How to assist a disabled stranger without killing them…

All right, that is an exaggeration, but it isn’t as much of an exaggeration as I’d like it to be. I am incredibly grateful to live in a society where the main danger of having a disability is being accidentally knocked under a train by a person who was “only trying to help”, rather than that of being attacked and killed by someone who wants a disabled person’s body parts to use in a magic spell.

However, it is also true that as a culture we lack “manners” for offering and declining/receiving help in many situations, to a point where it is a serious problem, causing actual danger, loss of functionality or confidence, and mutual social resentment.

Here are some (obviously somewhat limited) suggestions about how to offer assistance without doing anything damaging or inappropriate.

Stop.  Think.  Ask.  Respect.



Don’t panic. Disability is a fact of life, not an emergency.



Take your mind off the disability and note something else that is human about the other person. Are they wearing a wedding ring, a university hoodie, or the latest fashionable hairstyle?

Do they look as if they want help, or are they just getting on with life?

Is offering help at this moment going to make things harder rather than easier for them? If someone has visual impairment needs, wait until after the station announcements. If someone is in a wheelchair, do not move the wheelchair ramp they are trying to go up in order to be able to stand where you can speak to them!



This stage is about establishing whether or not the person would actually like help.

If you think the person might want assistance and you are able to render it then:

Try to avoid rushing headlong towards someone – this can come across as threatening. We cannot read your minds either! You might be coming to offer help – or you might be rushing towards us with a knife…

Respect personal space generously.

Ask verbally if they would like help.

Never randomly grab or touch someone or their mobility aids without interacting with them first*. At best it isn’t appropriate – it leaves them with no polite way out of the situation if you get it wrong – and at worst it is extremely dangerous – as when someone has poor balance and they end up being knocked off the platform into the way of an oncoming train.

Open ended questions such as “would you like assistance?” are often best. Imagine your work colleague is swearing at their computer, or that you are a shop assistant not sure whether a customer wants to browse or wants to be served. This avoids the awkwardness involved in saying “would you like me to help you across the road?”, followed by an utterly blank face and the words, “What? I wasn’t trying to cross the road”!

Avoid starting with questions or statements which assume the other person wants help. Examples would be “which bus are you trying to catch?” and “I’m going to help you around this sign.” Make sure possible answers to your question include a polite “no, I’m fine, thank-you”.

Don’t pester. Repeat the question once in a slightly louder voice, if you think they might not have heard it, and if they ignore you, then leave them alone. They may need to concentrate and demanding their attention will make things worse.



Remember, people with disabilities have the same autonomy as anyone else. They are entitled to decide to walk down the street without assistance – and get their feet wet in the puddles or whatever – no matter how stupid the person offering the help thinks they are being in refusing!

If the person says “no thank-you” to help, say something like “have a good day” and leave them alone at once. Don’t press them. I understand why people do, but the harassment value of that can become a problem, particularly when we’re talking to the 6th person to offer help in 8 minutes! In that type of situation, we need to be able to say no thank-you quickly and get on with what we are doing, without having to spend ages arguing about it.

If the person says “yes” to help, try to do what they ask as much as possible.

If you aren’t sure what they want you to do next, questions like “how would you like to do this?”; “do you want to take my arm?”, “would it help if I held your stick?”, are generally completely fine. People tend to get good at explaining what they need done.


Cherry Foster



*With visual impairment, I think this problem arises partly because it genuinely is appropriate to touch a person with VI with whom you are interacting more than you would someone fully sighted. This is because it is a way of using a different sense to compensate for the absence of vision.

However, while it is appropriate to use touch more when interaction has been established, in my opinion it is actually less appropriate to try to establish an interaction with a person with VI needs by touch, due to the fact that they may not know you are there.  (Unless they are also deaf – I have no idea what it is appropriate to do in those circumstances, as none of my “ask verbally like this” stuff can be assumed to work in that case. In the UK, people who are also deaf will often add red stripes to their white cane to alert people to the need for a modified response).

An Annoying Irony


“You told me you couldn’t do X, but you just did Y.  I can’t see how that makes sense.  People who can’t do X didn’t ought to be able to do Y either.  I’m not going to adjust for you or assist you any more, because it’s obvious you’re just a horrible person pretending to have a problem.”

