Closing the Can of Worms: Which Personality Types Have Trouble Controlling Negative Thoughts?

Negative thoughts can sometimes feel like a can of worms – once opened, they can sprawl in many directions and become difficult to contain. It’s perfectly normal to have negative thoughts, but how we deal with them can affect our lives. 

Some of us may turn to internal coping mechanisms or seek outside support to help us process frustrating or discouraging thoughts, but many of us find that they can persist, despite our best efforts. In truth, most of us probably battle negative thoughts, at least to some degree, on a regular basis, in an effort to make our lives better.

How difficult that battle is can have a lot to do with personality traits. To better understand this, we asked our readers if they agreed with the statement, “You have trouble controlling negative thoughts once they arise.” About two-thirds (66%) agreed overall, but there were major disparities within certain personality aspects, especially Energy, Mind, and Identity.

Let’s take a closer look at the data below.

Roles

Diplomats and Analysts (74% and 72% agreeing)

The Intuitive personality trait that Diplomats and Analysts share clearly played a role in this study: Intuitive types overall were 14% more likely than Observant types to agree that they have trouble controlling negative thoughts (73% vs. 59%, respectively).

Diplomats and Analysts tend to devote a lot of energy to examining things mentally before they engage with them in reality. Imagination is a key part of their process for understanding life, creating plans, and taking action, but sometimes these personalities can take imagination and contemplation too far. When negative concepts are at play, they’re more prone to getting carried away with “what-if” possibilities and allowing them to become mixed with feelings of fear, anger, or stress.

Explorers (63%)

Observant personalities like Explorers, on the other hand, are more down-to-earth than their Intuitive counterparts, which helps them more easily shrug off troubling yet intangible ideas and return to the business at hand. Observant types surely have negative thoughts, it’s just a bit easier for them to bounce back to reality rather than getting lost in them. Explorers in particular tend to be action-oriented and may be more likely than other personality types to handle or confront the source of their negative thoughts head on. 

Sentinels (57%)

Although a modest majority of Sentinels agreed with our statement, these Observant personalities proved to be the most confident in their ability to overcome negative thoughts. Sentinels’ Judging trait gives them a slight edge over Explorers. Decisive and focused on the facts, Sentinels are realistic about the problems they face and practical in how they deal with them, an approach that helps them keep bad feelings in check.

Strategies

Constant Improvement (88% agreeing)

The Mind and Identity personality aspects were both critical factors in this study: Introverts were 15% more likely than Extraverts to agree (75% vs. 60%), while Turbulent types were a whopping 44% more likely than Assertive types to agree (86% vs. 42%). Why might this be? First, let’s look at the case of Constant Improvers. 

As Turbulent personalities, Constant Improvers are far more likely to experience low self-esteem, stress, and emotional turmoil to begin with. Worry about the future, regret about the past, and frustrations with their own performance can make satisfaction elusive for these perfectionists, opening them up to a steady stream of negative thoughts that can be very difficult to overcome. Furthermore, as Introverts, they usually prefer solitude and may be hesitant to reach out to others for comfort when negativity takes over.

Two Constant Improver personality types – Turbulent Logicians (INTP-T) and Turbulent Virtuosos (ISTP-T) – tied as the most likely to agree with our statement (91% each). Despite being known for their highly logical, adaptable minds, Logicians and Virtuosos are not immune to restless, troubling thoughts.

Perhaps in part because their minds are always working, Logicians tend to second-guess themselves and struggle with a fear of failure that can potentially lead to a sort of paralysis, an inability to move forward with ideas and plans. Virtuosos, although not necessarily prone to negativity, do tend to be out of touch with their emotions. Negative thoughts and feelings can take them by surprise, making them harder to cope with when they arise. For both personality types, these tendencies are made all the more intense by the Turbulent Identity.

Social Engagement (83%)

Although Social Engagers also have Turbulent Identities, their Extraversion can be an important tool for combating negative thoughts. Because these personalities actively seek to engage with their surroundings, with other people, with new experiences – in other words, with the external – they have more outlets for their energy than Introverts do. This can help assuage – or at least distract them from – the frequent negative thoughts and stressful emotions that their Turbulent Identity tends to stir up.

Confident Individualism (48%)

The Assertive personality trait makes a drastic difference for Confident Individualists. The self-confidence and easygoing attitude that comes with an Assertive Identity means that negative thoughts come up less frequently to begin with and are easier to control when they do.

Enjoying a relatively stable emotional keel, Assertive types also tend to be more self-satisfied in general, which might relieve a lot of the stress and worry that can make pessimistic thoughts expand out of control. So despite being Introverts who prefer to rely on themselves, even in times of trouble, Confident Individualists are better prepared than their Turbulent cousins to do so.

People Mastery (38%)

Agreeing well below average, People Masters possess the internal assurance of their Assertive Identity, and they’re also externally focused and socially inclined. These Assertive, Extraverted qualities combine to give these personalities good natural control over negative thoughts. Rather than dwelling on their problems or troubling ideas, People Masters may reconnect with people close to them, get out and try something new, or focus on the positive things around them in order to stay optimistic. 

