Using Myers-Briggs to understand the connection between your personality and how you handle stress

There is stress and then there is STRESS. Does that make sense?

Whatever the level of stress in our lives, we each have our own ways of dealing with it. Or not.

When I’m overly stressed, I tend to get bitchy. That’s right. I do. I find fault with the smallest things. And I withdraw. Those who understand me well know that if I’m in a really bad space, I prefer to be left alone. Even a hug won’t do. I like hugging people, but not when I’m under stress.

Rebecca Vincelette would tell me that when I’m like that, I’m” in the grip of my inferior function.” That’s Myers-Briggs talk. Rebecca is an MBTI -Certified Practitioner.

What is Myers-Briggs?

MBTI stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s a personality test developed in the 40s by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Meyers and it’s based on the works of psychiatrist Carl Yung.

The test consists of a series of questions designed to identify four basic personality preferences. I took the test years ago as part of an on-the-job leadership training. The results showed that I am an INFP. The opposite of INFP is ESTJ — my husband! There are 16 different combinations.

I pulled these explanations of the basic preferences from the Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

INTROVERSION (I) Draws energy from within — from reflection.
EXTRAVERSION (E) Draws energy from other people and activities.

INTUITION (N) Prefers to focus first on meanings, relationships and/or possibilities that have been worked out beyond the reach of the conscious mind.
SENSING (S) Prefers to rely on observable facts or happenings.

FEELING (F) Relies primarily on feelings to make decisions on the basis of personal or social values.
THINKING (T) Relies primarily on thinking to make decisions impersonally on the basis of logical consequence.

PERCEIVING (P) A preference for using a perceptive process (either sensing or intuition) for dealing with the outer world.
JUDGING (J) A preference for using a judgment process (either thinking or feeling) for dealing with the outer world.

If you want to learn more about Myers-Briggs, you might want to start with the Myers-Briggs Foundation.

Your personality and stress

A tool like Myers-Briggs can help people understand the connection between personality and stress, said Rebecca. It helped her and her husband when she was going through breast cancer treatments in 2011. She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 33. At the time, her daughter was three and her son was one. You can imagine the level of stress she and her husband were experiencing.

“[MBTI] gave a language and a way of processing how we were interacting,” Rebecca explained. “It gave a way to reflect and say ok, so I come out of chemo and I really want to curl up in bed and not talk to anyone or have a conversation with my absolute best friend. It just gave a context or framework for how to talk about our differences.”

Rebecca believes that understanding personality differences can help foster and enhance understanding between people under any circumstance. Say when one spouse is an INFP and the other is an ESTJ.

“I think it has great implications for couples across the board,” she said, “but in times of crisis could be very helpful. You could realize this is simply his type and how he’s functioning. It has nothing to do with him trying to annoy me. When you have the types side by side you can also see their preferred communication style. You realize if you’re trying to get through to someone what is potentially the best way to approach him or her.”

Each personality type has its absolute strengths that shine when they are at their best. “For instance,” said Rebecca, “INFPs at their best are empathetic. They think people matter, including themselves. They’re independent, sensitive and idealistic.”

When they’re under stress? “They would become rescuers, feel like carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They would have a tendency to isolate themselves or become hypersensitive or pompous.”

And if the stress becomes so intense and overwhelming, they snap?

“If a personality type reels out of control, like the moments when we all snap and lose it, we tend to be in the grip of our inferior functions,” explained Rebecca. “Each of us has our preferred mode of functioning, our easiest way of functioning. When we snap we go to our least developed form of function. If an INFP snaps, they would become critical of others and quickly see the incompetence all around them. They may turn this on themselves or become convinced of their own incompetence.”

When an INFP snaps the best remedy is to get away — from everybody and everything.

How a person reacts during the best and worst of times depends on their personality type. “Each type has things that are stressors for their type which might not be stressors at all for other types, said Rebecca. “A critical illness, cancer, that’s going to be a stressor for everyone, no matter what. People in a constant state of stress because of illness are already functioning right on the edge of what is constantly going on around them.”

Upcoming presentations

Rebecca is currently doing a counseling internship at the Cancer Community Center. She has a Master’s degree in clinical psychology and is working toward becoming a licensed clinical professional counselor in Maine.

Because of her personal cancer experience and understanding of how knowing their Myers-Briggs types helps her and her husband, she is presenting a series of seminars at the Cancer Community Center.

“I think it’s helpful for anyone across the board and I’m really interested to see how it can be of assistance within a critical illness,” she said. “To some extent, it just gives a vocabulary to use around different issues so it can just take the zing and the sting out of things. Every family has its own dynamic and things going on outside the personality, but definitely, personalities influence what is going on.”

Myers-Briggs Personality Types & Effects of Stress on Types

Introduction to Myers-Briggs personality types

Thursday, February 2, noon to one

How Myers-Briggs personality types function in times of acute stress

Thursday, February 9, noon to one

The presentations are free. People who would like to take the test can do so online for $50 at Rebecca will be able to provide MBTI interpretation and consultation at the Cancer Community Center at no charge. She will also be providing one-on-one counseling support not related to Myers-Briggs. For more information about the presentations and counseling services contact the Cancer Community Center.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.