A lot of my posts here are pretty impersonal. I can write all day about type, the difference between Te, Ti, Fe, Fi, Se, Si, Ne or Ni. Writing about myself is much trickier. I think to myself, “who wants to hear that?” because I can’t imagine it possibly being interesting. But lately I’ve been wondering if my experiences could provide solidarity to other INFJs out there. Maybe you’re not an INFJ, but you’ve just been overwhelmed and need some understanding!

I joked with my husband two nights ago, saying, “I just finished writing an eBook about stress, and here I am stressed out all the time. This doesn’t seem right!”. We had a good laugh about it. So perhaps after reading this you’ll skip reading my eBook. That’s okay. If this post helps even a few people feel understood or validated in their experiences than I’m happy. Maybe reading my experience will help you to realize when you are having a grip reaction so you can try to find ways to minimize its intensity.

As an INFJ, two vitally important needs we have are being able to have alone time and peace in the environment. INFJs are Ni-dominant types, who rely on complex intuitive analysis and mental clarity to understand and perceive the world around them. Lack of alone time, constant interruptions, noise, these kinds of things are like torture to an INFJ. Other major stressors include lack of harmony in the environment, having to focus on too many details, and not being able to envision the future.

Naomi Quenk, one of the authors of the MBTI® Manual, and the author of “Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality” says in her book:

“Of the four dominant Introverted types, it is Introverted Intuitive types who most frequently mention “too much extraverting” as a common trigger for inferior function responses.They describe being provoked by such things as crowds; people overload; noisy, busy environments; feeling that their personal space is being invaded; and frequent interruptions. When faced with such provocations, they retreat inside themselves and become intolerant of intrusions by others.They either express irritation at people’s questions or do not respond at all to attempts to communicate with them.”

When INFJs are experiencing chronic stress or sudden, extreme stress, they may fall into the grip of their inferior function; Extraverted Sensing. This isn’t your everyday normal stress either, the stress has to be pretty intense or lengthy to push an INFJ to this point. You can see more details about this in the handy infographic I made below (you may need to click on it to see it well):

My Young Adult Grip-Stress Phase

From the ages of 19-21 I was in a bad place and went through a series of abusive experiences. The last abuser told me that if I ever left or didn’t give into his wishes that I would lose someone very important and close to me. I felt trapped, I could see no way out, and I completely lost any sense of self-confidence I’d ever had. At the end of every week, this person would take me away from my home and put me through some of the most dehumanizing experiences I could imagine. I tried to get away because I’m a pretty independent person and wouldn’t normally put up with this kind of behavior, but each time I tried to get out of the situation I’d worry about his threats. I’d convince myself that I’d go through anything to keep him from following through on them.

This chronic, extreme stress caused me to become completely overtaken by my inferior function. I could not live as a healthy INFJ anymore. Introverted Intuition and Extraverted Feeling couldn’t help me solve the problems I was facing. I fell into unhealthy Extraverted Sensing, and as a result I couldn’t foresee future implications. I either didn’t eat for weeks or I’d binge eat everything in my refrigerator. I became impulsive and only focused on the moment at hand. I’d lay on my floor at night blasting Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, or whatever was the angriest, loudest, most desperate music I could find.

I wanted to escape but I could see no way out. I couldn’t envision the future at all and lived entirely from moment to moment. I needed to feel something physically, intensely, to make me feel like I was still alive. During the abuse I would try as hard to get out of my body so that I couldn’t feel anything. But when that was over, I just wanted to feel. I needed to bombard my senses with stimuli. I cut myself, got body piercings, and I relied on profanity-laced industrial music to get through the day. Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with piercings or loud music, or that if you like Marilyn Manson you must be an INFJ experiencing stress. But all these things put together are completely unlike normal INFJ behaviors. They are what happen during grip-related stress when we “flip a switch” and start acting completely unlike our normal selves.

