Tolerating Disorder

by Jennifer Newton Martin, LPC

The other day I was looking around my house and reflecting on the impact that the COVID pandemic has had on my housekeeping.  With six people home the majority of the time: me working from home, three kids doing e-learning from home, and a preschooler playing at home, things are not what most would consider orderly.  Most importantly, things are not what I would consider orderly.

I started thinking about the impact that this disorder in my home was having on me emotionally. Sometimes I feel irritable, overwhelmed, stressed, and angry about the mess, unable to focus on work. Other times I manage to tune it out enough to not be bothered by it. But it did kickstart me thinking about the ways that our personality helps or hinders us from effectively being able to cope with life, especially during the time of COVID. I began thinking that perhaps being more mindful of our own personality and how this effects our response to the disruption that COVID has caused in many of our lives might be useful. It might be an effective way to put our energy where our strengths are and help us to know where we need to give ourselves grace (read tips on improving your self-talk here.)

“Being mindful of our own personality and how this effects our response to the disruption that COVID has caused in our lives might be useful. It might be an effective way to put our energy where our strengths are and help us to know where we need to give ourselves grace.”

The 16 Personality Factors assessment used in Psychology is an assessment used to evaluate an individual’s personality based on their answers to a variety of questions. The 16PF works under the premise that there are 16 different main factors that make up a person’s personality. The results are reported by showing each of the 16 factors as a scale where the results fall on either the negative or positive side of the scale. In the 16 PF neither side of the scale is considered favorable, rather each pole represents opposing positions to some personality factor. 

One of the factors evaluated is called Tolerates Disorder. Based on an individual’s answers, the results indicate where on the spectrum that person likely falls. You can quickly imagine how this works: If your result falls way to the left on the spectrum than you likely tolerate various aspects of disorder fairly well. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you like disorder, just that it is likely to have much less of an impact on you than it would have on someone whose score fell way to the right of the spectrum. If you fell way to the right, then you are likely to be more comfortable with orderliness in various aspects of life. If this was you then perhaps an hour at my house might send you to the doctor seeking anxiety medication to cope. I am being extreme, but you can probably see how this personality factor may have a direct impact on you emotionally. 

I think that this is especially true during this season of COVID when perhaps, like myself, your normal level of order in life has been disturbed for various reasons. It might even be the case that your life hasn’t changed that much but the life of someone close to you has. Maybe you are used to your spouse keeping the house immaculate and suddenly their employment situation changed. Maybe he or she is now trying to work from home and the impact of that is that the order of things has changed. Perhaps you suddenly find yourself with kids in the house 24-7 and where you were able to manage to keep things straight while they were away, you are now outnumbered and aren’t able to keep up. Maybe you are struggling to understand your partner and why they can’t just “roll with the punches” like you, if you are someone that tolerates disorder relatively well and they are not.

Whatever your circumstances, it may be helpful to consider the impact personality is having on yourself and those close to you. Taking some time to explore what you know about yourself and those around you and how each person generally deals with orderliness may be a useful tool for coping during COVID. Additionally, it may give you the wisdom needed to connect and support those close to you.

A few practical steps to help if you are someone who tolerates disorder relatively well:

  1. Acknowledge that you are wired to handle situations such as this and be intentional about affirming this aspect of yourself.
  2. If you feel that your comfort with disorder is causing you to struggle to get done what you need to get done: Show yourself grace. Acknowledge that your tolerance for disorder sometimes is a gift and sometimes is a struggle.  Either way, knowing and accepting yourself is half the battle! Be intentional about scheduling the things that you want to prioritize. Making a to-do list and checking off things as you go can give you a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to tackle other projects.
  3. Be intentional about naming the ways that your personality is different than those close and acknowledge that whatever side of the continuum you fall on there is no right or wrong way to be.  This will help you to support each other rather than fall into patterns of criticism and defensiveness.
  4. Make a point to openly discuss the emotions you and those close to you are feeling.  Be careful to connect your feelings to the overall situation and not the other person.
  5. Find healthy ways to cope with your feelings if you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated such as connecting with friends and family, exercising, journaling, or talking your therapist.

A few steps to help if you are someone who generally functions best when things are orderly:

  1. Acknowledge that situations with a lot of disorder are difficult for you. Be intentional about showing yourself grace and watch your inner dialogue so that you don’t fall into the trap of criticizing or shaming yourself for not weathering this season as well as others.
  2. Make a point to remind yourself that if the disorder you are frustrated by is due to COVID that this is only a season.  It won’t last forever.
  3. Make a list of which aspects of the disorder, that are within your control, are causing you the most emotional distress and tackle the top few.
  4. Be intentional about naming the ways that your personality is different than those close to you. Acknowledge that whatever side of the continuum you fall on there is no right or wrong way to be. This will help you to support each other rather than fall into patterns of criticism and defensiveness.
  5. Make a point to openly discuss the emotions you and those close to you are feeling.  Be careful to connect your feelings to the overall situation and not the other person.
  6. Find healthy ways to cope with your feelings if you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated such as connecting with friends and family, exercising, journaling, or talking your therapist.

Published by thinkagainjenn

Jennifer Newton Martin is a Licensed Professional Counselor and writer in Libertyville, Illinois.

2 thoughts on “Tolerating Disorder

  1. Really good perspective about knowing your tolerance for disorder and your partner’s. My hubby and I are on the opposite side and it was great to know that as we learned to live and function together. Since you know me, Jen, I’ll let you guess who tolerates/does not tolerate. Haha.
    -Banangela

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