by Bill Davies
There has been a significant increase in the focus on resilience in recent years. People point to the VUCA working world – one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and the drivers of significant change such as artificial intelligence, global uncertainty (Brexit, China slow-down), social fractures, and so on. And this is impacting stress levels, absenteeism etc. In response we hear about ‘Agile’ working, firstly from IT and now as a more generalisable approach to needing an increasingly flexible workforce and operating systems.
What can an understanding of our personality and our emotional intelligence contribute to understanding stress reactions and how to better manage our selves and become more resilient, even happier!? This paper will refer to Jungian personality type and to JCA Global’s emotional intelligence model as illustrations.
Our core personality is ‘who we are’ and is relatively stable but we (potentially) develop in a systematic way over time according to Jung, and at the same time we can adaptively utilise different parts of ourselves depending on context. Emotional intelligence is how we learn to manage our personality through awareness and choices we make and how we develop skills, habit and attitudes around this; becoming more personally and interpersonally effective.
I aim to look at these two concepts as complementary and linked aspects that can give enhanced awareness and enable improved choices to support our resilience and to enable our effectiveness.
An important note to start with is that mental well-being is a continuum which we all move up and down on continually. This paper will not refer to mental illness as this is complex and requires specialist input when relating to personality type and any links to emotional intelligence. However, to re-state, it is normal for many of us to experience times of mental illness. Anxiety and stress are elements that accompany the journey to that part of the continuum.
Although the Jungian model itself does not include the dimension of Anxiety present in the Big 5 model and is mainly focused on our gifts and what describes us at our best there have been great writers on Type who have suggested that there are common stressors, patterns and responses depending on our personally type; authors such as Naomi Quenck and Eve Delunas have brought fascinating insights into this world of the type ‘dark side’.
Psychological Type, pressure and stress
In my reading and practice I notice three broad levels relating to stress. At the first level we feel OK and not threatened. At this level we flexibly use all 8 of the type preferences as required and can adapt to the level of which we have developed capability in each of these. We will likely use our normal preferences the most but are not rigid in this if we have developed awareness.
At the second level we are under pressure and experiencing a short period of stress. In these circumstances we are likely to ‘revert to Type’ and can actually be highly effective. However, the more this persists it can lead to rigidity and under-using the non-preferred and useful personality modes. An ESTJ for example can become very outwardly demanding, specific, tough minded etc.
At the third level we ‘flip’ and our ‘shadow’ personality emerges (Quenck terms this ‘in the grip’). This is where we might exhibit incompetent use of the opposite of our preference, in extremes the opposite of our dominant. If we take the ESTJ again we might see the emotional, sensitive, subjective side come out but not competently (the Fi opposed to their dominant Te). Delunas would add the temperament aspect and for ESTJ this would be the SJ reaction of exaggerated sickness/symptoms; excessive worrying; playing the victim; being a ‘doormat’; nagging; depressive thinking.
Personality versus emotional intelligence
So, what about the link to emotional intelligence (EI)? EI is not our personality but is how we manage it. From a pressure and stress point of view EI recognises that we shift between two main modes, between OK and not OK at a limbic level depending on the nature and level of perceived threat. EI also recognises that emotional awareness is key – do I tune into my feelings and use them to inform how I might react, and similarly how well I tune into the feelings of others (empathy)?
At level one above we are more in a position to do this tuning in as we are in the ‘OK’ state. However, EI is a practice and a developable capability so managing challenges (real or perceived) to maintain an OK state is important. By doing this we therefore we can access all 8 elements of our Type to achieve our goals. So, developing our EI we are in a position to capitalise on our gifts. It also can enable us to build our capacity and be more resilient in the first place.
At level 2 we are pressured and possibly experiencing some stress. We are likely to have unmet emotional needs, expectations and/or values compromised. Developing our EI gives us the understanding and vocabulary around this to mitigate the excesses of ‘reverting to Type’ and to be aware that I need to pause and manage the emotions. EI related neuroscience research shows that naming feelings, how we frame them and what we do with them can all enable the successful management of our reactions and enable effective decisions and behaviours.
And because we are human, we will have episodes of ‘flip’ (level 3) and EI here is linked to self-compassion and the ability to do repair work with relationships if they have been compromised in the process. Also, EI is about reflective learning and in that process avoiding a repeat of the negative episodes.
So, in conclusion Type and EI are valuable frames when considered together. Arguably developing our EI can enable and support the integrative process which Jung referred to as Individuation, working towards wholeness and self-actualisation. And we can draw upon our ‘gifts’ of Type to enable our EI development too.
About Bill Davies
Bill has over 30 years’ experience in counselling and coaching with particular expertise in career transition coaching and in mental wellbeing. He has many years of coaching and training leaders and managers in emotional intelligence, incorporating Personality Type. He has led the development of his company’s (JCA) diagnostic and development programme in Building Resilience.