Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In Defense of Sherlock

Right now there seems to be a lot of confusion running rampant about the personality and motivations behind Sherlock Holmes of BBC’s Sherlock. "He's selfish" crops up online regularly and I'm always left slightly puzzled at this interpretation of his behavior. I don't accept that interpretation of his actions. Okay, perhaps he is selfish, but the question should always come before the judgment. And really, just how selfish is he? Why is he selfish? What drives that selfishness? And perhaps, at the end of the day, we're left with the understanding that Sherlock isn't actually selfish at all, but something else entirely.

You see, I think it's important to judge fictional characters based off their personality types and the mannerisms those personality types exhibit. Perhaps a lot of people don't interact with an INTP (Myers-Briggs Personality Test) regularly, but that is one of the three personalities (leave it to him to use THREE personality types!) that Sherlock exhibits, and if I know anything in this entire world, it's how an INTP thinks. Nope, not because I am one since I'm an ISFJ thank you very much. Rather, I've been blessed with an INTP for a best friend, and if that doesn't give me insight into Sherlock's lunacy then nothing will.

Sherlock as an INTP is broken down into 4 cognitive functions: internal thinking (Ti), external intuition (Ne), internal sensing (Si), and external feeling (Fe).

Now, because I'm not an INTP, I actually went to my INTP for some insights into Sherlock's behavior. Let’s pause and look at his loneliness for a moment, shall we? Yes, Sherlock Holmes is lonely. The question is why. The conversation Sherlock and Mycroft have over their frankly endearing game of Operation is telling of the loneliness in both of them. The difference between the two men is that Sherlock is aware that he has been lonely whereas Mycroft doesn’t realize it about himself. As my friend puts it, “Our nature is to be fiercely independent; our desire is not to NEED anyone, so we both shy away from admitting that we do need people and are afraid to ask for help.” Remember when Sherlock says in season 2 that he doesn’t have friends? This is why. He is afraid to admit that he actually needs friends or at least a friend. As soon as he let those words out, he knew they were a mistake because he needs John and he knows he needs him, no matter how hard that fact is to admit.

What a lot of my readers don’t know is that my INTP and I had a period of separation from our friendship, like John and Sherlock. It lasted for nearly two years before the Lord brought us back together again. What I didn’t realize was how the reconciliation worked on my INTP’s end. In her words, “We don’t realize we’re lonely until we’ve had friends and lost them. We do just fine on our own for a long time, but then we start missing people when away from them for prolonged periods of time – when we return to having a relationship, we appreciate it more because that period of solitude made us realize we’re lonely.” An ISFJ, like John and like me, is never entirely lonely. People tend to like us because we’re warm and outgoing and compassionate. INTPs, by their own admission, don’t attach emotionally to people all that often and are fiercely independent. Friendships don’t come easy so when one disappears, especially a close one, there’s a bit of a void. Honestly, on my end, there was a void too because I was and am very attached to my INTP. John Watson much?

What conclusion can we draw from this? Sherlock Holmes and all INTPs need friends even when they’re afraid to admit it to themselves and to others. Sherlock’s nature is torn regarding friendship which is why he determinedly behaves as though he doesn’t care. But he does care and we, the viewers, absolutely must remember that.

Next on the roster is Sherlock’s “selfishness.” I use quotation marks because Sherlock’s top function is Ti therefore utterly changing the definition of selfishness. Do you have any idea how much he thinks? The rest of the world is boring to him because silly little conversations and frippery do not impress him. And when an INTP gets bored they tend to get . . . distracted at best or disagreeable at worst. Sherlock Holmes hates being bored. This is not something that he can fix. The man's top function is Ti so the need to be mentally stimulated is never, ever going away. The viewers cannot expect him to suddenly turn all wine and roses on them. He will always be irascible when he's bored, and you may have noticed, that's 90% of the time. How is it selfish for a man to be what he is? My INTP walked into the room as I wrote this, and she laughingly told me that, "Sherlock often says exactly what I think but would never say." I’ll address the reasons for this difference in personality within the INTP type at the end of my post.