Person-with-unconventional-physical-limitations (a.k.a. a disability):

“So, instead of rejoicing that my difficulties are less than you thought they were, and that you didn’t have to make the adjustments you seem so much to resent on that occasion, you accuse me of pretending because my physical limitations differ from your assumptions about how they ought to work?

“Let’s look at this logically, if rather over-simplistically.  It isn’t possible for someone to do what they aren’t able to do.  It is possible for someone to not do what they are able to do.  The only way in which I can make my condition look as if it fits incorrect assumptions of how it ought to be is to not do things which are perfectly possible.

“Therefore, what you are saying constitutes a social requirement to malinger.  If I do not pretend, I will be accused of pretending!”


Cherry Foster

The Dangers of Health and Safety

Which is the greater trip hazard, the warning sign, or the hose of which it warns?

I got a bit bruised that day.

I was walking around a dimly lit church; I made a mistake with my cane – and fell with an awful crash over the wet floor sign which someone had put in the way.

The safety sign was certainly more of a hazard to me than a wet floor. Most wet floors are not significantly slippery if you wear shoes with a good tread.

It is thankfully unusual for me to actually fall over wet floor signs, but they are a massive obstacle, placed as they generally are in the way of doors and corridors. The classic A-board signs are Schrödinger objects – objects I cannot readily observe without altering their location – when contacted with the cane, they tend to fall over.

Though it might be logical to conclude that the signs are only a hazard because of my unusual way of functioning, this does not seem to be the case. Others without worse difficulty than need-for-glasses say they keep tripping over the things. Moreover, the floor beneath them is not usually wet, so perhaps about half the time or rather more they are the only hazard present.

The natural solution in our society would be to require people to put up an infinite regress of warning signs: “Warning: Wet Floor”.  “Warning: Trip Hazard: Wet Floor Sign”.  “Warning: Trip Hazard: Trip Hazard Warning Sign”, ad infinitum!

The self-closing fire door is a similar issue. I lived in a flat with internal fire doors for a year. They were heavy and hard, an endless cause of bruises wherever they hit me, and of minor injury to my hands. They constituted a continuous risk of being trapped in the kitchen and unable to get back out.

The only way I could cope was by propping them open the vast majority of the time – mercifully not forbidden in the tenancy contract – which I would guess from the point of view of fire is actually worse than the presence of normal doors which do remain closed most of the time. Indeed, fire doors which didn’t come back at you like an avenging fury, but stayed where they were put, would probably have been perfectly manageable.

Again, I thought this was unusual, until I heard someone talking about the danger involved in the self-closing fire doors in their corridor at work, particularly when it came to moving large items about.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the sort of injury that is frequently acquired from fire doors is less likely to be recorded in accident statistics than the sort of injury that is occasionally acquired from their absence. If I have to live with being continuously covered in bruises and with minor cuts to my hands from my inability to handle my fire doors safely, A and E don’t find out, though its impact on my life is hardly insignificant.  If you are involved in an accident with a trolley as a result of an over-enthusiastic and badly placed self-closing fire door, it is likely to be the trolley, not the door, which gets the blame. I never actually broke fingers or anything worse, though I was quite afraid of doing so – it didn’t exactly make for a homelike existence. And people are mostly very heavy handed about trying to force even those of us with extra physical needs not to prop such doors open, regardless of the resulting risks, or the practical consequences of that refusal, such as not being able to live independently.

There was a tiny risk of someone dying in a fire that might have been prevented by those doors. There was an absolute certainty of my injuring myself as a result of the fact they were heavy and self-shutting. That isn’t an aspect of things people should be ignoring.

I’m all in favour of reasonable and sensible health and safety, having met someone from another part of the world who (if I have this correct) fell through a poorly maintained balcony while pregnant. It is worth putting effort into making things safe, particularly in the type of shared environment where people do not have much personal capacity to alter the extent of the environmental risks they are enduring.

However, these things do need to be thought about holistically, and with an awareness and consideration of the real practical consequences of the precautions required, both to safety and to life in general.

Requiring people, by force of law, to put hazardous signs and doors all over the place is not what health and safety should be about!

Cherry Foster

Is all-age worship possible?

