Mar 17, 2008

Real-Life Socionics: A Missionary Experience

I have said elsewhere that I believe socionics accounts for a large portion of the feelings and issues that people experience when they deal with other people on close terms (in close relationships, friendships, and work partnerships). This confidence comes from having lived for extended periods of time with dozens of people of practically every socionic type.

One experience in particular stands out as being a particularly intense "socionics incubator" -- that of spending two years as a missionary for the LDS (Mormon) church. Unfortunately, back then I knew nothing of socionics, otherwise I would have paid closer attention to certain things and gained a lot more information than I can in hindsight.

At that time, I believed that my relationships depended on my attitude and people's good will and personal effort, but my analysis in hindsight has not borne out this point of view. In no case was I able to significantly improve, much less overcome, the dynamics of poor relationships with other missionaries I had to work with. All other missionaries I knew had similar experiences, some with the better relationships grouped towards the beginning of their period of service, others -- like me -- with the better relationships towards the end. By asking around after my missionary service, I found that most former missionaries considered 1/4 to 1/3 of their mission partnerships to be "good relationships," with the rest being various shades of difficult or ho-hum.

The conditions I was in were virtually ideal for a large-scale socionics experiment:

  • Missionaries lived and worked in twos (occasionally threes) and were required to be together 24 hours a day and manage all their affairs together, including housework, planning their proselytizing activities, running meetings, and teaching lessons together. This ensured maximum contact with the other person's personality and internal makeup and minimized the effect of common interests and non-socionic factors which are very important during the initial stages of making friends.

  • Missionary "companionships" were unisex (i.e. only boys with boys) and were selected by mission leadership with almost no input from the missionaries themselves. Missionaries generally considered these choices to be inspired and so generally had an initially positive attitude towards their new partners and generally put in a good-faith effort to get along. This meant that people's expectations of their mission partnerships were generally the same. There was some "interference" in the fact that mission leadership often had an idea of what missionaries thought of each other, and this caused a slight loss of randomness in companion selection.

  • All missionaries were required to do basically the same tasks, and all positions in the leadership hierarchy were determined by mission leadership. This reduced the role of rank and power in missionary relations. However, one missionary in each pair was "senior," the other "junior" (almost always determined by length of service), which may have produced a slight bit of "interference." Also, since our mission was in Russia and 95% of the missionaries had to learn a new language, their differing degrees of language acquisition also may have affected interaction and "pecking order" to some degree. However, my experience is that these things -- while often cited by the missionaries themselves as influencing their partnerships -- actually changed little, and these were just surface factors that people could easily latch onto to explain the relationship difficulties they were having.

  • Companions generally spent from 1 to 3 months together -- a sufficient amount of time for interaction patterns to develop and solidify. My experience was that by the second or third week together the basic pattern had taken shape that would determine the rest of their time together.

  • Missionary life provided a number of objective indicators of relationship quality. For instance, when walking around missionary companions would very often inadvertently maintain a certain distance between them that corresponded to their degree of psychological comfort around each other. For some this distance was negligible (they would almost always walk side by side), while for others the distance could be 5 yards or even as much as 100 (!) yards. Another objective indicator was whether or not missionary companions studied together in the mornings as they were supposed to. I found I was able to study together on a regular basis only in the best of companionships, and that in all others I would subconsciously avoid this awkward activity.
A lot of time has passed, and I have not yet been able to figure out absolutely every companion's type, but each year brings a few more pieces of the puzzle. Here I will talk about how my interaction played out with mission companions of different types (my intertype relation with them is listed after their types).

IEI - Extinguishment

I spent my first five months with an IEI during a period when I didn't know anybody and was often listless and depressed. Part of these feelings were the result of our relationship, which I would characterize as "love-hate." On the one hand, I could air my thoughts and feelings and say what I felt around him (that's generally the effect IEIs have on people), and on the other hand, his mannerisms and "everything about him" would suddenly intensely irritate me, and I would feel like physically pushing him away from me and getting him out of my life space. This physically aggressive reaction was very bizarre for me, and I see it as him drawing out of me a complementary extraverted sensing reaction, which for me (IEE) is a source of negative energy, not positive as it is for extraverted sensing types. I likewise "forced" him into something of a introverted sensing role, and he took on most of our food-buying and cooking responsibilities.

On a less personal note, I was highly impressed with his communication abilities, especially compared to many other missionaries who seemed to entirely lack such skills. It seemed he could talk to anyone and smooth over any conflict. Despite his mild and meek nature, displays of aggression never seemed to intimidate him, even when I was totally scared. At the same time, I was constantly disappointed by the kind of people we were teaching (especially lots of Beta quadra old ladies), because I couldn't connect with any of them, and felt almost entirely cut-off from any kind of network of friends. Furthermore, something about our interaction was making it impossible to keep anything remotely like the strict schedule we were supposed to be adhering to, making me feel like a chronic rule-breaker and a "bad" missionary.

I spent two days with him once after my mission. I had the best of intentions and wanted to be friendly, upbeat, and genuinely interested, but the same love-hate pattern resurfaced almost immediately, and I left dejected about my inability to change anything.

