PSTD in INFJ Women After Sexual Assault

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.

My Experience

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.

Reader Responses

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.

PTSD Symptoms

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.

Recovery

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.

Getting Support

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.)

5 replies
  1. Christine
    Christine says:

    Hello. I have been researching INFJ females. I am fairly certain I am one. I also have been raped six years ago. Since that happened, I have been a different person. My normal INFJ quirks have amplified. I am a hermit x 10 whereas before I was a slight hermit x 1. I reacted exactly as this website outlined, I was horrified to see my actions in there. I isolated and retreated immediately. I became ill. I stopped eating and lost alot of weight. I searched for answers and for closure afterwards unable to see the assault for what it was. I even told myself that I would stick around to find out why he did it, As if that would have lessened the blow, it didn’t. As time went on, I only heard more disheartening and objectionable information from my rapist. Yet still, I tried to make sense of it. With my emotions wrapped up in everything, I could not deal with the trauma accurately. I was either completely shut down or immensely high tuned. Finally, after a long period of not getting the answers I needed and watching my life slowly dissipate, I abandoned my life. I ran away in sheer terror, no doubt the effect of the original trauma having been repressed for over a year. Since then, I have often accepted that for some reason this event seemed much harder for me to process than most. I know why that is. It’s b/c of my personalty. It was how I handled it which was how I had always handled things. But, this was bad. Nothing had ever been this bad before. I assume that is b/c an assault is so violent. I have also learned to be more aggressive/primal in regards to transgressions versus how I used to behave which was inquisitive/passive. I have had to take a new look at how I interact with others. What has worked for me so far is to do as you have said, tell a person politely yet firmly what needs to be done. “Please stop that or do not touch me.” Other times, if it is blatant I have learned to protect myself and never lose my cool. My instructor told me if I lose my cool/energy, I’m done, which brought me right back to the minutes before I was assaulted. I now know that my rapist likely gave me a drug in an alcoholic drink. I had maybe 2 glasses of wine. He knew what he did and then began to suggest things that I as an INFJ would never dream to do, but did with little to no hesitation. These weren’t sex acts, but they were things like disrobing. I did have a moment of clarity as my assailant tried to kiss me and I shoved him away. Then I mentioned being cold. I was still thinking about how to be polite, but what I should have said was something more direct like, “leave me alone or go away.” Obviously, I thought the situation would not escalate, but it did. He followed me. I do not remember how I got to the only upstairs bedroom in his home. I do not know why I did not choose a bathroom instead. I do not know why I did not leave his home, but I was undressed and looking for privacy to re-dress and assess the situation. I had a brief minute or two of flailing to get my clothing back on when he emerged in the room. At that point, I was utterly exhausted. I could not fight him off nor could I find the words to say what I felt inside. The cloud of haze that I was in would stay above my head for several hours until it disappeared and I was able to think again. However, by that point, I had been raped repeatedly. I’m glad to see that maybe there is some explanation as to why I behaved as I did. However, I’m sad to say it doesn’t help the pain much, at least not yet. It does help with my confusion and need to make sense of things though.The fact that we INFJs are so expert at feelings and gut reactions is critical to helping us avoid dangerous people and/or situations. In my assault, the drug I was administered all but rendered my normally gifted ability to spot and evade danger as useless. That is very hard for me, perhaps the hardest part of it all is that my trait was taken away. Any other day, time or circumstance I know I could have avoided that event. My intuition is what gives me confidence to go out into the world and to talk to people. In fact ,that was the only time in my life where I felt like my intuition and instinct were completely compromised. It has been many years since this occurred and I have been majorly effected by what happened to me. I will admit that I still cling for closure and the desire for justice. It hasn’t come yet, but maybe it will. However, without either of those things the rape will always feel like an open wound that is slightly confused with enough damage to drastically effect my confidence and judgement. The things that aren’t better are the ways in which I have retreated much further into myself since the trauma. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever trust again or open up again. I completely agree that sexual assault is leaps and bounds much more difficult for an INFJ to process and/or to survive. & I say that as an INFJ female who was raped six years ago and is just starting to see the reality of it. I just hope it gets better.

