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Given my line of work and the name of this website (highlysensitivepersoncoach.com), it’s probably pretty obvious that I think learning about one’s sensitivity status can be life changing.  Finding out that I am a highly sensitive person or HSP was certainly life changing for me personally and I’ve seen it lead to profound realizations and life improvements for many others as well.  

But there’s actually another way of increasing self awareness that I feel very passionately about too.  It’s called the MBTI® or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.  Back when I discovered my Myers-Briggs personality type and what it meant, it was just as earth-shatteringly significant as learning about high sensitivity.  Understanding my personality preferences (and those of people around me) has really helped me with self acceptance and with adopting a lifestyle that is aligned with my wiring.    

So I’m really excited about bringing together my two passions in this article.  What is the relationship between the MBTI® and high sensitivity?  Are some Myers-Briggs personality types more likely to be highly sensitive than others?

While there are no definite answers to these questions as of yet, there’s somewhat of an “internet consensus” to which I’d like to add my own observations. 🙂   

But in case you are new to either high sensitivity or the MBTI®, let’s start with a brief definition of each.

WHAT IS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON (HSP)?

High sensitivity – also known as sensory processing sensitivity – is a temperament trait possessed by about 30 percent of people.  Sensitivity occurs on a continuum and some of us simply have more of it than others.  Compared to less sensitive people, those of us who identify as highly sensitive have more reactive nervous systems and we process information more deeply.  

As a result, we experience everything more intensely than the average person.  And by everything I mean just about everything.  Sensory stimuli like lights, sounds, smells, and touch.  Social stimuli like meeting new people or receiving criticism. And emotional stimuli like our own and other people’s feelings.  This makes us more likely to get overstimulated and overstressed.  Also known as crashing. 😉

If you’d like to learn more about the meaning of high sensitivity click here.  (And if you’d like to find out what you can do about the crashing, click here.)     

WHAT IS THE MBTI?

The MBTI® is short for Myers Briggs Type Indicator®. The MBTI® is based on the personality theories of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, but the theory was further developed by a mother and daughter pair, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers.  That’s where the name comes from!

According to the Myers-Briggs personality type theory, there are 16 personality types, each with a four-letter combo.  The theory is based on the idea of preferences and each of the four letters in your personality type stands for a particular preference.  When you are using the preferred side of your personality, it’s easy and effortless and you don’t really have to think about it.  But when you are using your non-preferred side, it can be awkward and take more effort.

The four preference pairs are:

  • Introversion versus Extraversion:  Some people prefer to turn inward and pay a lot of attention to their inner world of thoughts and ideas.  Other people prefer to spend more time turning outward to the external world of people and things. 
  • Sensing versus INtuition:  Some people prefer to take in information via the five senses and focus more on concrete information.  Other people prefer to perceive via intuiting and focus more on abstract meanings. 
  • Thinking versus Feeling:  Some people prefer to make “thinking” decisions that are logical and objective.  Other people prefer to make “feeling” decisions based on more subjective criteria, like their values or impact on people.
  • Judging versus Perceiving:  Some people prefer perceiving – ie. gathering information – over making a judgment about that information. People with this perceiving preference like to wait and see and keep options open.  Other people prefer making judgments – ie. taking action – over perceiving (gathering more information).  People with this judging preference like to make quicker decisions. 

For example, my four preferences are Introvert, INtuitive, Feeling, and Judging, so my personality type is INFJ.

If you don’t know your four-letter code yet and/or you would like to learn more about the meaning of the preference pairs, click here for more info on how to discover your personality type.

WHERE HIGH SENSITIVITY AND THE MBTI® PREFERENCES OVERLAP

High sensitivity and certain MBTI® preferences overlap in that highly sensitive people are more likely to favor some of the preferences than others.  I want to emphasize the “more likely” though.  Just because more of us prefer a given way of functioning, doesn’t mean all of us do or that any one way is better than another.  In fact, what I love most about the MBTI® is that it’s one of the few personality models that describes differences in a positive way.  There are no better or worse preferences.  There are no better or worse personality types.  Each personality type comes with its own gifts and challenges and is equally valuable.     

Okay, with that caveat out of the way… 🙂 

Highly sensitive people are more likely to prefer introversion than extraversion.  According to the research of Elaine Aron – the psychologist who coined the term “highly sensitive person” – roughly two thirds of HSPs are introverts and one third extraverts.  Highly sensitive extraverts are often confused or uncertain about their preferences though.  Because of their sensitivity, highly sensitive extraverts often need just as much downtime as introverts do.

