On ENTPs and vulnerability

There was this one situation, several years back. I was hanging out with some friends I considered my best friends. By that time, we’ve known each other for I think 7 years or so and we started talking about our significant others and I said I would accept any S/O they had the way that person was, because they were my best friends and so their life partners were part of the deal as far as I was concerned. A stunned silence followed, after which one of my friends said: “uhm… I’ve never expected you to feel this way. You say we’re your best friends, but I feel like I don’t know anything about you.” To my surprise, my other friends felt exactly the same way. Now this was absolutely shocking to me, because I felt they knew a lot about me. I felt like I was opening up plenty of time. And so, turning it over in my mind, I came to the conclusion that the problem was with them. I put in so much effort, so if they still didn’t know me, that must mean they didn’t care.

A year later, I was taking a training in leadership. It was quite an intense training: four whole days. At the end of the training, we had to provide each other with feedback. One thing we thought was good about the other person, and one thing we didn’t like. We were with a group of six: four guys, me and another girl. When it was the girl’s turn she shrugged and said: “You seem like you know your stuff, but I just don’t get the feeling I’m getting to know you.” Once again, I was stunned. I felt like I was really open during the training, so how was this possible? Was it just her? But no, my other classmates confirmed they felt the same way.

Now being a rational person, I don’t like being a victim. And since this pattern was clearly repeating itself, I figured the odds of the others being the problem were slim to none. Which meant I must be the problem. And so, the social anxiety I was very clearly experiencing in high school and was able to largely ignore afterwards, reared its head.

When I started reading more about ENTPs, I noticed I was not the only one with this problem. Just look at these quotes from the ENTP subreddit:

“The general consensus in MBTI community is that ENTPs are often cold despite their charming personalities.”

“I struggle with supporting him because he’s not all that open about his feelings.”

The thing is… ENTPs are not actually cold. We feel plenty. We’re just not very good at showing it.

A case for vulnerability

Last week, I’ve discovered this talk by Brene Brown, in which she explores the need to be vulnerable.

The points she makes are valid for anyone, but especially so for ENTPs: our nature makes us happiest when connecting with people, bouncing ideas off eachother. But if what Brené says is true and connection is only possible through vulnerability… well, that might just mean we’re screwed.

So here’s me being vulnerable: I wanted this to be a post with solutions on how to learn to be more vulnerable. Because I do see around me that there’s something there. That people who have managed these skills are happier and surrounded my all kinds of people. And I truly wish I could be more like them. But right now… I haven’t found the solutions yet. Like Brené Brown says:

You know how there are people who realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important, that they kind of surrender and walk into it? A. That’s not me. And B. I don’t even hang out with people like that. For me, it was a year-long street fight.

I feel it’s going to be a fight. And if I find any strategies that work, I’ll make sure to share them with you. But for now… I’d just like to share these thoughts and this Ted talk. That’s me, opening up. The best way I can.

I’m not sure if this is going to work out at all, and some socially anxious part of me goes like: “No, nobody will do this”, but I think I’ll try some friendly INFJs and INFPs (somehow I know a lot of those, god knows why) to comment on this thread with their thoughts on vulnerability. They rock at that stuff, maybe they can help us with this?