    • beaconadmin
      beaconadmin says:

      Reading and thinking about your comments regarding rape of INFJ women made me feel as though we share an echo chamber. I, too, was introverted before I was raped. Afterward, I became a frightened recluse.
      .
      The biggest trap that you, I and other victims of rape fall into is the belief that we did something to invite the attack. In a sense, we did, but only because: 1) we were there, and 2) in subtle ways, we demonstrated our vulnerability, our uncertainty about boundaries, and our reluctance to fight back. The key to recovery is expressed in your own words: “I have also learned to be more aggressive/primal in regard to transgressions versus how I used to behave, which was inquisitive/passive.”
      .
      Be a lioness. Imagine that your spirit is your cub. When a predator approaches, teeth bared, don’t wonder what he’s thinking. Don’t try to work out his motivation. If you can’t get away fast enough—your first line of defense—go for his throat. Know no danger. Be, in your own words, “primal.” He will know fear then. He’ll encounter something he hadn’t banked on. He will tear himself loose and flee. He is, after all, not a warrior. He is a coward.
      .
      It’s been over 15 years since I was raped. I’ve learned a lot through practice over this time. Fortunately or unfortunately, men give us plenty of opportunities. A few weeks ago after a morning AA meeting I’ve attended for years, a man I’ve known a long time made yet another attempt to inveigle himself into my good graces and find a way to touch me. Wouldn’t you think I would have learned more by this time? No. Charlie came up to me and said, “Can I show you something?” Right off I was suspicious but I tried to be my kind, reasonable self, I said, “Sure”.
      .
      “Hold out your hand,” he said. I did.
      .
      He lowered his hand over mine, palms facing each other and said, “Can you feel the energy?”
      .
      Now I felt cornered. I said, “No, I can’t Charlie.”
      .
      He said, “Can I just touch your shoulder?” In an uncertain voice, I said, “Sure.”
      .
      He laid a hand on my shoulder, then put the other hand on my back and began massaging. There I was again, a deer in the headlights. All I could think was, “Ohmigod, here we go again. This is rape, and I’m letting it happen just like I did last time.”
      .
      So I collected what feeble determination I had left and said, “Stop, Charlie. That’s enough.”
      .
      He replied in an aggrieved voice, “But you said I could touch your shoulder.”
      .
      I answered, “Maybe so, but now I’m asking you to stop.” So he mumbled something resentful and shambled away,
      .
      For days, I castigated myself for my weakness, my failure to protect my boundaries from the start. It was all I could think about.
      .
      But, are you ready for this? I actually redeemed myself—in my own eyes. At another meeting less than a week later, he came up to me while I was talking to a friend. He tried to hand me his personal card. I shook my head “No,” so he laid it on the table. At this point, I took a deep breath and told myself now was the time for a counterattack. I picked the card up and thrust it in his hands. I shouted, “No, Charlie. No! Do not give me your card, do not talk to me, and do not look at me! You and I are not on the same planet, not now or at any time in the future.” There were about a dozen people in the room when this happened, and none of them missed a word. They looked shaken and a little awed when I stalked out. The beauty of the whole thing was that, for once, I didn’t need to rehash the details of an event. I was done. There was nothing more to say.
      .
      At first he tried to muster an offended response. But nothing could touch me. I was clear as a bell. I was either going to chase him off or kill him. He backed off looking flustered and scared.
      He has not looked at me since then. And I don’t look at him. I tell myself, “This worm is not even in the room with me. I can’t see him.”
      .
      I read a lot of Buddhist literature, especially books and essays by Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun who runs Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. She often speaks of “shenpa”, the little crisis moment when something goes wrong in our lives and we tend to return to old, outworn responses, which are often unhealthy. We need to resort to new, untried methods of dealing with pain and negativity. It takes a leap of faith.
      .
      Since my last encounter with Charlie, I’ve felt remade in some ways. I finally learned an important life lesson and now I just need to remember to practice it. The other day, a merchant tried to sell me something that appeared to be an incredibly good deal. When I said, “No thank you,” he fished for a reason. It suddenly came over me to say, quietly, “Because I don’t trust you,” (which was the truth). He was dumbfounded when I smiled and walked away.
      .
      You may find it hard to believe that the rape you experienced can be a blessing, but it can. Each time a shenpa moment arises, remember to protect your lion cub. Stand tall, fill your lungs, narrow your eyes, and say, STOP. Then walk away. Your hackles will protect you.
      .
      BC

      • Christine
        Christine says:

        Thank you BC. Your comments are truly appreciated and have helped me to understand this situation and myself better. I do have confidence that I shall never encounter a trauma like the one I experienced six years ago. Your words have helped me.