“Children prefer all-age worship,” someone says. The sense of loss and weariness and “this church just doesn’t have a place for people like me”, remains with me for days. True, to be painfully honest, everything about the church is “ouching” me at the moment. But the focus on children to the exclusion of anyone else is one of the worst and most ongoing difficulties I have. Of the things that parish priests could do to assist religious vocations, I would say that a reasonable value and respect for silence and focus, not relegated entirely to private prayer or low Masses, and respect for those who suffer from noise in worship, is among the most important things. Otherwise the spirituality of a contemplative life is being crushed out before it can even begin*.

I also believe it is very important to welcome children  – and their parents/carers, whose needs aren’t met if the children’s needs aren’t, but who also have a whole complex set of needs of their own. This tends to result in my wanting to contrive and support as much creative and fruitful separation of children’s activities and worship as possible. On the other hand, driven crazy by the refusal of others to hear the reality of my needs and problems, I am very eager not to do the same to others. If being part of services which involve the whole church community is important to children, then it should matter to the rest of us as well.

My reasons for hating what I’m used to thinking of as all-age worship are of several different types. The main one is quite simply: noise. And lack of stillness. I am a contemplative, an introvert, a person with two different health conditions which increase my sensitivity to background noise, and someone who has never lived with young children since I was a young child myself. I do my best, but I don’t respond very well to short services of spoken words alone (thankful though I am that these are often quiet actually during the service). The occasional high sung Eucharist which is accidentally quiet I seize on like someone starving – but without being able to expect it to be quiet I find it difficult to respond as fully as I might – in the same way as I have a lot of trouble going to sleep if I’m expecting to be woken up. While I doubt many people are unfortunate enough to have all five of my difficulties with noise combined, there are plenty of introverts, plenty of people without children, plenty of people with disabilities which make noise more difficult out there. And possibly plenty of contemplatives – but who knows?

There is also the fact that most of the things I respond to naturally are thoroughly adult. Long services, lots of silence, lots of symbolism, music that’s technically good, lots of things that appeal to the intellect, lots of sensory input of different kinds, no distractions – and minimal surprises or unexpected or out of place happenings**. It seems to be inherent to my personality to need a combination of complexity (to hold my attention) and order (to keep things calm). And this is not likely to suit children under a certain age.

I also associate all-age with a particular type of stifling of spiritual growth. There was a cultural tendency in the church I grew up in to try to make stuff all-age by reducing it. Everything had to be aimed at a child of 8, and anything that wasn’t suitable for young children was supposed to be scrapped, trapping everyone at a certain stage of growth and forbidding them to go further or deeper in their journey. Anglo-Catholics don’t tend to do that, as far as I can see. What we do tend to have is an attitude that being in the building where Mass is being said is “worship” regardless of what we are actually doing or thinking during that time, which I would respectfully suggest is not actually consistent with our principles!

It seems to me that all age worship usually either means a group of adults doing things along with the children which seem to be done entirely for the children’s sake, rather than in order to worship, or it means the young children playing, screaming, fighting, and banging their toys around in some isolated corner, while those adults who are fortunate enough to be able to worship despite this get on with doing so, and those of us who are not sit there in protracted agony. In no way is either all-age worship. Being in the same room should not be considered as enough.

If the problem is that children, in being separated off to do something else, feel as if they were not part of the church community, perhaps there are ways in which this can be ameliorated other than all-age worship. Our church has a custom I love, of bringing the Sunday-school children in with the procession of clergy, and having the celebrant bless them before they leave to do something different during the liturgy of the word. As an adult helper, I felt that our part in what the church was doing was being affirmed and blessed and included, and I hope the children more or less felt the same. Moreover, I have been told by people who have tried it that it is possible to get very young children joining in meaningfully with adult worship with minimal alteration – much younger than is spontaneously possible – if the effort is put into teaching and assisting and the expectation is that this is something they should mostly be joining in with too – when the time they are being asked to be quiet and engage is age appropriate. So it may be that it is possible to look for other ways of making the children feel included while sticking primarily to a “separate group” policy, or by enabling them to engage much younger with “adult church”, thus making that closer to all-age without rendering it useless to a proportion of the adults. Whether this is so or not can, of course, only be answered by them.

