Have you ever felt like the veritable “ugly duckling” in your family? It might feel like everyone else fits certain criteria, but no matter how hard you try fitting in it still seems like an exercise in futility. Perhaps you get along great with your family, but there’s a sense that you’re all living in a “bubble” and you’re missing out on some other valuable perspectives. Chances are, personality type has a part to play in the experiences you’re going through. Type may not be the only reason why there are issues in a family, but it often plays at least a small part in family dysfunction.
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Table of contents
- Family Dysfunction and Personality Type
- What Is a Dysfunctional Family?
- Personality Type and Sibling Rivalries
- Ways to Heal Sibling Rivalry and Other Family Conflict Issues:
- Parent-Child Conflicts
- Poor Communication:
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Family Dysfunction and Personality Type
What Is a Dysfunctional Family?
Before we get into type’s role in all of this, let’s take a look at what family dysfunction really is. The Medical Dictionary defines ‘dysfunctional family’ like this:
“A family with multiple ‘internal’ – e.g. sibling rivalries, parent-child – conflicts, domestic violence, mental illness, single parenthood, or ‘external’ – eg. Alcohol or drug abuse, extramarital affairs, gambling, unemployment – influences that affect the basic needs of the family unit.”
Psych2go.net lists eight common characteristics of a dysfunctional family. These include:
- Unpredictability and Fear
- Conditional Love
- Lack of Boundaries
- Lack of Intimacy
- Poor Communication
Today we’re not going to get into issues of addiction, abuse, gambling, or unemployment. We’re only going to look at the difficulties that personality type can impact. These difficulties include sibling rivalries, parent-child conflicts, perfectionism, and poor communication. We’re going to go through each of these issues one-by-one so that you can see how type differences can cause family dysfunction to show up in an otherwise normal home.
Personality Type and Sibling Rivalries
In a study published in 2016 by the Journal of Marriage and Family, 75% of mothers admitted to being closer to one child. Parental favoritism is often at the center of sibling rivalries. Personality differences also play a part. Here’s an example to give an idea of how many sibling conflicts escalate:
A feeling dominant brother (ESFJ) is trying to maintain harmony in the home along with the feeling-oriented mother (INFJ). They both give priority to feeling over thinking when making decisions involving the family. Meanwhile, the thinking-dominant sister (ISTP) is seen as needlessly critical and argumentative. The ESFJ brother can’t figure out why ISTP sister won’t just get along and work with the family “team” to maintain harmony. He devalues her problem-solving abilities because she expresses herself in a way that contrasts with his feeling orientation. It seems to him like she’s always critiquing things and questioning rules. ISTP sister sees ESFJ brother as a “suck-up” and a people-pleaser. She devalues his ability to sense the needs of the people around him. Fights erupt and hurt feelings linger and build over time. The INFJ mother feels a more natural understanding with her ESFJ son because they both process decisions through feeling. She struggles communicating clearly with the ISTP daughter and the daughter feels hurt and rejected.
The scenario above is just one of countless scenarios in which personality type can create chasms between siblings. We can’t possibly cover all the potential scenarios in this article, but we’ll take a look at some of the most common sibling rivalries related to type.
Feeling Sibling + Thinking Sibling: Feeling sibling believes that the thinking sibling is uncaring, cold, argumentative, or overly-detached. Thinking sibling believes that the feeling sibling is overly sensitive, illogical, too attached to their values. Arguments erupt when feeling sibling argues from a place of values or ethics and thinking sibling argues from a place of logic or causality.
Extroverted Sibling + Introverted Sibling: Extroverted sibling thinks the introverted sibling doesn’t like him/her because he always wants time alone. Extroverted sibling pushes introverted sibling into social settings which results in the introvert becoming angry and lashing out. Extroverted sibling pesters introverted sibling or gives up on the relationship. Introverted sibling’s needs are possibly not respected in the home. Extroverted sibling’s needs are possibly not respected in the home. Introvert becomes drained by lack of alone time or extrovert becomes drained by lack of outside stimulation. They both see the other as uncooperative.
