When it comes to helping people with their personality type I’ve started to veer further and further away from the use of tests and indicators. This is mainly because there are so many factors that can impact how questions on indicators are answered. Environment, upbringing, trauma, mental illness, stress, looping, all these things can impact the result you get on a personality indicator or test.
One of my readers asked me several months ago to write an article about how childhood trauma might impact someone’s type result. I thought this was an excellent question, but I’ve needed time to ponder, research and talk to other typologists to see what they think.
Childhood Trauma Can Definitely Impact Your Personality Type Result
While childhood trauma won’t change your personality type, it can change the result you get on a type indicator (personality quiz, the official MBTI®, etc,.). One of the reasons this happens is that trauma can impact how you use, develop, and show your type preferences. Most tests and indicators look for “typical” type responses, behaviors, and reactions. They aren’t able to consider the effects of abuse, environment, and stress.
For example, an ENFJ who has grown up in an abusive, volatile environment and wasn’t nurtured through childhood may not be as socially conscious or in tune with the feelings of others as your typical ENFJ. Questions determined to root out healthy Extraverted Feeling (the dominant function of ENFJs) might fall flat for this kind of an ENFJ. Why? Well, studies in neuroscience have shown that children who aren’t nurtured or who are maltreated as children can experience a number of changes in their brain structure and chemical activity which will affect their behavior and social and emotional functioning.
“Toxic stress can alter brain development in ways that make interaction with others more difficult. Children or youth with toxic stress may find it more challenging to navigate social situations and adapt to changing social contexts (Hanson et al., 2010).” – Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development
An ENFJ who is recovering from a severely abusive or neglectful childhood might seem more withdrawn and introverted, and they might seem less aware or concerned with social constructs and the feelings of others. As a result, they could walk away from a personality test with a completely useless and inaccurate type result.
When it comes to personality typing, we can’t downplay the importance of neuroscience, background, environment and trauma. If I’m trying to type someone who is a child abuse survivor and who is struggling with PTSD I need to be ready for behavior and answers to questions that might be the result of coping mechanisms and not the result of their own inherent type.
My Own Experience
As a rape and abuse survivor who has been diagnosed with PTSD for most of my adolescence and adulthood, I know that stress, mental illness, and anxiety can have a major impact on how I display my own type. INFJs aren’t supposed to be especially drawn to past experience, but sometimes, because of PTSD, that experience pulls me back into its grasp. When I’m in the midst of anxiety and stress I can behave much more like an unhealthy ESTP than a healthy INFJ. Sometimes I lack the social grace and awareness that would be typical for an Extraverted Feeling type. During my darkest days I’ve lacked the visionary outlook on the future that is typical for Introverted Intuitive types. Does that mean I’m not an INFJ? No, but it does mean there have been times in my life where I certainly haven’t acted like your “typical” INFJ.
How Childhood Trauma Can Cause You to “Loop”
Sometimes when we become extremely defensive of ourselves or there’s a truth that we can’t accept (perhaps the truth that we were unloved or neglected) we can try to protect our psyche by entering a dominant-tertiary “loop”. This is where your dominant and tertiary functions loop back and forth, effectively bypassing your auxiliary function.
For example, an ESFP who has had their values violated through much of their childhood might try to suppress their auxiliary Introverted Feeling and loop back and forth between Extraverted Sensing and Extraverted Thinking. When this happens, this type is much more likely to get an ESTJ or an ENTJ result on a personality test.
In the same way, an ENTP who is stuck in a loop can cycle back and forth between Extraverted Intuition (Ne) and unhealthy Extraverted Feeling (Fe). This can make them seem more emotionally manipulative than a typical ENTP, and that tertiary Fe might give them a bent towards an “FJ” result in a personality test.
How Stress Can Impact Your Type Result
When you’re extremely stressed or depressed, you can get stuck “in the grip” of your inferior function. In most people, the inferior function is less conscious and less recognizable than the dominant or auxiliary function. But in people who are highly stressed or depressed, they might revert to using their inferior function more frequently. This can cause, as in my case, an INFJ to seem more like an unhealthy ESTP. It can cause an ENTJ to seem more like an unhealthy ISFP. You can find out more about how stress impacts your personality type here.
Children who have been abused or traumatized during their childhood are much more likely to experience stress, depression, or PTSD as adults. This can cause them to exhibit more “grip” behaviors than if they were in an emotionally healthy place. As an example, I’ve known several INFPs who tested as ESTJs because they were in a constant state of stress, anxiety and overwhelm.
How to Avoid Being Mistyped
– If you’re really wanting to take an indicator to define your type then try to answer the questions when you’re in a positive frame of mind.
– Take into account that the reason you may be hyper-vigilant, anxious, or on-edge might be related to stress and not your type. Think of behaviors and thought patterns that might be influencing you based on that. Read up on stress reactions and see if those might play a part in how you are expressing your type.
– Get familiar with the cognitive functions. If you read good descriptions of these and can determine which ones you favor in your happiest, most relaxed states, you’ll be less likely to mistype yourself.
– Talk to an MBTI® practitioner who is familiar with neuroscience and psychology who can give you a more multi-dimensional approach to finding your type!
What to Look For in the Future
I am going to be working on a series of posts about the different levels of health for each personality type. If you don’t relate to the “generic” type descriptions, you might find yourself able to identify with the types when they are described by their various health levels. So stay tuned!
What Are Your Thoughts?
Has your childhood had an impact on your personality type or your results? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
Find out more about your personality type in our eBook, Discovering You: Unlocking the Power of Personality Type.
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