I should also say that I am aware of the possibility that this is not so much about all-age worship as the fact that a vocation of the sort I have is like a fish out of water in a parish. While there is certainly an element of that in my reactions and feelings, the degree to which it is unacceptable to say that you have difficulties worshipping without silence and focus leaves me unsure of how much of my experience is unusual.  I don’t know how much my impression of isolation is caused by the fact that it is just not ok at the moment to admit to having difficulties caused by anything children are doing or by anything done for the children.

Anyway, to my original question “Is all age worship possible?” I think the answer is that it is something very well worth trying to do, both for the sake of those who want it and on the grounds that ultimately we are a single community.  But it needs to be attempted with the real consciousness that if we mean “all-age”, we have to mean that we are trying to make it work equally well for everyone. If it is working for the toddler, but not for the single young adults, the parents, the middle aged, or the elderly and frail, it is not working, just as much as it is not working if it is not working for the toddler. I think also it is necessary to accept its limitations and to do other things as well, rather than attempting to make all our worship fit that pattern and no other. It is an adventure. It is worthwhile.

Cherry Foster


*The current precedence of noise over silence is a much wider issue than children alone, but children do seem to me to be one of the major genuine issues, i.e. where there is a real pastoral need on the side of noise as well.

**I do usually manage to avoid fainting! While I’m well aware of a different side of this – the need to accommodate disability, including my own, without allowing it to disrupt worship, that issue is not one I want to talk about in public about at the moment.

Brownie Points

On responding well to the fluctuations of ability common in dyslexia/dyspraxia

A village hall, dusty, yellow floor, magnolia walls. A group of primary school age girls* in yellow jumpers and brown trousers or culottes, sitting around the hall tables, with circles of floral fabric and of cardboard.

Needles slip around the circles of cloth with varied skill. Some girls double their threads; some use single threads and accidentally unthread their needles. The stitches are pulled up, gathering the cloth to cover the cardboard. The base of a pincushion is formed.

I was good at sewing; I had sewed a lot at home. I was the first to finish. I spent most of the time helping other girls with less experience.

Brown Owl gave me five brownie points for achievement.

The same scene the week after. More circles of fabric. Instead of cardboard circles, the tables are covered in stuffing and plastic lids, lids from chocolate spread and peanut butter jars. Needles are pulled through cloth, this time to gather the fabric over a lid full of stuffing. Then glue is spread on the underneath, and the lid is stuck to the fabric covered cardboard, hiding the stitching, and adding an extra layer of strength to unskilled work.

I was, again, the first to finish the stitching. But as I pulled the gathering stitches up, I broke the thread.

I started again. Again it did not take me long to get around the circle. And again I broke the thread trying to gather the fabric.

Even now, twenty years later, and doing professional needlework, I never try to gather with sewing thread. I use crochet cotton or some other tough, smooth thread that is too strong to break by hand. Why this task, and only this task defeats me, I am not clear. I have a presentation of dyspraxia that has affected gross motor skills but not fine ones (a pattern I think is fairly common in post-stroke damage but unusual in developmental dyspraxia). Perhaps there is something in that particular task which uses the affected part of the brain. Or perhaps it is just harder to put right than most other mistakes that can be made while stitching. But this type of situation is my normal experience. Suddenly, in the middle of something I was good at, came a task I actually could not do, for no apparent reason. Sometimes – worse – it was a question of being able to do or not do literally the same thing on one day and not on another. How inherently frustrating that is can surely be imagined.

I cannot remember how many times I tried to gather that piece of cloth.  In the end, I was the last girl to finish, assisted by one of the leaders, highly frustrated and feeling somewhat humiliated.

Brown Owl gave me five Brownie points for persevering.

It was not a typical response to that frequently occurring situation of being both good and bad at the same thing. The typical response was anger, contempt, and punishment. I was messing around, doing it on purpose, not making an effort. My year two teacher picked up my work on a bad day and told the rest of the class “this is how your work should not look”.

I don’t want to be too hard on my teachers, who were certainly not individually to blame, though I feel our culture surrounding children is. Children should be expected to co-operate (and it should be them not the teacher who is blamed if they don’t) and adults should not assume arrogance rather than frustration, lack of effort rather than an odd pattern of talents and abilities.

