Our Circus, Our Monkeys

Whether we’re mono or poly, challenges arise in our romantic relationships for a variety of reasons. At times, these challenges have zero to do with the relationship itself. They are simply a consequence of other stresses in our lives, (work, health, family), and our innate responses to stress.

In the 90s, when I was working as a Project Manager, the concept of High Performance Teams was all the rage. As a result, our organization undertook an effort to help create and develop HPTs. One of the tools they used was an individual-level assessment called Personalysis®.

The Personalysis tool is based in several widely-accepted psychological concepts. Chief among these are Jungian theory of personality, (and consequently, the MBTI 16 types), and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Based on a person’s responses to the questionnaire, the tool provides an overview of the individual under typical, optimal, and stressful conditions, as well as recommendations for managing stressors and methods for drawing on the individual’s preferences and strengths. It is actually a very powerful tool, if put to use.

One of the critical components of a person’s assessment is the detailed description of how they are likely to react under stress. What happens when a person’s basic needs are threatened? How do they behave when they’re afraid or insecure?

Under sufficient stress, it’s possible for us to become people we don’t recognize. Our behavior becomes unpredictable, illogical. We resort to tactics we’d never consider under normal circumstances, because the fight or flight survival instinct overrides our higher executive functioning.

“Negative behaviors are outward symptoms of insecurity, frustration, fear, or anger. They can be triggered when you work in a frustrating job role, perceive threatening communications, or feel your instinctive survival needs are at risk. Then you experience the concerns of an insecure self. When stress becomes overwhelming, negative energy drains your emotional and mental resources creating the reactive defensive behaviors.”  (Personalysis Corporation, www.titanhr.com)
The term grip has been coined in reference to the condition described above. In type theory, ‘grip’ is what happens when an individual is forced to function in their least preferred style until they can no longer cope. “When the inferior function manifests in someone’s life, that person may say, “I don’t know what got into me.” It often feels like being out of control (outside the conscious ego). The inferior may manifest in negative, immature ways…For example, Intuition as an inferior Intuition may manifest not as creative possibilities, but rather as worry over every possibility that can go wrong. Sensing may manifest not as attention to details, but rather as an obsession with them.” (MBTI Type Dynamics, www.meyersbriggs.org)
These negative behaviors are compounded when an individual has other emotion-regulation issues (e.g., they experienced early trauma, or for other reasons, learned maladaptive coping strategies when they were young). This was case for myself. The process of becoming cognizant of my behavioral patterns was difficult and painful, and it took a very long time – and I am still learning.
The reality of life is that not everyone gets through this process. Not everyone develops the self-awareness required to even consider personal change. And, even when we have gained that awareness, not everything becomes crystal clear.
There are still times when my emotions and behavior confuse me. I’ve also found, in particular as an INTJ, that I can be insensitive to the feelings and internal experiences of those I hold dear because I view things so differently. I may over- or underestimate the significance or impact of certain decisions and experiences on others. While not intentional, my ignorance can create additional stress for the people I love.

The best thing we can do (as partners, friends, parents – essentially, in ANY relationship) is to seek an understanding – or minimally, to suspend judgment – of others’ behavior, and to analyze our own when we observe things as being out of place; when a loved one turns into someone we don’t recognize, or the person we don’t recognize is us.

If we can approach these challenging situations from a standpoint of curiosity…if we are willing to ask ‘why?’, and accept that part of the answer lies in who we are, (if we are faced with a problem, we are inherently part of it; therefore, solving the problem requires us to solve something about ourselves), then it becomes possible for us to be more understanding, patient, and compassionate with those we may be in conflict with, and that includes ourselves.


References and Further Reading:

TitanHR.com (Personalysis) Example Report

Simply Psychology – Maslow’s Hierarchy

Meyers Briggs Foundation – Type and Relationships

Psychology Junkie – Type Reactions to Stress

Psychology Junkie – Inferior Function and Grip

Psychometrics – Type Stress and Grip

Amazon.com Author Page – Naomi L Quenk


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s