The Turbulent Personality: Don’t Worry, Be Happy?

Darrell’s avatar

There is a danger, when discussing personality types, of thinking in terms of “good” and “bad”: introverts are extraverts who need to come out of their shells, feelers need a dose of reality that only thinkers can provide, intuitive types are simply more absent-minded versions of their observant counterparts, and so on. But of course, there are no “good” types or “bad” types – only different ways of viewing, interpreting, and interacting with the world around us.

Take the Turbulent personality type. Where Assertive individuals (their opposite number) tend to be calm, relaxed, and free from worry, Turbulent types are more likely to be self-conscious perfectionists, concerned about their abilities or about how others perceive them.

It can be easy to see the Turbulent type variant as undesirable – after all, how many films feature a confident, laid-back Assertive whose role was to get a painfully neurotic Turbulent to “loosen up?” But while Turbulent types are easy to caricature when used as a foil for Assertive ones in buddy comedies, those who are Turbulent in real life are not so easily reduced.

The truth is, Turbulent personality types, like all others, have strengths that are all their own, and it is only by embracing them – rather than swimming upstream by attempting to imitate the behavior of the supposedly more “well-adjusted” Assertive – that Turbulent types can live up to their fullest potential.

Oversensitive, or Just Sensitive Enough?

The anxiety of a Turbulent personality stems from sensitivity to his or her surroundings, and while this sensitivity can at times lead to the “spotlight effect” – the sensation that all eyes are on you – the feeling is not entirely without basis. After all, we do judge each other, consciously or otherwise, on one another’s dress, speech, and mannerisms, and these judgments can have profound consequences.

Whether meeting with a new client, going on a job interview, or even seeing someone for a blind date, there is something to be said for the truism that “one doesn’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Indeed, a poor first impression can ensure that one never gets the chance to make a second, and while an Assertive personality isn’t oblivious to this fact, his or her attitude is likely to be one of nonchalance: “Who knows what they will like, so why not just be myself?”

A Turbulent personality, on the other hand, takes a more nuanced view. In the long run, of course, the inner self will shine through regardless, but in the brief span of a first date, interview, or meeting, only a sliver of the self is exposed – so why not do all that one can to make sure that it is the best sliver that one can offer?

And while the anxiety of a Turbulent personality can be in itself defeating, if the pressure to perform proves to be so severe that they bow out at the last minute, for example, it can just as easily be the impetus that causes the Turbulent person to leave the impression of someone who cares enough to prepare – even overprepare – for something that matters. Someone belonging to a Turbulent type may spend an hour agonizing over the perfect tie to wear to an event, and that one detail may be enough to catch the eye of someone important, even as the Assertive personality wrongly assumes that the spot of mustard on his tie will escape the notice of others, just as it escaped his.

The Limits of Confidence

Where Turbulent types can easily fall prey to impostor syndrome – the sense that their accomplishments, no matter how great, still do not make them an adequate fit for the role they currently inhabit – Assertive personalities typically have confidence to spare. And in a world where confidence is often valorized above all else, Assertive types seemingly possess an irrefutable edge over Turbulent ones.

However, while a little facile confidence can’t hurt – “fake it ’til you make it” – there are limits to confidence alone. Eventually, a person who has coasted on confidence will find that he or she has bitten off more than can be chewed, and without the ability or experience to back up his or her boasts, the individual can do little else but choke.

Turbulent personality types, who can’t help but constantly evaluate and re-evaluate themselves may experience less meteoric rises than their Assertive counterparts, but their successes are also less likely to suddenly come crashing to the ground. As their own worst critics, Turbulent people tend to accept new responsibilities reluctantly, and thus are typically well-equipped to handle them, despite their misgivings.

Dissatisfaction: The Hallmark of an Ambitious Mind

Where Assertive personalities are more likely to feel satisfied with their present circumstances, the tendency for Turbulent ones is to always have an itch that they can’t quite scratch. The need to do more, to have more, and to be more is ever-present, and while their efforts to satisfy this need can exhaust both themselves and the people around them, the ambition of Turbulent persons is often rewarded with success.

Not to say that Assertive types do not have aspirations, or the ability to reach them; but where the “go with the flow” attitude of Assertive types can result in a narrow range of competencies, the Turbulent personalities’ obsession with contingencies often leads to a rounder skill-set. For example, an Assertive guitarist may be a natural virtuoso, but largely ignorant of networking, marketing, and other aspects of the music business that a more Turbulent-minded musician feels compelled to study, unsure as he or she may be of his or her own talents.

The desire of Turbulent people to master everything “just in case,” though it can stretch them thin at times, also prepares them for the kind of unexpected eventualities that life throws our way all the time. It may be the case that, while neither the Assertive nor the Turbulent musician might end up with a viable career in a rock band, the ancillary skills developed by the Turbulent one may lead to a fulfilling, lucrative stint as a promoter or manager. The Assertive type, on the other hand, may have little in the way of a back-up plan; if dissatisfaction is the hallmark of an ambitious mind, so too is it the case that too much confidence can breed complacency.

Worrying Too Much About Worrying Too Much

The irony of the Turbulent mind, always questing for self-improvement, is that advice, often given by Assertive personality types, to “not worry” often has the opposite of its intended effect, with the self-conscious Turbulent person beginning to worry that he or she is worrying too much!

In the end, people with the Turbulent type variant would do well to accept themselves, even if such acceptance entails an understanding that they may never be able to match the lackadaisical, stress-free existence of someone with an Assertive personality. Instead, Turbulent types may wish to look for satisfaction not in satisfaction itself, but rather, in the search for satisfaction: the quest, in itself, being their reward.