8 thoughts on “On ENTPs and vulnerability

  1. Fellow ENTP here, and I have definitely had the same struggle– people I know and love and deeply care about saying that they feel they don’t know me well, that I am closed off from them, and that I’m not being truly honest or vulnerable. I have several thoughts on the matter, and obviously being an ENTP I’m not quite settled on what I think the problem or solution is. I do think, however, that a large part of the issue is how the ENTP personality is perceived by others– as well as with differences in what being vulnerable means to an ENTP vs other types, and simple differences in how different types communicate.
    On the first point, how ENTPs are viewed by others: it seems to me that many non-entps tend to experience the ENTP personality as cold and uncaring, not because we are that way or even because we have neglected to show it outwardly, but because our ways of showing it often get misinterpreted as something else. For instance, in relating to my ISFP sister, no matter how much Fe feeling and compassion I put into my words and actions, she doesn’t understand it as caring and instead somehow misinterprets the presence of emotion in my communication as me being selfish and demanding and having no regard for her. We have determined that this is likely because she leads with Fi, and hence is very affected by its presence (or the lack of it). In this case, the fact that she’s not picking up on any Fi emotion leads her to believe that I am not treating her with care and compassion, or really even trying to. And let’s be honest: not only do we ENTPs not have Fi in our function stack, it’s actually our blind spot (the introverted/extroverted opposite of whatever a personality’s third function is). So there’s very little chance of us ever operating out of it. Meaning that, to people like my sister, me being natural or even deeply caring can easily come off as uncaring or lacking proper emotion.
    To translate that to friends saying they feel they don’t truly know us or that we don’t share deeply with them, I am guessing that this factor plays a huge role. I personally feel that I share deeply on many occasions– sometimes even more deeply than my friends tend to– but because this Fi factor is missing, it leaves many of my friends feeling that they still don’t truly know that deep inner part of me.
    On the other hand, I think that for ENTPs (at least for myself, as an ENTP) there are many things that can feel like closeness other than just sharing emotions. Doing things together, having fun together, sharing ideas, arguing, or just being together– all of which you could perhaps do with someone you are not close to, but when there’s someone who means a lot to you, you put a lot more effort and commitment into it, and derive a lot more joy from it. For me, that does constitute closeness, and I expect other people to see, from the obvious thrill I get from being with them and the deep effort I put into the commitment I have to them and sharing myself with them, the value they have to me.
    However, that doesn’t always translate. Or should I say, almost never translates? Because it seems to me that most non-ENTPs don’t see relationships that way and don’t pick up on any of that seemingly obvious (to me) affection for them. And I do think that’s something that we ENTPs need to take ownership of– learning to communicate our care for others in ways that will mean something to them, rather than just assuming that they will pick up on it intuitively.

  2. An INFJ here, via your Reddit link. I read your posts earlier this afternoon, and I’ve been thinking about your blog post ever since.

    Bree Brown describes vulnerability in her talk as “allowing one’s self to be seen”. This reminded me of a talk by Patsy Rotenburg, a notable vocal and acting coach, about why she does theatre, and how she describes presence (e.g. allowing one’s self to be seen) as three circles of human energy. (For Patsy’s talk, see https://youtu.be/Ub27yeXKUTY.) Her book, “The Second Circle”, is about presence and being present to others, and here’s how she describes the circles (quotes are from the book):

    First Circle: “…your whole focus is inward. The energy you generate falls back into you. First Circle absorbs other people’s energy and draws all outward stimulus inward. When in First Circle, you are not very observant or perceptive about people or objects outside yourself….At its best…it is the energy of introspection and reflection…You can come across to others as self-centred, uncaring and withdrawn…”

    Third Circle: “…all of your energy is outward-moving and non-specific, and is untargeted…you attract attention, and you may even make a favourable first impression…This energy lacks intimacy; others feel that they don’t really matter to you and therefore the energy is impersonal to them…you may speak eloquently, sound enthusiastic and charming but you don’t listen well.”

    Second Circle: “…your energy is focused. It moves out toward the object of your attention, touches it, and then receives energy back from it. You are living in a two-way street – you give to and are responsive with that energy, reacting and communicating freely…In Second Circle you touch and influence another person rather than impress or impose your will on them. You influence them by allowing them to influence you. You hear others and take in what they are really saying. Second Circle energy, when positive, is generous. It begets intimacy.”

    Her book is both introspective and practical. It has exercises that address movement, breathing, listening, speaking – how to be present in one’s body, mind and emotions in all kinds of situations. I have found it to be very useful, personally. Recently I’ve been trying to stay in Second Circle while public-speaking, and there’s been a big improvement in how I connect with a group. (I’m usually in Second Circle when speaking with individuals, unless I want to escape them.)

    I would be interested to hear if this is the kind of thinking/advice/feedback that you find useful, and if not, what would be more helpful instead?

    I wish you all the best in your search.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this, I loved the talk and I think your explanation gives it just that bit more clarity. So here’s where I’m particularly stuck: I suppose the second circle could be just about being present without opening up too much, couldn’t it? For example, I could be very present in my interaction with a friend, truly giving them my energy, engaging with them and focussing on THEM, not me. Not being vulnerable myself. What is your experience with this?

      1. I’m so glad you loved the talk. I’ve seen Patsy speak in person, and she is just amazing.

        “So here’s where I’m particularly stuck: I suppose the second circle could be just about being present without opening up too much, couldn’t it?”

