How to Handle Your Family's Personality Types Over the Holidays

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on December 12, 2016

Picture the scene: Family reunion at home for the holidays. Turkey in the center. Questionable casserole on your left. Immediate family, cousins, and in-laws only inches apart at the long, rarely-used dining table. It seems to be going well. Then it starts.

5:04 p.m. The ENTP decides to bring up Brexit with the INTJ. That’s okay. They could have picked Trump and Hillary. I’ll take it.
5:09 p.m. The NFs are silently freaking out because conflict is arising. They do not realize that conflict is normal and harmony is definitely not their responsibility to maintain. Is it weird if I text them that underneath the table?
5:12 p.m. The INFJ is being really quiet. But does that mean they are enjoying just listening? Or are they really not into the small talk?

These family dynamics are completely normal, and I am here to help you navigate the beautiful, and sometimes chaotic, mesh of personality types over the holidays. The key step in understanding your family is recognizing that one kind of behavior means different things depending on the personality type it came from. Let us go around the table and take a new look at some of the groups.

The Thinkers

Everyone fears the annual holiday family argument. For now, let us imagine that it starts with a debate at the dinner table. How might our Thinkers respond? They are usually easy to notice—but not easy to tell apart from each other.

Mark the Intuitive Thinkers first, particularly the Extraverted kind. You will hear them countering every argument and unearthing every remote logical fallacy in someone’s opinion. You might think they are scoffing at you because your two cents was not an airtight case ready for appellate court.

At this point, as your sensitivity rises, I must divide the NTPs from the NTJs. Though they communicate similarly, they perceive people differently: “perceive” being the pivotal word. For NTPs, a quick-witted verbal sparring during dinner is like adding pumpkin spice to the cheesecake. They do not see debate as a judgmental battle of wits that they are triumphantly winning. Quite the opposite. They love to voice their opinions, but they would love to hear your opinions, too. If an NTP says something insensitive, it is purely through absent-mindedness as they are carried away by this delightful merging of the minds. What better way to toast the New Year than hearing all the different controversial views on health care reform?

As for the person intentionally pointing out your logical fallacies, that was probably an NTJ. NTJs like to stick firmly to their convictions, and they probably will let you know if you are inconsistent with any of the convictions you state. They do not mean to hurt your feelings, but part of their values is being completely honest no matter what. To quote Mr. Darcy, the dashing INTJ of £10,000 a year, “disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.”

Departing from their Intuitive cousins, STs use their good “sense” and quick thinking skills for hands-on problem solving rather than debating. An STP might be the first to spring into action and put out a fire in the oven. An STJ might come up with and supervise a buffet system if everyone is scrambling around serving tables with their festive side dishes. They still enjoy spending quality time with the family as much as the next person; but if a job needs to get done, they might put the job first.

The Feelers

We now usher in our Intuitive and Sensing Feelers. Our diplomats. Our advocates. The people most likely to start singing and swaying to Auld Lang Syne. Do not get me wrong. I am not blaming the Thinkers alone for starting a scene. Feelers can struggle with hypersensitivity and can easily take things the wrong way. A Feeler is just as likely as a Thinker to start an argument; the only difference is, they prefer to do it one-on-one and not in a large group like a family reunion. With that disclaimer aside, let us get to know the Feelers of the family.

The Extraverted Feelers love to tell stories and entertain, especially the Perceivers. With an EFP at the table, you will probably hear countless dramatized versions of how they heard sounds in the middle of the night and were about to go full on Home Alone I, II, and III before realizing it was just a bird that flew in.

EFJs, on the other hand, with their crack-shot leadership and organizational skills, can come across a little bossy at these events where everyone has an opinion on how to stuff a turkey. Remember, they just want to help because they are natural givers. It is not their fault if they naturally give a little too much input.

Throw Intuition into the mix and your Feeler may start to crumble under the social tension. With their strong sense of intuition, the NF will quickly gather who is not having a good time. Conflict will stress them out, and they likely will overthink the problem. INFJs will step out of the room if a large-scale controversy brews. INFPs and ENFJs will generally try to mollify the situation. Families cannot survive without their mediators, but the mediators should perhaps be encouraged to remember that each family member has the freedom to do their own thing. Social harmony is a part of familial love, but a break in harmony does not take that love away.

The Introverts

Last under our microscope are our Introverts. You know a few. Some are engaging in one-on-one conversations, while others tend to keep to themselves. And some are just the life of the party.

What? Introverted? That guy turning the cranberry sauce into a strange form of sangria and offering it to the twice-removed cousins? Surely he can’t be an Introvert?