I did not receive a correct diagnosis of the problem till I was seventeen, or a full one until I was twenty (the diagnosis at seventeen missing the fact that I had CVI). By which time, sadly, I had complex post-traumatic stress disorder from the combination of bullying by schoolfellows and lack of appropriate support or acceptance in an environment which for a child with that set of difficulties was extremely difficult and hostile.

Looking back, I think apart from not judging (i.e. it not being the default answer to assume that a child who struggles is doing it on purpose rather than having real difficulty), the main things to do for a child with this tendency are to encourage them just to plod on through all the frustrations, to praise them for doing their best on a bad day even though their work is mediocre, to accept (and to encourage them to accept) that their abilities do have an unusually high tendency to fluctuate day-to-day, or within a particular category of activity, and that this is an ok way for someone to be.

And I will be for ever grateful to Brown Owl for doing exactly that.

Brownie uniform photo credit Lia copyright to attribution
This isn’t precisely the uniform I wore, but it is more similar to it than the current UK uniform is, with badge sash and long sleeved yellow top. As I remember it, the navy blue in that picture was dark brown in our uniform, as was the word “Brownies” printed across the front of the sweater. Photo credit: Lia; photo source: Wikimedia Commons.


*For international readers: Brownies in England were aged 7-10 when I was a member.  I was probably eight or nine.  Primary School is 4-11.  Year 2 is ages 6-7.

The Improbable Policy of Ebenezer Scrounge

On the difficulties of reducing all claims to property to “greater need”.

Bob Crouch shivered nervously as he waited for his boss. Ebenezer crashed in and slammed the door, tearing a hole in his ancient suit.

“Bother,” he said. Then he looked at Bob. “What is it? I’ve only got half an hour – then I need to go and join the trustees of the fisherman’s fund.”

Bob swallowed. “I’ve been with you now for twelve years,” he said.

“And very good work you do too,” said Ebenezer, who valued Bob, and never hesitated to praise him.

“And I feel that it is fair I ask you to increase my wages, which have not been increased in that time. I have a large family, as you know, and my son Tom is disabled.”

“Oh, come on, Bob,” Ebenezer said. “If I raise your wages, I’ll have to decrease the donation to the East African Famine Fund. At least your family are in no danger of starving. Their children have a greater need than yours.”

Bob had known he would probably get an answer of this type. He felt momentarily ashamed of himself, wondering what right he had to money that was preventing others starving. Then he wondered if Ebenezer thought he should give the money he, Bob, spent on food for his children to charity, until his children were in a greater state of malnutrition than any other children in the world. Probably not. Ebenezer did eat enough, if not a crumb more – and he never expected anything of others he didn’t do himself. Remembering his son’s unhappiness, his daughter’s probable illness, and his wife’s worried face, he pressed on.

“Yes, but that isn’t the point…” he began.

At that moment there was a knock on the door. “Oh bother,” said Ebenezer. “It’s the soldiers’ orphans’ missionary charity rep. I must see what he wants.”

Bob sighed, and went to his work. He’d known he was probably wasting his time. Even huddled in his coat, he felt cold. The allowance of coal was minimal. Ebenezer didn’t seem to suffer much from it, rushing about as he did, but Bob did. He was glad when it was time to go home. Not that home was much warmer.

His wife Martha met him at the door. All his children were in the tiny living room clustered around Tom, talking eagerly to him of their day at school. Martha could teach him herself, but never had there been a child less well suited to being taught at home rather than going to school. His half-wistful, half-angry eyes followed their neighbours’ daughter, born without legs, being whirled home from school in her wheelchair by a laughing crowd of brothers and friends. Bob had applied to the same charity for one for Tom, but Ebenezer being the chair of trustees, he had been told that as Tom could walk a few steps, they must save their grants for those who could not walk at all, who thereby had a greater need. Had Bob been earning a fair wage for his work, he could easily have purchased a wheelchair for his son himself, but as things stood, they could pay for little but food and shelter and essential clothing, and as Tom could not walk the mile to school and back, he could not go.

The children were cheerful enough most of the time with their rag dolls and hand-me-down clothes, but he knew his youngest daughter had wept all the last night at not being able to go to her friend’s birthday party for want of a gift and a dress. She was thin and pale, and coughed frequently. Bob and Martha both feared she was becoming seriously ill. Ebenezer would undoubtedly pay thousands for her to be treated, but probably not until it was too late.

