I am an introvert, (Meyers-Briggs personality type: INTJ) highly sensitive (which is a description of my response to sensory input, not emotional sensitivity), and have a behaviourally inhibited temperament. According to Wikipedia, temperaments are “consistent individual differences in behavior that are biologically based and are relatively independent of learning, system of values and attitudes”. In other words, temperament is a pattern of behaviour and feelings inherent to the person; parenting does not cause or create temperaments. In fact, temperament is first exhibited (or at least measurable in research) around 3 months of age, which doesn’t give a lot of time for parenting to have much effect! At exactly 3 months of age, my daughter went from being happily held by others to crying upon seeing another face other than my husband’s and mine.
I also have a very analytical and logical mind. It is no surprise that I studied engineering and worked in a biomedical lab as a researcher after my graduate degree until my daughter was born. I carried out meticulous experimental methodologies and brainstormed ideas and solutions with students for various projects. I loved the process of breaking down problems into smaller manageable tasks. When I hear a societal, parenting, or relationship problem, my mind immediately jumps to solving it, despite the better option which is to first listen and empathize. I have found that although I am extremely empathetic, the experience of empathy often occurs most strongly when I am alone and my mind is at rest, while, in the moment, the analytical problem-solving brain comes out blazing. I have learned that allowing time for both processes –problem solving filtered through a lens of empathy – yields the best solutions.
Having the same basic temperament as my daughter provides me the unique experience of having both sympathy for her when she faces difficult situations combined with first-hand knowledge of the physical feelings and emotions associated with those situations. I don’t have to imagine how it might feel; I know how it feels. Of course, the downside is that this causes me to tend towards over-protection in my parenting, but my analytical brain helps me out. For example, when I learn about strategies to help with anxiety, I try to disassociate from myself and see it through the eyes of a scientist. Once I logically decide if a strategy is worth pursuing (i.e. I determine that it has merit, often based in research and science), then I filter it back through my natural temperament and modify it, if necessary, such that it feels respectful of my daughter’s natural temperament. I believe I do my best parenting when my brain is in a state of equilibrium: a balance of listening, empathy, logic, ideas and action.