Cognitive Functions, Myers Briggs

Six Tips for Social Un-Distancing and the role of Extraverted Feeling Amidst a Pandemic

As a psychiatrist and FJ in the Myers-Briggs personality type system, the concept of ‘social distancing’ goes against everything my professional training and personal values dictate… under normal circumstances, that is. But we are entering a time of rapid change of what is ‘normal’ in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. As we adapt to this new normal, where does it leave us in terms of connection? How do we psychologically un-distance ourselves while under social distancing precautions? Extraverted Feeling/Fe/Harmony is hit hard in this context, but it also brings the tools society needs to fight back and weather this storm together.

Peer Pressure

Extraverted Feeling/Fe/ Harmony is a strong cognitive function in FJ types and has a huge role to play in the sociological side of this global crisis. The first questions that arise in our collective consciousness in this situation are “Is this as bad as they are saying it is?” and “Are these precautions really necessary?”. I’m going with an emphatic Yes on both counts, and if anyone reading needs convincing of that I’ll direct you to resources at the end but that isn’t the topic of this article.  So next we come to the question of how to convince enough people to take this seriously and follow through with precautions during a critical time frame, as by the time certain governments and official policies catch up to the actual risk it may be too late to mitigate the impact of the virus.

Enter Social Contracts, one of the defining domains of Fe. When certain behaviors are socially rewarded, and opposing behaviors are met with disapproval, we see one of the most powerful means for facilitating change. Particularly for things that won’t or can’t be legislated, nothing works better than good old fashioned peer pressure. I’m seeing the United states moving quickly toward a tipping point since the ‘legitimizing’ of the global threat of COVID-19 by the Word Health Organization officially classifying this as a pandemic, and declaration of a national state of emergency by the US president.

Though there are many individuals I see still posting that they are going to live their lives to the fullest by continuing to go about their normal activities in public social venues and condemning the precautions being taken by other individuals and local governments, I’m seeing some intense pushback against this. For example, the tidal wave of negative social reinforcement against a self-serving comment on Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez’s pro-precautionary twitter postCorona Katie has given us an avatar of who not to be in this crisis. This is an exquisite example of Fe in action.

Let’s use those Fe powers of promoting new social norms to continue making quarantine cool and make no one want to be #CoronaKatie. I’ll add, from the scientific standpoint, that positive reinforcement (rewarding desirable behavior) works better than negative reinforcement (punishing undesirable behavior), and makes for more happy long term oxytocin-mediated feelings vs. the intense dopamine-mediated buzz of banding together and railing against an enemy, which just stokes divisiveness on a larger scale.

Keeping Us Connected

Introverts unite

Another hugely important role of Fe in these isolating times is helping everyone feel connected in whatever ways we still can. We’ve lost a lot of the staples of social attachment and community which were already hard enough in the digital age – face-to-face conversation, physical social gatherings, sharing a meal and live entertainment together, etc. It is time for Fe to get creative to bring people together. “Unite… separately, in our own homes!” is no longer a motto just for Introverts. It’s a reality for everyone in the world in the coming weeks, and Fe users will be the ones most motivated to keep connection alive so we can all help support each other.

As much fear-stoking as I’m seeing, I’m also finding a ton of digital emotional support in my social media feeds. Threads and posts pop up constantly that are creating virtual spaces for people to process their emotions about everything that is happening in their physical communities, as well as share levity and hope. While anxiety and fear are safe to express in these spaces, there is an overwhelming feeling of positivity and comradery. We are all in this together and we are making the best of it, thanks to Fe users who are often the social catalysts and the glue that holds these virtual communities together.

If anything is spreading faster than Coronavirus and empty grocery store shelves it’s toilet paper humor and other deadly-hilarious memes. Humor is a fabulous way to keep morale up in an emotionally taxing time. It relieves anxiety and lets us experience shared positive feelings, much the way that laughing together over a meal does.  We feel much less alone when we laugh at something we relate to along with thousands of others. So, keep making and sharing those memes as bits of light in the darkness of all the dire news.

Finding Normalcy through the Perceiving Functions Paired with Harmony

Both perceiving functions that pair with Extraverted Feeling/Harmony also have a unique role to play as precautions against infection become ubiquitous. Introverted Intuiton/Ni/Perspectives is going to foresee what the future could be, for better or worse. Meaningful use of this function in the name of social good can help others understand what the natural consequences could be of not following through on precautions. It can also help people to see how we can still maintain a good quality of life, getting everyone’s individual and collective needs met, even under these challenging circumstances – a vision of a sustainable ‘new normal’.

SJ types, people who use Introverted Sensing/Si/Memory as a strength, often get a bad rap when it comes to change and adaptability. However, these types are actually the best of all types at integrating positive changes in practices over the long term when it is necessary and appropriate. As a picture becomes clear, based on reliable and verifiable sources, that this Coronavirus threat is not going away and will impact the lives of everyone on this planet, Si users are the ones who will put the normal in the ‘new normal’. SFJs in particular are our social rocks who will be most attuned to people’s functional needs. By developing constructive habits that become routines that become protocols which optimize the safety and comfort of as many people as possible, we will all benefit. This is the sandbox of SFJs and they’ll be fostering confidence in a new but consistent way of doing everyday things. This confidence is the foundation of peace of mind that comes from a sense of normalcy in a changing world.

My Six Tips for Social Un-distancing or Quorum-tine:

1. Building uplifting, supportive digital communities

Constructive, emotionally safe, uplifting online communities are the new town square. Remember that the energy you bring to these spaces is as infectious as any virus so be an example of what you want from your online experience.

2. Reach out more, not less

Virtual contact with people, any people, but particularly your closest emotional support network will help manage feelings of isolation and loneliness. Make it a point to step up your calls, chats, or texts to your crew.

3. Think outside your typical circles

Think about people you know who might be in need during this time and reach out to them. Stepping outside our own worries often paradoxically helps us feel less distressed and more optimistic ourselves. A friendly chat could make a world of difference to that not-quite-a-friend acquaintance who cares for their elderly parents or struggles to connect with people at the best of times.

4. Virtual gatherings

Real time virtual meeting spaces like skype, zoom, google hangouts, etc. are great ways to “gather” while practicing social distancing. I’ve even seen a suggestion of a virtual dinner party where folks plan to dress up and prepare a great meal to enjoy together via video chat.

5. Evolve your live entertainment

If you aren’t sure what to say when reaching out for some human connection, try hosting an online watch party. Watch videos with your friends online to replicate that experience of going out to enjoy entertainment together.

6. Fight Coronavirus with viral humor

While there is no medical cure yet for COVID-19, humor is one of the best medicines for the emotional darkness it has brought to the world. Fight the virus with viral memes and videos that spread contagious laughter to lift our collective spirits.

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