As an INFJ, I often see people talking about how it’s the rarest personality type. According to every type distribution I’ve seen this statement is true. However, I’ve also seen quite a few INFJs treat this rarity as if there’s a huge gap between how rare we are compared to the other personality types. Some also treat this rarity as meaning that we INFJs are so rare no one else can relate to us and/or that it makes us extra special.
As you can see from the type distribution chart at the start of this post, most of the Intuitive types each make up less than 5% of the population. The estimates from Center of Application for Psychological Type cover a pretty broad range, though. The Myers-Briggs® Foundation offers more specific estimates in addition to the ranges. These percentages pin-point INFJ at 1.5%, ENTJ 1.8%, INTJ at 2.1%, and ENFJ at 2.5%. They’re all pretty rare. Read more →
One of the ways we relate Myers-Briggs type to culture is by saying most Feeling types are women and most Thinking types are men. This seems to work quite nicely as a partial explanation for gender stereotypes in Western culture. In spite of social pushes to break-down gender distinctions, Feeling-type attributes (emotionally expressive, nurturing, relational, etc.) are typically considered “female” and Thinking attributes (impersonal, fact-oriented, business-like, etc.) are considered more “male.”
If we fit this generalization, we probably haven’t even noticed it. If you’re a woman with traditionally feminine traits or a man with traditionally masculine traits, there’s little pressure to change (though there are exceptions, of course). But if you’re a woman whose mind naturally makes decisions in an impersonal way or a man who prefers harmony to competition chances are someone has told you at some point that there’s something wrong with you.
As with many generalizations, there’s a whole slew of problems related to this observation. According to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, about 57 to 84 percent of women are Feeling types and about 47 to 72 percent of men are Thinking types. It’s hard to get exact numbers on type distribution, but even these broad estimates show that, while the generalization holds true, there are also quite a few Feeling men and Thinking women.
Just in my family of 5, there are three good examples of exceptions to the general rule that most men are Thinkers and most women are Feelers. My dad (ISFJ) and brother (ENFJ) are both Feeling types, and my sister (INTJ) is a thinking type. My mother has asked me not to type her, but as an INFJ I might be the only one in my family who fits the “women are Feeling types” generalization.
Thinking vs. Feeling
Lest these generalizations lead you to conclude Thinking people don’t have emotions or that Feeling people can’t be intelligent, let’s take a quick look at what Thinking and Feeling refer to when we’re talking about Myers-Briggs types. Both Thinking and Feeling are Judging functions, meaning they describe how you like to make decisions. Read more →
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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).