I had no idea burn-outs are contagious. But that’s the only explanation I can come up with for the staggering amount of friends I’ve seen suffering from it this year. And while watching them struggle made me feel crushed and powerless, it also gave me lots of opportunities to observe causes, symptoms and antidotes. Based on these observations, I believe the MBTI-typology can give us more insight into burn-outs, specifically:
  1. What causes a burn-out in individuals.
  2. How the burn-out manifests in said individual.
  3. What simple actions one could take to start feeling better.

A very brief intro into function stacks

The theory I’m going to offer you is not just based on the different types. It’s based on cognitive functions and their ordering in function stacks. That’s why I’d like to start of with a brief introduction into these concepts. If you are already familiar with the different cognitive functions, please skip to the next paragraph. If not, keep reading. As you might know, each MBTI type name consists of 4 letters. However, unlike with astrology, the 16 types of MBTI are not random. They are the product of a possible combination of cognitive functions. A cognitive function describes either the way we perceive information (perceiving functions, N & S) or the way we judge information (judging functions, T & F). Each function can be either introverted or extraverted. A combination of each of these functions in a certain order is called a function stack (leave me a comment if you want me to elaborate on the subject further, I’ll write more about it). The second and third letter of our type name indicate our main functions. The first letter indicates whether our dominant function is extraverted or introverted. Finally, the last letter indicates whether our main EXTRAVERTED function is a judging function or a perceiving function. An example for ENTPs:
  1. Our main functions are N and T, with iNtuition being the main perceiving function and Thinking being the main judging function.
  2. Furthermore, we know that our main extraverted function is P, Perceiving. Thus, we know that our intuition is extraverted: Ne.
  3. Based on the MBTI-theory, functions come in pairs (once more – if you need me to elaborate on this, leave a comment). This means that our Thinking is introverted: Ti.
  4. Our dominant function is also an extraverted function (that’s the E from ENTP). This means our dominant function is Ne and our auxiliary function (second function) is Ti.
  5. The MBTI-theory states the following:
    1. Each stack consists out of all 4 types of functions: N, S, T and F.
    2. The dominant function is of the same type as the inferior function.
    3. The secondary function is of the same type as the tertiary function.
    4. The dominant and tertiary function are directed in the same way, so either both are extraverted, or both are introverted.
    5. The same goes for the auxiliary and introverted function.
  6. Based on all the above, we can conclude that the function stack for ENTP is Ne-Ti-Fe-Si.

Energy flow in MBTI types

Okay, so back to the burn-out theory. Most people obtain energy either externally or internally. While they can be perfectly capable of entertaining themselves AND being outgoing and social, only one of the two will truly energize. Moreover, for introverts, socially energizing situations are usually situations where they still get to be in touch with their inner selves. In short – the energy either comes from the outside or from the inside. But the mere fact something gives us energy does not necessarily mean it makes us happy. Our auxiliary function (the second function) is usually fairly well developed, because we need it to complement our dominant function when we’re in a situation where the dominant one can’t function (pun intended). It comes easily to us and we will often get recognition for it from our environment. However, the function in itself, though possibly enjoyable, is usually not energizing. If we would plot these observations, we’d derive a cognitive functin stack described over two axes: skills we have with a function and the amount of energy this function gives us. For instance, for an ENTP, the functions would be plotted like this: As you can see in this image, since you either derive energy externally or internally, but not both, the functions that give you most energy are not your main functions, but actually your dominant (first) and tertiary functions. While your tertiary function is something you will often struggle with, especially as a young adult, it is simultaneously the thing that makes you happy. At the same time, while you are likely very skilled at using your auxiliary function, there is little internal happiness originating from it.

