“Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will rule your life and you will call it Fate.”
Recently I was on a call with two colleagues discussing a topic of high interest. I was super engaged in the conversation, enjoying the dynamic of interacting! Since I am an extrovert by nature, that means I draw energy from others and from interaction. I find myself missing “people interaction” more than ever. Our company is virtual and we don’t often have reason to interact in small groups, as one would in a physical environment. I’m sure many of you can relate, maybe for the first time in your career. I’m sure right now, any extrovert living in a very introverted situation, especially if you live alone or with one person, is experiencing a degree of instability.
As the conversation progressed, I began to realize my profound enjoyment and awareness that my limiting tendencies were running amok. What I mean by that is, despite my knowing better—intellectually and socially—I found myself participating in a collection of inappropriate behaviors like interrupting, talking over others and monopolizing talk time, all of which are highly unproductive to the group. I could feel myself selfishly succumbing when normally I would keep these behaviors in check, as a professional courtesy and to stay focused and on track. Unfortunately, you may well recognize these traits in yourself or in people you know who are highly extroverted.
You, too, may find yourself losing control with regard to personality-based traits that are generally good unless under duress. The impact of COVID-19 in our lives is truly much more complex psychologically than most people realize.
During this time of isolation one very productive approach to management and growth is to take a quiet time to reflect on where you are emotionally, in an attempt to be fully aware and conscious of your behavior and its impact on others. In normal circumstances personality type tends to exhibit itself in typical patterns, but under stress it can look contrary to how you generally behave. You may even want to journal or note daily, with face emojis, a record of where you were most of the week or month—anything that gives you an awareness of your psychological state of mind from one day to the next.
If you find yourself exhibiting behaviors that you are aware can be undesirable, but relent like I did, that’s one thing. But if you are not aware, it’s important to realize that behaviors can show that are detrimental to us and those around us. Words and actions are powerful, and they can cause great damage when we are cavalier and out of control. While Personality Type emphasizes the talents and gifts we have, just like yin and yang there are opposite traits that generally remain under control until some situation arises where we are forced to operate under duress in the lesser preferred area. Since those lesser areas are not favored, and therefore not developed, they can be exhibited in words and actions that are interpreted as harsh and hurtful.
As an extrovert I thrive on collaboration and communication, but under extreme circumstances I become dictatorial and bark orders. It’s shocking and disrespectful to those who don’t know me well. Often it’s so harsh it even surprises me! It’s a concern when we exhibit behaviors that are out of character, as stress and fatigue can greatly impact our psychological stability before we are aware. Conscious awareness may not immediately be available to us, so familiarizing yourself with the typical behaviors of your type under stress is a prudent thing to do. If time and effort are invested in determining the trigger or root cause, we can adjust the behavior with whatever supports are necessary and make amends to those who have been negatively impacted. In our current living situation, the global pandemic offers each of us a ringside seat into analyzing the atypical behaviors and the why behind them.
Let’s start with the dimensions of personality type: extraversion and introversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, and judging and perceiving. That’s four continuums, and your traits for each dimension land somewhere on that continuum for you. The placement may change minimally over time, but generally if you had a strong result, it will stay very stable.
Just to clarify, extraverts think by talking, so ideas are processed through conversations and generally the focus of communication is centered around breadth of ideas versus depth. Introverts, in comparison, need to process, reflect and absorb conversations or information. That means quiet time away from others. When not given the time to ponder, process and analyze before responding or reacting, they often find the decisions they have made to be flawed and in need of correction later. Internally there is conflict and a desire to modify earlier conclusions. Depending on how strongly one prefers a preference, and how flexible the individual is, understanding and drawing from the opposite will display their ability to maneuver in situations where they are under stress.
If you’re like me, an extravert isolated in your home with limited personal contact, you may find yourself on the phone talking or texting often. You look forward to interactions via any source, including technology. On the other hand, my husband is highly introverted, which means he is generally not one to initiate conversations and tends to spend most of his time in his office. My talking wears him down and his silence makes me feel isolated. Knowledge of personality type gives each of us the tools to know what we need and prefer, and how to get it without feeling guilty or blaming the other person for something they had no knowledge of or intention of causing harm.
