The INFJ’s Guide to Dealing with Emotional Devastation

Guest Article By Keona Tang

Since it was recently World Mental Health Day, I thought it would be interesting to reminisce about a dark time in my life. Possibly the darkest period I have ever gone through. It happened around three years ago, and lasted until… well, if I’m being honest, I’m still dealing with the repercussions even to this day. So buckle up, cowboys, because this is gonna be a long ride.

You see, in early 2015, I fell in love. Well, okay, maybe it was more that I thought I did.
Perhaps it was more of an infatuation, a way to cling to a romantic ideal. Point is, I lost
myself in that feeling. I lost perspective, and I gave myself fully over to this idea I had in
my mind that I needed this person so much, that I couldn’t live without her, and that
without her approval and acknowledgment, I was nothing.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m blaming this person for anything that
happened to me or how it affected my mental state. The truth is, I was transitioning into
a new job, and I was feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the direction in which my life
was heading. There were many factors as to why I became as distraught as I did, and
the person I was madly in love with was almost an escape from all that. Suffice it to say,
she was more kind and compassionate toward me than she needed to be, and I’ll
always appreciate her for that. We aren’t in touch anymore, but part of me still loves her,
and always will. I harbor no ill will toward her, and I absolutely wish her the best.

That said, let’s get to the gooey center of this metaphorical Tootsie Pop, shall we? I
wasn’t the same person in 2015 that I am now. I was going into a new job, which is
where I met this person, and I was feeling rather discouraged one day. Sitting in the
back, feeling like I wasn’t getting things or learning the systems and patterns quickly
enough. I felt like leaving.

Suddenly, she walked in. No, she bounced in. It was like she was weightless, all light
and energy and brightness. She blinded me. Her smile. Her laugh. The way she moved.
Her voice. Her hair. The way she said hi to me. Her face. I still remember how smitten I
was, right from the first moment I saw her.

She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Like I said, “gooey,” right? Because I was mush, lemme tell ya. In that moment, I was
formless and shapeless, and not in the Bruce Lee, “Be like water” sense, but in the
sense of “this person has total control of my emotions and what I will become just to get
near her” kinda way. And I realize what that means now, but as I was going through it, I
thought it was normal. I thought I was a together kind of guy, and that I’d be totally fine.

Nope. I wasn’t.

Let me give you some context. For those of you who don’t know, I am an INFJ male,
which our lead writer, Kirsten, has written about in the past. It’s a rare personality type,
and I have often struggled with feelings of isolation and loneliness throughout my life,
never quite knowing where I fit in. On top of that, I grew up in a very Roman Catholic
household, where there were restrictions on the types of music I listened to, the types of
things I read, and what I watched. Don’t get me wrong, I still was free to watch stuff and
to read sci-fi and comic books, and listen to music of all genres, so it wasn’t *that*
oppressive. But I did have to maintain a sense of “purity” and “Godliness,” which is
pretty much unattainable, when you think about it.

My parents relied on God and their faith a lot, but they put in work, too. They’re honestly
two of the best people I know, even if they’re very conservative and religious. I love
them very much, and I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for their influence.

However, I was feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo of my life at that
point. Still am, actually, but that’s beside the point I’m making here. If I’m being totally
honest, my own Catholic faith had always been an off-shoot of my parents’, and many
of their beliefs were my own by virtue of the fact that they’d handed them down to me. I
wasn’t really driven by a love of God in my personal belief system. Instead, guilt was my
driving force. Low self-esteem because of my weight issues and being teased
throughout my childhood and a sense of isolation and uncertainty constantly weighed
on my soul. Sure, I’d had periods of finding a place among others in my life. Towards
the end of high school, I’d felt embraced by my peers. In church, at that time, there was
a group of people who I’d felt close to (and met through my parents’ connection to a
ministry).

None of that mitigated the gnawing sense of guilt and shame I’d felt about myself,
though. That was my battle to fight, my personal demon to vanquish, if that was even
possible. I was constantly told I’m a sinner. I have to own up to that, you see, as one of
the reasons why God sent His only begotten son to die for us. My sins. My weaknesses.
My guilt was good, you see! It made me realize how much of a crappy person I was for
what I’d done to cause Jesus to die upon a cross for me. I was a sinner, and to my
mind, that shame I felt, and all the low self-esteem that stuck with me for my whole life,
was justified.

All of that changed when I met that person. She had, in an instant, broken down all of
my barriers, and all the walls I’d learned to put up to protect myself. She made
everything brighter. The sense of isolation I’d felt was gone, replaced with a notion of
kinship, a connection that I’d never really felt before. But it was one I’d longed for, and it
was so intense and beautiful. So all-consuming. Suddenly, I had a goal. I knew what I
wanted.

There were obstacles, however. I found out she was already involved with someone
else, and that’s when the debilitating sense of guilt set in. Then came the questions and
soul-searching. What gave me the right to like this person? Why did I like her? What
caused it? Why did I feel the way I was feeling? What did I actually want?