People are out to change Sherlock, but what they don't realize is that he is changing already, on his own terms! He's learned through his friendship with John to utilize his lower cognitive functions, leading to both positive and negative results. Remember when Sherlock and John were drunk off their skulls? And Tessa came to them with the whole "I'm dating a ghost, Mr. Holmes" problem? Think of how both Sherlock and John reacted. John's empathy was practically nill, not his usual reaction at all. He's sitting in the background, almost asleep, but when he is awake he's, frankly, annoyed with Tessa, shaking his head because he finds her story ridiculous. Why? Because John’s lower functions of Ti and Ne have kicked in while he's turned off his higher ones. John just doesn’t care about Tessa’s problems in that moment. Sherlock's lower functions also kicked in, except that his are Si and Fe, the same as John's higher ones. Sherlock's listening to Tessa's story and tears are glittering in his eyes. He's even reprimanding John for falling asleep, telling him it's rude. Ordinarily, Sherlock's behavior would be interpreted as hypocritical since there is no ruder man on earth, but it's not hypocritical in this moment. By both men turning off their higher functions and just using their lower ones, they quite literally switched personalities in their approach to Tessa.

What does it mean for Sherlock to develop his lower functions? For one thing, he’s showing an interest in other people, or at least, he’s trying. He tries to engage people in small talk, something that does not come naturally to him, and he tries to remember details about their lives.

Take Molly Hooper. Does anyone remember the insane level of rudeness he exhibited towards Molly in the 1st and 2nd seasons? Is it just me? Tell me it isn’t just me because that Sherlock, the Sherlock who shows off at the expense of others is not the Sherlock Holmes we see in the 3rd season. This new Sherlock digs into the recesses of his Mind Palace for some dusty information stored under a stack of moldy magazines and emerges triumphant with the name of Molly’s boyfriend, a man he cares about not one whit. An even stronger example of his exercising of empathy muscles is that he doesn’t rip said boyfriend to verbal shreds when the man suggests that the bloody guardsman was stabbed with a meat dagger. I’m not sure that even I would have been that kindly. Sherlock listens to Molly more than he ever has before, and he wishes her all the happiness he is capable of wishing. This is not the Sherlock who uses her red lipstick as an excuse to pick her apart piece by piece during a Christmas party.

His Ti rebels at every idiot he encounters, which is just about everyone. But this new and improved Sherlock pauses, takes an internal deep breath, and doesn’t always pop off with the first thing that comes to mind. He is learning to temper his responses. Why? Because he has been away for those 2 years, has returned, and realizes that he actually missed people, even D.I. “Gavin” Lestrade (winks).

He tries to consider them when he does something. This doesn’t always work, of course, hence the flurry of texts pleading for help when he’s writing his best man’s speech. But think of the response he gives when Lestrade shows up, something along the lines of, “You didn’t go to any trouble, did you?” He’s trying to consider other people needs on the same level as his own needs. It’s not his fault that Lestrade didn’t pause to think, “Wait a minute, let me clarify exactly what he needs before I rush over to Baker Street.” That would have been me, and that would have been John. I mean, you get burned once or twice and you learn to ask what Sherlock needs before dropping everything and rushing over. Sherlock is never going to entirely change so others need to realize how he’ll react in a certain situation and base their own actions accordingly.

To be fair, let’s also mention the negative side of Sherlock’s discovery of his lower functions. Now, he can and does manipulate people. Now that his Fe is activated, he can woo and win a girlfriend without actually forming any real attachment to her. Hence the marriage proposal to Janine that had John spitting fury in the background because Sherlock had her wound so tightly around his little finger and didn’t actually mean any of it. So, yes, Fe is a great thing, but in the hands of a manipulator, it can be used to obtain information. All great spies probably utilize Fe because they’re so darn good at their jobs.

Just remember that Sherlock is not unique in this. Any Fe user can manipulate people’s emotions, even the nicer ones. I’ve been guilty of it myself a time or two, although not to the same level as Sherlock. I don’t date unless I like someone.

