Have you ever struggled with mental illness? I’ve often seen the question in various Myers-Briggs themed groups, and forums “Is this mental illness particular to my type? Do we struggle with this more than other types?” As an INFJ who has struggled with PTSD and depression, I’ve wondered the same thing. Are certain types more prone to getting certain mental illnesses? While I firmly believe mental illness knows no borders, can relate to trauma, chemical imbalances, or any other number of factors; I’ve been trying to find out if certain MBTI® types are more likely to be diagnosed with a certain set of disorders. This post is mainly a collection of my own findings based on what I’ve read in books (sources at the end), case studies (also in the sources), and other personality-related web pages.
One thing I did notice is that our culture is not particularly friendly to every personality type. I do believe that some personality types are more likely to be misdiagnosed with certain mental disorders simply because they don’t fit what’s ‘typical’. Considering 40-45% of the population is made up of SJ types, and 30-35% of the population is made up of SP types, that means that NF and NT types are quite a minority – making up only 30-20% of the population. I think what some people classify as a ‘mental disorder’ is simply a different person living out their personality in a way that’s different from what the majority is used to.
Disclaimer: It was pretty hard to find any scientific basis for the different types and their tendency to have any kind of mental illness. I am linking to some case studies at the end of this post that may show some empirical data, but at this point not a lot of clinical research has been done. I’m not a psychologist, and this post is all theory and opinion. This post is also not meant to belittle anyone’s struggle or make light of it. Just because you are a certain MBTI® type does NOT mean you are going to have one of these mental struggles. If you feel like I’m completely wrong in some way, don’t hesitate to tell me. If you feel like you struggle with any of these issues, I hope you can find some professional help or a good friend to help you along your journey. Please don’t take my advice as any kind of professional advice. If you’d like to talk about it, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
For the sake of length, this post is going to deal primarily with the Idealist (NF) personality types.
Not an NF Type? Click Here to learn about mental illness and NT types, here for SJ types, and here for SP types.
INFJs and Mental Illness
INFJs (from my research) tend to have a particular struggle with anxiety, stress, and depression. Often classified as highly-sensitive people, INFJs have to handle a tug-of-war with their dominant and inferior functions; introverted intuition and extraverted sensing. INFJs gather copious amounts of sensory information through their inferior Se that they try to decipher using Ni. This is a constant process going on in the background that others rarely see. This processing loop is almost entirely internalized; however, it requires a great amount of the INFJs energy and mental stamina. Combine this with very strong extraverted feeling, and INFJs are also able to pick up and absorb the emotions of others around them.
Here’s an example:
Imagine being in a crowded subway car in New York City. The lights are bright, there are people packed all around you, one couple is arguing, a homeless woman walks back and forth in a state of distress, there’s a constant flurry of chatter and incoming and outgoing crowds. As an INFJ, your Se is trying to gather every bit of sensory information and process it through Ni. Ni is asking “What does this all mean? Why is he doing that? What is the key that connects all this together?”. On top of that, you are absorbing the feelings of the people within the subway car. You can feel the stress of the homeless woman, the anger in the couple’s interaction, and the busy urgency of people rushing to and from various locations. You suddenly feel hyper-aroused, stressed, unable to think clearly, and you are overstimulated and flooded with incoming emotions from the ever-changing group of people. Your inferior Se is being triggered and pushed by the bright light, the noise, the commotion. Your Se isn’t equipped to deal with this because it’s child-like in its abilities and it isn’t well-disciplined. You start to feel disembodied from yourself because you have absorbed so many emotions from other people in the room, your Ni is asking too many questions, and your Se is like a siren going off in your mind – “bright lights! look at that! look at that! listen to that!” and before you know it you’re completely over-stimulated and you lose touch with your physical self. To get a grip on reality, you may try to eat something, drink something, “feel” anything to snap you out of this overwhelmed place you’ve gotten yourself into. After you get out of the subway you binge at a fast-food restaurant, or you pinch yourself really hard, you have to feel something strong enough to get you back to reality – to a sense of your physical self. After you do this, you feel shame and remorse for your moment of weakness. You wonder why you can’t just “fit in” to the normal, fast-paced world you’ve come to live in. You berate yourself for being so sensitive and for not being “strong enough”.