Sensing Sibling + Intuitive Sibling: Sensing sibling believes intuitive sibling is too fanciful or detached from reality. Sensing siblings wants intuitive sibling to be more specific and literal. Intuitive sibling believes sensing sibling is too unimaginative or literal. Intuitive sibling wants sensing sibling to be more big-picture oriented and conceptual. Both de-value the other’s intelligence and struggle to connect via communication.
Judging Sibling + Perceiving Sibling: Judging sibling believes that the perceiving sibling is lazy, a procrastinator, unpredictable, and inconsistent. Perceiving sibling sees judging sibling as too controlling, rigid, rule-abiding, or too easily flustered by change. Both feel misunderstood and judge or feel judged by the other.
Are sibling rivalries bound to happen when siblings have different preferences? Absolutely not. Sometimes children with different preferences bond in a powerful way and help to increase each other’s maturity and self-awareness. However, these types of rivalries can occur, particularly in families where there is unhealthy or absent communication, conditional love, or poor support and guidance from parents. If the most involved parent in the home shares more type preferences with one child over another, a “type culture” can be created that unintentionally devalues the gifts of the child with alternate preferences. The other sibling feels misunderstood, pressured, unappreciated, angry, and especially resentful of the sibling who shares type preferences with the parent.
Ways to Heal Sibling Rivalry and Other Family Conflict Issues:
If you sense that there is a lot of sibling rivalry in the home related to type differences then it’s time to make an assessment of your family. Get a piece of paper and write down each person’s preferences (if you don’t know them all, just write down the ones you do know).
The Johnson Family
Oldest Daughter: INFP
Middle Son: ESTJ
Youngest Son: XSFJ
Father and mother should get together and assess any similarities or differences in preferences among family members. How do you see the introverts getting along versus the extroverts? Is there an adult or child that is the “odd one out” when it comes to a particular preference? Are there any signs that this child feels de-valued or maybe idealized? The parents in the family should look everything over and also analyze the unique stressors of each of the family members in their home. You can see a list of possible stressors for introverted types here and extroverted types here. Discuss ways you might be seeing stress among each family member based on the expectations, rules, and lifestyle of the home.
Set up a family meeting. This should be at a time when everyone is relaxed and no conflicts are already at play.
Ask the introverts and extroverts to discuss their needs separately. Then ask them to come together and list 3 things they struggle with in the home related to their introversion or extroversion, and 3 things that they appreciate in the home. Look for some agreed-upon solutions to help extroverts and introverts both get their needs met. Write these down.
Continue this process with each preference. Intuitive and sensors. Thinking and feeling types. Judgers and perceivers. Pay special attention to family members who are unique from the rest of the group. In the example above of the Johnson family, you can see that the oldest daughter is the only intuitive and the only perceiving type. Does she feel misunderstood or forced into a lifestyle that doesn’t fit her? Or does she feel overly-idealized because of her differences? Try to find some articles that would describe each child’s strengths so that everyone can realize the capabilities of each individual in the home. Realize, however, that if a child hasn’t been nurtured properly that they may not be showing those strengths. They may have been trying to operate in the same style as the predominant “family culture” and therefore haven’t been able to strengthen their own natural gifts.
Come up with a family action plan for acceptance in the home based on the conversations that take place. Make sure each individual gets a chance to discuss their thoughts and needs. Remember that it’s impossible to completely cater to every personality type and that’s okay. The goal is to let everyone feel heard, understood, and appreciated for who they are. This meeting will give each family member a chance to speak up for themselves and bring up their needs and possible frustrations in a judgment-free zone.
Some helpful articles to possibly reference during the family meeting:
Parent-child conflicts are more likely to occur when children and parents don’t share the same type preferences. This is especially true if a parent doesn’t have an understanding of personality type. An introverted parent may view their extroverted child as showy, loud, obnoxious, or attention-seeking. An extroverted parent might view their introverted child as reclusive, boring, anti-social, or cold. Parents might try to change their children into their own image, viewing their natural wiring as the only “right” way to be. The child might try to oblige the parents for a while, but over time this can lead to resentment and frustration for everyone involved.
