Have you ever acted out of character under stress? Maybe you're usually happy-go-lucky but become pessimistic when overwhelmed. Or perhaps you pride yourself on being calm and pragmatic but find yourself acting uncharacteristically emotional when the going gets tough. 

Sound familiar? Chances are, you're experiencing grip stress. 

The psychology behind grip stress 

Before diving into grip stress, let's first look at how cognitive functions work. Cognitive functions are mental processes that determine how we perceive the world and make decisions.  

Each personality type favors the use of four functions. There are our dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior functions. 

When we're in a healthy mindset, we lead the way with our dominant function, supported by the other functions in descending order. Putting this into context, imagine that your personality is a cockpit with four seats. 

Our dominant function is the head pilot – the part of your personality that feels most like you. This pilot guides you through life and steers your understanding of the world. 

The co-pilot is your auxiliary function, who works closely with the pilot to keep you on course. Together, these two functions make up the core of your conscious personality. 

Third in the cabin is your tertiary function. This pilot is more subdued, and you're often less conscious of it. While it may offer occasional guidance, it's not as experienced or confident in taking the helm as the first two, so it tends to stay in the background. 

Lastly, there's the inferior function. Like the tertiary function, the inferior function tends to be less consciously accessible. It usually takes a backseat role, letting the other pilots decide the course of action. 

Now, imagine some turbulence in the cockpit, triggered by external stressors like too much work, relationship issues, financial worries or a lack of sleep. 

Under significant or extended periods of such turbulence, your head pilot becomes burned out. Exhausted from trying to solve problems and feeling overwhelmed, they hand control over to the inferior function for a while so they can replenish and recover. 

When this happens, you enter grip stress. 

What is grip stress?

In periods of stress, it's natural for us to lean on our preferred mental process, relying on our dominant function to guide us through difficult times. Trouble arises when we're under stress for too long, or the pressure is too extreme. 

When this happens, a switch flips in our mind, and our dominant function relinquishes decision-making responsibilities to our underdeveloped inferior function. This is known as falling into the grip or grip stress.

During periods of grip stress, we tend to act out of character. This is because our inferior function is the complete opposite of our dominant one. For example, INFPs lead with introverted feeling. During grip stress, they begin to haphazardly rely on extraverted thinking. 

Because our inferior function isn't well-developed, our use of this mental process tends to be off-kilter. That's why people often say they don't feel like themselves during extreme stress. They're using parts of their personality that are typically subconscious, hidden even from themselves. 

How each type reacts when in the grip 

Each personality type experiences grip stress differently. Knowing how you and those around you respond to grip stress can be really valuable for intrapersonal and interpersonal growth.

With that in mind, here's an overview of how each personality type acts in the grip.


ENFPs are typically imaginative, empathetic and curious. They live in a realm of human-focused possibilities, using their innate intuition and inner values to find their place in the world and light up the people around them. 

When they fall into grip stress, this personality type's sense of wonder falls to the wayside, replaced by an overarching need for control and familiarity. Usually sociable and spontaneous, ENFPs in the grip may find themselves suddenly obsessed with keeping their outer world tidy. They may also yearn to retreat into bed to watch their favorite shows on repeat.

Emotionally, they may feel depleted, deflated and out of control. Rather than seeing a future full of exciting possibilities, they feel pessimistic and unable to think clearly. 


The charismatic ENFJ is naturally warm and gregarious. Helping others is their number one priority, and they move through life with an underlying mission to make the world a better place. 

Under extreme stress, ENFJs lose sight of their people-centric vision. They start to doubt themselves, getting stuck in analysis paralysis over the 'right' choice – even for minor decisions. 

Typically friendly and receptive, they may also become uncharacteristically critical and short-tempered, finding flaws in themselves and the people around them.


Future-focused INFJs have a wonderful gift for gleaning insights about people, often making savant-like predictions about the future. 

While INFJs are typically visionary, when they're overstressed, they become swallowed by the here and now. Instead of pondering the meaning of things and leaning on their innate wisdom, they will overindulge in sensory experiences, often over-exercising, overeating or thrill-seeking. 

Usually strategic and people-focused, overwhelmed INFJs may also become reckless and impulsive, temporarily abandoning their grand visions in favor of short-term pleasures. 


Healthy INFPs strive to lead their lives in accordance with their values. Empathetic and romantic, they usually have vibrant inner worlds and a penchant for the arts. Under extreme stress, though, the laidback and caring INFP becomes inflexible, rigid and efficiency-driven. 

Instead of being open-minded and compassionate, they may become harshly critical of themselves and those around them. They may fixate on accomplishing tasks and lose touch with their creative streak.  


Intelligent and quick-witted, ENTPs are bold, creative thinkers who prize logic and innovation. But talkative ENTPs may become quiet and withdrawn in times of extreme stress. 

Instead of thinking about grand ideas for the future, they become trapped in their inner world, often hyper-aware of every sensation in their body and every critical thought in their mind. 

They may, for example, experience sudden symptoms of hypochondria, as well as become highly pessimistic. Rather than looking at the world through their usual abstract sense, they may also fixate on past experiences and obsess over insignificant details.  


