"I don't know any parent who says, 'Yeah, I really…
THE SJ or Structured Parent
Darla was having a hard time figuring out her temperament. She was pretty evenly matched in the areas of check it off the box or leave the options open-ended. One is more controlling the other is more relaxed. One is in the box the other is out. She enlisted her mother to help her figure out who she was growing up because she felt as if her role as a Mom had confused things a bit. This is what came of that conversation. I have italicized the classic characteristics of the ESFJ type.
“My Mom said I was very predictable and always planned what I was going to do. I would set my clothes out every night so I would be prepared for the next day. But I was very social, optimistic and happy/giddy. I was a cheerleader growing up and had many friends. I was the life of the party and loved going to social gatherings. I liked to be neutral whenever my older sister would fight so everyone would like me. I am a people pleaser and an enabler.
However, I have always been a worrier. I have IBS because of it. I am very anxious and am on medication. Whenever I had homework or some sort of deadline I couldn’t sleep until I got it done. I can be very obsessive.
If a family member makes me mad, I have no problem confronting them. However, with anyone else I will not say a word and let it fester for years rather than stir up controversy. I don’t like to make people uncomfortable or be rude in any way, but instead, I will stew and let it rip up my insides.
I am impulsive and like to spend money, but going in debt makes me worry so much that I won’t ever spend out of my means.
I explained to Darla that this was pretty much the description of an ESFJ that would be in a textbook on temperament, and yet she was questioning it. What I find many times with the Sensible and Just temperament (SJ) is that they can be very literal and concrete in their language. They are extremely detail oriented, so they can take their eyes off the big picture and get mired in the details. This condition is more widely known as analysis paralysis! Because every once in a blue moon, she has broken a literal rule like taking a beer into a movie theater, she felt as if she was not the “rule following” SJ. I explained that rules can also be interpreted as expectations or how things are done.
Coloring outside the lines in a coloring book is not breaking a law, but it is going against the way it is “supposed” to be done. SJ’s feel that most every task has a “right “way and a “wrong” way. This is why arguments commence over dishwashers that aren’t loaded properly, toilet paper that isn’t put on the dispenser correctly and toothpaste that isn’t squeezed from the bottom of the tube. The P’s of the world, or “out of the box” individuals don’t care about the right or wrong way! They want to have the freedom to do it their way and in their time frame!
The expectations of having the house look a certain way for guests, acting a certain way at a party, wearing the right kinds of clothes or driving the right sort of car are also “rules” that the SJ desires to follow. They would rather not stand out as being different. They would rather be a valued, respected part of the team, than someone who makes waves or acts “weird”. The P loves being different and the playful SP’s in the crowd, don’t even mind the “weird” label. I know a 12-year-old ESTP girl who loves being known as weird and tries to do all sorts of things to be the weirdest one in her class, like wearing her panda onesie to school.
An SJ with feeling is more likely to bend the rules than an SJ with thinking. Once again, I don’t want the SJ feeling parent (most likely the Mom since 75% of feelers are women) to get confused because they let their child wear their Superman costume to the grocery store. The feeling SJ cares most about connecting with their children, so if they have to bend the rules a bit to connect, they will. However, the SFJ would feel more internal peace if their kids DID follow the “rules”. The STJ probably doesn’t struggle as much to figure out whether they are a J or a P because they have the greatest tendency to control and follow the rules out of all the J’s. The SFJ’s and the STJ’s are two completely different animals. One is soft and one is hard.
This ESFJ mother also struggled with getting an accurate outcome for her children’s tests. Her 4-year-old ENTP son had come out as an ENFP. This commonly happens because children are immature in their emotions. As an adult, the Intuitive thinker (NT) is calm, cool and collected with their emotions, but as a child, they can be quite explosive! However, the underlying emotion will be anger and frustration rather than hurt. Let me say that again. The emotional outburst is not because their feelings are hurt, it is because they are angry they can’t get their way or they are frustrated that they don’t feel competent. The NT needs both! They are wired to win and to be independent and competent. Once again, a literal SJ may associate the word “win” with playing a game or sport. Winning for an NT means, getting what they want.
A hallmark of an NT child is their curiosity because learning is everything to them! When I asked my literal concrete speaking SJ if her son asked “why” often, she answered, “not really” which caused me to question. Later, however, she explained that she was constantly looking things up because her NT son had so many questions and wondered about so many things. I pointed out to her that even though her son might not be literally saying “why” all the time, he is constantly curious and that is the same thing!
Another obstacle I run into with an SJ parent is their need to control. If their child tests as one of the more challenging temperaments to raise, (basically every temperament EXCEPT the SJ) they will try and deny the outcome and find some sort of detail or loophole to make the outcome better fit their expectations. It was so difficult for this people-pleasing SJ Mom to hear that the NT temperament tends to be rude, I could see her trying to rationalize and control the outcome to something more palatable for her. SJ’s have a lofty ideal for what the “perfect” family should look like and it is difficult for them if reality doesn’t match up to that ideal. Once again, they want their child’s temperament to fall within the boundaries of their expectations. (The “rules)
Another example of an SJ’s literal or concrete speech is in the way they look at the Bible. SJ’s are naturally inclined to have faith because they respect authority and have traditional values, however, at times, their concrete speech can get in the way. The parable about the rich young ruler who was hesitant when Jesus asked him if he would be willing to sell everything he had to follow him is disturbing for an Sj because of the literal command to sell everything. I am intuitive and naturally see the meaning behind everything, so for me, I understand that it was the unwillingness on the part of the rich man and the unseen factors that only Jesus could see, like his misplaced priorities. Ultimately, Jesus knew his heart and was speaking to that condition when he said that it is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God than it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle.
The biggest struggle my SJ parents have in parenting by temperament is NOT the desire to understand and connect with their kids, they are gifted in this area. Their struggle is with the messiness of parenting. There isn’t a step-by-step instruction manual written for each individual child. Temperament is the closest thing there is to that, but intuitive leaps need to be made in order to apply the material. My encouragement to the SJ parent would be to study the material regularly so that it is at the forefront of your thinking. Practice makes perfect and understanding temperament is no exception to that rule.