Remember introverted children are energized by the inner world of ideas, reflections, and inner analysis. It doesn’t mean they dislike you if they want to spend most of their time in their room. They will respond better to a question if they have time to process it first. Chances are, they’ll become irritable if they have to socialize most of the day.
Remember extroverted children are energized by the outside world of people, activities, or objects. They aren’t trying to get in your way or disrupt your peace, they are simply trying to connect with you and energize themselves with interaction and experience. Continually shutting them down and telling them to be alone is the equivalent of an extrovert constantly forcing you to be around people. Balance is key. Some alone time each day for an extrovert is a good thing. Spending 80% of the day alone is not.
Remember that feeling children are more likely to take criticism personally. Give them words of affirmation consistently, and when you have to criticize, make sure to affirm your intentions rather than focusing solely on their mistake. Affirm that you love them and appreciate their good qualities. Remember that conflict is especially disruptive to feeling types and they may feel compelled to fix it (especially FJ children). Don’t create a lifestyle in the home that forces feeling children into perpetual mediation, need-tending, and peacemaking. This isn’t a healthy position for a child to be in.
Remember that thinking children seek logic over value-laden reasoning. They respond to straightforward direction and they want rules reasonably explained. If you have to give criticism, cut to the chase and avoid emotional lecturing or “sugarcoating”. Be kind, but don’t beat around the bush. If they struggle with emotional connection or empathy, don’t take it personally. For some thinking types, empathy is a learned skill. Re-phrase insensitive comments to them so that they can have easier communication with others. Show appreciation for their problem-solving abilities and their critical thinking skills.
Remember that sensing children want explicit, literal instructions. Don’t be vague or skip steps when giving them a direction. They might get irritated with you if you’re constantly trying to engage their imagination or talk concepts rather than give them facts and real-world experience. These kids trust what they can touch, feel, taste, hear, or what has been proven to them through life experience itself. Clarity is key and these kids will learn best through experience.
Remember that intuitive children need a big-picture vision or idea in order to be inspired. They don’t want a ton of sequential steps when getting directions. They prefer to be given an overall goal and then fill in and ask questions as necessary. Let them imagine, question, and try things in new ways. A conversation about concrete day-to-day experiences can make them bored and irritable sometimes. Appeal to their imagination and understand that they will be more drawn to the abstract than the concrete.
Remind yourself that perceiving children aren’t necessarily lazy or unproductive, although their style might seem like it to you. They like a lot of variety and spontaneity in their lives. A rigid structure and a very repetitive routine can make them irritable and frustrated. They will feel trapped if every part of their day is planned out or managed. They think best when they can mix work with play and mix up their routine. Give them the chance to prove that they can keep up with their tasks in their own way. If they are perpetually missing deadlines then step in and give them some time management techniques and reminders so that they can stay on top of their homework. Make sure that they’re getting unstructured time each day.
Remind yourself that judging children need structure and consistency in their lives. They will get irritated if they are interrupted or forced to change their focus in the middle of a project. These kids want to finish what they start before they do anything else. They need time to switch gears between activities. They may not react well to surprises or spontaneous outings. Try to give them advanced notice of what your plans are for any given day. Remember that judging types feel responsible for the environment they are in. This can make them appear like “control freaks” sometimes, but it’s their way of organizing things so that they can think more clearly and accomplish their goals.
Perfectionism can be displayed by any personality type, and it’s never something you want overrunning a household. Here are some things each type might want to look out for when running the home.
Introverts: Don’t expect your house to be perfectly quiet with children. Make sure you’re getting regular time alone, but don’t stifle the needs of the extroverts in the family. If things are noisy from time to time that’s normal. It’s not a sign that your family is out of control.
