Vanessa, MBTIonline Contributing Writer
5 min. read
What does the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) have to do with stress?
As it turns out, a lot.
MBTI experts Melissa Summer and Michael Segovia went live on Instagram to chat about this. They talked about how different personality types handle stress, how extreme stress changes you, and what you can do to balance things out.
Before we dive into the recap, it helps to know that each of the 16 MBTI types has a favorite part of their personality (sometimes called the favorite process). This is the strongest, most developed part of your personality. It takes the lead in everything you do. In second, third, and fourth place, you also have your second, third, and fourth processes. These processes work together to color your mindset and behavior. The unique way these processes interact is called type dynamics.
When you’re stressed, you overuse the most dominant part of your personality
Something interesting happens when you’re stressed. You start to overuse your favorite process because it’s what comes most naturally to you. As you dig your heels into your favorite process, it leaves your other three processes in the dust—and causes you to lose balance. During the Instagram Live, Michael (who has preferences for INFP) offered an example from his own life:
“For people who prefer INFP, we are driven by this inner core of values that guides us. We define that as introverted Feeling [an INFP’s favorite process]. We live by these values that are really important to us. When we start to get stressed, we can exaggerate this to the point where only our values count and no one else’s. So, we can appear really different and not who we typically are. I know for me, one of my values is that I hear what everybody has to say and I’m there for everybody. But not when I start to get stressed. Then it’s only my values. I also tend to get on my soapbox and fixate on the idea that my values are the most important.”
Here's an example for another personality type: ESTJ. Their favorite process is something called extraverted Thinking, which means they’re usually very logical and task-focused. Their second process (kind of like second in command) is introverted Sensing. This helps ESTJs store facts and details that will help them solve problems or make decisions in the future. But when ESTJs are stressed, they get tunnel vision for extraverted Thinking. What does that look like? A lot of rapid-fire, inflexible decisions that are made with little consideration for other important details.
Is it Opposite Day or are you just “In the Grip” of extreme stress?
So far, we’ve only covered regular, everyday stress.
Extreme stress is another thing entirely.
When you’re under extreme stress, the opposite of your favorite process takes over. This means your fourth (or least favorite) process comes out to play. When this happens, you’re “in the grip.” Think of it like a Jekyll and Hyde situation where something unfamiliar and alarming seems to have its grip on you.
This is not the same as flexing your preferences, which is an intentional, positive move toward opposite sides of your personality.
Because your fourth process is generally underused, it can come out in immature, childlike ways when you’re under extreme stress. Fortunately, if you catch your stress at the initial stages, you may be able to work through it before it gets too intense. But without self-awareness and good coping skills, you can get caught in the grip. Michael explained what this extreme stress response looks like for him as an INFP type:
“My [fourth process] is something called extraverted Thinking. In everyday situations, that’s about organizing the world in a logical, task-focused way. It’s not typically what I do. So, when I’m in a place of extreme stress, that process can take over. And because I don’t use it often, I might not use it well. For me, it can come off as being really bossy, pointing fingers at people, and being pushy. Very unlike the person I usually am.”
Let’s also revisit the earlier example about ESTJs. Their fourth process is introverted Feeling. Remember: because this is underdeveloped, it can manifest in ways that appear unhinged or immature. So, for ESTJs under extreme stress, this looks like hypersensitivity to emotions, outbursts of tears or anger, and doubts about their own emotional stability.
Pro tip: Learn the stress triggers for all 16 MBTI® personality types
Awareness of how stress and type dynamics work is incredibly helpful for relationships of any kind—including partners, siblings, parents, coworkers, roommates, and others. What stresses one person out might not stress you out. So, as long as the other person is willing to share their MBTI type with you, it can be fun and enlightening to work on relationships this way. Just be sure everyone finds their true MBTI type by taking the official assessment instead of a random quiz online. It’s the only way to know for sure.
Once you know someone’s MBTI type, then you can get acquainted with their stress triggers, which are different for everyone. For example, Melissa explained how her preferences for INFJ make it so that she gets stressed when there’s too much detail or project management at work. And Michael mentioned his partner has preferences for ISFJ. Because ISFJs get stressed by last-minute changes or too much big picture information, Michael tries to offer his partner more step-by-step details instead:
“When we’re going through something new together, I understand what he needs. I honor what I need of course, but also honor what he needs so I don’t add to the stress of his day. You might think, ‘I don’t know why that little bit of big picture information is bothering that person.’ But we have to keep in mind it just builds. It adds up. So, your little bit of big picture information could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
For a list of stressors by type, read this post. During the last part of the Instagram Live, Michael answered audience questions, which covered everything from work conflict to confusion about college majors. You can watch the replay or come back for Part Two of the recap.