Manifestation of burn-out in MBTI-types

When you are burned out, by definition your energy is lacking. Thus, you don’t obtain sufficient energy from your dominant and tertiary function to invest in your auxiliary (2nd) and inferior (4th) function. For your auxiliary function, this is usually not a problem. You are so proficient in the use of this function, the function is used almost automatically, even when you’re low in energy. For your inferior function, things are very different. This function is usually fairly undeveloped, making it harder to use it constructively. When something is hard in itself and you simultaneously don’t have a lot of energy to do it, logically this results in all sorts of problems. This is why it’s the inferior function where problems usually manifest. For ENTPs, this means an inferior Si: getting stuck in memories of the past, as well as all kinds of psychosomatic problems, such as being unable to sleep or eat. Here’s a brief overview of how other inferior functions might show symptoms of a burn-out: Fe: feeling others are better off without you, being afraid to socialize, feeling social anxiety. Fi: becoming overly judgemental, feeling like the world is a bad place (a place very different from your ideals), feeling misunderstood. Te: being unable to set and reach goals, acting in ways that are counterproductive in reaching said goals. Ti: being either unable or unwilling to deal with strictly rational arguments. Being unable to process information in a logical way, getting caught up in irrational fears and emotions. Se: feeling out of touch with the world around you. Losing track of time and your environment. Being unable to manifest things in reality. Si: getting caught up in own memories, replaying situations in your head. Psychosomatic problems, such as headache, insomnia, lack of appetite, etc. Ne: being unable to spot connections between occurences. Having the feeling things randomly happen and losing sight of cause and effect and often feeling a victim as a consequence. Ni: being unable to come up with new ideas, feeling uninspired.

Relighting your flame – coping with a burn-out

If you’ve read upto this point, you might think that to battle a burn-out you need to invest more in your inferior function, trying to turn the symptoms around. So for instance, if your inferior function is Si, it might feel natural to you to invest more time in sleeping, eating healthy, mindfulness and meditation. While all those things are definitely healthy and good and I would never advice against them, I don’t think they are the most effective way of dealing with a burn-out. Remember, with a burn out, more energy goes out than comes in. Focusing on fixing the inferior function might eventually solve some of the energy draining, but initially it will mostly cost you even more energy, which is why battling the burn-out will feel like… a battle. That’s why I would recommend a different approach. Rather than focusing on your inferior function, function on functions that can provide you with more energy. As you know by now, these are your dominant and tertiary functions. Under normal circumstances, your dominant function is naturally put to use, since it is so well developed. An exception is being in a situation where you are unable to put this function to use (for instance if you’re an ENFJ isolated from other people). If this is the case, I would highly recommend trying to change the situation. Even if this seems hard, you will notice the effect in your own happiness. A different area where you can obtain improvement is your tertiary function. This is a function that makes you happy, but is often used less than it could be, due to the fact it’s initially underdeveloped. The good news is that here is often lots of room for development and as such energy increase. As an ENTP, I found my energy goes up every time I invest in my Fe-function (preferably combined with my Ne-function, that’s pure bliss), truly connecting with people. Here’s some things you can do for your tertiary function: Fe: connect to other people, join group activities with people you enjoy. Fi: work on your ideals. Do charity work or try to manifest them in other ways. Te: set goals and work towards their accomplishment, a step at a time. Make a plan, then commit to realizing it. Ti: focus on obtaining and structuring new knowledge. Take a course in a new subject, learn a new language, etc. Se: go into nature, visit aesthetically pleasing places (musea, for instance), travel. Si: take time for delicious food, massage, sauna, work out, practice meditation and mindfulness.

Examples of burn-out manifestation in different types

The theory above is rooted in MBTI-concepts, but as often developed on observation. Like I said, I’ve seen burn-outs a lot in my environment. Here’s what I’ve observed:
  • Male, INTP. Inferior function: Fe (extraverted feeling, focus on harmony and other people) Burn-out-symptom: doesn’t want to socialize. Tertiary function: Si (focus on own experiences of body and memories). What helps: good food, massage.
  • Male, ENTJ. Inferior function: Fi (introverted feeling, focus on personal values). Burn-out symptom: frustration with environment, becoming overly judgemental. Tertiary function: Se (focus on outside experiences). What helps: sports, creating pretty things.
  • Female, ENTP (me J). Inferior function: Si (introverted sensing, see above). Burn-out-symptom: trouble sleeping and eating, getting obsessed with things that happened and replaying them in head. Tertiary function: Fe (see above). What helps: going out and socializing, meeting new people. Bonus when said new people allow for an active Ne through interesting discussions.
  • Female, ISFP. Inferior function: Te (extraverted thinking, focus on outside goals and their accomplishment). Burn-out-symptom: no energy to set and accomplish goals. Tertiary function: Ni (introverted intution, the ability to come up with new things). What helps: being able to express creativity through crafts (notice how here the auxiliary function, Se, helps out).
  • Female, INFJ. Inferior function: Se (see above). Burn-out-symptoms: losing track of time and environment, resulting in bad self-care. Tertiary function: Ti (introverted thinking, drive to rationalize things and use knowledge). What helps: learning about new topics.

What’s it like for you?

Have you struggled with burn-out, now or in the past? Do you recognize any of the above? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences!    
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