Known as “grip stress,” this extreme level of stress causes an uncharacteristic reaction in the INFJ.
The INFJ, one of the introverted Myers-Briggs® personality types, isn’t exactly known for being impulsive. Called “Judgers” — the “J” in INFJ — people who share these personality characteristics are thought to live planned-out, highly organized lives. As an MBTI® practitioner and the founder of PsychologyJunkie.com, I know it’s not that simple. I spend a lot of time explaining people’s personalities to them. Impulsive behavior is usually relegated to the perceiving types — the ones that end with a “P,” like the INFP or ESTP. Yet time and time again, INFJs struggle with bouts of reckless, impulsive behavior.
Where does this come from, and why? To understand this INFJ personality quirk, I’ll take you on a journey into my own past.
When an INFJ’s Stress Levels Soar
I was sitting on the floor of my toddler’s bedroom, rocking a shrieking baby back and forth in my arms while my then 3-year-old jumped up and down next to me and asked me over and over again when it would be snack time. My stomach churned, I had the beginnings of a migraine, and I wondered, “Will I ever get used to the noise and lack of sleep?”
If you’re a parent, I’m sure you can relate to this scenario. And if you’re not a parent, I’m sure you can think of a time when the outside world just felt like “too much.” When your phone was pinging too much, there were too many social engagements on your calendar, or maybe your co-workers couldn’t stop interrupting your thoughts.
As I slowly rocked my screaming baby back and forth, I felt a tightness in my chest and a sense of hopelessness in my heart. I loved my children more than anything, but I felt like all my responsibilities were too much to bear. As a work-from-home mom of four (at the time), I just felt like I couldn’t stretch myself wide enough to hold up all the people and things I needed so desperately to take care of.
Finally, in a burst of adrenaline, I jumped to my feet (don’t worry, I didn’t drop the baby), and I made a beeline for the kitchen. I needed energy. I needed something — anything — to fortify myself for the stress levels I was currently experiencing.
As I reached into the pantry, I pulled out a loaf of bread, some fruit snacks, and a box of Cheerios. Several minutes later, I found myself grasping handfuls of breakfast cereal and shoving them into my mouth as I kept rhythmically rocking my baby in hopes that she would eventually drift into a more peaceful state. Yes, I’d been trying to lose the baby weight. Yes, I was frustrated with this continuing cycle. But I needed something to help me cope. I didn’t care anymore about the consequences.
Later that afternoon, in a burst of impulsivity, I found myself looking at vacations online. I had my credit card out at one point, and I nearly bought myself plane tickets to San Diego. It wasn’t until I was at the “Confirm Itinerary” button on Travelocity that I finally exited out of the page, slammed my laptop shut, and leaned my head against the corner of the table. The weight of my responsibilities felt like an enormous boulder on my back. I felt like I needed to do something, anything, to exert my freedom or experience the rawness of living and push this weight away from myself.
How ‘Everyday’ Stress Affects INFJs
Stress affects us all differently, depending on our personality type and other factors, such as our circumstances, genes, upbringing, and more. Some people, especially introverts, become reclusive and introspective under stress, while others see nothing but doom and gloom in their future. For the INFJ, stress can start out by making us more true-to-type.
A stressed INFJ might disappear from the world for a while and ignore texts, phone calls, and responsibilities. After a while, they might call up a good friend and vent about their struggles and fears.
But there’s a different level of stress that causes a stronger, uncharacteristic reaction from an INFJ. This type of stress is called “grip stress.”
When It All Becomes Too Much: Grip Stress
Grip stress occurs when you, as an INFJ, have worn out your mental resources and are completely burned out. This form of stress is more severe than “everyday,” manageable stress. If you ever feel like you “flip a switch” and become someone completely different when you’re overwhelmed, this would be the result of grip stress.
When you experience grip stress, it’s because you have exhausted your normal ways of thinking and coping. You might be ill, suffering from a breakup, dealing with intense grief, or coping with physical exhaustion. All personality types experience grip stress at different points in their lives. As difficult as it is to go through, it is common, and sometimes unavoidable.
The Mental Mechanics of Grip Stress
As an INFJ, you rely on the following four mental processes, called cognitive functions:
- Dominant Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
- Auxiliary Function: Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
- Tertiary Function: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
- Inferior Function: Extroverted Sensation (Se)
Introverted Intuition is the function you live and breathe in your everyday life. This function helps you to see underlying meanings, patterns, and trends. Extroverted Feeling supports your intuition and helps you to make decisions that meet the needs of the people around you. In a typical day, you’d rely on Intuition and Feeling to gain insights about people, empathize with them, and make decisions that result in harmonious possibilities.
But we’re not talking about everyday life here. We’re talking about grip stress. When you enter a period of grip stress, you become controlled by your inferior function; something called Extroverted Sensation. Extroverted Sensation is called the inferior function because it’s difficult for both INFJs and INTJs to use well. Personality Hacker calls the inferior function the 3-year-old because it has a very low level of maturity.
What Is Extroverted Sensation?
Extroverted Sensation focuses on total immersion in the sensory world. It’s the function you use when you dive into the details all around you and enjoy them for exactly what they are. It’s tasting, touching, and interacting with the present moment as immensely as possible. Extroverted Sensation isn’t concerned with underlying meanings, long-term ramifications, and the concerns of Intuition — especially not at an inferior level of maturity. Because of this, if you’re an INFJ who’s in the grip of Extroverted Sensation, you tend to use it in an immature, haphazard, and reckless way that you often regret.
Here Are Some Ways You Might Experience Extroverted Sensation During Stress:
- You feel a restless urge to shop and buy things you don’t need.
- You binge eat or drink too much.
- You drive fast in your car and blast loud music.
- You crave more sex or physical intimacy than usual.
- You exercise to the point of complete physical exhaustion.
- You clean everything in your house frantically, trying to make it look “perfect.”
- You kick a piece of furniture or punch the wall to get some of the aggression out of your system.
The expressions of inferior Extroverted Sensation are varied and depend largely on your particular struggles and cravings. But there’s one thing at the root of all these expressions: impulsivity. You want to impulsively exert your freedom and power over the world around you in some way, whether that means cleaning your kitchen until it sparkles or taking out your aggression on a punching bag.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Grip Stress
A lot of the manifestations of grip stress can be detrimental to you and your relationships, so let’s wrap up this article with some positive ways of coping with stress and even pulling yourself out of the grip. These coping mechanisms will help any personality type dealing with stress. If you’re an INFJ (or INTJ), the goal is to find a way to interact with the “outside world” in a healthy way:
- Take a jog while listening to an uplifting playlist.
- Drink a cold glass of water and do some yoga.
- Practice deep breathing and visualize something that helps you to feel calm.
- Eat a healthy (but yummy) snack and really notice every detail of what you’re eating. Eat slowly so you can enjoy it thoroughly.
- Blast your favorite songs and dance around your house.
- Spend some time in nature, gardening, swimming, hiking, or just looking around.
- Journal your feelings, then read them out loud to yourself to process them fully (here are some journaling tips for introverts to help you get started).
- Take a drive (at the speed limit) while listening to your favorite songs.