“Did you get anywhere?” Martha asked him anxiously?

Bob shook his head, his worried eyes passing over his children.

“Oh, it isn’t fair,” she said passionately, “I wish you could find work other than for that old miser.”

“Oh come,” said Bob, who had a fair amount of affection and respect for his employer, “you know he means what he says. He probably lives on a poorer diet than us. And all to give the money to people who are in need.”

“If he wants to live like that himself,” said Martha, “then I respect, yes, admire it immensely. But he has no business imposing it on our children by refusing to pay you what you earn. That money isn’t his to give to other people.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do except plod on,” said Bob. “There’s no-one else to work for here, and…”

There was a knock on the door, and one of the neighbours’ children poked their head around.

“Letter for you, Mr. Crouch. Got left with us by mistake this morning.”

Bob looked at the letter and slowly broke the seal. Martha looked up to see his face transformed.

“This is from an old schoolfriend of mine. He’s inherited an estate – not sure I quite get who from – and wants a manager, and he says the job’s mine if I want it. Twice the salary I’m earning now, and a cottage provided.”

“Oh wonderful,” cried all the children together.

“Yes,” said Bob, half to himself, as he tried to realise that their current problems, at least, were over. “I’ll never hear the words ‘greater need’ again.”

Crysanthemums photo credit Ramon F Velasquez no copyright source wikamedia commons
Photo Credit: Ramon F. Velasque; Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Cherry Foster







Under the Skin – 21 Misleading or Misinterpreted Habits of an INFJ

A somewhat frustrated and “way too honest” account of the geography of the different planet I occupy…

800px-Lenticulariswolke UFO cloud - wikipedia commons, copyright to attribution
Lenticular cloud in shape of a UFO. Source Wikimedia Commons.

Myers-Briggs is pretty controversial, but I think it is useful if you respect it for what it is, and only expect it to do what follows from that. It isn’t hard science and shouldn’t be treated as such: if what’s wanted is a personality typing which measures what job people will do best with the same type of analysis and accuracy as we measure the weight of a mole of carbon, then Myers-Briggs isn’t it – and indeed, I’d argue that we won’t ever come up with any such thing because personality isn’t that sort of concept.

However, if it is a matter of wanting conceptual theories about human difference which help people understand what’s likely to help them function better, or why they find that other person really annoying or insensitive despite the fact they obviously don’t mean to be, I think this type of observation about preference and functionality are helpful. I also find it helpful when it comes to trying to accept my own “raw material” – for example, it makes sense of the oft scorned truth that being “over”-sensitive is part of how God made me and not a moral choice. There are ways it is right for me to respond to that tendency, and ways it would not be right to respond, but the simple fact just is.

More theory on the subject can be found on this site and here.

I am (probably) an INFJ, which is the rarest personality type, combining personality traits that people don’t expect to see in the same person.

Anyone else relate to any of these?

