert website – an article on making students participate more was the story of her academic life. I am happy she has way more figured out at her age than I did! Thanks to people like you.

  • Abby says:

    I’m an ESTJ – but I’m only a few points into sensing vs intuitive, the other areas are fairly definitive. I grew up with an INTJ (engineer) mother and INTP sister, so I’m use to these personality types. So it was a good match for me to have an INTJ husband. The odd thing is that, even if I am willing to have any kind of conversation, from computers to space to biologies to politics, my husband is still pretty quiet, and disinterested in conversation. He’s most happy just tinkering with things. Makes sense as an INTJ that he would have the specific hobbies he has. My mother raised me to work on being okay with a) being alone b) listening to my inner thoughts – but it can be difficult to fight MY nature. Anyway, I guess I just wonder about the whole conversation thing – I’m a great listener with expanded interests on many subjects and I have a deep understanding and knowledge to hold an interesting and theoretical conversation (it doesn’t have to be concrete, even if that’s what I enjoy), do some INTJs just not like discussing? Interestingly, my occupation is very creative (I’m an artist/desinger), though I’d say my interests are more structured. As an ESTJ, I definitely feel like my contribution is important, but all I feel like I can contribute is to be quiet – and maintain the household.

  • Amy G says:

    Such a great article Brenda. I’m saving it to re-read. You’ve broken down sensor vs. intuitive in an even greater way which I can understand. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend Tim. What an honor you two knew each other. <3