Happy New Year, everyone! I’m excited to finally share with you the results of my Autoimmune-Personality Theory Survey. Again, thank you to all who participated.
First, I’d like to reiterate a little bit about the “study.” In essence, my research question for this study was: “Are certain personality types more prone to developing autoimmune conditions?” This started as a theory that I published back in 2016, which I developed after noticing many similarities in worldview and personality between the 300-person autoimmunity support group I facilitated. My original post received far more positive response and feedback than I could have imagined, which led to me wanting to see if I could support my theory with some actual data, rather than just my own personal observations and anecdotes.
Now, before we jump into the data, there are a few thing I want to make very clear:
The first is that no personality type is “better” or “worse” than another; ALL types are necessary and play an important role in our society, and our differences are important.
The second thing is that like all disease, autoimmune conditions are highly complex and are not just caused by one factor; they are multidimensional. As such, having a certain personality type does not mean that someone is certain to develop an autoimmune condition; it is simply a link, a single piece of the puzzle. In other words, this is a tale of correlation, not causation.
My hope is that this information can empower those in the community who are willing to expand beyond the acute treatment of disease, and focus more on preventative intervention, perhaps in the form of stress reduction, behavioral or cognitive counseling (to modify and/or support traits that may be more likely to deteriorate health). In other words, if we can understand those traits that may predispose us to an illness, then we can begin to heal those areas, as well as focus on the more “traditional” things like diet, lifestyle, and biological and physical intervention (through supplements, IV treatments, massage, physical therapy, etc.)
And finally, I’d like to reiterate – much like I did in my original post – that I am neither a doctor nor a formally trained researcher/scientist, and this survey (or “study,” if you should be so generous) was neither sponsored nor sanctioned by any sort of public health agency or individual. I’m simply a curious person and health coach with a background in Sociology, several autoimmune conditions and a blog, who believes that like the complex autoimmune condition, the path to healing must also be complex.
SUMMARY OF METHODOLOGY
- The survey was conducted digitally via SurveyMonkey and was open to the public from November 1, 2017 – December 1, 2017.
- The final number of responses was 821.
- Demographically, 98% of survey respondents were women. The top three age categories of survey respondents were: 35-44, 45-54, and 25-34, in that order.
This simple survey was primarily designed to be a qualitative study in that it was less driven by numbers and statistics, and more so by identifying patterns and themes amongst the responses. Further analysis can be found below.
- The top 3 personality types of survey respondents were: a tie between INFP (16.42%) and ISFP (16.42%), INFJ (13.73%), and ISFJ (9.31%)
- The bottom 3 personality types were: ESTP (0.86%), ENTJ (1.23%), and a tie between ENTP (1.35%) and ESFJ (1.35%)
- 83.44% of respondents were “Introverted” (I)
- 48.23% of respondents were “Sensing” (S) and 51.78% were “Intuitive” (N)
- The difference between the percentage of S and N was not enough to be statistically significant
- 65.78% of respondents were “Feeling” (F)
- 57.49% of respondents were “Perceiving” (P)
Overall, it seems that the most likely personality is IXFP (“X” meaning that it alternates fairly equally between those being “S” and those being “N”), with 32.76% of respondents answering that they were either INFPs or ISFPs. In that way, respondents are more likely to be Introverted, Feeling and Perceiving, rather than Extroverted, Thinking, and Judging.
COMMENTARY / INTERPRETATION
Again, my original research question was, “are certain personality types more prone to developing autoimmune conditions?”
Overall, the most prominent personality among survey respondents was IXFP (“X” meaning that it alternates fairly evenly between those being “S” and those being “N”), with 32.76% of respondents answering that they were either INFPs or ISFPs. In that way, it seems reasonable to draw the correlation that those who are Introverted, Feeling and Perceiving (vs. Extroverted, Thinking, and Judging) may be more prone to developing autoimmune conditions. The least likely seem to be EXTJs.
The interesting thing about the fact that IXFPs have come in highest in our survey, is that these are some of the most rare personality types amongst the global population. INFPs are said to make up only 4.4% of the global population, and ISFPs just 8.8% (source).
So, the next logical question would be: What is it about IXFPs (which includes me, by the way, as I am an INFP) that makes them overrepresented in the autoimmune community (and perhaps more prone to developing autoimmune conditions)?
To help us understand this, let’s look at some of the shared traits among INFP and ISFP, the two predominant personality types identified in the survey:
- Always wanting to make things better
- Calm, reserved, shy, but with a fiery inner flame and passion
- Guided by principles and led by purity of intentions
- Driven by a need to find and fulfill their purpose
- Service-oriented and have a tendency to put others’ interests in front of their own
Why would those traits seem to be more likely to produce an autoimmune condition?
