Several readers have asked whether INFJ women are more prone than other Myers-Briggs types to getting PTSD after sexual assault. The readers have themselves been victims of rape. I’d never considered this idea before, but I think they’re onto something.
In my opinion, INFJs tend to have stronger emotional reactions to events than other types. Sexual assault is a particularly damaging experience and PTSD is common among rape victims. Many suffer for months, years or even a lifetime.
Role of Myers Briggs Preferences
The combination of I, N, F and J functions in INFJs sets the stage for PTSD.
1) Introversion causes them to isolate after an assault—the last thing a rape victim needs to do. Rape victims must have support and protection but they’re afraid to seek it.
2) Intuition prompts INFJs to seek meaning in personal situations. In most cases of rape, this is a fruitless exercise because rapists are hostile to women in general, not one woman in particular. Most rapists have assaulted women before and they’ll do it again unless stopped by the legal system.
3) The feeling function of INFJs often prevents them from taking an objective view of events—an admittedly difficult undertaking in cases of rape. It’s a highly personal crime.
4) The judging function disposes INFJs to seek closure on issues. After rape, a woman wants to be vindicated and have the attacker brought to justice. This seldom comes about, and as a result there is no closure.
On a business trip to St. Augustine, Florida, I stayed at a Holiday Inn. After working all day, I wanted to relax before retiring to my room so I went to the lounge for a gin and tonic. (I was still drinking alcohol at the time.) A hotel security guard in his fifties sat next to me at the bar. He struck up a conversation. I stayed for a second drink and then a third. Before finishing my last drink, I said, “I need to turn in. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
The guard said, “Let me escort you to your room.” I thought that at my age I hardly needed an escort—but he was, after all, a security guard. Being more polite than I am now, I consented. Gallantly he offered to carry my drink, walking behind me in the hall.
After dropping my keycard into the slot and pushing the door open, I turned to take my drink from the guard. Without warning he kissed me. Surprised and confused, I laughed nervously and said goodnight. I went into my room, shutting the door behind me, took my clothes off and got into bed.
After sleeping a short time, I heard the doorknob turning. The guard had used his passkey to enter. He walked to the bed without a word, climbed on top of me, raped me, and left. I lay there groggy and confused. The attack seemed unreal. Strangely, I fell asleep again—a fact that amazes me to this day. I think the guard may have slipped a date-rape drug in my drink while walking behind me in the hallway.
Waking at dawn I felt foggy but knew that something was terribly wrong. I ran my hands over my body and felt grease on my thighs. It looked like suntan lotion. Slowly the hazy events of the night before came back.
Feeling surreal, I threw on some clothes and walked on the beach for an hour, trying to figure out what to do. I decided to report the attack to the Holiday Inn manager. This was a mistake. It gave the manager time to cover the hotel’s tracks and alert corporate lawyers. Then I went to the police. That wasn’t much better.
Back home in Gainesville, I spent the next few weeks isolating myself, fearful and depressed. I was ill, throwing up frequently and suffering migraines. I seldom left the house, never answered the door, and rarely picked up the phone. The least noise made me jump. Finally I called a friend and told her what happened. She put me in touch with the Gainesville Rape Victim Crisis Center. They told me I had acute PTSD.
For six weeks, I attended a support group at the Crisis Center. The four other women in the group had stories as bad or worse than mine. One woman had been raped by an orderly while on a hospital gurney in an elevator. He stopped between floors to assault her, then begged her not to tell anyone because he had a wife and family. He almost persuaded her.
One reader responded: “I also suffer from acute PTSD. I was curious if you were aware of your personality type before your traumatic events. I am trying to see if the PTSD changed my personality or if I have just become more self-aware and mature. I never thought about my INFJ traits compounding my PTSD.” Referring to her chronic stress syndrome, she added, “In my condition, just saying ‘hello’ or working up the courage to go outside alone again have been almost insurmountable obstacles.”
Another INFJ woman wrote, “Is there anyone out there with suggestions about how an INFJ can possibly deal with a violent assault on top of the issues assigned to us as INFJs?”
My own experience with rape makes me think that I might have recovered from my PTSD faster had I been a different Myers-Briggs type. The combination of introversion, the introspection that goes with intuitiveness, and the tendency to react to situations emotionally probably made matters more difficult. Support groups helped me deal with the trauma. I needed to recognize that I did not invite the attack. I was simply walking through someone’s gunsights.
I’m still susceptible to triggers that catch me unawares. A couple of years ago, a male acquaintance came to my house uninvited. I met him in the front yard. At least, I had the sense not to invite him in. As we were standing on the lawn, he put his arms around me. I went into my old mode of getting confused and laughing nervously. I asked him to leave because I had things to do in the house.
For the rest of the day, I tried to avoid dwelling on the situation. I went to dinner with a friend that night. Returning home around 9 pm, I felt a migraine starting. Then I got nauseated and threw up several times. I thought I might have food poisoning. I finally realized that my old PTSD was back, triggered by the man’s advances.
Although my symptoms were gone the next day, I was dismayed that I’d learned so little from the rape a few years earlier. I decided to see a therapist. After several sessions, I’d gained more insight into my PTSD. I could see that my defenses still needed work.
My therapist taught me to turn my rational brain off and my primitive brain on when a man violates my boundaries. It’s important to defend myself without analyzing the situation. (I tend to overthink troubling issues.)
Fortunately, I’ve had chances to practice. Predatory men aren’t hard to find. Now, when a man puts his hands on me and makes me uncomfortable, I no longer laugh nervously or get confused. I take a deep breath and say, “Please don’t touch me.” Of course, this usually triggers a dismayed protest of innocence. Predators can be good actors. All I need to say in response is, “You heard me.” He rarely comes back for seconds.
Women who have been raped need support—particularly the support of other women who have undergone sexual assault. They need to realize that they are not to blame. Most of all, they need to claim their personal power and become more assertive.
As females past our teen years, we are not children. We are women with a right to be strong and free.
(Note: I haven’t written about teenage girls because it’s outside the range of my personal experience, both as a female victim and as a mental health counselor. I am convinced, however, that rape is unusually devastating for these young women. They fear exposure, shame, and the risk that people won’t believe them.)