Since then, I have been drawn to and confounded by similar qualities in other IEIs I have become friends with.

SLE - Super-Ego

I was with this person for 4.5 months during a period when we both had different administrative positions and worked in different rooms of the same office. Remarkably, we managed to limit our interaction to a bare minimum, punctuated by rowdy and awkward attempts at being friendly or jolly around each other, as well as heated arguments with raised voices and accusations. He would accuse me of subtly treating him like dirt, and I would harp on his bad attitude and lack of interest in self-improvement. Once we began shouting at each other (which is extremely bizarre for me) at the office after almost everyone had left, and another missionary had to intervene to get us to calm down.

At the time, I considered this by far my worst partnership ever, but when we met after our missions, I was amazed to feel no bitterness whatsoever toward him, only a kind of distance and respect, and sensed the same from him. We were both friendly, and I felt no emotional entanglement with him, unlike the IEI. I couldn't fathom what had been the cause of our "terrible" relationship as missionaries.

Subsequent relationships with SLEs have never been close enough to "blossom" into the same pattern, but I have noted the same awkward and rowdy friendliness that comes from each mimicking the other's behavior and speaking style and ending up jarred and worn out from overusing the Super-Ego functions.

LSE - Activation

I never lived together with an LSE companion, but I had regular long-range friendships with them (in contrast to the SLIs, who only seemed to recognize and maintain friendship if they were living with the person or shared activities with them). The friendships went like this: Something about them would make me sense they would be receptive to my personal, unconventional views on mission-related topics, and I would start to unload my accumulated insight onto them. They would listen and respond with great interest and start telling me about some of their observations and experience that supported my insight. Sometimes my choice of these people would surprise me, because they generally seemed like more involved, traditional, and go-by-the-book people (sometimes strikingly so) than I was, and yet they would find what I was saying highly interesting and useful.

Each of these friendships was more talk than action. I don't remember actually materializing anything with any of them, but it was highly therapeutic for me to be able clear my mind by laying out all my insight for other people. I think the "therapy" for them was having a context where they could talk about people and social relations around them (Super-Id topics for them).

I have found my other relations with LSEs since then to be more talk-oriented, with less joint activities than with SLIs. I have also discovered pitfalls in trying to do business projects together (each fancies himself to be the leader and makes decisions unilaterally).

SLI - Duality

I had two dual mission companions, and both periods were positive and brought me many new ideas and new projects. With each of them I could freely voice all the products of my imagination, and this would naturally lead to a desire to experiment with some of them together. With the first companion, for instance, we almost immediately began a complete housecleaning that even had a conceptual foundation (!). We renewed the proselytizing activities that had gone slack with the previous companion (the SLE) and had far more fun, but were only together for 1.5 months.

I was with the second SLI right after the first and had time to go much farther. Our joint projects included studying The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People together and an ambitious attempt at self-perfection and approaching our work from an entirely new angle. We felt that our mastery of communication and instruction had increased tremendously, but I didn't realize at the time that this improvement was contingent upon the relationship itself and would not last long without it. We also tried experiments with nutrition, exercise, and health (typical, though not universal introverted sensing areas of interest). We also began learning Ukrainian together for fun (he was a Russian-speaking Ukrainian).

Since then I have found that inventing new joint activities related to self-improvement and self-education are typical results of a dual friendship with an SLI. However, at a distance these relationships are tougher to maintain through the years than with LSEs. SLIs can be notoriously difficult to keep in touch with, and they rarely invest much time in things and people that aren't part of their lives at the moment. Perhaps it is also that the dual relationship strives for a closer distance than is possible through correspondence, while the more talk-oriented relation of activation is well-suited to letter-writing.

to be continued shortly.


brian said...

Great article, I am looking forward to the conclusion of it.

I think there is a lot of value to be gained from these real life stories. I would be especially interested in any LIE interactions that you may have had, so I could compare them with ones that I have had with a close IEE friend of mine.

meatburger said...

Hey Rick! I could relate very much to your stories. They are very similar to the intertype relationships i have experienced (as you would expect). I am friends with a IEI girl at uni at the moment and originally i thought she was SLI. Its amazing how upon discovering she was from my opposite quadra has made our relationship fall into the typical intertype relationship pattern. This is not to say it is all in the mind, i believe this pattern would have developed sooner or later.

meatburger (ENFp) said...


