Myers-Briggs Types and Grief

 LMAP, CC-BY, via flickr
credit: LMAP, CC-BY, via flickr

I started writing this post nearly a year ago, after losing a dear friend, but I couldn’t finish it then. While I was grieving and watching the people around me grieve, I started wondering if the ways individuals respond to grief might be influenced by personality type. Once I started thinking about it, I was surprised that it wasn’t something I’d already read about in my personality studies.

People experience grief in such different ways that it would make sense for someone to try and find commonalities between how each personality type deals with grief. Maybe then we could come up with a self-help method for the grieving process more individualized than the inadequate and outdated 5 stages of grief model.

A few Google searchers later, I’d found plenty of forum topics where people who shared personality types were getting together to compare notes on how they deal with grief. I also found the following on the official Myers-Briggs website:

There have been many books written about personality type and grief, and it is perhaps one of the most profound uses of type. Understanding one’s personality type helps a person recognize why certain expressions of grief are better suited to his or her personal journey through this difficult process.

Unfortunately, they are neglected to give any more information about the “many books.” I’ve only been able to find Recovery from Loss: A Personalized Guide to the Grieving Process by Lewis Tagliaferre and Gary L. Harbaugh and Understanding Grief Types: Working with the Individual Nature of Bereavement by Lisa Prosser-Dodds (which had not yet been released).

Survey of Available Information

Recovery from Loss is specifically written for people who are grieving the loss of a spouse. It proposes a 20-step model for dealing with grief, and does address the role of personality type. However, the authors’ ideas are drawn from general knowledge of how different types respond to stressful situations rather than on actual research. They suggest this would be a profitable study, but do not undertake such a study themselves.

For such a study, I found a The Relationship Between Grief and Personality — A Quantitative Study by Lisa Prosser-Dodds, who presented this study of 239 individuals’ responses to grief as part of her PhD (I’m assuming it was also the starting point for her soon-coming book). Her study asks, ” Is there a difference in grief response between groups with differing MBTI personality types?” According to her, previous explorations of the MBTI’s role in grief are very few. She mentions four:

  1. a 1990 study of 51 bereaved mothers that said, “Extroverts reported higher levels of coping resources and focused on Social, Cognitive, Emotional and Spiritual resources.” The sample group mainly consisted of Extroverts and Feelers.
  2. a 1999 study of 14 people who had lost a spouse. This study “found differences in styles of grieving between varying personality types” but not “a significant use of inferior function,” which we would expect to show up in times of stress.
  3. the 1990 book Recovery From Loss, which I’ve alredy mentioned. Prosser-Dodds thinks their 20-step recovery model is presented “at a level of intellectual requirement that most grievers might become unable to digest,” and notes their observations are “not grounded in empirical data.”
  4. the 1994 book Voices of Loss, compiling first-hand accounts of grief and loss (not necessarily due to death) from various personality types. It is also “not based upon empirical data.”

 What We Can Learn

If you’re interested in reading part of Prosser-Dodd’s study, her summary of results begins on page 68 of this PDF document. The aspect of her findings that I found most surprising was that “When the dominant function aspect of the personality was compared, none of the results showed significant differences. All six subscales and the total scale scores failed to support the hypothesis.” Given Naomi Quenk’s writings on the role of inferior functions in times of stress, this is quite shocking. I would have assumed eruptions of the shadow played a key role in grief, but our dominant function might actually have more to do with how we grieve than our inferior functions.

Instead, “the results that showed the most significant differences were with the predictor variable functional pairs (NT, ST, NF and SF).” This probably wouldn’t have surprised Isabel Myers, since that is the method she used to divide personality types into four groups: “ST- Practical and Matter of Fact Types,” “SF – Sympathetic and Friendly Types,” “NF – Enthusiastic and Insightful Types,” and “NT – Logical and Ingenious Types.”

NF Types

Prosser-Dodd found that NF types had “higher levels of despair, disorganization and detachment” in their grief response, as wells as “slightly less personal growth.” NF type tend to feel things deeply in general, so it is hardly surprising that our grief response involves high levels of emotion. They are, however, better able than thinking types to find meaning in the tragedy of loss and regain balance in relation to the world.

NT Types

Intuitive Thinkers scored lowest on all aspects measured by the Integration of Stressful Life Events Scale. This measures the ability to make meaning out of a loss and to find one’s footing in the world while recovering. Prosser-Dodd said that considering NT types as “as the logical and strategic types, it would follow they might struggle with a comprehension of the loss in general and perhaps find it difficult to regain their footing in world following a loss.”

SF and ST Types

On the scales of despair, disorganization, and detachment the ST and SF types scored in between the NF and NT types, with SF types just a bit higher than ST types. Interestingly, ST types were the most likely to use a loss for personal growth. SFs scored higher than STs in being able to find their footing in the world and make meaning out of a loss (they’re better at this than NF types, as well).