  • I’m impossibly sensitive about asking direct questions.Yes, I’m genuinely worried that if I ask “how are you”, you’ll be offended or upset, or that you’ll actually find it intrusive, overwhelming, or unhelpful. I can see how this could be the case, particularly for people in certain life situations or who do certain types of job. And I really don’t want to make your life more difficult. I fear this often comes across as a complete lack of interest in other people’s lives. Actually, I do want to know (unless I’m being overwhelmed by my own unprocessed emotions at the time). But I find it really scary to ask.
  • I really am both emotional and analytical. Our culture is a bit liable to assume an emotional woman can’t think, or that a woman who thinks is being cynically manipulative in any display of emotion. This isn’t true. The auxiliary and tertiary functions of the INFJ – extraverted feeling and introverted thinking – can be quite close in development, and I’ve spent more time in the realm of the latter than the former.
  • I don’t do eccentric things for the sake of it. I will do anything eccentric if there is a good reason for it, without batting an external eyelid – and being disabled, there is often reason to function in a non-conventional way. And I am an emotional sponge. If you expect me to do something eccentric and don’t give me time to think, I will probably oblige you! But I don’t do eccentric things for the sake of it, and it drives me crazy when people assume I do. I would love to be more conventional. Circumstances didn’t oblige.
  • I can’t move on without sorting out what’s already happened.  If you want to tell me something I’m doing is causing you real problems, and I’m completely oblivious, believe me, I want to know. But it really matters to me that people accept, and say they accept, that I had good reasons for doing what I did, or that there wasn’t any way I could have realised it was causing problems, and that I made a socially conscientious decision. Otherwise it feels like a personal attack. If people don’t spontaneously say they understand my reasoning, then my instinct is to defend it, not because I necessarily disagree about change, but because I’m seeing something different as important.
  • How people talk to me about a decision is often more important than the fact it wasn’t the decision I wanted. Several years ago I was in two very similar situations of rejection. One still hurts me. I was upset about the other at the time, but that was all. The difference? In the one case, I felt I was more or less told not to be silly. In the other case, the person involved acknowledged what an awful position it put me in. Feeling is turned outwards in the INFJ. This means it can be difficult for us to respond to our own emotions unless others empathise.
  • I don’t negotiate in the way people expect. I like creative compromise, i.e. attempting to solve conflicts of need by creating a situation where things can work well enough for everyone, I process things from a lot of different angles quickly, and I care about truthfulness. So I tend to start negotiating from my authentic final position, and come to the table with what I’ve concluded real compromise should look like. From that point I want trade-offs and creative sideways movement if it won’t work, i.e., I expect the further discussion to be “that won’t work for us, but if we did this, would it work for you?” to which I might say “yes, that sounds good,” or “no, but the problem with that is X, so if you could do Y too” and so on
  • When negotiating, I don’t respond well to people expecting more concessions than I initially offered, rather than offering trade-offs. I find people demanding movement on what I say I need and trying to beat more concessions out of me very hostile. It feels to me like an accusation of insincerity, in that it implies the position I’ve brought to the table is false. And I tend to read it as meaning both that you think I’m being selfish (in demanding more than I really need) and that you’re actually being selfish (because you don’t seem to have any interest making sure my needs are met too)*. Moreover, though I’m quite capable of being randomly selfish, I usually feel other people’s emotions more keenly than my own, with the result that I often offer too much, more than I can really afford to give unless something is given back. At its worst, this clash of negotiation-styles leads to my being horribly hurt by a situation where I am trying to give in a way I can’t really cope with, while the others involved are furious with me because they think I’m refusing to compromise, due to the fact that they are not seeing the type of movement they expect.
  • I don’t state my position over-emphatically because I can’t see other people’s point of view, but because I can see it too easily. I don’t find it easy to cope emotionally with the internal conflict and sense of detachment from my own beliefs, values, and needs that creates.
  • Despite my value for authenticity, I have a tendency to unconscious role-playing. It drives me crazy that if someone starts acting as if they think I’m completely blind, I tend to start acting as if I was completely blind. Sometimes you have to be practical about the fact that it is more important just to get around the man-hole cover or whatever, than to explain the mistake. And sometimes it is a defensive reaction to the risk of being insulted as a malingerer, which sadly is still quite common in our society. But more often than not, it is an “emotional sponge” reaction. This is what people expect to see, think they are experiencing, and I play up to it automatically, without any sort of conscious thought being involved. INFJs tend to be more attuned to others emotions and experience than to their own – and this sort of thing is the result. It isn’t deliberate but it can create a lot of confusion about our real experience.
  • I find it extremely difficult to ask for help, even when I desperately need to – and I generally feel people are judging me for being selfish when I do. I’ve no idea how often that is real, or how often it is just a projection onto others of how I feel about asking for help. But one of the reasons that I find it so difficult to function within the church is that it is organised such that you have to demand people’s time and attention quite hard. In reality, people don’t all find that equally easy. I get really stressed and upset by needing to demand help and create conflict, and make things difficult for people, and I don’t think it is usually obvious to others that this is what is going on. Situations where I will ask for help freely are usually ones where I see others’ welfare as also being at stake, and even then I tend to get very stressed by any resulting conflict.
