Depression isn’t confined to a certain personality type, but we can use tools from the Myers-Briggs type system when trying to combat negative thought patterns. If you know what your four-letter type is, then you can easily find out what are some common stress triggers and negative thought patterns for your type that can increase risk of depression.
Temperament Affects Behavior
Depression is a very complicated issue with lots of underlying causes. The Harvard Medical School points out that while people often assume depression is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, it also has to do with our genetics, temperament, stressful experiences, past traumas, other medical conditions, and certain medications. For now, we’re going to focus on temperament.
Your view of the world and, in particular, your unacknowledged assumptions about how the world works also influence how you feel. You develop your viewpoint early on and learn to automatically fall back on it when loss, disappointment, or rejection occurs.” — Understanding Depression, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School
Our temperaments affect how we process the sorts of situations that often lead to depression, such as grief or a prolonged struggle. In Myers-Briggs theory, we use the four-letter types to describe the personality temperament which is built from someone’s genetic predispositions and early childhood experiences.
*** People frequently experience depressed moods that last for a short time, which is different than clinical depression. Studying ways to change patterns of negative thinking can help pull you out of depression, but for ongoing or serious depression it is no substitute for professional counseling. If depression is interfering with your daily life, and especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.***
Your “Inferior Function”
Your Myers-Briggs type describes your temperament weaknesses as well as your strengths. Every type has what we call an inferior function, which is also sometimes called the “shadow.” It is our least-developed function that we still have some conscious access to, and it’s the one that emerges when we’re stressed. Since it’s largely unused, it’s an immature and distorted way of looking at the world and can lead to unhealthy outlooks and negative thoughts, which can in turn contribute to depression.
Naomi Quenk’s book Was That Really Me? talks about stress bringing out our “hidden personality” in what she describes as an eruption of the inferior function. When we’re caught “in the grip” of our inferior functions, we are trying to deal with stress using a mental process that is unfamiliar, and it can have a profound effect on our mood.
Not every instance of stress will trigger our inferior function, and not all grip experiences are negative. Staying in your inferior function, though, increases stress levels because you’re not really using the functions that come most naturally to you. Learning about your inferior function gives you insight into typical sensitivities that might trigger a grip experience, describes signs that you are “in the grip”, and gives you tools for returning to a more balanced state of mind.
The Grip and Depression
Depression isn’t necessarily a symptom of being in the grip, but grip experiences do increase the tendency to fall into negative thought patterns. Our thought patterns directly impact our health, and “in many cases, depression can be caused by negative thinking, itself” (LiveScience.com). The tools each type can use to climb out of the grip can also help you get a handle on negative thinking.
As an example, INFJs and INFPs are two types that frequently report dealing with depression. An INFJ’s inferior function is Extroverted Sensing, and it typically shows up as “obsessive focus on external data,” “overindulgence in sensual pleasure,” and “adversarial attitude toward the outer world” (Quenk, p.198) For INFPs, their inferior Extroverted Thinking causes “judgements of incompetence,” “aggressive criticism,” and “precipitous action” (Quenk, p.105). It’s easy to see how these will negatively influence your thoughts. If you feel like the outer world is attacking you, it changes how you think about everything around you and your own responses to external events and people. If you fall into a pattern of thinking you’re incompetent, it’s going to pull your thoughts in a negative direction.
Naomi Quenk writes that INFJs “need space and a low-pressure environment to regain their dominant” function (p.207). A change of scenery can help, and INFJs often appreciate having someone else around after a while to offer support and affirmation. Sometimes, taking time away from other people to journal about your thoughts and look at them more objectively helps redirect patterns of negativity. Talking things over with a friend or therapist also helps, though I find it works best after taking some alone time first. INFPs use similar methods for returning to equilibrium, but alone time is even more important for them and when they do talk to people, they need someone to listen more than offer guidance (Quenk, p.115).
A certain amount of alone time is critical for many introvert types, but not always so much for extroverted types. ENFJs, for example, fall into a pattern of “excessive criticism,” “convoluted logic,” and “compulsive search for truth” when in the grip. This type often benefits from exercise and a change of scenery, as well as having someone involve them in a project that captures their interest. Having a chance to talk things over with someone who takes them seriously is critical (Quenk, p. 163).
I highly recommend checking out Naomi Quenk’s book, or at least running a Google search to learn your type’s inferior function. It’s helped me quite a bit with my anxiety and in finding strategies for turning negative thoughts around, as well as with relating to other people who are struggling with different stressors in their lives.
Credits for photos used in blog images:
- “What Now?” by Kiran Foster, CC BY via Flickr
- “Depression” by Ryan Melaugh, CC BY via Flickr