  2. Pollen
    Pollen says:

    I was raped as a child from age 5 to 10 and I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. The more I work with my psychologist the more she is convinced I just have PTSD from my rape and am INFJ. I test as INFJ as well and I honestly believe it makes me dealing with my rape worse and is likely why I suffered for years without a single doctor, shrink, teacher or parent cluing in until I told them when I was 21 years old. When she told me there was no way I had BPD and helped me understand how my behaviors relate to my rape trauma I really began to wonder if it was just me. I have met several women also sexually assaulted as children who also have been told BPD but also are INFJs like me it really made me wonder. I seriously think there needs to be some kind of study done. Abusers know who to target and our INFJ personality makes us perfect targets. We are so few in number people don’t understand us, add on the trauma especially as children and it’s no wonder they throw us into the most generalized category in the mental health industry. Problem is people with BPD don’t feel bad about hurting others and INFJs feel it a lot, in the moment we may not have control over our actions and we may not know how to express ourselves properly to get our needs met but we sure as hell feel like garbage when we freak out on our loved ones because of a trigger and someone who is a borderline sociopath doesn’t care about anyone but themselves. I wish I could become a doctor and do a legit study on this, I can’t tell you how strongly I feel it needs to be done. There is likely a large portion of BPD diagnosed people that are misdiagnosed and are simply INFJs who cannot deal with their trauma and it’s very sad to think that they are sitting there in this list of people who no one wants to help, a list of people who believe there is no help because there is no long term successful treatment of BPD and because people in this category aren’t even being properly examined there likely never will be. It saddens me to know how many people out there have to suffer because of the closed mindedness of a large portion of the population, because people don’t understand other people with INFJ and how they process trauma. I hope it changes some day but right now I am just counting my blessings having found the help I needed, to be told I am not chemically imbalanced. that it’s okay to be emotional. that it’s who I am and I am not defective and maybe one day there will be other people who can do that for others just like me, just like us.

    • beaconadmin
      beaconadmin says:

      Thanks so much for your post…so candid and full of insights. Your comments reminded me of my own childhood experiences. Dealing with them was difficult because either no one want to hear about them or people thought they knew what the problem was (me) when they didn’t at all.

      I was the victim of incest at my mother’s hands from ages 6 to 7. At about age 5, I was molested by a friend of my grandfather. He often returned to visit us over the next few years, and I always hid when I saw him arrive. I was scolded for this, but there was no way I was going to hang around for more. It’s noteworthy, too, that when I tried to get support from my mother she told me that 1) I was imagining things, 2) whatever happened, I probably brought it on myself, and 3) if I told my father or anyone else, there would be a family crisis and I would be responsible.

      You mentioned the importance of research into this kind of child abuse. Can you imagine how hard it would be to round up more than a few INFJ children, when only one in one hundred is an INFJ? There’s the added difficulty of evening knowing which kids share that personality type, as Myers-Briggs types are hard to determine in early childhood.

      I agree with you that there’s a lot of misdiagnosed borderline personality disorder. It’s kind of like ADHD these days, almost a fad to pull out that label when people are being intractably difficult.

      I also agree with your implied opinion that INFJs who have undergone rape make up a population that few people want to help. In the first place, they don’t even understand us. People who have never been the target of pedophiles, abusive parents, or rapists can easily take the position that they are somehow above that kind of victimization and that there must be something innately wrong with people who are. Superiority is a much easier emotion to feel that vulnerability. Also, many people just don’t want to deal with dicey sexual topics. They may go to movies or watch TV where violent sex is rampant, but this only demonstrates to me that, while they are titillated by perverse sex, they’d like to pretend that they aren’t. It’s a mess.

      Your last paragraph made me shiver—with unexpected good feeling. You show signs of rejoicing in your INFJ type. My original article in this blog series was titled “It’s Hard To Be an INFJ.” I know how hard it is to become whole, from my own experience. Now, at the age of 84, I can say that I wouldn’t change my Myers-Briggs type for the world. I am still full of energy, productive, ethical, and compassionate. I am in the process of publishing several books; one, soon to come out, is called “Your Secret Self”, a handbook of Myers-Briggs personality types. If you’ve subscribed to this blog, you’ll probably get email about the book when it’s published in about a month. Other books have to do with wildlife and are written for school children, to encourage them to protect the environment and value our beautiful natural world.

      I have a lot of admiration for you. Keep plugging away! It keeps getting better. If you’re fortunate, you’ll live to a happy old age like me. As Shakespeare said, “All’s well that ends well.”

      Best,

      BC

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