  • I usually get as upset by the abstractions/wider implications of an issue, as I do by the issue itself. I find this very hard to communicate to those who don’t. There’s a difference of magnitude between being upset “because the King has been shot” – what’s immediately happening – and being upset “because the King has been shot and there will probably be a massive breakdown of law and order and another world war”. If I get upset about implications or connections that others don’t see, it generally bewilders people. Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m not. But people often seem to assume I’m upset for a reason other than the real one, and assume I’m overreacting because they don’t understand what I’m reacting to.
  • I find new information difficult because what is written on the page is only the tip of the iceberg for me. When someone suggests to me that a particular significant verse in the Bible should be interpreted in a different way, I tend to be aware that this would have effects on the refutation of the gnostic heresy, that it might mean that what’s said in such and such a hymn is inaccurate, that it has possible implications for the doctrine of double effect, may be in disagreement with the idea of calling Mary “the Mother of God”, and could offer a particular opening to Theravada Buddhist philosophy against the Christian metaphysical system. Because this is coming from a dominant function of intuition rather than being conscious thinking, I tend to become really troubled over new things until I’ve managed to explore all the implications, articulate them in actual words, and have decided for certain it won’t require me to change my overall world view significantly. It’s wearing at the best of times, and can be really distressing.
  • I find it difficult to explain things because I see too many complexities at once. So I over qualify and use too many words, and it is just confusing.
  • I find it difficult to explain things because my mind makes connections in an unusual way, and I can’t follow which connections other people make as well and which they find confusing. So I tend to either talk down to people, or completely lose them, both of which people quite justifiably find annoying. Or I say weird things because I don’t realise others don’t see the connections.
  • I over-explain not because I think you haven’t got it, but because I think I haven’t. I don’t understand things until I’ve articulated them properly. And though I am generally articulate, it doesn’t feel like it from the inside. From inside, language seems completely inadequate. And I’d like to express what I’m trying to say perfectly, not merely adequately.
  • I often sound as if I’m disagreeing not because I actually do, but because I’m trying to explore an implication or modifier, or the possible contrary arguments, or because I think the issue is more complicated than it is being stated to be. This may be more typical of those who are dominant thinkers, but I suppose there is a lot of natural variation as to when the tertiary function comes into play.
  • If I ask a question, it’s usually because I wanted to know the answer. I think in structures. I hate things that don’t make sense. I am also aware that things often make sense if you can follow through the thinking behind them, even if it is very different from yours. I am not challenging authority or telling you what you did was stupid when I ask questions. I want to know the answer. If I think it’s stupid, then I will usually tell you directly – or go off and stew for ever in silence if that is impossibly inappropriate. But a question is a question, i.e. it represents a desire for an answer! Within reason, I can live with things I don’t agree with. I can’t live with things that don’t make sense.
  • I act better in a group if I have a clearly defined role and understand the roles of others. I tend to identify closely with the role I’m supposed to have, and I tend to feel very stressed if I don’t know what it is. I liked netball at school, because each person has a specific thing to do, and has to stick to it. I could play most positions happily. But I don’t get well on with games, or in social situations, where the role isn’t a given and you have to work it out for yourself. Or if other people are technically supposed to have defined roles, and don’t play them, I struggle.
  • I’m sensitive to what other people are feeling, but I’m not at all sensitive to why. I absorb emotions, sponge like, but partly because most people don’t process things in the same way, I don’t tend to follow what’s going on for them unless they actually tell me.
  • Telling me other people are unhappy or suffering is not usually a good way of comforting me. I appreciate that it is usually meant well, in that people are trying to reassure someone that it is normal to be upset or something like that. But what I tend to find is that such comments result in an extra emotional load of suffering (from empathy) and therefore a sense of utter hopelessness.
  • I need emotional support to flourish, but I’m not good at seeking it. I find talking about anything I feel strongly difficult, though I’ve learned to do it to a certain extent over the years. The result is that I tend to speak very freely about medium strength emotion, while hiding the things I am actually in agony over when possible. When isolated, I tend to be all or nothing – either becoming unhealthily obsessed with an emotion, or supressing it completely. The outwardly turned feeling function of an INFJ tends to lead to a situation where I find it difficult to respond to my own emotions “normally” until they are articulated and reflected back to me by other people empathising. Also, because if I am hurt I tend to be very hurt and for ever, it is hard to let people in. It can be difficult to indicate to others what is needed simply because comprehension of my own feelings is less developed than it might be.





Cherry Foster


*I appreciate that this is not in fact the case: it depends how you process things. Though people do sometimes bring cynical false positions, people may also work out their real position by negotiating rather than pre-negotiation. I’ve no idea how this difference in approach can be dealt with.