Extroverts: Don’t pressure your family into near-constant social excursions and outings. This may be your idea of fun, but not theirs. Don’t take it personally or consider yourself a failure if some of your family members seem happiest when they’re alone.
Intuitives: Don’t de-value the needs of sensing children by “zoning out” when they’re discussing details or concrete experiences. Realize that they are more focused on the present than the future and may not feel as inspired by your new idea as you are. That’s okay. Show appreciation for their perspective and spend occasional time doing hands-on activities with them. Also, don’t beat yourself up if your family life doesn’t match up to the vision you had many years ago. Intuitives tend to create idealized visions of family life and the reality of family life can be very different from the dream. Appreciate the positive moments and accept that family life has its ups and downs. Get help if you need it.
Sensors: Don’t condescend to intuitive children by saying their heads are in the clouds or they are too unrealistic. Listen to their imaginative ramblings and realize that they will be more focused on concepts than concrete experiences. Don’t talk over them or argue with them constantly when they’re trying to bring up a hypothetical scenario or envision possibilities. Let them have some time each day to let their mind wander over unusual scenarios. Let them try things in new ways sometimes, even if it feels unreasonable to you.
Thinkers: Don’t force feeling children to make decisions the same way that you do. Remember that feeling children will step into a situation personally before they decide. They want to know how a decision aligns with their values or impacts the people around them. They can feel indecisive and stressed if they have to make a decision that may upset other people. Don’t make fun of their emotions, or act aghast when they make a decision that to you seems illogical. Encourage them to stand up for themselves even when it may upset others. Validate their feelings, and calmly explain the logical consequences of something if they are too fixated on the personal aspects of a decision.
Feelers: Don’t act shocked or offended when thinking children speak their minds directly. When they are faced with a decision rather than step “in” to the situation, they step “out” to view it objectively and without personal bias. They try to detach themselves emotionally from a situation when they assess it. This can make them seem “cold” or lacking in empathy to some feeling types, but it also helps them to stay level-headed and logical.
Judgers: Don’t force perceiving children to do all their homework and all their chores as soon as they get home from school. They will likely need some time to decompress and live freely before they settle back into homework and responsibility. Judgers like to get everything done ahead of schedule, but perceivers work in spurts. Make sure they are meeting their obligations and responsibilities, but try to break up tasks with chunks of regular free time.
Perceivers: Don’t berate judging children or call them “high strung” or “uptight”. Don’t force them into a constantly changing, unpredictable lifestyle. Knowing you’ll be on time, dependable, and consistent is important to them. Give them a heads up when something is going to happen so that they can mentally prepare.
So many family rivalries are the result of poor communication. This is especially true when family members de-value each other because their type preferences don’t align. We’ve gone over a lot of the ways that poor communication can show up in the sections preceding this so I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail right here. However, doing the things below will help to open the channels of communication among family members of all types:
- Schedule regular family time together (preferably without screens or devices around)
- Have small family rituals (like a story before bed or a family game night) that encourage intimacy.
- Eat meals together, without the TV on or phones at the table.
- Make sure children get at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time each day.
- Be an active listener. Focus 100% on what your child is saying. Make sure you understand your child correctly before you give advice or criticism. Paraphrase your child’s words back to them to make sure you’re being accurate.
- If there are issues in the family, make sure that you attack the problem itself, NOT the family member personally.
- Start each day fresh. Don’t hold onto bitterness, anger, or disappointments.
- Ask forgiveness. Everyone makes mistakes and acknowledging this is important.
When it comes to personality type and communication, you can find a whole bunch of tips to encourage positive communication here: How Each Personality Type Likes to Communicate.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Was this article helpful to you? Do you have any of your own thoughts or experience to share? Let us know in the comments! You can also discover your child’s personality type as well as some other parenting tips in our Parenting by Personality eCourse!
Find out more about your personality type in our eBooks, Discovering You: Unlocking the Power of Personality Type, The INFJ – Understanding the Mystic, and The INFP – Understanding the Dreamer. You can also connect with me via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!