Love Languages and MBTI Types

Myers-Briggs types have much to tell us about ourselves and other people. Our MBTI type reflects our preferences for crowded parties or small gathering, describes how we connect with other people, shows us how we naturally respond to stress, and gives us a picture of our innate strengths and weaknesses. Another thing it’s often used for is trying to predict what type of person we’ll be attracted to, and most compatible with, in a romantic sense. Unfortunately, MBTI only gives part of the picture in this regard.

Types in Love

Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase on that website.

Use of the MBTI for romance is subject to much debate. Isabel Myer wrote in Gifts Differing*, chapter 11, that “it seems only reasonable that the greater mutual understanding between couples with more likeness than difference should lead, on the whole, to greater mutual attraction and esteem.” This was supported by her study of 375 married couples who were most frequently “alike on three of their four preferences rather than on only two, as would be expected by chance.” However, Isabel Myer was an INFP woman happily married to an ISTJ man. According to her own personality theory, they “shouldn’t” have gotten along, especially since she thought that shared S-N preferences were the most important for predicting a couple’s happiness together and understanding of each other. Obviously type isn’t the only important ingredient for happiness.

Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, an NF – NT couple

David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II* agrees with Myers on the importance of S-N pairings, saying that his SP Artisan types are most compatible with SJ Guardians, and that NF Idealists are most compatible with NT rationals. His ideal pairing is someone who shares your S-N preference and is your opposite in the other three preferences. For example, he would pair an INFJ with an ENTP.

Continuing with INFJs as our example, these theories have influenced many INFJ profiles online. Jennifer Soldner’s Guide To INFJ Relationships lists ENFP, ENTP, INTJ and INFJ as the best matches for an INFJ. The worst matches are ESFP, ESTP, ESTJ, and ENTJ (note that this last one contradicts Keirsey’s rule for pairing NF and NT types). For the most part, these suggestions seem logical at first, much like Isabel Myer said when theorizing that people will get along best if they are similar. It doesn’t explain, however, why one study found that INFJs were most likely to marry either INFJs or ESTPs, or why Myers herself was happy married to someone so dissimilar in terms of type. Clearly there’s something else going on here.

The “Something Else”

Even with their generalizations about which types get along most easily together, both Isabel Myers and David Keirsey admit there are other very important ingredients to a lasting romantic relationship.

Individual relationships defy generalizations, and it should be stressed that two well-adjusted people of any two temperaments can find ways of making their marriage work for them.” (Keirsey)

“Understanding, appreciation, and respect make a lifelong marriage possible and good. Similarity of type is not important, except as it leads to these three. Without them, people fall in love and out of love again; with them, a man and woman will become increasingly valuable to each other and know that they are contributing to each other’s lives.” (Myers)

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

A mutual willingness to work together and actively build-up the relationships is more important than compatible MBTI types. One aspect of this is understanding the other person and learning how to love them. Becoming familiar with their Myers-Briggs type will help tremendously, but it’s not enough by itself. You also benefit from an understanding of Love Languages.

The five love languages theory was first published in 1995 by Gary Chapman, a relationship counselor and pastor. He says every person has a “language” that they use to communicate and receive love, either Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, or Physical Touch. Everyone has one primary love language, and you might have a secondary love language as well. If someone’s partner is not speaking their love language, they will not feel loved. There’s a test on Chapman’s website if you don’t know what your love language is and want to find out.

Layering Love Languages

In theory, any MBTI type can be combined with any one of the five love languages. I’m guessing, however, that there are some love languages that are more likely for certain MBTI types. Let’s take a quick look at the characteristics for the four type groups as related to different love languages.

SP types are typically concerned with outward, concrete ways of viewing the world, and focus on the here and now. Keirsey describes their preferred role in a romantic relationship as “playmate.” I could see SP types being particularly inclined toward Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, or Physical Touch as a primary love language. These all involve doing something for or with the loved one, which would appeal strongly to SP types.

Duty-fulfilling SJ types tend to play what Keirsey described as a “helpmate” role in relationships. They are stable, traditional, and thoroughly dependable people.  SJ types might be most in tune with Acts of Service, Quality Time or Words of Affirmation as a love language. These love languages visibly or verbally confirm that a SJ’s loved ones appreciate their constant reliability.

NF types are idealistic, enjoy abstract thought, and are natural romantics. Keirsey described their role in a romantic relationship as “soulmate.” They search for deep, genuine connections. Quality Time and Words of Affirmation seem like the most likely love languages, though Physical Touch and Acts of Service are also good possibilities. The key for NF types is genuine depth in a relationship, so they are inclined towards a language that increases emotional intimacy.

