At some point in our lives we’ve all encountered aggressive, hard-charging, ambitious people who are driven to professional success at all costs. In most instances, we’ve experienced such individuals as indefatigable with a steely-eyed focus on the task at hand. Often such people are highly successful professionally and are known to do whatever it takes to get the job done or reach the pinnacle of their profession. In some societies, such a personality type is lauded and even upheld as something to be imitated. However, the pattern of behavior associated with such a personality profile takes a tremendous toll on their psychological, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. Psychologists have a name for this way of engaging in the world; they call it Type A Personality. It’s not a form of psychopathology per se, but it can certainly have a pernicious influence not only on the quality of one’s life, but also the quantity of years one has to live.
In the 1950s, two cardiologists, Doctors Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, explored the potential link between coronary artery disease and Type A personality. In their research, the cardiologists noted common themes in many cardiac patients including behaviors reflecting ambitiousness, a high need for achievement, an extreme sense of time urgency, impatience, hard-driving, competitiveness, aggression, hostility, and job involvement. These behaviors would come to define the Type A personality. In his doctoral dissertation entitled, “Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of the Type A Behavior Pattern”, Tony John Sorensen wrote, “Friedman and Rosenman were intrigued by the idea of a behavior pattern causing heart attacks and began interviewing their patients about their traits. They discovered that individuals who were recovering from a heart attack shared a number of striking similarities. These people were constantly in a struggle with time, people, and events. Rosenman et al. (1975) were able to demonstrate that individuals with a Type A behavior pattern were twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease as were individuals with a Type B behavior pattern.”
Those exhibiting a Type A behavior pattern tend to view time, people, and events as enemies and obstructions to personal progress and self-fulfillment. Such a view of the world lends itself to aggression and hostility. Friedman and Rosenman defined Type A Personality Pattern (TABP) as “an action-emotion complex that can be observed in any person who is aggressively involved in a chronic, incessant struggle to achieve more and more in less and less time, and if required to do so, against the opposing efforts of other things or other persons. It is not psychosis or a complex of worries or fears or phobias or obsessions, but a socially acceptable-indeed often praised-form of conflict. Persons possessing this pattern also are quite prone to exhibit a free-floating but extraordinarily well-rationalized hostility.”
The individual who exhibits TABP identifies self-worth with his accomplishments and recognition from peers and colleagues. Low self-esteem is often coupled with a high degree of cynicism in relation to others as evidenced by the research performed by You Hwi Song, Takeshi Tareo, and Jun Nakamura in their journal article entitled, “Type A Behavior Pattern is Associated with Cynicism and Low Self-Acceptance in Medical Students”. These authors concluded that, “Our results revealed associations between both a high degree of cynicism and low self-acceptance with Type A. Since the correlation between cynicism and self-acceptance was high, these two factors may reflect the same personality factor from different perspectives.”
The Gospel and the writings of the Church fathers have much to say about cultivating love rather than hostility as well as patience rather than impatience. They can guide us about where we need to have zeal and where we need to wait calmly on the Lord. They teach us what to seek first and what to seek second and why we shouldn’t mix up the two. They instruct us in the need not only to do, but also to be. I think they can offer us far more than a critique of Type A personality. They can show us how to transform a Type A mode of being in the world, channeling all the energy and zeal in a way that remains peaceful, hopeful, and compassionate. And so, in the next series of weekday posts, I hope to explore the origins of this phenomenon and to offer a Christian critique of the various Type A traits in order to motivate people with Type A personality to put their drive into the task of sanctifying change. Afterwards, I would like to present some spiritual and behavioral interventions for the Type A personality that can have a powerful affect on the state of one’s heart, physically, emotionally, and most importantly spiritually.