Stress Triggers, Mindfulness, and the Shadow
An updated blog post by Linda Berens
In this blog, I share an experience of mine where I unpack the relevance of all the models
to one stressful situation. Each personality type 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 the
InterStrength™ typology lenses to increase your level of mindfulness and interpersonal
agility. So here goes…
I 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
thought, 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 at that time and in that
way 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 those with a Theorist pattern to not
feel competent is psychological death and the typical stress response is to act without
intelligence. In that difficult conversation I was feeling very incompetent for a variety of
reasons and my behavior was really thoughtless. It was like ink spilled on my brain and
my frustration came out in a variety of ways. As I obsessed about my outburst later, I
realized that my core needs were challenged in this situation. So while I can’t completely
repair the situation, I can move forward with figuring out what to do next time.
Knowing this about my Essential Motivators (aka 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
Now that I reflect on this situation, I can see how the Essential Motivator stressors
triggered some inappropriate use of my preferred Jungian Cognitive Processes. In the
Cognitive Dynamics lens, the eight mental functions described by Carl Jung play
different roles in our personality. As someone with INTP preferences, my Leading Role
process (also known as heroic process) is Analyzing what is going wrong (or right) in a
situation (introverted Thinking). My Supporting Role process is Interpreting emerging
patterns (extraverted iNtuiting). So I thought I was being helpful by seeing emerging
patterns, then analyzing what I thought was a leverage point for ‘fixing’ something. I
often make important contributions in this way, but sometimes that analysis and
interpretation isn’t welcomed or even needed. In the case of the difficult conversation,
this was part of the dynamic and as I put forth rather strongly the insight I had, it was not
only not welcome, it was the wrong time. I didn’t read the situation correctly and engage
the process that is my least frequently engaged of Noticing (extraverted Sensing). Instead
I went with what I recognized as a pattern in this person’s behavior, so I trusted my
‘relief’ role information of Reviewing (introverted Sensing).
In the INTP Cognitive Dynamics pattern, Connecting (extraverted Feeling) plays an
Aspirational Role. Using this process is what I aspire to but often don’t use well. And in
this case, I certainly didn’t use it well. I didn’t connect with what the other person was
experiences nor did I express anything positive at the moment of anger. So now, I had
one more way to be incompetent and not meet the core Theorist needs. It just heaped
coals on the fire going on in my consciousness as I realized what I had done.
Since I was really stressed, I didn’t notice this until later after flipping into the Devilish
Role process of Valuing (introverted Feeling) and in that space, I felt thoroughly justified
in expressing my frustrations and feelings even if they are not appropriate. This was truly
a dark shadow response and that is what happened in that difficult conversation.
So my lesson learned is to notice the context and become more attuned to the responses
of others before I speak. Cognitive Dynamics gives me some clues as to what my brain is
doing and then some practices to use when I’m caught up in not getting my core Essential
Motivator needs met.
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.
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 Motivators, Interaction 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