To be clear, Extraverted Sensing is an amazing cognitive function to have and people who are dominant in Se are exceptionally gifted at taking advantage of the moment, being aware of their surroundings, enjoying the sights, sounds, and textures of the world around them. When INFJs fall into the grip of Extraverted Sensing they will often display unhealthy or imbalanced Se. This means that instead of enjoying the sights and sounds around them in moderation, they may go into overdrive. They may binge eat, starve themselves, drink too much, or make impulsive risky decisions without consideration for the future. Some may listen to really loud music, partake in risky physical behaviors, or they may become obsessed with cleaning, organizing, or exercising.

INFJs grip-stress experiences will vary from person to person, what one person might do the other may not be interested in. Their responses all have one thing in common, though: they all focus on physical sensation, impulsive activity, or changing the external environment in some way (by cleaning or lashing out at people in the outer environment). The most common side-effect is that INFJs lose their signature long-term focus and can only think about the moment at hand.

Naomi Quenk, in her book “Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality” puts it well:

As their hold on their dominant and auxiliary functions further diminishes, the qualities of inferior Extraverted Sensing manifest in an obsessive focus on external data, overindulgence in sensual pleasures, and an adversarial attitude toward the outer world….What the introverted intuitive represses most of all is the sensation of the object, and this colours his whole unconscious. It gives rise to a compensatory extraverted sensation function of an archaic character. The unconscious personality can best be described as an extraverted sensation type of a rather low and primitive order. Instinctuality and intemperance are the hallmarks of this sensation, combined with an extraordinary dependence on sense-impressions. This compensates the rarefied air of the intuitive’s conscious attitude.”

I got out of this grip-stress phase eventually when I had my daughter and realized that I would do absolutely anything to protect her from my abuser or anyone else like them.  I became a single mother at a young age and promised myself I would never, ever allow anyone abusive near myself or my daughter if I could help it. I drastically changed my life, but it took a terrifying leap of faith. I had to believe that I could stand up to any threats that my abuser would throw at me and have faith that my loved ones would be safe.

This little girl saved my life

Is all my stress over? Absolutely not. I still have PTSD that I have to try to live with, but things are so much better than I could ever have imagined at that point in my life. That said, my next “grip” stress experience is MUCH more “lighthearted”.

My “Grip” Stress Experiences as a Mother of Four

Remember how I said that INFJs need alone time, mental clarity, and peace? Okay, well, I have four kids. Yeah. Not much “tranquility” going on around here. I homeschool my oldest, my stepson is with us part-time, and then I have a toddler and a 7-week-old baby. Needless to say it’s never quiet. Alone time is a thing of the past, and paying attention to lots of details is an all-day job. At any given moment during the day I could be nursing the baby, making sure my toddler isn’t climbing into the fish tank, responding to a work-related email, and teaching my oldest daughter geometry at the same time. Constant multi-tasking. And that’s not an INFJ thing either. We hate multi-tasking. We like to focus on one thing at a time. If you ever want to really annoy an INFJ, interrupt them when they’re trying to focus on one thing.

Of course, I would endure an eternity of endless, excruciating forms of torture for my children. I’d throw myself on a grenade for them in an instant. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, and I love them madly and with all my heart. Do I wish I could go back to life with no kids? No.

Do I wish it was quiet or I could have some alone time? Yes. Absolutely. Worrying about my children, living from paycheck-to-paycheck, waking up all night with a fussy baby, and trying to juggle cleaning, cooking, work, and kids is incredibly stressful for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love and adore my babies with every ounce of my being. That doesn’t mean that when they are all finally asleep at night I don’t scroll through the photos of them on my phone and miss them with all my heart.

So how does an INFJ mom fall into the grip? Well, you’ll be happy to know I don’t go out and get any piercings and I don’t blast Marilyn Manson around my kids.

I’ll show you.

