Updated: Aug 4
So maybe you just took a Myers-Briggs test but aren't quite sure what to make of it. Or maybe the description of your type as an INTP didn't quite feel right and you're still left with questions. In this article, I'm going to do my best to support your journey and confirm your type as an INTP through sharing a bit of what it's like to be an INTP, or at least support the beginnings of your path down this road.
For starters, I feel that being an INTP can itself be a confusing place as we're always asking questions and making meaning out of everything we can. So when we're presented with a dry single paragraph that describes our personality type it can feel a bit underwhelming and frankly, not enough.
So what I'm hoping to do here is share some of my personal experience with you, be a bit direct with you about some INTP challenges, how to grow a bit, and sprinkle in plenty of knowledge along the way.
Being an INTP is a complex place and the public often doesn't have enough information about the full scope of what it means to be an INTP. We often see caricatures like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory or talk about Albert Einstein being INTP despite there not being many very clear depictions of his personality. Though if you watch the show Genius on Hulu the first season covers Einstein and has the best depiction of his personality that I've seen to date, which may be of help despite his circumstances.
Even so, Einstein is not a fair comparison. While we share his brand of thinking, we didn't have the same circumstances, opportunities, or life that he had. Frankly, INTPs are not that simple and we struggle with that since expressions of INTPs in writing can often be way too simple. "The robot who doesn't like emotions identifies with cats, asks weird questions, and plays too many video games." Unfortunately, the vagueness of these stereotypes ends up unconsciously creating a culture amongst INTPs that buy into that way of being and develops self-deprecating humor around a sense of self.
Cute but not helpful.
I know you're more than that and this article is not only meant as a way for you to confirm your type but also encourage a fuller expression of being an INTP.
Make sense? Cool.
Now, I try not to get mixed up in celebrity typing because we can't prove anything unless we interact with them or conduct an official profiling session but an example of INTPs being unique would be Tina Fey, Daniel Sloss, Trevor Noah, and Jon Stewart. They are all comedians who are all likely INTP but are all very different people with different backgrounds, comic styles, and experiences but use the same tools of deep thinking, cultural commentary, with pops of playfulness. Again, even that's a simple representation but it's a start.
We know we're unique and not many get it quite right, so no wonder it's confusing. There's more depth than is being shared.
So, what does it mean to be an INTP? How do you know if you're an INTP for sure?
The challenge I'm going to be upfront about is that this discovery is going to be a personal journey. Meaning, that this article may be the first and/or one of many places you look for clarity about your personality type. If you're searching the internet for clear evidence and a pattern to emerge that connects to your identity to these disparate pieces then that may be a very good first sign. We'll talk about that more in a bit.
But what you may be searching for is other people's perspectives, not necessarily just "information" or better yet, other people's perspectives count as information. Weird, I know, but hear me out. You won't hear about this on many other INTP descriptions of INTPs due to the overwhelming focus on data but what counts as data can depend on the individual and their perspective.
This conflation of opinion and data is often why INTPs tend to skip reading an article or video and go straight to the comments. An INTP will do this to see if they can get a more succinct impression of the video based on people's feedback (or searching for someone's TL;DR), often providing their own feedback based on the title and other people's feedback.
This is an unconscious pull towards their inferior function of Extraverted Feeling (Fe) to seek consensus through pattern recognition. And finding consensus is a valid form of data gathering, so don't be alarmed by that. Consensus helps to fill in the experience but don't skip the video as the context is key for INTPs to use their abilities to the fullest and provide a unique perspective that may support or challenge this consensus.
Including opinion as data happens because INTPs can also conflate their own opinions as data. INTPs lead with a dominant cognitive function called Introverted Thinking (Ti), which is a subjective data experience. This means collecting data using our learning styles of Extraverted Intuition (Ne) and Introverted Sensing (Si) to form a personal theory by cleanly slicing that information into its most basic core forms possible. The theory we form is a collection of these data points, of what is or what's left over from all of the processing we've just done. We do this because we like to understand how something works in its entirety, bit by bit, and for an INTP that "thing" tends to be a more conceptual meaning-making concept (like figuring out your personality type).
We can hold a lot of this information in our minds and retrieve it quite quickly as needed. When we reach conclusions ourselves based on our findings and pattern recognition it feels incredible. This can be why an INTP can be seen smiling amidst something terrible if a prediction of that terrible thing was theorized ahead of time. Our brain floods with those feel-good chemicals as a reward for the work (and being proven right), even if not the most socially appropriate time.
