Thursday, December 4, 2008

Finding One’s Tribe

Due to the recent Thanksgiving dinners and the pending requisite holiday gatherings, I find myself thinking lately a lot about tribes. It seems to me that introverts are especially susceptible to needing to find their true tribe, and feeling like a square peg in a round hole when they haven’t.

Usually around the holidays, I am struck by how the family I grew up in is definitely not my tribe. As introverts—not to mention creative types—many of us were a puzzle to our parents, if not a downright thorn in their side. Where did they go wrong, they wondered? Why were we so quiet/shy/withdrawn? And how could we even begin to explain it to them?

So while we belonged to our family in a cursory way, it was easy to never really feel like we truly belonged or that they really understood us.

Consequently, one of my personal all time favorite fairy tales was that of the ugly duckling—the child who never fits in. I treasured it’s message: to hold on until others like myself showed up.

It is so important to find a tribe of like-minded people who don’t just tolerate us or are willing to put up with our introvert-ness, but who get it. Because the truth is, if viewed through an extroverted lens, we will always come up lacking. We are not extroverts. We are not even extrovert-lite. We will never get the same rush of well-filling energy from groups of people that they do. It is too easy then, to take a shaky step on over into feeling inferior, like something is wrong with us.

Which is why learning I was an introvert, an INFJ specifically, was such a boon to me. I was supposed to be that way. It was my official type, my psychological tribe, if you will. Granted, only 2% of people are INFJs, but that didn't matter; I would just have to work harder to find other, hidden tribe members.

Who knew they'd all be violet? :-]


Dharma Kelleher said...

It's funny that you mention tribes. I'm currently reading Seth Godin's book "Tribes".

Oh and I'm INFJ, too.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi there! Long time know the drill, typical introvert lurker, lol!

I teach a lot of writing classes and often have my students take a Myers-Brigg (the free online short version) at the start.

After hundreds of students, the results are always the same: about 1/3 of the class will invariably be INFJ's!

As a fellow INFJ, this was enlightening--as you said, I've never found my tribe until I "came out" as a writer a few years ago and met others, just like me!

They get it! They don't question my need to stand back and observe, let everything flow around me. They understand when I flee to a quiet, private place for a few minutes to re-charge.

They don't think I'm crazy when I talk about all the inside-my-head activity that comes with writing a book.

Anyway, thanks for validating our tribe!!!


Yat-Yee said...

When I first had the inkling that most of the INFJs are writers from your earlier post about the personality types of our blogs, I felt a rush. And now to hear from CJ that 1/3 of her writing classes are INFJs (despite the overall scarcity of this type) adds to that wonderful, yes-I-belong and yes-I-am-at-the-right-place feeling.

Thanks for drawing us out, Robin and Mary!

TadMack said...

It still amazes me how long it took to understand who was NOT my tribe. I think I kept trying to make allowances for other people's lack of understanding me, insisting to myself that they DID get me, they WOULD get me, that they were just having an off day...'s actually a relief to give that up, and go looking elsewhere. Friends are the family you can choose. Go Violets.

Shelli said...

Im an INFJ - does that mean I found my tribe too?

Robin LaFevers said...

See? Every time we mention INFJs, more of you come out of the woodwork! I'm telling you, it's a hidden (introverted) takeover--no doubt the quietest revolution ever.

Ooh, Dharma. I've heard great things about TRIBES. And now after my post I'll have to go find it.

Congratulations, CJ, on coming out of lurker status. Very interesting that such a high percentage of your students are INFJs. IIRC, INFJs best career paths were writer, counselor, and pastor. We are also the most likely of all the types to experience psychic phenomenon.

And yes, Yat-Yee, it is such a rush to realize one is in the right place.

TadMack said: "It still amazes me how long it took to understand who was NOT my tribe. I think I kept trying to make allowances for other people's lack of understanding me, insisting to myself that they DID get me, they WOULD get me, that they were just having an off day..."

Yes! This is SO true! Also, that if they weren't understanding us, it was somehow our fault, as if we hadn't quite explained ourselves properly. . .

And Shelli, I'm thinking you may have found your tribe. Welcome!

Kim Kasch said...

Was this the Harry Potter test? I think I was an INFJ too. I'll have to look back.

Kim Kasch said...

Yep, I was:

October 25th post

We probably have a lot in common.

caryl said...

I don't remember how I stumbled upon your blog, but I put it in my "favorites" and forgot about it. Just recently rediscovered it. I think I need to be here regularly.

I just turned 50 and my family (Mom, sisters and husband) still doesn't get me. They're always trying to get me to get out and be with people because they think it will be "good for me." I'm an introvert, I'm not a hermit. I see people, but endless hours of meaningless conversation doesn't fill my soul, writing does.

So, what is an INFJ?

Thomma Lyn said...

I'm an INTJ, so I'm close! ;)

Growing up, I was taught that I was "wrong" for being an introvert. It's taken me years to get over that, and it's still a journey in progress. Love this blog!

Mary Hershey said...


INFJ= Introvert vs. Extravert (how you gather your energy), Intuitive vs. Sensory (how you gather info) , Feeling vs. Thinking(how you make decisions), Judging vs. Perception (how structured or loose you like your life. It's not about whether you are a critical person or not. This one confuses people!)

Glad you asked! And, greetings all you tribe-mates!
Mary Hershey

Robin LaFevers said...

Hi Kim,
This is actually the Meyers Briggs test, but it looks like that Harry Potter test is created from that. Fun! I didn't know there was a Harry Potter test!

Caryl, there's a link near the top of the page (Are You An Introvert) that will take you to a site where you can take the Meyers Briggs typology test.

caryl said...

Oooooh! Thanks, you guys. I looked around before I asked, but it didn't bite me in the butt so, there ya go. I'll go take the test.

I've been thinking that I should have been more clear in my comment, but I didn't want to blather on and on. Here's the skinny: My husband now makes more money in his annual bonus than I could make in a year, so I have chosen not to work outside the home. He's fine with that.

I wrote a humorous column for seven years until the format of the paper was changed and now want to concentrate on writing again. The whole family is telling me I need to work outside the house for fun, to "be around people!"

I'm extremely insulted that they don't realize the opportunity that's landed in my lap! To be alone all day and write. They don't know me at all.

And just for the record, I also know my limitations. I'm not brilliant, but I get the job done. People find my work entertaining. (So there, sister #2!)

caryl said...

OK, I took the test: INFJ. I'm just like you guys. Is there some sort of hazing ritual now? Do I have to leave my family and go live alone in a cabin while I labor over a novel that ISN'T WORKING OUT, living off of coffee, cigarettes and quiet desperation?

Or maybe could I just drop in here every once in a while? Your call.

Lafreya said...

Another INFJ here. Wow I never knew there were so many. I'm a rare type in my corner of the word and in my very extroverted family. My mother, bless her heart, never got me.

Anonymous said...

Who'd'a thunk it? I'm an ISFP. Veddy veddy interestink!

". . . if they find a medium of non-verbal communication-some art from-then they will express their character quite eloquently. If not, they simply remain unknown, their quietness leaving their character all but invisible." (

Me and Mozart, my favorite composer.