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    Jul 25, 2017    |   Psychometrics

Type and Stress: Escaping the Grip


Stress – and our reactions to it – come in many forms and encompass a variety of individual considerations. In general, stress reactions are never pleasant and can bring about feelings of intense emotion, anxiety, and frustration. However, in addition to these general experiences, typology can help explain some specific behaviours that accompany stress and are related to our innate preferences. By the same token, an understanding of Type Dynamics can help us recognize – and even escape from – its grip.

According to Jung, the first thing that happens under a moderate amount of stress is the exaggeration of our dominant function. It is important to bear in mind that ‘moderate’ is subjective, and the threshold between ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ will vary depending on the person. Regardless, when we encounter some stress, we are apt to allocate our remaining conscious resources into that which we find most comfortable and adaptive, as determined by our preferences. For most people, this would indeed be our dominant function.

Think of it like “Swearing in your native tongue.” When things get dicey, we are more apt to react in a manner that feels most familiar. That said, Jung also made clear that by doing this, we lose access to the auxiliary function that keeps us balanced. This notion of exaggeration is why under a certain amount of stress, our personality becomes ‘bigger,’ but not necessarily more effective. An introverted dominant will become more withdrawn, an extraverted dominant will become more initiating and – depending on the function – we may lose ability to either gather information in a useful way, or make decisions in order to execute any type of tangible action. An example might be a dominant Se, who becomes so embroiled in discussing and brainstorming every finite detail of a task she allows the deadline to pass without ever completing the project (True Story).

stressIf this stress does not dissipate, or if the initial stressor is potent enough – the stress becomes severe, evoking a different kind of reaction. In these cases, our functions – and their attitudes – ‘flip.’ In other words, our inferior, the opposite of our dominant, seems to take over our personality and behaviours, at least until the stress subsides. Naomi Quenk and other Type contributors refer to this reaction as being “In the Grip,” and it is often why individuals report that they “don’t know what came over” them or they were “beside themselves” during these times. The notion of feeling unfamiliar with who you are comes as a result of a far less familiar and developed part of your personality suddenly dictating your behaviour: N’s may become derailed by details, S’s might see meaningless connections amongst random events, T’s sometimes become emotionally erratic and often, F preferences become unabashedly critical.

So what can we do then? If we can learn to identify the form our stress reactions take, can we also learn how to get back to normal in an adaptive and effective way? Absolutely!

  1. Be familiar with the signs and symptoms of your moderate and severe stress reactions. Monitoring and being aware of these cues is the first step toward effectively navigating them.
  2. During stress, re-focus on your Auxiliary to regain balance and access to the core of who you are. In her book “In the Grip,” Naomi Quenk describes how embracing the auxiliary function may in fact be key to regaining conscious balance and restoring normal function during a moderate or severe stress reaction.
  3. Work to develop and ‘flex’ your inferior function in an intentional way. According to Jung, stress reactions serve to remind us of the functions we overlook too often. Therefore, by finding ways to embrace our fourth function more often in everyday life, our stress reactions may never be pleasant but they stand to be less severe or unfamiliar.

If you’re interested in further enhancing your expertise regarding Type and Stress, please check out our MBTI® Master Class on the subject. We will be running our Type and Stress MBTI Master Class in Toronto on September 29, and if you register before July 31 you’ll save $200! Click here to learn more.

Filed under: Type Talk