The scenario above is something that most INFJs will relate to to some extent. INFJs are ideally made for a world of peace and tranquility; a different time perhaps, when the world wasn’t as loud, wasn’t as bright, wasn’t as busy and distracted. As the world becomes more filled with technology, media, brightness, and busyness, INFJs become more and more ill at ease with themselves and the world around them.
What to do about it:
INFJs do best to get into a lifestyle that allows them to focus on one thing at a time. They will do best to work at a job that allows them some peace and quiet, or if they can’t, they should take regular breaks to re-center themselves and get in touch with their bodies and minds. Many INFJs report increased well-being and management of stress when they take up yoga, meditation, or some form of calming exercise. Many find it incredibly relaxing to sit in a quiet place and write in their journals, read a book, or talk to one friend whom they trust. To an INFJ, getting their feelings out there is important. Since they use Fe and not Fi, they are often acutely aware of other’s feelings, but have difficulty managing their own. This makes a good heart-to-heart conversation with a trusted friend especially important for them. Through this they are able to try to express their emotions and have someone feed them back to them. This allows their Fe to somehow absorb and understand their own emotions because they have been able to “hear” their emotions through someone else. Focusing on positive imagery, a healthy lifestyle, and veering away from excessive multi-tasking is very important. Focus on the big picture of what you want in life and try to get there one step at a time.
ENFJs and Mental Illness
ENFJs, like INFJs, can have a particular struggle with anxiety, depression, and less commonly, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Much of this stems from their strong use of Extraverted Feeling. They are so in tune with other people’s emotions, and absorb them so readily that they can often have a hard time managing their own unique emotions. They also tend to have a chameleon-like quality; changing their countenace and behavior to bring out the best in others, to relate to them, or to encourage them. This can leave them feeling worn out and drained of energy sometimes. They spend so much time attending to other people’s needs that they can forget their own. This need to take care of other people’s emotions can also mean that ENFJs keep their true selves hidden. They often feel the urge to “shift gears” emotionally depending on who they’re with. In turn they often struggle with feelings of isolation, stress, and being overwhelmed by their own stifled emotions. They don’t usually like being alone very much, as their thoughts can turn dark when they’re left alone. However, being with people can cause them to drain their resources further because they have to ensure that everyone is in harmony at all times. This is a tremendous pressure and weight on the ENFJs shoulders, and sometimes they wish they could just “let go” of other people’s feelings, even for a short time. Under extreme or chronic stress, an ENFJ will fall “into the grip” of their inferior function; introverted thinking. An ENFJ who is regularly in the grip of their inferior function, can manifest signs of OCD. They become obsessed with irrelevent data and repetitive tasks to the point where they become trapped and alone, falling further into darker thoughts and moods.
What to do about it:
ENFJs would benefit greatly from going to a trusted friend and talking over what’s bothering them. Since ENFJs are often confused about their own feelings, because of lack of introverted feeling, they often can’t identify or manage them until they’ve put their feelings “out there” vocally or in writing. Discussing their feelings with a friend can help them to hear audibly their own thoughts and emotions, and sort them out through Fe. It is important that they be allowed to “talk it out” and not be stifled or unacknowledged. If you’re friends with an ENFJ, let them be irrational when this happens. Understand that at this time rationality won’t fix the problem. Remind them of their strengths, their contributions, how they’ve helped others or yourself. As an ENFJ, go ahead and give yourself breaks from “absorbing” other’s emotions. Gently remind yourself that it’s okay if not everyone is happy all the time, and it’s okay to take care of your own needs. Sometimes it’s best to take a step back from people who are particularly draining of your empathy, and spend some time with people who give as much as they receive. Many ENFJs report having increased energy and peace-of-mind when they exercise, or spend time outdoors. Utilizing their tertiary Se (extraverted sensing) is often a good way for ENFJs to snap out of the “grip” of introverted thinking. Many report feeling better after doing something physical, enjoying a light-hearted movie, eating a delicious meal, or engaging in some other sensory activity. The peacefulness and tranquility of nature has a relaxing and calming affect that allows the ENFJ to become more in tune with their emotions and state-of-mind.