        I take your point – I agree, you can definitely be in Second Circle without sharing your thoughts and memories and ideas. In a way, though, being in Second Circle does show vulnerability, plus it’s a good start. Personal example here – growing up as an INFJ (who hadn’t a clue what this was, and wouldn’t for another 30-odd years), it was both a blessing and a curse to be hyper aware of everyone’s emotional activity all the time. Frankly, I often retreated into my mind, to First Circle, just to escape it all. As I got older, I learned to filter out others’ emotions somewhat, but I still find that being in Second Circle can be an act of courage and vulnerability, particularly in the presence of someone who is angry. It is both strong and vulnerable to be in an energy state that simply says, this is who I am, I’m not hiding behind my mental barricades and I’m not putting up a front of charm or bluster.

        I find that just being in Second Circle is often an unspoken invitation for others to join me in that state. An example…I work as a librarian with college-age students. Part of my job is to work with students individually who come with questions about finding information for projects or research. These consultations are done in Second Circle, no question. I love the detective work involved and the questions students bring, and the art in it is to have a conversation where the student feels safe and comfortable enough to discuss their questions and accept help. Sometimes I find it kind of sad that the students are so grateful and surprised that someone is actually listening to them and asking them open-ended questions to help them clarify their thoughts. I often find that once the student feels safe and listened to, they may start asking me questions that go beyond their project, sometimes quite personal (but it’s always been respectful). It’s common for the students to be stressed, or to have doubts about whether they should be studying what they are studying, and I’ve had questions about how I choose my career path or how I deal with stress. I guess my point here is that being in Second Circle can be an invitation for the other person to reciprocate, so it’s not just you being there for them, but them being there for you as well. Of course, if the other person is quite happy about you giving to them in Second Circle, but they aren’t willing to go there themselves and reciprocate, that’s another story.

        Going back to your blog post, did your friends or the conference attendees give examples of why they felt they weren’t getting to know you? (Sorry if this is too personal.) What does being vulnerable look like to you?

        1. I agree completely on your observations about the second circle. I would say I’m in this place a lot, which is how pretty much all of my meaningful friendships started. This presence and the connection that follows are to me the things that make it all worthwhile. I also think ENTPs are particularly good equipped to be in the second circle, because of our extraversion combined with a strong intuition. As long as we care, we can be very present.

          As for your question: I don’t mind it’s personal, after all this is what the post is all about 🙂 You know, that’s the thing… they haven’t, which is exactly why I’ve been confused about it first. I asked, and they would say things like: “I don’t know what it is, I just know you’re not opening up”. Makes it very difficult to actively change something 🙂 But as time passed, I kind of understood what they might be saying. I might talk about things that bother me, but I’ll usually talk about them as objective problems. I very rarely talk about how I feel about things. One reason is because I don’t think speaking these things out loud will be any help – it’s not like others can do anything about how I feel. The second reason is because feelings are something very personal to me, and I’m afraid of getting hurt. So yes, in terms of feelings, I guess I haven’t been opening up much.

  3. Fantastic post. This is actually something I learned about myself not too long ago. I even had a dream about it. I know how to say a lot about myself without actually sharing anything that someone else could use against me. There’s being open, honest, blunt . . . but then there’s vulnerability. Have I given information about myself to another, that they could potentially use to harm me and that I’m trusting them not to, and the answer for me is usually no. I share things that I can easily defend, argue, reason, etc. but not the soft things inside of me that show my heart or softer side.

    Or least that’s how I used to be, until my son helped me understand differently. As a teenager, he purposely overdosed on a bunch of pills to try to kill himself but quickly regretted it and came into my room and woke me up at 2 in the morning. He nearly died in my arms by the time the medics arrived and in that moment, my one regret was that I did not show my heart, and everything he meant to me, enough. I vowed in that moment to do everything in my power to find the courage to give my voice a heart. It’s been the single hardest thing I have ever tried to learn how to do, but it’s been worth every step.

    Looking at the difference between me then and now, is that I misunderstood what being vulnerable meant. So maybe try to sit and imagine what it would be like to feel warm feelings for someone AND sharing those warm feelings with that someone without trying to run away from it, or joke about it, etc. You know? Feeling those deeper feelings, and then expressing those out loud to others without making excuses or feeling embarrassed.

    1. I already told you yesterday on FB, but now again – thank you so much for sharing this story. Not just because you’re telling about how being vulnerable is important to you, but because actually sharing this story for me is an example of what I would be too afraid to do. Yet at the same time, it’s stories like these that let us connect. And so thank you for that, as well.

      1. Ha! It seems obvious now, but I didn’t see sharing that story as an example of being vulnerable and yet I did share something tender in my heart. Yay! Having done that and not felt afraid to do so (to the point of not realizing what I had done) shows me how much progress I’ve actually made in this. So thank *you* for pointing that out to me. <3

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