By A.J. Drenth
A hallmark feature of being an NP type (i.e., INFP, INTP, ENFP, ENTP) is struggling with doubt and indecision. Doubt can pervade and disrupt any aspect of their lives, be it their careers, relationships, worldview, or identity. For some NPs, this propensity can be debilitating, engendering a sense of aimlessness, paralysis, or even nihilism.
Since intuitive types are less common and less conventional than their sensing counterparts, NPs often feel they have something unique and important to contribute to the world. However, their doubting nature may disrupt even their most earnest attempts to galvanize their identity and purpose. While NPs may enjoy zeniths of enthusiasm—feeling they’ve finally found THE solution—it is usually only a matter of time before they start questioning again and uncertainty regains the upper hand. This can be a frustrating and discouraging rollercoaster ride for NPs, since it feels like whatever they start will eventually be erased by tidal waves of doubt.
For many NPs, doubt goes hand-in-hand with being a seeker. The pattern goes something like this:
Seek → Find → Doubt → More Seeking
It’s not that NPs don’t enjoy functioning as seekers. In fact, most prefer to engage with the world in an open-ended, explorational fashion. However, NPs also feel that their explorations should ultimately lead somewhere or produce something tangible. In the parlance of type, this can be understood as the P seeker pursuing a sense of completeness in the form of a J answer / destination, or as the intuitive type striving to materialize (S) her N vision:
P exploration → J answer / destination
N vision → S materialization
Time can be one of the NP seeker’s greatest adversaries. If life wasn’t so short, perpetual doubt or indecision would probably seem less distressing. But because life is full of deadlines—whether biological, cultural, or self-imposed—NPs must find ways of dealing with their doubt and indecision.
One doubt-combatting strategy commonly employed by NPs is knowledge-seeking. The idea here is that more information equals more clarity and more certainty. This is the predominant approach used by the Enneagram Type 5, many of whom are INTP, INTJ, or possibly ENTP types. While Fives hope to eventually do something with their storehouse of knowledge, in the meantime, they feel they must continue to study and learn in order to achieve the requisite competence and confidence for action.
NPs may also combat doubt by acquiring self-knowledge. The quest for self-knowledge takes center stage in the Enneagram Type 4, many of whom are INFP, INFJ, or possibly ENFP types. Fours believe that clarifying their identity and self-understanding, and then authentically expressing that understanding creatively or relationally, represents the key to their happiness. As I observed in my post on INTP and INFP identity-seekers:
Little is more intriguing to identity-seekers than examining the nature of their own self, of trying to get to the root of who they are. They are constantly “checking in with themselves,” interpreting and relating their experiences to their current self-understanding.
NPs are notorious and at times criticized for their distractibility. In many respects, distractibility—noticing and responding to novel external stimuli—is part and parcel of being a P type.
Although distractibility, especially when pronounced (e.g., ADD), can certainly thwart productivity, NPs generally seem to appreciate distractions. Not only do distractions represent a welcomed source of novelty, but they can also temporarily alleviate life’s burdens, including the weight of figuring out what to do with their lives.
The Enneagram 7, heavily populated by ENTPs, ENFPs, and ESPs, can be associated with distractibility. Sevens are constantly looking out for new adventures and possibilities. Highly spontaneous and adaptable, they readily pursue distractions perceived to make their lives more exciting, intense, or interesting.
Although ENPs may lack some measure of self-discipline or self-motivation, as extraverts, they are more inclined to take risks and put themselves out there than INPs may be. Not only does this furnish them with opportunities to discover what they enjoy, but also to garner feedback from others regarding their personal strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, it can reveal new possibilities that would be unknowable through reflection alone. As a result of their willingness to dive headlong into life, doubt and uncertainty may be less chronic or debilitating for ENPs than for their INP counterparts.
Rather than plunging themselves into the world, INPs are more inclined to experiment with things in an inward or solitary manner. They are usually more cautious, reflective, and risk-averse than ENPs. That being said, INPs often discover that experimenting with or honing a craft not only gives them a sense of purpose, but also offers them relief, even if temporary, from their doubts and concerns. As observed by Don Riso and Russ Hudson in their book, Personality Type:
The tension between self-awareness and self-consciousness can be resolved in creativity. In the creative moment, emotions can be harnessed without getting lost in them…In the moment of inspiration, we are paradoxically most ourselves and most liberated from ourselves.
Here, Riso and Hudson highlight the fact that, during periods of creative immersion, concerns about the self essentially disappear. Moreover, because the powers of the self are harnessed and integrated in the creative act, the self is not really lost (though it may seem to be) but actualized; thus, the notion of being “most ourselves.”
Doubt is a regular feature of the NP mind. It derives from the same mental architecture as openness and creativity, which is why open individuals are often slow to draw firm conclusions. Especially when combined with excessive rumination or analysis, openness supplies the perfect conditions for doubt to take root and grow.
Of course, there are different degrees, levels, and objects of doubt. It is therefore not unusual for NPs to feel quite strongly about some things and ambivalent toward others. For instance, an INFP mother may never waver in her love and commitment to her children, while simultaneously exhibiting chronic restlessness and uncertainty in her career life. So even though NPs can be roughly characterized as doubters, there are some things they will invariably know or feel with certainty.
The problem of doubt is apt to feel most salient when it prevents NPs from securing something they really want or prevents them from achieving important goals. For everything else, they may think of it differently or perhaps even give it a different name (e.g., skepticism, open-mindedness, curiosity, etc.).
While there is no singular strategy or solution for ameliorating NPs’ doubt-related issues, part of the solution involves accepting doubt as part of who they are and recognizing its potential upsides. Distractions, knowledge-seeking, and a willingness to act / create in spite of incomplete knowledge are also viable strategies for navigating life as an NP type.
Helpful Resources for NP Types:
The NP Types: Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP (our new online course)