Not being able to engage in one’s preference can lead to some interesting situations. The value of awareness is that we can look for workarounds, alternative solutions or, if necessary, escape routes—whatever is appropriate to maintain equilibrium and stability. Sometimes conflict arises and amends will be necessary, but awareness can prevent that and allow us to explore and understand the triggers. In doing so, we have power over the potentially negative impact of behaviors stemming from our personality under duress.
Most negative behaviors are unsettling and can catch us off guard, because they are so far from our normal preferred patterns. Since we don’t gravitate to these behaviors as our general “go tos,” they are our last effort to control the situation. That’s why they come across as extreme and undesirable.
Even in the simple examples presented, it’s not a stretch for me to argue with my husband over his lack of engagement and conversation. Obviously that’s my least beneficial method of engagement, but also my last-ditch effort to provoke some response in conversation. It hardly ever results in what I desire, but it can sometimes become a bridge to open communication—with emphasis on “sometimes.”
We all display stress in various ways, depending on our personality. When I become demanding and dictatorial, I get a reaction, but it certainly is not complimentary to my preferred approach of harmony and collaboration.
Each of the four dimensions of personality has preferred traits and behaviors. Should you find this subject matter interesting, I would strongly recommend two resources by Naomi Quenk: Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality and Beside Ourselves: Hidden Personality in Everyday Life. The first title is her most recent release, but both are easy to read and highly informative.
Just a few more tidbits about the other dimensions of type…. While being safe at home, the sensing and intuition dimensions are about how we take in information and find our outward expressions. Sensing types might be more drawn to the TV and media because they like concrete experiences and a focus on the practical. They like to fill their time with planning, organization, designing systems, cleaning out clutter, learning a practical self-help skill and applying knowledge in sensory, practical ways. Even things like learning via YouTube to give a haircut, cooking a new recipe or grooming a dog are good examples of the sensing person, along with a type of physical movement, exercise, hiking or biking.
Intuitive types are generally more inclined to look for creative outlets where they can express their desire for originality and expression of self. This can be exhibited in so many ways, from landscaping, floral design, painting or sculpting to interior design—almost anything where their stamp of uniqueness can be expressed.
For thinking and feeling, the behavior is displayed in the manner in which we approach and rationalize decisions. Thinking types integrate high levels of data, logic, and analysis in their approach to life, while feeling types defer to a humanistic, empathetic, heart-guided approach. It’s easy to see, even in these brief descriptors, how these foundational elements might be played out in everyday life. I’ve noticed in the media there seems to be a distinct focus on data and science and a mix of human interest stories that touch the heart.
The final two preferences, judging and perceiving, are easily identified as well. When we are isolated at home, we can often observe the preferences that impact our preferred routine and structure. Typically, judging preferences like a strongly detailed organizational system, easily observable and simple to follow. Just seeing the layout of a room or a space in their environment or home will provide clues to their preference. Perceiving types are much more flexible in using systems that work for them but may not be easily understood by the observer. While they have a defined system, it may be one that only they understand, as it is designed to work for their needs alone. Since judging types tend to be planners, they may spend large quantities of time making plans for the future during this imposed stay at home, while perceiving types might look for spontaneous opportunities, like taking a walk outside or attacking a long-awaited project that they have been procrastinating about. Perceiving individuals can be distracted easily from tasks they are not invested in and prefer experiences that hold higher interest in that moment.
In our current global situation, more than ever, knowledge is power. Personality type empowers us to understand everything that is positive as well as the not-so-positive aspects that tend to rear their ugly heads when our world is unpredictable and constantly changing in ways over which we have no control. In our desire to keep a healthy grounding, knowing and understanding gives us power and perspective over our interaction and reactions to an ever-changing landscape, thus grounding us—no matter what the external environment presents!