Championing logic and efficiency, ENTJs are natural leaders. These visionary thinkers often have ambitious goals for the future and possess the pragmatism and confidence to achieve them. 

While ENTJs may prefer to ignore emotions in favor of rationality, too much stress can cause this type to become hypersensitive. ENTJs in the grip may feel much more than they are comfortable feeling, often battling feelings of pessimism, anxiety and insecurity. 


The strategic INTJ is often admired for their intellectual nature and strategic foresight. Diligent and innovative, this rare personality type believes in constant growth and learning, and prioritizes architecting a better future through rational ideas and lofty goals. 

In times of extreme stress, the INTJ may lose sight of their innate intuition, becoming scatterbrained and unsure of themselves. They may also feel compelled to overindulge in sensory pleasures or seek thrills without thinking about the long-term consequences. 


Intellectual, curious and imaginative, healthy INTPs are natural innovators, harnessing their love of logical analysis to better understand the world's complexities.

Typically detached and rational, INTPs in the grip become extraordinarily concerned with gaining the approval of those around them. They may slip into paranoia, becoming hypersensitive about their relationships and whether they are being 'good' partners, friends and so on. 


ESTPs are the natural adventurers of the 16 types. They are energetic, grounded and playful, using their dominant function to navigate the world around them with vigor and resourcefulness. 

In the grip, though, the outgoing and practical ESTP becomes uncharacteristically paranoid, withdrawn and anxious. They may be plagued by thoughts of what could go wrong and look for symbols and meaning in unimportant details. 


The healthy ESTJ is practical, down-to-earth and dependable. They take a no-nonsense approach to life and are custodians of tradition. During intense periods of stress, the typically pragmatic ESTJ becomes unusually emotional and sensitive. 

Usually leaders in their communities and organizations, stressed-out ESTJs may hide from their friends and families as their feelings take over. They may worry that people don't like them and feel uncharacteristically moody and neurotic. 


ISTJs are known for their reserved, logical and dutiful demeanors. They have a keen sense of right and wrong, and go about their lives with a steadfast commitment to achieving their goals and providing security for themselves and their loved ones. 

When ISTJs fall into the grip, their usually rational outlook is shadowed by overwhelming anxiety about the future. They are plagued by thoughts of what might go wrong, and lose confidence in themselves and those around them. 

Usually quiet and calm, they may become uncharacteristically snappy, erratic and moody. 


ISTPs are private, action-oriented individuals who live for the present moment. At their best, this fiercely independent type is good-natured, logical and adventurous. 

When ISTPs fall into the grip, their independent streak is undermined by a sudden, intense need to gain approval from the people around them. They may worry that they are not good enough, becoming irrationally afraid of upsetting others. These fears can lead them to retreat into themselves, avoiding social interactions altogether and wallowing in pessimism. 


Playful, sensitive ESFPs are often the life of the party. They have a deep well of feeling, but they know, perhaps more than any other type, how to let go and embrace the joy of the present moment. 

When stress consumes the ESFP, they find living in the here and now extremely challenging. They often withdraw, becoming wrapped up in gloomy visions for the future. This is often accompanied by paranoia, which makes the ESFP feel like they can't trust the people closest to them. 


Conscientious ESFJs are warm-hearted, reliable and outgoing. With their innate people skills and love of organization, these down-to-earth individuals are often pillars of their communities. 

For the ESFJ, the grip experience forces this usually gregarious personality type to turn inwards. They may become extremely critical of themselves and those around them, berating their past mistakes repeatedly and falling into analysis paralysis. 

Instead of feeling in control of their outer world, they may battle feelings of incompetence, becoming uncharacteristically scattered, pessimistic and short-tempered. 


ISFJs are known for being warm-hearted, practical and level-headed. These sensitive, humble individuals are very observant of their surroundings and carry a great sense of duty and responsibility to do the right thing. 

When ISFJs fall into the grip, they suffer from intense anxiety and paranoia, often catastrophizing about unfound dangers. This usually steady, orderly type also becomes unusually spontaneous and reckless, prone to acting without thinking about the consequences. 


ISFPs are gentle, empathetic souls keenly in tune with the world around them. Typically artistic and open-minded, they move through life with a 'live and let live' attitude. 

In periods of grip stress, the ISFP may become surprisingly rigid and impatient. They may lose sight of the internal values they hold dearly and instead become fixated on achieving arbitrary goals and maximizing efficiency in their environment. 

Relieving grip stress 

Understanding how your personality type behaves during grip stress episodes is the first step to equilibrium. Armed with knowledge about your type and stress, you can become more self-aware and take a mindful step back when you feel yourself slipping into the grip. 

Stay tuned for the next article on this topic, where we'll give more detailed advice on what each personality type can do to move out of grip stress. 

Hannah Pisani
Hannah Pisani is a freelance writer based in London, England. A type 9 INFP, she is passionate about harnessing the power of personality theory to better understand herself and the people around her - and wants to help others do the same. When she's not writing articles, you'll find her composing songs at the piano, advocating for people with learning difficulties, or at the pub with friends and a bottle (or two) of rose.