"When greatly stressed, INFJs may become obsessed with information they normally would consider irrelevant or overindulge in Sensing activities, such as watching too much TV, overeating, or buying things that have little meaning for them." Introduction to Myers-Briggs Type, seventh edition, 2015.
When I read this statement, my first response was, "Huh, I think I did all those things yesterday!" But all joking aside, it really was an "a-ha" moment for me in terms of personal understanding. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most popular and useful tools we use here at Priority Learning. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to facilitate Day 1 of our Associates Series for People of Potential, which focused almost entirely on the participants' MBTI profiles. The participants in the Associates Series are new and emerging leaders, and we will be using MBTI throughout the seven-day workshop as a tool for personal growth and team building. Knowing your personality type is an essential piece of understanding who you are, how you work, and how you communicate with others. It is thrilling when people read their profiles and say, "wow - this is almost scary – it really describes me!" That first moment of self-recognition is powerful and leads to deeper discussions about one’s own behaviors and the best ways to work together. A little understanding can go a long way to creating a healthy and successful work culture.
I first took the MBTI in college and have been fascinated by it ever since. I don't remember what my profile was from that assessment, but I recall that I scored in the middle on some of the preferences. What I remember most was the helpful and insightful conversation with the college counselor who administered the indicator. We talked about what stressors might be causing me to not indicate clear preferences, and discussed the types of careers that fit my profile. That conversation helped to start me on the path of an art history degree. My second experience with the MBTI was ten years later when I was working at a small contemporary art museum. With only a dozen or so employees, the MBTI was a perfect tool to build teamwork and a general appreciation of the differences among the staff. For me, understanding the dynamics of Extraversion and Introversion had a great impact as I learned how those preferences are about energy, rather than labeling people as outgoing or shy. In the past year, I have taken the MBTI Step I and Step II several times; with a career counselor as I considered leaving the museum world, here at Priority Learning as a workshop participant, and again during the MBTI certification course. If my own experience is any guide, the reliability of the instrument is solid, and while I don't recommend taking the instrument as many times as I have, the more you explore your profile, the more you learn about yourself.
When we think about the MBTI as a tool for understanding ourselves and others, we often focus-as we should-on the positives: on how our personality type helps us to understand our behaviors and communication styles. During MBTI workshops at Priority Learning, we have a lot of fun sharing personal stories that illustrate the different preferences: how Extraverts and Introverts act after attending a loud party, how Judging and Perceiving plays out in personal relationships and planning work or weekend activities, and how Thinking and Feeling impacts decision-making. Recently, however, I have gained many insights by using my personality type to understand stress.
The relationship between one's MBTI type and stress comes in two forms: the source of stress as well as one's response to stress can both be understood through the lens of psychological type. Because so much of personality type has to do with how we use our energy, it makes sense that when we maximize our preferred preferences we are energized, but when we have to use our less-preferred preferences we feel fatigued or stressed. That's why Introverts can become so tired after a party or social event, they have expended their energies outward. When we have to work for prolonged periods of time outside of our preferences, it feels unnatural and stressful, resulting in behaviors such as irritability, resisting action or change, low motivation, and anger. People can, however, develop strong skills in areas outside of their preferences if they know how to effectively manage the energy levels and stress. As an Introvert who has had a long career of facilitating workshops, I need to balance the Extraversion energy required for a successful workshop with quiet time preparing for and then reflecting on the day. Researchers have found that the E-I dichotomy is the best predictor of stress and coping responses, and that each MBTI type uses different coping resources when dealing with stress. For example, my type—INFJs—rated exercise fairly high as a coping response to stress, whereas exercise was not a strong choice for my extravert counterparts, ENFJs.
In response to "everyday" stress, we tend to exaggerate the behaviors of our preferred functions; for example, Sensing types will become more detailed, Thinking types will become more analytical, etc. For me, a day full of meetings and phone calls or having my schedule disrupted can make me feel frustrated and tired. Simply being aware of those stress triggers helps me to cope with them. Under extreme stress, our inferior functions can bubble up from our unconscious and cause us to act in uncharacteristic ways. This is what’s happening when think, "I’m not acting like myself!" As an INFJ, when I find myself overindulging or acting impulsively, I need to step back and recognize that I am stressed out, then explore and combat the stress. A work team with a sophisticated understanding of MBTI can use this to recognize each other's stressors and behaviors, and to find ways to support each other.
The four letters of your MBTI type are not static and simple, and they do not represent a box that limits you to being one thing. When explored fully, your MBTI profile becomes a complex and dynamic system that helps you understand yourself and others, and to see the rich and unique layers of individual personalities. Looking at stress through the lens of personality has taught me a great deal about what causes stress, how to manage it, and how to interpret my own behaviors. I look forward to discovering more MBTI insights, and encourage those who are curious to take the assessment and see for themselves!
Stacy Rodenberger is the newest member of the Priority Learning staff.