When Sherlock gets angry, it’s because people don’t understand him when they should be fully capable of understanding, at least from his point of view. Is his point of view skewed? Probably, but he’s never going to fully accept that ordinary people can’t follow his deductive reasoning. Why judge him for something that he cannot change? He and John might both use Fe, but Fe is Sherlock’s last function whereas it’s John’s second function. That pretty much changes how well and how often someone uses it. Everyone in his close sphere is pretty much resigned to the singular fact that Sherlock Holmes is never really going to change. He can develop those lower functions, but that’s not really changing, it’s simply exercising a part of himself that was already there. He will always be abrasive, he will always be socially awkward, and he will always have moments of pure giddiness over something that excites and exhilarates him and has everyone else freaking out a little bit. He is Sherlock Holmes and that is his INTP personality type.

I’m going to be 100% honest with my readers. I’m tired of people hating on Sherlock. He should do this, he should do that, why can’t he be this, why does he treat people this way? He is an INTP, an INTJ, and an ISTP, that’s why! The man will never be sentimental. You cannot change him. He can develop those lower functions, but they will never, ever be his top functions. Not unless he’s drunk, and let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.

Sherlock is an awkward, quirky, rude child who occasionally pops off with lunacy and other times is totally endearing. He’s a fun and irksome man to be around, and he challenges the people in his life like no one else can. He thinks outside the box, and he forces other people to do the same. He’s playful when he’s in a good mood, and frankly, that’s one of the things I love about my INTP, that playful side that just sneaks out and makes me laugh. Like when she braided my hair a few nights ago while we were watching, duh, Sherlock and as I’m picking teeny little braids apart after the episode she sheepishly says, “That just sort of happened.” Napkin folding, anyone?

John understands the fragility of Sherlock’s emotions, the lack of connection he experiences with himself and with others, and that’s one reason why he stays around. John doesn’t have to stay. He’s not tied to Sherlock with a ball and chain. He chooses to stay because Sherlock Holmes has become John Watson’s best friend, and Sherlock needs him, even when he doesn’t always realize it.

More than anything else in the world, this is something I understand. As soon as I stopped trying to change my INTP and she stopped trying to change me, our relationship transformed into something long-lasting. I don’t control her or try to change her, I respect her intelligence, and I think she’s awesome just the way she is. Sound familiar? Many ISFJs struggle with this insatiable need to fix people. I know because that’s something I fight against all the time. But we cannot fix Sherlock because there really is nothing to fix.

One last note is this: the INTP personality type, just like with any personality type, changes when God is thrown into the mix. Two people with the same personality type can be totally different in their approach to people if one knows God and the other doesn’t. My INTP and I are Christians. The love the Lord Jesus has extended to us is what we project to each other and to the world in general. Where Sherlock pops off with something horribly rude, my INTP doesn’t because her faith has developed her Fe in that she doesn’t want to hurt that other person. God really does make all the difference in the personality type.

So, in conclusion, stop thinking you or anyone else can change Sherlock Holmes. If you dislike him, make sure you dislike him for what he already is, not for what he isn’t and can never be. He is who he is, and if you can’t accept that, maybe it’s time to move on to another fandom. Or find yourself an INTP friend so you can start understanding why Sherlock does what he does.


  1. Nicely written.

    Here’s a few more thoughts, as your INTP:

    I never realized I was lonely until I started interacting with people, and became desirous of their attention and affirmation (Sherlock is fine being alone and doesn’t need ego strokes until John turns up and starts “wow”-ing everything he does; it’s addictive). In some ways, I almost wish I hadn’t interacted so much when I was a teenager with my peers – because then, I’d likely be more solitary and less desirous of attention. But… it’s also not good for us to be alone; it makes us rude. =P

    We really don’t attach easily. In fact, it can take years. We’ll like some people (or dislike them), but there’s not much of an emotional attachment there. We can walk away from any relationship and provided the other person isn’t hurt, feel absolutely nothing. It looks really, really cold to an outsider, and in a way, it is – but that’s how we are. We can’t muster up fake sentiment.

    When we’re bored or (more frequently) irritated at how the rest of humanity is content to embrace the mundane, we tend to get rude – because we’re offended how easily others are entertained. This is my biggest problem – I am not easily entertained, I demand a good deal from everything I encounter, and I’m both irritated that no one else seems to share my frustration and annoyed at myself for being such a perfectionistic jackass.

    The fact that Sherlock left Molly’s boyfriend alone just… blew my mind. It’s honestly the best example of how much he’s changed since the first season, when he commented rudely on her lipstick.