The conclusion we reach is a subjective theory based on objective information. The INTP, while objective-seeking, is relying on personal criteria to determine the value, placement, and usage of this data in the world. The data itself may be objective but our alchemy isn't for as long as it lives within us. It usually takes the scientific method and other external factors to give it a few good kicks to see how it holds up to what we know about reality up to this point. That is what eventually makes the work objective, at least for now.
This notion of objectivity versus subjectivity can upset INTPs who are used to hearing about "objective use of data" related to their type and it's not wrong as it's what we value but what we output is more complex than that and we're not that simple. Even my expression of all of this is up for debate...that's what we do. And if that desire to debate this is exciting, that can be a solid sign that you're an INTP.
We're not all focused on the exact same things nor do we know all of the same things. INTPs struggle with limiting beliefs, biases, and limits just like anyone else. And frankly, life and existence are so complex that new information comes up all the time, even in the most amazing theories of existence.
What's important to know is that when an INTP comes to a conclusion, it's often the best conclusion we can come up with right now. I emphasize RIGHT NOW because while it feels good to solve a big picture problem, that doesn't usually mean it's a closed case forever.
And while it may feel at the time that we've stumbled on something objective and immovable, we're often surprised at how conclusions can be expressed in different ways over time and in a new language with new relationships to this idea being formed and expanded. It can feel like new data emerges seemingly out of nowhere and brings up questions of our competency and if we're ever right about anything.
But don't be discouraged, there's always more to learn. I think every INTP also knows that if we found the objective thing, the thing that made the entire universe go 'round, we'd stop searching, and that search tends to be our form of restlessness and what brings the most excitement to life.
Defining purpose and having awareness of your subjective objective-seeking nature are important to acknowledge for growth. Without it many INTPs fall into nihilism simply because they're missing data in the form of life experience, emotional connection, spiritual connection, or maybe clinging too much to one form of thinking or story about themselves or reality...just to name a few things. That's not to say nihilism is solely invalid so much as that's the common pattern I've seen amongst the more nihilistic INTPs, that's there is data missing. Keep searching.
How far and where you go as an INTP depends solely on the INTP cognitive ability, personal experiences, internal code, personal relationships, and how you want to change the world. We can go to some deep absurd places and sure, plenty of shallow meaningless ones but it's hardly ever the end.
And while I've been talking about the conclusions reached, the Introverted Thinking(Ti) of an INTP is all about the process of objective-seeking and figuring out what's true piece by piece based on personal experience and new personal experience brings in new data. Figuring out one piece encourages the seeking of another piece and another. Allowing new data to emerge can be a major challenge for an INTP who feels settled on their conclusions or who refuses to leave the safe shell of their self-proven experiences by clinging to the more emotional and ego-driven idea of being the most useful expert guide of a particular concept unchallenged forever and ever.
What counts as a new experience?
New experiences mean getting out into the real world, and not using the "simulation" argument to avoid experiencing it. New experiences mean novelty, trying something you've never tried before but done so with optimism and excitement. This is the activation of your main learning style which is called Extraverted Intuition (Ne).
Intuition is pattern recognition between these new experiences. This means you can ascertain life metaphors while learning how to cook, play poker, going on a road trip, or trying new foods and how that relates to some of your favorite stories.
Another way to think about Extraverted Intuition is the highlighting of sensory experiences. Weird noises, strange movements, unique color combinations, and other expressions of boldness. This often comes out in a fun and playful energy. Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" are likely INTPs who use their intuition for improv expertly.
So even if you're not comfortable with getting out there just yet and perhaps still remain quiet and keep to yourself, you may still feel this compulsion within you, a compulsion that tends to emerge in the late teens, early 20s of an INTP. A compulsion that adds to and supports the full experience of your thinking.
And why would we venture into new experiences?
Right? Why would we do that? How does that make any sense? It sucks to be proven wrong.
INTPs tend to have what's called a "rightness" fixation in that we long to be correct even if it means using different language to wiggle ourselves into being correct or being the smart one who figured the thing out. This rightness fixation makes it difficult to take in new information which may threaten our conclusions because our conclusions are heavily tied to our sense of self. What we've figured out is who we are and to constantly change who we are can feel frustrating, emotionally painful, or even hypocritical and contradictory. And if you value truth and get frustrated by hypocrisy, as I do, it can be particularly difficult to seem hypocritical yourself, so the best remedy is to "not change."
The paradox, however, is that to come to even greater conclusions we need to risk being wrong by expanding our territory. If we stay stuck in our ways and avoid being wrong then we venture into the stereotype of being a cold stubborn robot cliché.
