When you’ve become burned out, you’ll feel emotionally and physically exhausted, detached from what you’re doing, and convinced that you have no energy left to do things right. If these feelings persist, you may feel trapped and increasingly desperate, knowing that you urgently need to make a change.
What you may be wondering is whether it’s your situation that’s leaving you burned out or if it’s your personality. Are some people naturally prone to burnout and, if so, can they take proactive steps to prevent it?
A closer analysis of this question reveals a complicated reality.
Traits of the burnout-prone personality
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger introduced the concept of burnout in 1974. Mental health researchers have been studying this phenomenon ever since.
While it’s impossible to predict whether someone will experience burnout simply because they fit a particular personality profile, researchers have discovered several characteristics that could make you more prone to burnout:
Perfectionism. People with perfectionist tendencies often feel frustrated that they’re not creating work that’s good enough, according to their own high standards. They have a tendency to fixate on every detail and continue working on them until they’re perfect. This is a recipe for emotional exhaustion and burnout.
Having a pessimistic outlook and worrying a lot because of it. If you constantly expect bad things to happen, you’ll soon feel worn out, like you’re running on empty. Worrying a lot can be debilitating and dispiriting, especially if you constantly worry about events that are beyond your control.
Being prone to stress and anxiety. Burnout is a consequence of too much stress experienced for too long, so it’s not surprising that people who get stressed quickly are more likely to develop symptoms of burnout over time. High-stress individuals can find themselves caught in a loop of anxiety which saps their emotional strength.
Possessing a “Type A” personality. The Type A is achievement-oriented, highly competitive and impatient to get results. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed. But living inside a pressure cooker can wear you down and finally cause you to collapse into a state of apathy and detachment.
Burnout is a predictable result of a poor job fit
Having a job that doesn’t match up well with your personality and working style is a common cause of burnout. What’s unique about a job mismatch is that it can put you in danger of burnout even if you don’t possess any of the personality traits that are normally associated with this phenomenon.
Perhaps your job forces you to be more social than you’d like. Or you have to work in solitude, when you prefer to brainstorm and collaborate on ideas. Maybe you’re an empathic or socially conscious type who’s found yourself performing dry, numbers-related tasks. Or, perhaps you have a strong need to use your creativity but are currently stuck in a position where innovation is actively discouraged.
It's possible to think up hundreds of scenarios like this. Imagine what it would feel like to have to keep performing that job day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It’s easy to see why burnout might occur, since you’d be investing most of your waking hours on tasks you have no connection to and might even loathe.
This is something that could happen to anyone, regardless of their personality type.
Is your personality type at high risk for burnout?
There is a correlation between personality type and the chances of experiencing burnout. There are three Enneagram types that are particularly vulnerable:
- Enneagram One (The Perfectionist). Enneagram Ones strive for impeccable performance, but they may never be convinced that what they’ve accomplished is good enough.
- Enneagram Three (The Achiever). Enneagram Threes want recognition and acknowledgement for their achievements, but constantly striving to gain it can put them under enormous stress.
- Enneagram Six (The Skeptic). Enneagram Sixes are hypervigilant and persistently on the alert for any possibility of trouble. This can generate so much anxiety that it leaves them mentally and emotionally depleted.
Meanwhile, in the Myers-Briggs system, Judgers are more prone to burnout than Perceivers. Judgers have a strongly developed sense of responsibility which pushes them to do more and more and take on more and more, as they are reluctant to say "no" even when they already have a lot on their plates.
The Thinker-Judger types (INTJ, ENTJ, ISTJ and ESTJ) tend to be career-oriented. They are committed to their employers, jobs and their own success. This can degenerate into workaholism if they don’t maintain a healthy work-life balance. They may feel like they always have to prove themselves, and consequently, they may keep pushing forward until their energy and motivation are badly depleted.
The Feeler-Judger types (INFJ, ENFJ, ISFJ and ESFJ) are more people-centered than job-centered. They don’t want to let anyone down. This means they are willing to assume new duties and responsibilities whenever they’re asked, or whenever they feel others might not be as ready for the challenges as they are. They may become buried under an avalanche of tasks and projects as a result, while never feeling secure enough to ask for help or admit that they’re in over their heads.
The good news is that burnout is never inevitable for any of the personality types listed. Burnout is only a worst-case possibility. You can avoid it by taking the time to understand your vulnerabilities and triggers, and making an effort to address them.
The "burnout personality" could be yours, so stay alert!
Virtually anyone can become burned out if they’re thrown into the wrong circumstances. This alone shows us there is no such thing as a burnout personality per se. Nevertheless, certain personality characteristics can predispose you to burnout. They can cause you to adopt on-the-job behaviors that leave you feeling overstressed, overextended and overwhelmed.
It is important to know which personality characteristics increase the odds of burnout. With this knowledge you can evaluate the likelihood that you might experience burnout someday, and if that likelihood is moderate-to-high you can protect yourself by remaining aware of the traits that could lead you into trouble and taking steps to manage their impact.