Yep, nutty bars. These chocolate, peanut butter wafers are paradise in my mouth. I wake up in the morning and my arms are full of babies and the house is full of demands and noise, what do I do? Grab a nutty bar! It’s 2 o’clock and I haven’t eaten lunch yet, and my toddler won’t nap? Grab another nutty bar! Little Debbie has taken the place of Marilyn Manson, and my waistline is showing it. Yeah, and that’s another thing I can get stressed out about.

Impulsivity. My husband came home last night and I asked about a mutual friend. When he said she was doing fine and that her mom was helping out with her kids, I suddenly blurted out, nearly shouting, “I am SO sick of all these other people who’s moms are DESPERATELY willing to watch their babies so they can work!”. This kind of outburst is extremely unusual from me. I hate raising my voice, or losing control, or getting caught throwing a giant pity party for myself. But right then I wasn’t considering anyone else but myself and how I felt in that moment.

I must have looked pretty scary, because my husband, my normally super-calm ISTP husband, looked like I’d just gone into a seizure. I started ranting about how it wasn’t fair that all these other women had mom’s just waiting to babysit their kids and my mom lives so far away and I never get free babysitting or get to see my mom. It was bad. If I’d had any nutty bars around I probably would have been eating them, crumbs falling down my face, waving the snacks around for emphasis. It was completely ridiculous. I was mad at the world and every other mom who had a mom nearby to help with their kids.

To any women I know who’s moms babysit their kids, I’m sorry. You guys are awesome. I’m seriously not mad about it anymore.

This impulsiveness leaks into my fantasies. The other day my husband, who was holding our newborn, gave me that line busy mom’s just love to hear “looks like she wants to nurse!”. I stopped doing whatever productive thing I was doing, and said I’d be right back. In my mind I imagined opening the window in my bedroom, with a box of nutty bars of course, jumping out the window, getting in the van and driving away. Hopefully I would be blasting some appropriate classic rock song like “Under Pressure” or “More Than a Feeling”.

Hasta la vista responsibilities!

Would I ever actually follow through with this fantasy? No.  I’d rather sit through the entire 50 Shades of Gray movie, munching on kale, and having root canals performed simultaneously than leave my family.

Yes, I know, you can’t munch on kale, watch a horrible movie, and get a root canal at the same time. But if there was a definition of hell for me, that would be it.

This is Supposed to be Encouraging?

Perhaps not. This might just make you feel worse. You can totally skip reading my book now, because it probably seems like I don’t know anything about managing stress. But there are things you can do INFJs! All of us are (probably) going to experience extreme stress at some point in our lives. Life is messy. It’s a roller coaster sometimes. We screw up, or life deals us a bad hand, or we’re blessed with four amazing children who interrupt us and don’t let us sleep at night 🙂 The point is that we have to find a way to come to terms with it.

Right now, for me that means finding some way to get alone and get some peace and quiet. Today I hired a babysitter so I could just take care of my newborn for a little while. It’s as close to alone as I can get right now. I listened to music and did absolutely nothing else for a few minutes (till my baby started crying). I looked out the window and noticed all the leaves on the trees falling. Right now I’m writing  while my baby daughter sleeps on the couch next to me. I’m enjoying the moment in moderation. I’m going to try to use my Extraverted Sensing in a positive way and enjoy all the good sensory things going on around me. At a certain point you have to realize you’re fully in the grip of your inferior function, but you just have to embrace it in a healthy way. No, starving or eating too much isn’t the answer, Marilyn Manson isn’t the answer, even Little Debbies isn’t the answer. Get out in nature. Pray. Meditate. Do a Sudoku puzzle. Listen to a beautiful song. Give your intuition and feeling a break and they’ll come back revived and ready to take over again when you’re in a healthier place. Sometimes living in the moment isn’t all that bad.

…and sometimes noticing the details is amazing…

What Do You Think?

Have you experienced similar “grip” stress reactions in your life? If you feel like sharing, let me know in the comments!

INFJ Grip Stress

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