Socially, could it be possible that it’s due to the fact that some of those traits are not widely celebrated by modern society, which places a higher value on analysis, logic, structure, rigor, and bureaucracy (things these two personality types reject)?
From my viewpoint and my own experience as an INFP, I believe that the suppression of these primary characteristics leads to an internalization of this energy, which can form a self-destructive pattern when not expressed fully and constructively. In other words, those of us who would rather daydream, help others, and spend time being creative, are often encouraged to instead work “nose to the grindstone,” be competitive, and spend time sitting in a cubicle. This clashing of ideals may cause – as it has in my life – a great deal of internal stress as we feel torn between doing what we want to do, and what society says we ought to do.
I’d also like to look at this from an emotional standpoint. Take some of the top autoimmune diseases reported in the survey: Hashimoto’s, Celiac, RA, Psoriasis, Fibromyalgia and Sjogren’s. According to the book, Messages From the Body, there are many characteristics (on an emotional level) that people with these conditions share, such as:
- Holding onto excessive guilt and shame
- Lack of self-worth
- Distrust in one’s own capabilities and value
- Self-doubt and distrust of self
- Feeling never good enough
- Overwhelmed, with trouble processing and dealing with strong feelings and emotions
- Difficulty with self-expression due to never being “heard”
Do you think that any of these traits coincide with common characteristics of our top personality traits? I’d say so.
For example, both ISFPs and INFPs have a deep need to express themselves, and when given the proper space, are talented at doing so. We also see that disorders of the thyroid are overwhelmingly the #1 reported disease in the survey (again, nearly half of respondents reported thyroid-related conditions). At an emotional and energetic level, thyroid disorders are connected to problems with self-expression and in turn, being “heard.” So, it may be reasonable to draw a parallel between these two factors — the great need for self-expression by our top two personality traits, and the constricted self-expression found within the top-reported autoimmune condition.
While those are some examples of disease-specific correlations, I also found some generalized correlations between personality and the development of autoimmune conditions.
For instance, we see that a top “word of caution” (according to 16Personalities.com) for INFPs is to not spread oneself too thin, as that personality type is easily burnt out and overwhelmed. We also know that INFPs also do not usually do well in high-stress environments, and they have a tendency to put others’ interests in front of their own. Similarly, ISFPs are sensitive, empathic, and prone to stress due to high levels of emotions. These personality tendencies may indeed make INFPs and ISFPs more prone to stress and developing an unhealthy stress response, which we now know fuels the formation of autoimmune conditions.
A susceptibility towards high stress, paired with a tendency to neglect one’s needs in favor of others and the rigor of modern life (which is often competitive, critical, and traditional), paints an interesting story as to why our top two personality types may be more inclined to develop autoimmune conditions.
That is, most of us live in fast-paced, competitive modern societies that could be described as overly busy and stressful. These two personality types may be more susceptible to this stress due to their high levels of empathy and sensitivity. Additionally, the fact that these personality types may put others’ needs before their own and neglect self-love and self-care, may then make dealing with that stress even more challenging. Thus, this mesh-up of higher stressed environments with higher sensitivity and lower self-care could be leading to a higher prevelance of autoimmune conditions amongst IXFP personality types.
I think that the best thing we can do with this information is raise awareness to this possible correlation between personality and autoimmune conditions. We can also learn to nurture these types of personalities in our society, instead of try to put them in a box and force them to conform to others’ standards. It’s important to let everyone be themselves, express themselves, and celebrate themselves, instead of holding back valuable characteristics and energy that could be leveraged in areas of society.
There’s a lot of literature coming out about the value of introverts and Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), and I think that the more we can learn about this and help create space for these types of people (myself included), the healthier and better off we’ll be as a society.
In the meantime, self-awareness is key, and hopefully this survey can be validating for all of you who feel misunderstood, unheard, or alone in this world. I know that before I found this autoimmune community and even until I did this survey, I was one of those people who felt just a little bit alone — in fact, I had never even met another INFP, let alone encountered 134 of them in one place! 🙂
I think that the characteristics that can help us heal are: honoring our sensitivity, reconnecting with our passions, takings steps to do something creative or expressive each day, learning how we can create a workspace that is more conducive to our unique personalities and needs, and allow time for daydreaming, beauty, art, philosophy, philanthropy, and colorful experiences.
My hope is that this survey is empowering and can turn into something action-oriented for those struggling with autoimmunity, but also for health coaches and health practitioners, who can help “hold up the mirror” to patients that are willing to look beyond just the physical ailments and discover and heal a deeper part of themselves.