    You ISFJ’s aren’t always awash with compassion and goodwill toward men. Just sayin’. ;)

    1. I love it when John praises Sherlock in the 1st season. Sherlock always looks so surprised whenever anyone says anything nice about his skills so John's praise must have seemed so foreign to him. I think we all need affirmation regardless of personality type. Just a little something that says we're doing a good job.

      I'm glad you can't muster up fake sentiment. I hate myself when I stoop to it.

      You and I are both stunned at Sherlock leaving Molly's boyfriend in one piece. He doesn't suffer idiots kindly!

      And, very true, no we're not always awash with compassion towards people. You've known me long enough that you've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I can be kinda scary!

      Thanks for adding extra thoughts! :)

  2. *claps loudly*
    Well done. Brilliantly put. :)

    1. Thanks so much. I just knew someone needed to defend him, so why not me! :)

  3. SO SO AWESOME. Boooooo to the naysayers. I adore Sherlock.

    Watching it recently again with friend, I really noticed how often he was genuinely trying to help and didn't realize how it came across...like when he was pointing out that Moriarty-posing-as-Molly's-boyfriend was gay. The look on his face is totally like, "letting her know now so she doesn't have to deal with it later" kind of thing. So many instances where he is really thinks he's helping people out.

    Anyway, ADORE Sherlock to bits and absolutely love your analysis. :)

    1. Some people have such a weird vision of Sherlock, it drives me nuts! I just couldn't keep quiet about it anymore. I, personally, love the INTP type and wouldn't really change a thing. If someone is fortunate enough to develop a long-lasting friendship with an INTP, it's completely worth it!

      And you're right. Sherlock does try to help. He doesn't always do it well, but we have to give him points for trying. At least I give him points for trying. I think people expect too much of him. They want him to be something that he's not, and they get upset when he can't offer sage advice gently. Can you imagine Sherlock taking the windy path around an issue? Nope, he dives right in and goes for the jugular because it needs to be handled. I'm not sure how I'd love that in real life, but there's something to be said for honesty (especially his kind where he is trying to help someone).

      Thanks for your response, Alexandra! I just had to jump into the fray with my two cents, and the fray ended up being over 2,000 words long. That was a bit of a shocker!

  4. Love this. As an INTJ myself, it is hard to explain how I think and react to others. Although I have learned to 'not rock the boat' it still tends to come out when I am tired or frustrated. As manipulators we can usually hide what we feel/think... for a while.

    Anyway, I love Sherlock too! Thanks for this!

    1. I'm very honored that an INTJ enjoyed my strange little essay. I'm only as logical as my cognitive functions allow me to be, nowhere near the INTJ level, so that really is quite a compliment.

      It amuses me how Sherlock exhibits signs of being ISTP, INTP, and INTJ. Most characters are obviously one specific personality type, but not Sherlock. He's too complex for that, and I love him for it. Of course, it could also be the writers occasionally not knowing what the heck they're doing, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. ;)

  5. People are hating Sherlock for being Sherlock? Who are these people??? This ISFJ Guardian wants to... be mean to them. Silly people. Sheesh.

    You have your INTP, I have my INFP... and my INFP plays with my hair all the time too! How funny.

    1. Strange as it sounds, yes. It's been a problem since the incarnation of the show and it FRUSTRATES ME! It's been worse this season though, or maybe I'm just feeling it more. I want to just stand in front of Sherlock and defend him with a sword!

      Your hubby is an INFP? I did not know that! My sis is an INFP too, although she's not much into the hair-playing thing, but that's still neat.

    2. No, my best friend is an INFP. My hubby is an INTJ -- and he enjoys playing with my hair too! Good thing I have lots of it ;-)

    3. Ahhhhh! It must be interesting being married to an INTJ. I know a few in real life, possibly a male coworker of mine, but then I know the online test can be a bit skewed. They're really interesting in film, that's for sure!

    4. Yes, interesting is a good word. He knows a billion little facts about every subject you can imagine. He has three moods: contented, tired, and annoyed. He can be maddeningly obtuse, endearingly methodical, and unexpectedly thoughtful. Gandalf, Spock, Mycroft, Giles -- very much the mastermind type.

