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Being a sensing and judging personality type, ISFJs love routine, have a strong sense of tradition, and believe in a “right way to do things.” This makes us trustworthy and loyal — we’re the employee, friend, or partner you can rely on. But for many of us, these traits also make any type of change — either positive or negative — overwhelmingly stressful.
Let’s explore how stress and change affect the routine-loving ISFJ, plus a few ideas to make change less overwhelming.
Why an ISFJ Might Make a Change
If an ISFJ starts making radical changes, something must have gone terribly wrong. This steadfast personality isn’t exactly the type to wake up one morning and switch up well-established routines on a whim. Here are two situations that might make even the most change-avoidant ISFJ say, “Enough is enough!”
1. An unhealthy romantic relationship
As an ISFJ, you care deeply about your partner. You’re their rock, always there with a shoulder to cry on, and a supportive, listening ear for their problems. You give great advice and often put their needs ahead of your own. Sure, you’re not perfect. You might avoid conflict in favor of sarcastic, passive-aggressive remarks instead. Confronting others directly is far outside your comfort zone.
Unfortunately, because you’re so kind and gentle, you sometimes attract toxic people.
Your partner complains a lot but never follows your advice, so you feel like they don’t care about your opinion. They constantly bring you down by criticizing you, and you feel unappreciated. If you muster up the courage to say something about it, they make you feel guilty for your concern (“Why am I not enough for you?”). You put up with it as long as you can, but your “giver” persona gets taxed. Eventually, the balance shifts too far.
Time for a change.
2. A toxic workplace
As an ISFJ, you’re probably as close as anyone can get to being the perfect colleague. Not only do you help others with their job tasks but also with their personal problems. You notice when someone is going through a rough time, but you don’t pry. Coworkers come to you when they need someone to vent to, because you listen and remain unbiased.
However, you might feel like nobody notices when you’re feeling down — maybe because you hide it so well. Do your colleagues actually care about you, the way that you care about them?
You work harder than many others. But being an introvert who doesn’t demand the spotlight, you might not get as much credit as you deserve. You follow the rules. When your boss assigns you a difficult task without proper instructions, you tend to do extra work to cover every possible thing she could want. And you still get passed over for a promotion.
You don’t feel valued. The stress is building up. Once again, you’re left wanting to make a change but feeling immobilized by the stress of it all.
What ISFJs Do Under Stress
Sadly, ISFJs will often stay in a toxic relationship or job for far longer than they should just to avoid rocking the boat. We don’t want to hurt our partner’s feelings — even when they’re hurting ours. We don’t want to let employers and coworkers down — even when they aren’t recognizing our contributions. Even though we’ve been told a thousand times we’re not supposed to, we care about what others think of us.
At first, we might seek solitude and hope that our alone time will recharge our batteries. When that stops helping, we might look for other ways to fight the stress. Some of us (me!) first try unhealthier methods, like binge-watching sitcoms or binge-eating ice cream. It might take us a while to move to healthier coping mechanisms, such as breathing exercises, meditation, or exercising.
I’ve learned, unfortunately, that when we don’t change our situation, our situation changes us. This is true for anyone, and ISFJs are no exception. If the toxic situation continues, we might bottle up our feelings until the stress overwhelms our lives. Unwillingly, we might close up even more, shrinking our world and our opportunities.
The ISFJ’s Shadow Side
Under extreme stress, the ISFJ’s shadow personality emerges. According to personality theory, we morph into a negative form of the ENTP. Our behavior drastically shifts. For one, our shadow personality is far less tolerant and patient than our usual selves. Optimism has never been our strong suit, but in the shadow self, optimism doesn’t even stand a chance. We become more argumentative, blame others for everything, and criticize.
And, most important, we make drastic changes: We quit our jobs or break-up with our partner.
Turns out, the shadow self serves a purpose. Although ISFJs often don’t have the fortitude to be the voice that says, “I’ve had it,” our shadow self does that for us.
If you’re anything like me, at first, you’ll feel angry and scared. Then there will be a huge emptiness in your chest, and you may feel like you’re unable to breathe. You might even think that you’re having a heart attack or other medical problem. As time passes, you feel numb, then later, comfortably numb.
Finally, relief comes. Something that had been making you unhappy is no longer in your life. When you finally accept the change, you might be surprised at how calm and content an unemployed and single person can feel.
ISFJ Strategies for Dealing with Change
Here are three ways ISFJs can handle change with less overwhelm:
- Give yourself time to process it. Change is hard and uncomfortable for everyone, ISFJ or not. Think about all the things that made the change necessary. Allow yourself to be angry — it will stop you from considering giving another chance to your manipulating partner or employer. Above all, be extra kind to yourself during this period of transition. Carve out extra time for restorative solitude and self-care.
- Talk to your best friend. Sharing your concerns and negative emotions makes them seem smaller. When they are no longer just within you, they actually start to disperse. When your anger wears off, focus on the positive impacts that change will bring.
- Take action. We’re at our best when we take control of the situation. Polish up your resume and start looking for another job. Put up an online dating profile and say yes to a few dates (even if he or she isn’t necessarily “the one”). Taking concrete steps will give you something to focus on. It will give you a sense of control during a chaotic time. Most important, it will force your mind to start moving forward.
ISFJs, you don’t have to throw away your love of routine and a “right way” to do things. You can establish your new normal and find your new comfort zone.