I’ve always considered myself an anxious person. I get easily overwhelmed by events that might not faze someone else. A change in life circumstances tends to send me into a spiral of panic and overthinking.
On the flip side, my partner is the most laid-back person I know. I’ve never seen him freak out or get stressed when life hands him one of its little curveballs.
This is just one example of how people often react very differently to the same circumstances, but look around, and you’ll likely see examples of it everywhere.
You might feel excited and enthusiastic when you’re offered a new job, but notice that your friend is panicked and nervous when experiencing the same. Perhaps you’ve witnessed a family member thrive during an unexpected challenge, but noticed a similar setback brought out the worst in you.
The good news is, it’s perfectly normal that different personality types respond in different ways when encountering a problem or stressor. With the right knowledge, you can use your unique strengths to overcome difficulties.
First things first: What personality camp do you fall into?
“Psychologists are very interested in our individual differences and look at these through something called the biosocial model, which is essentially the idea that some of who we are is biological, innate, and in our genes,” says Honey Langcaster-James, psychologist and founder of On Set Welfare.
“For example, some aspects of our personality are genetic, whether you are extroverted or introverted, whether you like to talk about your thoughts and feelings, or whether you prefer to retreat,” Langcaster-James says.
It might help to look at how close relatives react to difficulties to determine where your personality traits lie.
It can be helpful to dig deep into your past too.
As humans, we tend to interpret events according to our past experiences and learning. Our responses are typically in line with what we have experienced before, explains Langcaster-James.
“We know that someone who has experienced stressful events in the past is more likely to anticipate stressful events in the future,” she says. “When an event happens, they may interpret it as having more possibility for risk.”
If you’re still looking to identify your type, Langcaster-James advises looking at the Big Five.
“There are certain personality traits that are related to life stressors in particular. For example, there’s a well-known model of personality that’s called the Big Five Personality factors, also known by the acronym OCEAN,” she says.
- Openness refers to how open to experiences someone is.
- Conscientiousness refers to how careful and detail-oriented someone is.
- Extroversion (sometimes spelled extraversion) refers to how much an individual draws energy from social interactions.
- Agreeableness refers to how helpful and cooperative a person might be.
- Neuroticism refers to how prone to anxiety or moodiness someone is.
The traits above exist along a continuum. It’s not so much a black-or-white, either-or phenomenon, but a matter of degree.
Those who score high on the openness scale tend to have the following characteristics:
- readily embrace life’s changes and novelties
- easily adapt to change
- a desire for experiences
- good problem-solvers
“Those who tend to present high levels of openness are curious and immerse themselves in new experiences regularly,” says Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant.
Open types are able to adapt to change more easily.
“Their more flexible nature helps them to absorb an element of instability,” says Chambers. “Their desire to experience and learn often gives them insights on navigating difficulty.”
According to Chambers, open types tend to turn difficulties into an exercise in problem-solving. This means they already have a toolkit for navigating difficulty.
“Their experiential intelligence helps them reflect on previous challenges and find potential insights to utilize. They are also the most likely to be creative and generate inventive solutions, seeing difficulties as challenges and problems as opportunities to excel,” Chambers explains.
Conscientious individuals often show the following characteristics:
- long-term focus when facing difficulties
- responsibility for what they can influence
- a sense that they can impact situations
- flexible and comprehensive planning
“Conscientious individuals are likely to control their impulse to see the worst in difficulties, keeping a longer-term focus while also taking responsibility for the factors they can influence in the present moment,” says Chambers.
They are likely to cautiously navigate their way to stable solutions and have a sense of agency when it comes to tackling difficulties.
Chambers says proactive decision-making can help conscientious types.
“Conscientious individuals are master planners,” he says. “Flexible planning is excellent in challenging times, where when plan A doesn’t work, a cool head executes plans B through to Z until a viable solution is found.
Extroverted characteristics include:
- thriving by connecting socially
- effective at engaging others
- gather a variety of viewpoints to create a well-rounded action plan
- able to share their thoughts and feelings easily
Chambers says extroverted individuals are likely to react to challenges by sharing ideas. They also tend to prefer to express their difficulties to others rather than solo reflection.
In difficult times, they need to recharge and socially connect. They also want to tackle problems energetically or emotionally rather than intellectually.
“Extroverts can play to their strengths by engaging others, getting a variety of viewpoints and opinions to craft a well-rounded action plan to move forward, and be able to share their thoughts and feelings, so they feel supported through the process,” says Chambers.
Their optimism and adaptability are useful in seeing the small wins and making course corrections as they navigate difficulty, he adds.
Agreeable characteristics include:
- focus on shared values and concerns
- considering personal and collective impact
- natural empathy
- emphasizing collaboration
- expressing negative emotions in a healthy way
“Those who are agreeable are likely to respond in a measured way in difficult times,” says Chambers. “Their focus on shared values and concern for others means they are often likely to consider the personal impact and look at how it has impacted others.”
Their natural empathy means that agreeable types are great at using collaboration as a solution. This results in avoiding unnecessary conflict and a healthy expression of negative feelings.
“Agreeable people shine in bringing people together to solve problems and navigate difficulties,” Chambers says. “Their flexibility is a real boon, and with no time spent complaining, blaming, and trying to be perfect, there is more time to be resourceful, plan, and find a way to bring hope for the future.”
Characteristics of those higher on the neuroticism scale include:
- variable mood
- sensitive to threats
- high level of preparedness
- strong self-awareness and reflection
- less likely to take risks
- quirky, creative problem-solving
According to Langcaster-James, these types are more affected by challenges and stresses than the other types.
“People [higher on the neuroticism scale] are naturally more sensitive to threats,” says Chambers. “They are likely to see difficulties as a sign that their emotional balance is under threat, and find themselves struggling to see the possibilities and opportunities to tackle the challenge as they think and worry about the present conundrum.”
A high neuroticism score is often seen as a negative, but it can have plenty of benefits.
These include a decreased tendency to take risks that can exacerbate problems, self-awareness that can be used for reflection, and a healthy balance of realism and humor.
“They are likely to come up with quirky solutions that can be effective,” says Chambers.
When it comes to modifying how you overcome difficulties, Lancaster-James says therapy may be a useful tool.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) [is] all about creating change from looking at your thought processes and understanding how they link with your behavior,” Langcaster-James says. “If you begin to understand what triggers your thought processes, you can begin to interpret the process and learn to challenge those thought processes.”
The good news is that accepting our responses is something that can become easier as we age.
“We tend to accept ourselves more and become more settled in ourselves as we get older,” says Langcaster-James.
This means we’re less likely to beat ourselves up and more likely to adapt instead.
“Psychology can help you understand who you are, why you think what you think and behave the way you do,” says Langcaster-James. “Once you can start to understand those things, you can interrupt your typical process and responses and go down a different path.”
All of us manage difficulty in our lives in different ways.
Over time, you can learn to accept and maximize the potential of your response to challenges. By understanding your personality type, you can learn to overcome difficulties by playing to your strengths.
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.