INFPs and Mental Illness
The three mental struggles that came up repeatedly in my research about INFPs were depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and ADD. I found this post that mentions that INFPs have a tendency to struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. It also mentioned that INFP children have a higher risk of being diagnosed with ADD. There weren’t any sources on this post, but I have noticed that this does seem to be mentioned a lot in the various forums, message boards, and threads I’ve looked at.
Why Do INFPs Struggle with Depression, GAD, and ADD?
People with Ne (extraverted intuition) or Se (extraverted sensing) as their dominant or auxiliary function seem to be diagnosed more than other types with ADD or ADHD. Let’s think about this: INFPs have very strong Ne (extraverted intuition). This makes them very flexible, open-minded and full of ideas. They also have a hard time concentrating on a subject they find dull, rote, or lacking any personal application to their values. One of the traits attributed to ADD/ADHD is poor planning, impulsivity, and inability to pay attention. Planning is often not a particularly strong trait of INFP children, and usually perceiving types are going to seem more impulsive and spontaneous to the outside world. The school system of the US is often tailored to SJ-type children; and so INFPs are often brought up learning in a style that doesn’t draw them in. N types prefer novelty and an outlet for their creativity. School today is a lot of repetition and memorization, and so INFPs are likely to get easily bored. Boredom and a tendency to distraction is another trait associated with ADD/ADHD. A tendency to daydream is another trait of ADD. The INFP is often labeled “the dreamer”. They were made that way for a reason; they come up with incredible, visionary dreams, ideas, and creations, and we NEED that in our world. I think many INFPs (from what I’ve read) can get a false label of ADD/ADHD when they’re children simply because in school their learning style, behavior, and strengths are not catered to. I truly wish the system could be changed, but that’s a topic for another blog.
Okay, so I think we’ve covered why INFPs may struggle more than others with ADD. I think the depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder may be somewhat related to this. Because INFPs are such a minority (roughly 1-4% of the population) I think they often grow up feeling isolated and misunderstood. Because they live in a world that is largely catered to their opposites, INFPs spend their childhood feeling as if something is just “not right” about them. I’ve read many stories of INFPs being bullied for their differences; a heartbreaking thought considering INFPs are some of the most sensitive and gentle-hearted individuals I’ve met. Because INFPs are Fi-dominant they also have very intense, deep personal feelings. This feeling of not fitting in or “being acceptable” by normal standards may make them feel intensely unloved, alone, and without anyone to turn to who understands their plight. This same set of problems can lead them to developing Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
On a personal note:
One of my favorite people and role-models growing up was my pastor. He was an INFP. He seemed unlike any other adult I knew. He was creative, funny, sensitive, playful, deep, intense. He treated us kids with as much respect (maybe more sometimes) as he treated the adults in our church. This pastor struggled on and off with depression and self-doubt. He was extremely hard on himself and often apologized profusely for minor things that other people wouldn’t have made a big deal out of. Although when he preached he seemed confident and alive, I know that he struggled with being in the spotlight or being around people extensively. He wrote incredible music and original songs and he was completely authentic and honest. He didn’t pretend to be anyone else; he was who he was and that was that. I truly believe that INFPs have such an authenticity, ingenuity, creativity, and sensitivity that this world so desperately needs. I do think that this world, particularly the US world, isn’t always a friendly place for them. I personally think that this is one of the reasons why INFPs struggle with ADD/ADHD labels, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. You can definitely correct me if I’m wrong.
What to do about it:
If you have one good confidante, at least one good friend you can trust, try talking to them about how you feel. If you are a friend of an INFP, make sure to validate their feelings. This alone can truly help them to feel so much better and less isolated. Don’t give them a bunch of advice; just let them talk, and let yourself listen. Practical advice will actually push an INFP further into the grip of their inferior function, extraverted thinking. They don’t need that when they’re stressed, depressed, or anxious. Sometimes INFPs just need to give themselves a break and get away from everything. Maybe it means taking a tent and camping in the forest, maybe it means taking a long shower so you can think in peace, whatever it is, try to give yourself some space to be alone and think through what it is you want in life. If you struggle with depression and it feels like you have no passion or interest in life left, please seek a professional who can help you or tell a good friend. If you feel like you don’t have anybody you can turn to, see if you can connect with other INFPs online who understand what you’re going through. From what I’ve observed in my online experience, INFPs are an extremely warm, friendly group of people who would be happy to support you.