In my house, questioning things and curiosity weren’t things that were encouraged. God
will help us. That was the way it was. Just be patient, my parents said. Cling to your
faith, they said. And all my faith told me was that I was a sinner. “Impure thoughts and
selfishness, that’s all this was,” it said.

And that’s when I decided I was no longer truly Catholic. Something which had been, for
better or worse, a defining element of my personality, had been lost. Sure, I’d still go to
church with my folks, but it wasn’t meaningful to me in the way that it had once been. I’d
gone through a crisis of faith, of belief, and that fundamentally changed me in some
ways.

That wasn’t the only thing I’d lost. I think, in some ways, I lost myself. Or, perhaps, an
aspect of myself, a certain perspective. I remember feeling less certain or confident in
who I was, and whether I was actually a good person or not. I remember losing my
sense of self-worth (what little I’d had up to that point), unless that person
acknowledged me or gave me the time of day. I remember feeling depressed and not
enjoying anything. Not my hobbies, not my work… Nothing gave me joy. I had gone
from being overjoyed and feeling blissful, to being depressed and feeling more alone
and uncertain than ever.

I can’t really explain what brought me to that point. I knew she didn’t love me, and that
was a devastating realization, though it wasn’t fair to expect that she would. I knew that
she would eventually move on, which she did, and I knew that, as time went on, our
connection grew more tenuous. Eventually, as a last gasp, and after speaking to a
therapist to try to sort out my life, I told her how I felt. I was nervous, and I knew nothing
would come of it, but I had to do it before it ate me up inside. It felt like an out-of-body
experience. She already knew, of course. It wasn’t something she didn’t expect, but I
had to say it.

A couple months later, she left. Moved on with her life. I felt shattered. My heart was
broken, our connection severed, and I felt…adrift. That’s when I started to want
everything to end. I was just finished. I felt like I’d never heal, like I wasn’t worth it. Not
to her, obviously, and not to myself. I wanted my life to be over.

A week or so later, I got in touch with an old friend, someone who showed me there was
hope, and that I was worth something. My life had meaning. It’s a story for another time,
but essentially, this person brought me back from the brink and gave me hope. This “old
friend” subsequently became my best friend, and we’ve become closer than ever
before.

*******

One of the things in my life I’d never been really good at handling is change. It was
something to be feared, rather than embraced. After going through all that I’d dealt with,
however, I discovered that I had changed. I was fundamentally different, and I had to
pick up the pieces of my life and my psyche and try to reshape them into someone I
could recognize. Someone I could be. Someone with goals and desires and less shame
and guilt. Someone who realized that what I’d felt was not, in fact, true love, but an
unhealthy attachment to a person who was just as imperfect as I was, and am.

I feel like I should have figured all this out when I was in high school, or maybe in my
twenties. I missed out on a lot, and I spent my life never questioning where I was
headed or why, and I always looked for answers outside myself, either in my religion or
through my parents. I didn’t really take responsibility for myself. I wasn’t a mature
person.

I’m trying to change and become a more mature, fully formed person. I have goals in my
life now, attainable ones, and I feel like I’ve reclaimed a good amount of my self-worth
and my personal beliefs. Still, I feel different, like I can’t go back to the person I was,
and that’s honestly okay. For someone who’s always felt the weight of stagnancy, not
going back to that feels pretty damn good. I’m still in the process of figuring things out,
and I don’t feel as complete as I once did.

But that’s okay. I’ve learned to accept that there are things I have yet to understand or
figure out completely. Life isn’t about the end result, or controlling how we get to that
result. It’s about the journey, learning who we are, and who we want to be, and how to
get there. Life, it turns out, is about living, not hiding behind shame and guilt. It took me
a long time to fully grasp that concept, and that is no one’s fault but my own.
So, just how do we deal with emotional and mental devastation? How can we recover
from that? Well, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not a licensed therapist or a
professional in that field, but I can give you my subjective thoughts based on what I
went through.

First, embrace change. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with, and sometimes it hits you in
the face like a ton of bricks, and it hurts! Still, embrace it. Use it to become better.
Change is a catalyst to greater things. Do not fear it.

Second, know that when you come through whatever it is you’re dealing with, you will
be forged into something stronger. The crucible you’re going through tears you down
and spits you out, but it also reshapes you. It can make you better, or it can bury you,
but I believe that you will come out of it, and you will make that choice to become who
you were meant to be.

Finally, talk things out with someone you trust. Regain your perspective by asking
others for theirs. Seek professional help. And never, ever, be ashamed for doing so. It is
not weakness. It is life-affirming, and it can help you put the past to rest and regain
control of your life. It’s not a quick fix, or a simple solution, and it requires honesty and
vulnerability, but it is a great start!

Thank you, as always, for reading.