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.

autoimmune personality survey results

 

INTRODUCTION

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 RESULTS

Chart_Q1_autoimmune_personality

  • 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.

Chart_Q2_autoimmune_personality

I asked this question because I wanted to verify that respondents felt that the personality type reported accurately described them as an individual. If it did not, then this information would not be as useful. Fortunately, the average number reported was a “4”, with 85% of respondents rating their personality type as a “4” or “5” in terms of how well it described them. Only 23 people out of 821 (2%) rated their personality type as a “1” or “2.”

Chart_Q3_autoimmune_personality

83.68% of respondents had a diagnosed autoimmune condition, 11.94% had a suspected AI condition, and 3% were unsure. 1.34% (11 people) did not have an autoimmune condition.

 

 

Cloud_Q4_personality_autoimmunity

The top three autoimmune conditions reported in the survey were: Hashimoto’s (43.40%), Celiac (7.74%), Rheumatoid Arthritis (5.58%). Sjogren’s, Fibromyalgia, Psoriasis, Lupus and Eczema followed. If you add “Grave’s Diseases” and “Hyper/hypothyroidism” to Hashimoto’s, then 47.8% of respondents reported dealing with a condition of the thyroid.

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:

  • Idealists
  • Creative
  • Kind-hearted
  • 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.

 

WHAT NOW?

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.

 

19 thoughts on “Is There a Link Between Personality & Autoimmunity? [Survey Results]

  1. Elspeth Batt

    Thanks for compiling this Mitch. It is incredibly interesting and I think that it pretty much proves some kind of link. It also makes me feel a bit less guilty for being overly sensitive and wanting to daydream and take time out to be creative in ways that don’t necessarily help me earn a living.

    Reply

    1. Mitch Post author

      Thanks for reading! And never feel guilty for being sensitive or taking the time to dream — those are extremely valuable characteristics to have, and often lead to amazing creative breakthroughs. Keep it up and celebrate yourself. 🙂

      Reply

  2. Kimberly Brais

    Mitch! I agree whole-heartedly with your valid research and hope more links can be made regarding how we and society effect our health. And, for us “overly sensitive” ones we need to keep connecting and supporting one another through our journey in autoimmunity. Please keep up your great work–

    Reply

    1. Mitch Post author

      Agreed, and yes I hope to continue working on societal influences on health – there are just so many! Thanks for reading. 🙂

      Reply

  3. Petra Chambers-Sinclair

    Fascinating findings. As an INFJ, I am intrigued: it is the rarest if the 16 personality types but rates #3 in your study. I have been interested in the correlation between introversion and health issues for a long time. Not because we introverts are inherently less robust, but because those of us who live in an extroverted (North American) context experience a mismatch between our personality and the norms of society every day. That creates a background ‘noise’ of stress that can have truly detrimental effects. I know it does for me. I will definitely be back to study these results some more!

    Reply

    1. Reba

      Petra, I’m an INFJ as well!

      Mitch, thanks for this, it all makes sense. I had noticed previously that I, and my friends who have autoimmune disease, all seem to have similar social tendencies, (although, I’ve been told by other introverts that I seem rather an extrovert – I guess there are scales of introversion, and perhaps the advocate in me is why I became a health coach) and whenever our Myers-Briggs personality types came up, we’d all be similar. Even a couple of INFJs as well, which is odd I would think! Very interesting conclusions.

      Reply

      1. Mitch Post author

        Thanks for reading and sharing, Reba! Yes, there are certainly scales of introversion and really, being an introvert isn’t always what people think it is — you can be outgoing and still be an introvert, or comfortable speaking with people and still be an introvert. Introversion/Extroversion really just refers to how you get your energy at the end of the day. Does being around people for an extended period of time get your energy fired up? Or, does it deplete you and you have to go home and have “quiet time” for a day or two? For me, I’m the latter – I do great in social situations and am very talkative and cheery, but after about 2-3 hours, I have to go home and rest. My wife, on the other hand, could be out for 12 hours straight and never get tired! That’s the main difference. 🙂

        Reply

        1. Sasha Campbell

          I am also an INFP with Hashimoto’s. Thank you for compiling this information. Hopefully, as professionals like yourself work to get this information out there into the collective consciousness, the mainstream will begin to pick up on the fact that we need more holistic multidisciplinary research when it comes to the physical expression of disease. I am a functional nutritionist trained in root cause resolution, but as I continue to dig, I am realizing there is the root (physical root), then there is the root of the root and so on. These physical expressions go deep not only in development time but beyond the physical body mechanisms in their energetic roots. Thank you again!

          Reply

          1. Mitch Post author

            Completely agree with you, Sasha, and I’m glad to hear that practitioners such as yourself are digging to find the TRUE root cause(s) of disease! I hope we can continue spreading the word about this multidisciplinary approach to healing, as well. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  4. Peta

    I wanted to point out that INFJ’s are actually a very small proportion of the population – something like 1-2%. For them to be so highly represented would imply that a very high percentage of them have autoimmune diseases, far more than the proportion of ISFP and INFP’s with autoimmune disease.

    Reply

  5. penelope

    Interesting exploration. But I can’t see where you looked for the stats about how common each type is in the general population. That would be interesting to examine.

    Reply

  6. Nadine Lee

    I think this is fascinating.
    I am an INFJ, too, the rarest type in society and very common in autoimmunity.
    I have this little comment though. We don’t know the percentage of people with each personality type that participate on Facebook in help/support sites like AIP Support. This is going to be somewhat enriched for introverts and for people that like to help others. Just to say that this would need to be tested in another situation—such as all comers to a thyroid clinic (taking FB and autoimmune health groups both out of the equation).

    Reply

  7. Linda

    I have read Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person’s books and attended a gathering of other HSP’s and your information pulls it full circle with a possible connection to my Hashi’s “gift” Not sure what came first the Hashi’s or HSP. I strongly lean toward HSP or INTP. Over thinking may be nearly as unhelpful or over emotional for our health. I am happy to see your work on this as I’ve been wondering if there might be a connection.

    Reply

  8. Dr. Yvonne

    Very interesting! Thanks for your work on this. I believe there is a link, and that it stems from what we are vulnerable to when things malfunction. IXFP personalities may be at risk for auto-immunity when they get ill, whereas the opposite personalities EXTJ may be at risk for heart disease. In both cases the body’s biochemistry is malfunctioning, but based on the genetic make-up the malfunction manifests as a different illness. This is in line with the functional medicine principle that the root of all illness is inflammation, but it may manifest in different ways.

    Reply

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