This stuckness is the INTP Introverted Sensing (Si) tertiary function in action. Si wants a sense of safety, security, tradition, routine, and sameness. All of which are valuable in expressing intimacy and dry humor but can also be a source of defensiveness when faced with change or challenging old tried and true beliefs.
This is also a place of connective through-lines from the past to today. Meaning, exploring the highlights of your individual past experience and reviewing those to sights, smells, and other sensory experiences to gain more personal insight. This can be where INTPs tend to get a strong sense of individuality, which can become more prevalent as they approach their 30s.
So in the face of that, humility can be one of the INTP's greatest strengths in growth, truth-seeking, connection-making, and taking on the adventure of life.
I'm from Philadelphia, which makes me a little brash and direct, I love baseball, which adds some discipline and sports ability, DBZ was a huge part of my adolescent joy, and pop-punk music led lots of road trips to fill out much of my personal attitude and experience. My father being an ESFJ salesman has had a major influence on my in-person sales ability and presentation skills on camera. Chances are that there are elements of your personal environment and history which may be making it a challenge to confirm your type. Which is why it's helpful to work with a profiler to help you confirm.
What about building relationships and connections?
Remember how I said that our sense of self is tied to what we know? That's what tends to make relationships difficult. Because not everyone cares about what you know or at least they don't care about what you know until they know how much you care. This is so massively important for INTPs that I will say it again in a different way.
No one cares about how much you know until they know how much you care. I picked that up from my friend Antonia Dodge at Personality Hacker and I'll never put it down.
We care about what we know first and foremost, which leads us to assume that other people want to or "should" know as well.
So when it comes to our connections with people, we treat it more like an on/off switch of sharing everything or nothing. And we do that because in either situation we tend to fear feedback.
- By sharing everything, we leave no room for argument. No room to be wrong.
- By sharing nothing, there's nothing to be wrong about.
Once we realize emotions are important we do the same on/off switch with emotions.
- We share everything and become whiney expressions of how much we yearn for someone's love and attention.
- We shut off completely and embrace the stereotype of the robot who doesn't care.
Again, this is about feedback. We make an argument so thorough that someone couldn't possibly reject us or we pretend to lack care altogether to avoid assumptions of judgment and maintain the illusion of control.
Feedback is the central long-term challenge of the INTP inferior function of Extraverted Feeling (Fe) but the struggle isn't always with feedback itself so much as it's our assumption of what the feedback will be. That we're stupid, lazy, cold, incompetent, and ridiculous. We both know none of those are true.
I personally struggled in school with ADHD and tended to not ask for help. I wanted to figure everything out myself and when I couldn't I would just act like I didn't care. This was safer than admitting that I had difficulties with figuring things out. I gave up on school at a young age when all I needed to do was ask for help without assuming that someone is going to judge me the way I judge myself, by my competency.
Asking for help every so often is a great sign of humility and humility is a great sign of growth. I've had to learn that the hard way.
In both of these cases, we're valuing the data more than we're valuing the connection, which is not the problem...it's how far the scales are imbalanced can be the problem. Because we should be honoring the data and honoring ourselves first but not at the expense or expulsion of others. If anything, we long for that connection so that we have somewhere to even put all of this information. I know I want to be seen and heard, that's why I'm writing this.
A connection is valuable for teaching and guidance, which can be a great ambition for INTPs, but it happens naturally for an INTP with the development of bravery to share your ideas in a way that is emotionally accessible, which is going to involve a lot of trial and error or hurt along the way (but I promise you'll survive).
We shouldn't fight our desire to connect, be appreciated, seen, loved, and also get other people's needs met via our superpowers of investigation, play, and adventure. But it's going to take a lot of learning, testing and trying to get it right. In the INTP way, getting needs met happens through the sharing of information and expressions of our process.
So, hopefully, you picked up on a few details that are new to your search. Namely, that these functions I'm referencing don't live in isolation. They're a balanced polarity that supports each other but the balancing act isn't exactly isn't the center of a beam, they'll be more focused on your dominant superpowers with your support functions keeping them in check.
If you want a more linear explanation of the cognitive functions you can purchase our explainer kit.
So, how do you know if you're an INTP? Well, if all of that resonates with you, or largely does then you're on a solid path. I hope this will is the beginning of your exploration towards some deeper insight into what it means to be an INTP and an introduction to the cognitive functions.
You can take our test on the main page of this website, check out our video called Are You Really an INTP? then join our e-mail list below that video for your free INTP eBook and further resources on understanding who you are as an INTP Personality.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I'd love to hear your questions and perspective!