Stress Triggers, Mindfulness, and the Shadow

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When we are stressed we are not as agile as we need to be. And stress takes a toll on our health and quality of life. Personality related stress is often unconscious. Here is a story about an experience of mine where I unpack the relevance of all the models to one stressful situation. Each lens—Essential Motivators, Interaction Styles, and Cognitive Dynamics—helps me understand myself better and grow into having more positive interactions. I hope my story helps you see how you can use type lenses to increase your level of mindfulness and interpersonal agility. So here goes…

I recently found myself in a situation where I didn’t show up in a way that I wanted. It was a somewhat difficult conversation and I made it more difficult by expressing my anger inappropriately. On reflection, I realized that I was more stressed in general than I had realized and that level of stress tipped me into a shadowy place, where something ‘had’ me rather than me being my authentic, best self. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t express anger. The issue was that in this instance expressing that anger was counterproductive. I lost some credibility when I did so and it furthered the rift in the relationship.

Essential Motivator Core Needs Triggering the Shadow Processes

As I reflect more on this, I notice that when I’ve been in really stressful situations, there are several sources of stress that trigger me into a place I really don’t want to be. In nearly every instance the primary trigger is that I’m not feeling competent, which is a core psychological need in my Essential Motivator pattern of Theorist. Now I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to feel competent, but for the Theorist to not feel competent is psychological death and the typical stress response is to become mindless. In that difficult conversation I became mindless. Knowing this about my temperament helps me restore mindfulness and operate with more consciousness more quickly than when I don’t remember it. It amazes me that I have come to this realization many times before and it seems like a surprise each time. However, more and more in my life, I am able to catch those moments more quickly and then by just realizing that I’m feeling incompetent, I can make meaning of things in a different way, be more forgiving and patient with myself, and take actions to restore my sense of competence.

Cognitive Dynamics At Play

I’m learning to recognize the signals as I become increasingly conscious and self-aware. Here is where Cognitive Dynamics come into play. As someone with INTP preferences, I lead with Analyzing (introverted Thinking) and with the analysis, I often make important contributions, but sometimes that analysis isn’t welcomed or even needed. In the case of the difficult conversation, this was part of the dynamic. Then I move to the Tandem process of Ti to the Aspirational Role process of Connecting (extraverted Feeling) and I self-disclose too much to try to connect. That is one of those early warning signs. As I become more attuned to the responses of others, I can get clues that inappropriate self-disclosure is what is going on in an attempt to connect. If I’m really stressed, I don’t notice this until later after I’ve flipped into the Devilish Role process of Valuing (introverted Feeling) and in that space, I feel thoroughly justified in expressing my frustrations and feelings even if they are not appropriate. This is truly a dark shadow response and that is what happened in that difficult conversation.

Interaction Styles too!

Given my Behind-the-Scenes Interaction Style, you’d not recognize that anything was wrong until I blow up or take a rigid stance. The way this style expresses stress is by freezing first—doing nothing until they can get a handle on things—so it looks like I’m going along with things and even agreeing during the freeze. Additionally, in this situation, I felt pressure to produce outcomes too quickly with not enough integration time so not only was the Interaction Style expression of stress at play, I was feeling the stressor of being forced to decide things before I was ready.

Some Principles

I’m sure there are other aspects of my personality, my developmental process, and what the other person brought to the situation that were at play in this example, but this is enough to give you an idea of how to use type to increase the self-awareness needed to navigate the myriad of relationships involved as we work together and live together. Here are some of the principles I try to apply for myself or in helping my clients:

  • Why does this behavior make sense? What need is it an attempt to fill? (Essential Motivator, Interaction Styles, Cognitive Styles, Cognitive Dynamics)
  • How can I reframe the behavior as having a positive intention even if a negative outcome?
  • What triggered the problematic behavior?
  • How can I use the trigger as an early warning system so I can take positive action to get needs met?
  • What can I shift in my behavior even while honoring my own feelings and needs? How can I become more agile?

If I had recognized that my core needs were not getting met and I had dropped into a shadow response, I might have had the presence of mind to take a deep breath before I lashed out and therefore be more agile in the situation. It might have been the right thing to do to get the result needed, but it wasn’t the right thing to do if it was out of control and there was a better way to express it.

The self-awareness that comes from type knowledge is not just for naming and recognizing, but for increasing compassion for self and others, mindfulness, and agility. When we can do this as the triggers happen, we will see more opportunities for harmonious, collaborative solutions. And when more of us can do this, we will be closer to solving some of the major problems in the world. I hope you join me in the quest to help myself and others use type awareness to foster this level of consciousness and development.