    5. He sounds very intriguing, and you're quite blessed. :)

  6. Hello! I've been lurking around here for a while and I really love this post :) You have a brilliant understanding of the character. I want to scream whenever people badmouth the BBC's Sherlock. I love him so, so, so much! I've also noticed that the people who do hate the BBC's Sherlock all seem to be fans of Elementary which has rather put me off watching that show.

    1. You are one of the few people to ever call me brilliant, so I thank you for that! ;) I've had my ups and downs regarding Sherlock, wasn't too keen on the 2nd season, but it was never really about the character and more about the show itself. When people hate on the character it gets my claws up because they simply don't understand him and there's no excuse for that.

      I tried Elementary. Watched 2 episodes of it and was really unimpressed by it. Not that Benedict is the living end of Holmes interpretations, but I was expecting something more from Elementary. I've got the 1st season on hold at the library so I will undoubtedly watch it all the way through, but I don't anticipate being very much impressed. And yes, I sense that a lot of the Sherlock hate comes from Elementary fans which doesn't say much for them. I don't hate Elementary, I'm just fairly indifferent to it.

      Thanks for your response, by the way! It's always exciting when one of my followers interacts. :)

  7. There isn't a single episode of 'Sherlock' that I dislike and most of the episodes I love! That's incredibly rare for me. With other TV shows that I love there are always at least a few episodes that I dislike or hate but not 'Sherlock'. I think it's astonishingly consistent but, you know, each to their own.

    I've only seen the pilot episode of 'Elementary' and I wasn't impressed with it at all. I was absolutely horrified that they had Sherlock sleeping with a prostitute and the rest of the episode I found pretty unmemorable. At some point I would like to watch the rest of the first season because at least then I'll have given it a fair chance I think.

    You're Welcome :) I must remember to comment on more of your posts!

    1. For some reason my sister really likes Elementary. Although, as she put it, it's not really about "Sherlock Holmes" per se. The only thing that's the same is his name, everything else, even the setting, is totally different. So it's not really Holmes at all. I just wish my brain could see it that way, but instead I view it as a lesser version of Sherlock. Ah well, perhaps my opinion will change since I know my sister will have me watching an episode or two at some point.

    2. I'm working on a review of 'Elementary' at the moment. I'll have a lot more to say about 'Elementary' in my post but basically I believe that - as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation - it's a really, really poor version. As a show in its own right it's not so bad. Viewers who are into shows like 'The Mentalist' and 'Bones' might find it quite enjoyable. I tend to find most procedural shows boring though so I can't feel the same.

    3. Ooh, I'll have to go read it when I get a chance! I don't mind procedural shows sometimes, but it totally depends on the show and the characters. A version of Sherlock Holmes that I don't quite agree with is not going to be a winner with me, I don't think.

  8. Hi! Very cool post. I just found your blog and I'm following!



  9. I've a quick question. What is your relationship like between your INTP friend and yourself? I'm really curious as to how the two would fit together, but would prefer an individual case to a general fact (which is why I ask). What are your disagreements about, what are your interactions like, what do you or do you not share in common? What is she like to you, as I'm not sure how I, an INTP, appear to others? What do you normally talk about, etc. Whatever you can tell me would be appreciated, and if nothing at all, thanks for your time.

    1. Hey, glad you found my blog.

      So, this friend of mine actually isn't an INTP after all, something she realized a year or so ago after research and input from others. She's an ISFJ like me, only with a different enneagram number which is why we're different in certain ways.

      I do have a coworker who's an INTP and while I disagree with his training style because he deals too much in the abstract and not enough in solid facts and answers, on a personal basis, we get along quite well. I find his intellect fascinating so when I have a psychology type question, he's the one I'll trust with it because I know that's a genuine interest for him and he's thrown himself into studying psychology. We do share a lot of common interests like film and television, but again, he's a coworker and not a close friend. If I ever do disagree with him, it's always because he's not being direct enough in answering any questions posed to him. I like details, facts, context, not an abstract jumble that's hard for me to follow, and that's pretty much where he can live as a trainer.

      You could try The Personality Cafe, a forum of MBTI personality types.

    2. Ah, okay. Thanks for the answer!


Thank you for your kind comments, which I adore!