It is a mistake to think that all Introverts are quiet, unassuming types. Like every Introvert, the cranberry-sauce guy charges his emotional batteries by being alone. He charges them so well that he can go for hours enjoying other people’s company. Just do not mistake him for an Extravert. When he wants to rain check Miracle on 34th Street and head home, let him. He is not being rude. Like the family members having quiet conversations, he simply needs his alone time to continue being the awesome Introvert that he is.

Zeroing in on the classic Introverts - the people of few words - they do not necessarily want to stand by themselves in a corner (unless they are perusing your bookshelf. If you have an extensive J.R.R. Tolkien library, you have to let people soak it in and be amazed). But they will not appreciate being pushed into a crowded circle, either. Why not talk to them one-on-one for a bit? More than anyone else in the room, the Introverted relative may genuinely want to hear about your existential dissatisfaction at work and your secret dreams about radically changing careers. Let them open up to you as well. A quiet, deep talk with an Introverted soul is not quite like anything else. Just skip the small talk. Hearing too much about ghastly weather and backed-up traffic grates on the Introvert soul.

Overall, your family reunion presents a brilliant web of connections between all the different personalities. Watch closely, and you will see how interactions with different personalities can bring out different sides to the same person, like a unique filter on someone’s soul. You will observe how two seemingly different personalities make long, healthy marriages, or how different siblings can be. How each family member has shaped you into the unique person you are, and how you have shaped them into the unique people they are. These opportunities should lead you through a process that Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell described as “becoming acquainted with each others’ characters and persons, and even tricks of temper and modes of speech. [You] should understand each other better, and I’ll venture to say [you] should like each other more.”

Stephanie Dorais

Stephanie is a therapist, data analyst, and blogger. She enjoys practicing yoga, eating Pad Thai (but no bean sprouts), and watching exorbitant amounts of British television. She is a nationally certified counselor and inherently certified ENFP. She lives and practices in Virginia Beach, VA.

Find her on Twitter at @mindloftmag

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


J. (not verified) says...

Interesting read! I haven't attended my blood family gatherings in years (and don't miss them!) because most of them are "enthusiastic debaters", but I do not miss the weekly gathering of my spiritual family. Guess my personality type.

Matthew 12:46-50

As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, His mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him.

Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.”

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”

Then He pointed to His disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

Mark 10:29-31

“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then."

Hebrews 10:25

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.

Galatians 6:9-10

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone — especially to those in the family of faith.

Marvin Brown (not verified) says...

Fascinating reading in my busy morning, while juggling my time to get my kids ready for school. I liked it -- it's right on target. Thanks!

Judy Silva (not verified) says...

How true.I will keep this in mind.

Thank you

Martha Hancock (not verified) says...

Heading down to a family wedding. Will definitely bear these descriptions in mind. Remember many holidays spoilt for everyone by arguing and tension.

Carl Steele (not verified) says...

I'm always irked when introverts are grouped together as having similar temperaments when Introverted-Intuitives are usually, if not always, the more socially discerning of all introverts. I would definitely argue that Introverted-Sensors are much, much more likely to lack to the introspective intuition to respond and engage in the same way as an INxx. Just my thoughts, but still great article.

Stephanie Dorais says...

That's a good point. Definitely something to consider more.

Guest (not verified) says...

Funny, my ENFP uncle told exactly the story you were giving in the EFP example.

Stephanie Dorais says...

Are you serious, that's hilarious

world-of-idea (not verified) says...

Everyone in my family (except me, obviously) is extroverted. How should I get along with them????
Please, help :/

Stephanie Dorais says...

On the right hand side of the screen, there are lots of recommended articles for introverts. Awesome tips and stories to relate to. :)

Lovelu (not verified) says...

Why is it taken as a given that a poor, murdered bird is at the center of the table? And discussing various ways of stuffing him, really? What complete ignorance, cruelty and stupidity is this. Then later on you'll be asking for prayers to stop the Cancers, etc God has given you and the others???? STOP TREATING ANIMAL AND BIRD ABUSE AND MURDER AS A GIVEN. IT IS NOT OKAY.

Loine Sweeney (not verified) says...

A good suggestion to enjoy observing the personality play around the table, curb my own potential pitfalls and be tolerant to the other types!

Tripp (not verified) says...

While at college, my ESTP roommate bought a pizza, ate some of it and put the rest of it in the oven. IN THE BOX. I unknowingly turned on the broiler because I was cooking something. A few minutes (probably seconds) later, I smelled smoke and saw smoke coming out of the oven. I open the oven and WHOOSH I see tons of fire. I'm in utter shock. Then, that same ESTP roommate (who is half dressed - it's college) grabs an oven mitt and callmly grabs it and takes it outside.

Spooky that it's almost like you knew!

Stephanie Dorais says...

Really that's crazy haha. I'm definitely not an ESTP. Thank God they exist.

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