Highly sensitive people are also often thought to favor intuition over sensing, although there are no numbers for this one as far as I know.  Intuition is defined as the ability to reach an understanding without conscious reasoning.  This is when you just know stuff or come up with an insight or an idea without being able to explain how exactly you got there.  Researchers have found that when perceiving their environment, HSPs are more likely to use areas of the brain meant for complex processing of sensory information.  And HSPs often do this unconsciously, which is where our intuitiveness probably comes from.  But with all that being said, not all highly sensitive people prefer to take in information via intuition – there are HSPs out there who prefer sensing as well.     

Finally, one of the defining characteristics of high sensitivity is high emotional reactivity and empathy.  From this we might conclude that highly sensitive people would be more likely to prefer feeling than thinking.  People who prefer feeling like to make values-based decisions and generally come off as more warm and fuzzy than those with a thinking preference.  This description certainly fits many highly sensitive people, but again, this isn’t universal.  There are definitely highly sensitive people with a thinking preference out there as well.

WHAT MYERS-BRIGGS PERSONALITY TYPES ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PEOPLE

INTROVERTED INTUITIVE FEELERS – INFJS & INFPS

Given that highly sensitive people are more likely to prefer introversion, intuition, and feeling, it makes sense to give The Most Likely To Be HSP – award to INFJs and INFPs.  INFJs and INFPs tend to fit the descriptions of highly sensitive people to a tee.  These two personality types are highly empathetic deep processors who are easily overstimulated.  

I have seen this play out in my own coaching practice in that the majority of my clients over the years have been INFJs and INFPs.  Now, since I’m an INFJ myself, it’s probably easier for me to attract people who are similar.  But other sources on the internet do tend to agree, with INFJs and INFPs at the top of sensitivity lists here, here, and here.

Although INFJs and INFPs may be the most likely to be highly sensitive, they are also relatively rare personality types, together comprising way less than 10 percent of the total population.  With 30 percent of the population considered highly sensitive, there has to be lots of HSPs of other personality types as well.     

EXTRAVERTED INTUITIVE FEELERS – ENFJS & ENFPS

This brings us to extraverted intuitive feelers – ENFJs and ENFPs.  ENFJs and ENFPs have a lot in common with INFJs and INFPs.  They just tend to be a bit more outgoing and expressive in social situations.  But even though they prefer extraversion, ENFJs and ENFPs need lots of alone time and fit the descriptions of highly sensitive people as intuitive empaths.  In my own coaching practice, ENFPs have been the sensitive extraverts I have encountered most frequently by far, although on occasion, I’ve coached ENFJs as well.   

INTROVERTED INTUITIVE THINKERS – INTJS & INTPS

In my experience, intuitive thinkers are less likely to identify as highly sensitive than the four intuitive feeler types described above.  With that being said, INTJs and INTPs are introverted deep thinkers so it’s not that much of a stretch.  I have coached several brilliant INTPs who identified as highly sensitive and who fit the typical descriptions of overwhelmed and stressed out highly sensitive people.  However, I have yet to encounter an INTJ coaching client.  So self-directed that they rarely need coaching, maybe?  

SENSING FEELERS – ISFJS, ISFPS, ESFJS, ESFPS

Another group of people I occasionally run into in my coaching practice are the SF types or feelers who prefer sensing over intuition.  Even though these HSPs may not be as intuitive as the NF types, they tend to possess many other characteristics typically associated with highly sensitive people.  ISFJs and ESFJs are usually other-focused people with high levels of empathy.  ISFPs and ESFPs tend to care a lot about people as well.  All four tend to be sensitive to “what other people think”.  And although these types may not be as future-oriented or imaginative as some HSP stereotypes, ISFPs and ESFPs are often artistically creative and many ISFJs and ESFJs enjoy creating things with their hands as well.

WHAT ABOUT ISTJS?

ISTJs are not the first personality type that comes to mind when thinking “sensitive empath” and some internet sources (like this one) even see ISTJs as the least sensitive of all 16 types.  In my coaching practice, however, I have encountered quite a few ISTJs who identify as highly sensitive people.  While ISTJs do not fit the stereotype of a head-in-the-clouds highly sensitive person with big feelings, ISTJs can carry a lot of physical stress (yes, sometimes due to suppressed emotions) and struggle with sensory sensitivities to things like lights, sounds, and smells.  ISTJs can also be sensitive to changes in physical routines, needing consistency when it comes to sleep and meals.   

YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BE UNIQUE

It can be fun to speculate about this stuff for a personality nerd like me!  But I think there’s one deeper take-away here as well.  That take-away is that even though we have this sensitivity thing in common, there’s still a ton of diversity among us.  And that’s okay.  If you read descriptions of highly sensitive people and only some of it resonates, you are allowed to take what you find helpful from HSP resources and forget about the rest.  It’s all part of self discovery and figuring out exactly how you are wired.  You don’t have to fit in a box that someone else built.  You are allowed to be unique.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Anni! I'm a life and career coach for stressed out highly sensitive people. My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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