ENFPs and Mental Illness
ENFPs are some of the most inspirational, creative and passionate people I’ve met. Their dominant Ne (extraverted intuition) makes them eager to explore limitless possibilities and pathways in life. Because they are such natural explorers of ideas and theories, they sometimes have a hard time maintaining focus on more routine, everyday matters. This can sometimes cause problems for them in school or in the workplace, where many times they are faced with projects they see as dull, rote, and mundane. They have such energy and enthusiasm that they feel stifled in such an environment. For this reason, it seems that many of them are labeled as having ADD. Sometimes it could be a misdiagnosis – I think lots of children with ADD just need a learning environment more catered to their type. But that’s for the ENFP and their doctor to decide – I couldn’t say either way. I’ve seen ENFPs say they were misdiagnosed and it was just their personality type, and others say they have ADD and it wasn’t a misdiagnosis. Either way, it seems as though ENFPs may have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with ADD.
Another common disorder that I’ve seen brought up by many ENFPs is Borderline Personality Disorder. You can find out more about Borderline Personality Disorder here. Considering a lot of the symptoms of BPD include intense emotions, shifting goals and vocational aspirations, and paranoia (a turbulent ENFP may be overusing their Ne in a negative way, and see endless negative possibilities), I can see where ENFPs may sometimes be more vulnerable to BPD. ENFPs have really strong emotions; they have a deep set of personal values that they will not cross. They want to be true to those values no matter what, and if those values are violated they can become intensely distraught or angry. When ENFPs feel things, they feel them deeply and strongly. Also, because of their dominant Ne, they will see ever-changing possibilities and will have a hard time sticking to just one plan. This may be another reason they could identify with BPD if one of the symptoms is shifting goals and vocational aspirations. Unlike J personality types, ENFPs like to keep their options open and explore many pathways. They don’t want to be tied down to just one. Ari over at Fighting Labels, says that when she discovered her MBTI type she realized that her BPD could just be her demonstrating her functions as an ENFP. Either way, ENFPs may have a vulnerability to BPD or may have an issue with being misdiagnosed with BPD.
What to do about it:
Of course the first thing you should do if you suspect you have Borderline Personality Disorder is to talk to a professional. There’s a borderline personality quiz here if it would help you – although it’s best to be diagnosed by a real person.
If you feel like maybe you’re manifesting signs of BPD or ADD because you’re under stress, then here are some great ways for ENFPs to reduce stress (thanks to Naomi Quenk’s Was That Really Me? book):
– Give yourself some space and time alone to sort out your feelings. ENFPs more than other extroverts seem to identify as ambiverts. They often really need some alone time to process their thoughts and feelings.
– Give yourself some time to “escape”, even if it’s just locking yourself in the bathroom for an extra five minutes to think.
– Many ENFPs report that meditation and physical exercise help them to reduce stress and regain equilibrium.
If you’re trying to help an ENFP, try to give them a chance to be alone and think things through. Don’t give them advice when they’re stressed or worked up because that usually won’t help when they’re caught up in their emotions. Don’t ask for details either. ENFPs in the grip of introverted sensing may become obsessed with details, so you need to draw them away from that. Just listen, and after they’ve calmed down ask how you can help.
I’m no psychiatrist. I’d like to be a counselor someday, but at this point I’m just reading a lot, taking a lot of notes, and relaying here what I’ve found. I HOPE it can be helpful! I think all the Myers Briggs types are incredible and I never want to seem biased towards one or another. If you feel like you can relate to anything on here, let me know in the comments! If you disagree, agree, or have any of your own thoughts to add, I’d love to hear from you.
An Empirical Investigation of Jung’s Psychological Types and Personality Disorder Features by University of Colorado
Journal of Psychological Type by Center of Applications for Psychological Type
Conscientiousness and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder – by PsycNet
Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality by Naomi Quenk
Please Understand Me II by David Kiersey
Oddly Developed Types
Myers Briggs Type indicator personality profiles in unipolar depressed patients – Case study
Over-representation of Myers Briggs Type Indicator introversion in social phobia patients – Case study