I am an ENFp and i have had quite a lot of experience with LIE's as friends. In fact the friend i spend the most time with is LIE. If i may, i would like to post my experiences here and you and Rick can see what you think. Beware im not very eloquent and im just going to talk off the cuff with no preperation! :)

My ENTj friend and i made friends around 7 years ago in school. He had an unusual habit of saying odd things and making fun of people when they slipped up. As an example, we would invent sayings like "f@cking prawns ay?", they normally arose from some amusing event that happened. If someone stuttered, he would take them off making a joke out of it. I seemed from the beginning to be able to emulate this type of humour, and laugh it off when he made fun of me. Even though i didn't really appreciate both traits i continued to accomodate it and it brought us closer. Our relationship these days has changed into a weekly movie outing which is quite ritualised. We get food, we see a movie (basically anything we dont care) and we get frozen cokes before the movie. I have noticed that our humour is very similar. In fact we might have influenced each others humour. We both like imagining unusual situational events. Ive guessed before its to do with Ni but i just dont know. As an example, the other day a girl asked us if we had heard of WWF (to donate to save the river fund). At first i thought she meant the world wrestling federation. So i joked to my friend afterwards that i should have said "HELL YEAH" and grabbed him around the neck and we wrestle away from her (to get away), with her with a stunned expression like "but.. wait!". I could tell that in his minds eye he was imagining the exact scenario to me and he was laughing for ages.

We can talk to each other quite comfortably, but ive noticed that i tend to want to talk about Fi type matters which doesn't interest him. We never really engage with in depth conversations. We also seem unable to "hang out" very easily. If we have a purpose; playing pool, watching a movie etc thats fine but when theres no purpose it can feel slightly uncomfortable and one of us wants to leave.

He is very complimentary of me, i assume perhaps he is seeing in me the Fi that he desires. He will often call me pro or something like that at pool when i do a good shot. It almost seems like he is trying to bring out my potential sometimes.. (I know the intertype relation says something about this i cant remember).

We went on a cruise holiday once(wow we probablly sound gay lol). In close quarters we found our relationship strained and i became snappy. We did have a shouting argument near the end which is incredibly uncharacteristic of us. In fact i think its the only serious argument we have ever had. When we were back on the mainland with some more freedom it did become slightly better yet still not perfect.

About 6 months ago he got angry at me and i left his house. We both didn't call each other for about 3 months which created a rift throughout our friend group. We avoided each other for quite some time until eventually he rang me again and we got back into our weekly movie thing again. Lately he seems less zesty than usual, quieter and our relationship more distant. I actually wonder if perhaps he has finally outlived his need of me as explained in the intertype descriptions?

So thats a story with no functional explainations that you may not even relate to. I find that i really like ENTj's. They are really accepting and good people. The ones ive met have very steady moods, rarely getting dispondant or down which i appreciate. Our relationships are generally of a mutual appreciation for one another, with bursts of closeness at first which fades with extended exposure.

I cant believe i wrote so much. LOL

brian said...


I really appreciate that you shared your story with us. Several aspects of your friendship actually reminded me of the one I share with my best friend, who is an INFj. Funny thing is that we were almost about to go on a cruise together as well, but financial issues ruined our plans.

We would often have moments where we be thinking about the exact thing and the moment we realized it we would laugh uncontrollably. We would also say the exact same thing at the same time. We've been friends for about 5 years now and it's been an amazing journey, but there have been many difficult times as well. We perfectly fit the description of partial duality, "the moth and the flame" with many ups and downs. Indeed I almost feel as if the cyclical nature of our relationship has become so accepted that it is a form of stability for us. Sometimes I really do miss the way we were in the past, as we were far more trusting of each other back then. Since then there were many things that came in between us (clingy and crazy significant others, falling for the same girls, etc) and I regret many of the things that I've done. I hope that in time things can be changed, although I barely get to see him as we are both extremely ambitious and very focused on our futures.

Our interactions consist of almost exclusively conversations - we almost never actually do any kind of activity. We can easily talk all night about random topics and get very excited about random ideas that we have. When we ever try to actually go and something it never seems to work out. I have noticed that after we have a good conversation, I am filled with unbridled optimism and tons of energy. When we have a bad one (due to wherever we are in our cycle), it is very draining. Our quarrels always begin over some perceived slight or insult, and are always under the surface - we will never talk about them openly. It just boils for a while and then passes over. I am curious, when you try to bring up Fi matters, in what way do you mean? Could you give me an example?

I am not sure why I wrote all this, but maybe it can serve as a good example of the high highs and low lows of partial duality.

brian said...

I also have a friendship with an ENFp that I have been able to maintain for a long time (a girl). I never found her particularly attractive (physically at least), but I remember in high school I would always hit on her just to see how she would react. Since we came to college she became very religious, while I went through a life-of-the-party phase, then turned it around to become super ambitious. She has always played the role of the "good girl" who calls me to see if I want to come to church or related gatherings. Strangely, I have several friendships like this but I am only receptive to her invitations for some reason.

She often criticises me on various aspects of my behavior but instead of being hurt, I am almost amused by it. I take her advice pretty seriously (though I don't show it to her) and try to make an effort to change. She especially tries to steer me in a rather Fi-ish direction. However it seems like I don't really give anything back to her other than witty conversation.

Due to random circumstances (we always run into each other on campus), we have seen a lot of each other recently and I got the impression that she wanted to be more than friends, but was very apprehensive due to her perceptions of me. I didn't encourage her at all as I was seeing someone else, and knew that I would end up hurting her anyways. I really like having her as a friend, and I think I will go visit her sometime during the summer as she will be interning on the West Coast.

Again, don't really know why I posted this but any analysis/comments are welcome.

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