The NT types are highly intellectual, and Keirsey described their relationship role as “mindmate.” They are logical, abstract, and have little tolerance for the superficial. Words of Affirmation and Quality Time seem like the most likely love languages for an NT type, but after reading two different forum topics on MBTI types and love languages (one on Typology Central and one on Personality Cafe) I learned many NTs favor Physical Touch as well. My personal theory is that NT types view Service and/or Gifts with suspicion, wondering what the other person wants from them, while the others seem more genuine.

What about you? What are your Myers-Briggs type and love language(s)? Do you see a connection between the two? Share in the comments!

*indicates affiliate links

So That’s What All Those Letters Mean — An Introduction to the MBTI

After many years of being intrigued by personality types, and Myers-Briggs in particular, I am finally reading Isabel Briggs Myers’ book, Gifts Differing. I wish I’d read it sooner — aspects of the theory that it took me years to learn about through casual reading are all explained in chapter 1. I wish I’d stumbled across an article talking about what all those letters actually mean earlier, or that I’d thought to read the book.

Since the best way to really learn something is to teach it, and in order to write the article I wish I’d read years ago, here is my own version of an introduction to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase on that website.

Note: All quotations are from the 1995 reprint of Gifts Differing.*

Judging and Perceiving.

As Isabel Myers explains it, the principle behind typology is to understand how and why other people’s minds work differently from our own. In chapter one, she says, “the theory is that much seemingly chance variation in human behavior is not due to chance; it in in fact the logical result of a few basic, observable differences in mental functioning.”

Myers-Briggs typology, and Jungian psychology, say that people have two main psychological “functions” which they develop and use to understand the world and interact with other people. The perceiving function includes “the process of becoming aware of things, people, occurrences, and ideas.” Intuition (N) and sensing (S) are two different ways of perceiving. The judging function “includes the process of coming to conclusions about what has been perceived.” Thinking (T) and feeling (F) are two different ways of judging.

So That's What All Those Letters Mean -- An Introduction to the MBTI by

As children grow, they start to use one way of perceiving (sensing or intuition) and one way of judging (thinking or feeling) more than the other. They become comfortable with the preferred perceiving and judging functions, and learn to use them much more effectively than the neglected function. This results in four possible combinations: sensing plus thinking (ST), sensing plus feeling (SF), intuition plus feeling (NF), and intuition plus thinking (NT).

Finding Dominant Functions

Isabel Myers says that in Jungian psychology, introversion (I) and extroversion (E) refers to whether people orient their lives around the inner world of concepts and ideas or the outer world of people and things. Every healthy person uses both introversion and extroversion, but there will be one with which they are most comfortable. This relates to the Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling functions by dictating whether a person’s dominant function is introverted or extroverted (more on that in a moment).

So That's What All Those Letters Mean -- An Introduction to the MBTI by

The last letter in a Myers-Briggs type refers to whether a person uses a perceptive (P) or a judging (J) “attitude as a way of life, a method of dealing with the world around us.” People use both a perceiving and a judging function; one extroverted and one introverted. If a person is a perceptive type, then their perceiving preference (S or N) will be extroverted. If a person is a judging type, their judging preference (T or F) will be extroverted.

Since the Judging-Perceiving preference only refers to outer behavior, it most easily observed in Extraverts. For example, an ENFJ will extrovert their judging function and use extroverted feeling (Fe) to interact with the outer world. Because they are an extrovert, this also makes Fe their dominant function. It is supported by an auxiliary perceiving function: introverted intuition (Ni). Dominant and auxiliary functions are a bit more complicated for introverts. An ISTP type will extrovert their perceiving function and use extroverted sensing (Se). However, since they are an introverted type, their dominant function is introverted thinking (Ti) and Se is their auxiliary function . The function they use the most is a judging one, but when they interact with the outer world they use perception.

Putting The Letters Together

It is far too simplistic to take each individual letter in a Myers-Briggs type separately. To say an INFJ is an introvert/intuitive/feeler/judger misses what the MBTI can tell us about how they look at the world with Ni and how they formulate judgements with Fe, and which of those they do most easily. It also passes over the fact that introverts sometimes use extroversion and that extraverts sometimes use introversion. That’s why the short Myers-Briggs style tests you might find online that line-up descriptions of Extravert-Introvert, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judging-Perceiving and then have people choose which one is most “like them” can be an incorrect assessment of a person’s type.

One other thing to add about Myers-Briggs types is that Isabel Briggs Myers never intended for these types to be used to make people feel “boxed in” to their personality type or to infringe on a person’s right to self-determination. An ENTP, for example has “already exercised this right by preferring E and N and T and P.” Myers-Briggs type is a tool for better understanding who we have already chosen to be, and for learning to relate to and better understand people who think differently than us.

*indicates affiliate links

Learn More …

Introduction To Cognitive Functions: The Learning Processes

Introduction To Cognitive Functions: The Decision-Making Processes