Of all the personality types, Assertive Consuls (ESFJ-A) agreed at the lowest rate (27%). These highly sociable, well-liked People Masters put a great deal of time and energy into bolstering and boosting other people, an activity that in itself can encourage a more positive outlook. And when Consuls find themselves fighting negative thoughts, they usually have a strong support network that they can rely on to help them in return.

Conclusions

Although everyone is subject to negative thoughts from time to time, certain personality types clearly experience them more frequently and more intensely, making them more difficult to overcome. This is especially true of individuals with Introverted, Intuitive, and Turbulent traits, who may find themselves turning inward, ruminating on their troubles, and allowing their stress and negativity to snowball into something that seems insurmountable.

When times get particularly tough for those of us who struggle with negative thoughts, it can take some serious reflection and work, along with encouragement from friends and loved ones, to reset ourselves to a more positive state of mind. If we understand how our personality traits influence the way we react to negative thoughts and situations, we can start to identify strategies and techniques to face issues head on, before they become overwhelming. 

What about you? Do you have trouble controlling your negative thoughts? What methods do you use to overcome or improve your thoughts? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

Further Reading

How to Take a Mental Health Day for Your Personality Type

Keeping on the Sunny Side

Which Personality Types Are Most Likely to Cheer Up Their Friends?

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, in the Academy. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

1 month ago
In my own experience, I was a INFP and suffered terribly from PTSD, making me extremely vulnerable to negative thoughts. This is due to hypertrophy of the amygdala and atrophy of the hippocampus in the brain. After several years of effective therapy my personality type is now very close to 50/50 introverted extroverted or "omniverted",and NTP, the feeling aspect has been changed to allow a greater degree of thinking which has allowed me to not be controlled by strong emotions that derived from negative thoughts when the amygdala was triggered the hippocampus is unable to restrain the alert signals. Hence INFPs can often overwhelmed by feelings, emotions derived from negative thoughts. A few years ago I surveyed a support group for PTSD and found all members of the group to be INFPs or ENFPs. While the group was small it seems significant.
1 month ago
I think that INFPs and ENFPs, as well as other Diplomat types, are more likely to undergo treatment or get help for PTSD, but I believe that PTSD can happen to anyone. Various types might have different ways of dealing with the condition, but it’s still there. I have a close INTP friend who has strong fear responses when out at night, especially when strangers walk towards him. He’s a fairly muscular guy, and he is much more frightened than I am. My therapist believes that he has mild PTSD from his experience during an armed robbery at a restaurant he was dining in years ago; he had a gun pointed at him at one point. Yet he won’t see a therapist himself.
1 month ago
As an INTP-T, negative thoughts are a rock-solid proof that EVERYTHING is a trade-off. I can use the logic skills that come naturally to find links between seeming unrelated yet actually importantly related stuff (or just keep a complex story plot in my head), and my negative thoughts can use them to anchor themselves in and bury any positivity with related conditionals most others wouldn't consciously or non-consciously consider. And those negative thoughts foster an apathy that is, for a lack of a better term, destroying me, and my life. I'm seeing a psychologist to help out with that, but I have very little, so far...
2 months ago
As an INFP-T I constantly get caught in negative thoughts. Mainly ways in which I would end my own life or how things have done, are going or will go wrong. It has come to the point where I essentially accept negative thoughts as a part of life. I am generally happy, but for what and who I have in life rather than what and who I am.
Discuz
2 months ago
As an INTP, I sometimes have trouble dealing with negative thoughts due to schizophrenia and struggles for success. I think that often times it spirals way out of control (as I lay down typing next to a hole in the wall) when I'm not able to isolate myself and change my mindset. Recently I went hiking alone to think and it worked wonders for my self confidence and mindset. After having lost my confidence and a part of my mind for a while, I was finally able to walk, talk and think confidently and with positivity.
2 months ago
Oh my, negative thoughts. The bane of this INFP-T's existence. If you could take a tour of my mind, you'd see various dark thoughts, including ways in which I might die, my future might get ruined, I might commit horrible crimes, bad things that I don't want to think about, things that make me uncomfortable... What is wrong with me?
2 months ago
You’re definitely not alone. Almost all the INFPs I’ve known have a morbid or gothic streak. I heard in a movie once that humanity is capable of “such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares.” My mind works that way too. I know a lot of INFPs don’t always like being given advice when they’re having problems (myself included), but have you tried writing? It’s helped me a lot. Having something to channel dark thoughts into can be a relief.
1 month ago
Writing also really helped me, which always seemed odd to me, because it had never actually been a part of my life I had ever thought I would enjoy. As an INFP-T, it is a place for me to get out all my negative thoughts in a positive way, mainly by giving my characters real-life problems that they must overcome; keeping in mind that if someone read it, it might help them
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