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An Initial Sketch of Type A Behavior and a Needed Change in Perspective

October 15, 2013

canstockphoto1551569 (2)In the first blog post on Type A behavior patterns (TABP), I noted that those who exhibit this type of behavior tend to have issues with time, people and events. I wrote that these persons view the passage of time, the presence of others, and the unexpected interruptions of occurrences as enemies and obstructions to personal fulfillment. In fact, time, people, and events are secondary to the fulfillment of personal goals, however small and ultimately trivial those goals may be. Time becomes “my time” and such persons might be overheard saying, “My time is precious, don’t waste my time.” People become a means to an end so that others are not appreciated for their intrinsic value as icons of the living God, but rather as “what can you do for me in order for me to accomplish my goals?” The logic is my goals determine your value in my mind. And even events, parsed into my events and not my events, are perceived as always within the scope of control of the individual who does not like surprises. Type A people might comment about an event that didn’t turn out as planned by saying, “If only I had worked harder or done this instead of that.”

For the Christian, time, people, and events are the loci of salvation and as such belong first and foremost to God, not to me. Time is not a matter of “my time,” but God’s time revealed in salvation history to which the Christian strives to conform. Time is a gift from God and an opportunity for repentance. The rhythm of daily prayer established by the Church confirms the importance of conforming to God’s time in the working out of salvation and the remembrance of God. Time is the temporal space in which a sacrifice of praise can be offered to God. Saint John Climacus writes in The Ladder of Divine Ascent that time belongs to God and is patiently offered to us in order for us to repent.
Likewise, people are to be treated as brothers and sisters in Christ. More importantly, our salvation is contingent upon how we treat others. Our relationship to others is so important that many holy fathers remind their spiritual children that they should not approach the chalice for Holy Communion until they are reconciled with their brothers and sisters. One’s fellow man can never be treated as a means to an end, even if the end is a lofty and virtuous one.

In the Christian worldview, the events and circumstances of life are guided by the providential love of God. No event is seen as accidental or mere happenstance. Rather, the vigilant Christian views the circumstances of life as opportunities permitted by Divine Providence for our eternal benefit. They can also be reminders to fulfill the commandments of Christ, leading us back to the very source of our life. In an earlier post, I wrote, “The saints are those who have adapted to the circumstances of life, most especially to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. They trust in the blessed expectation provided by Christ and on a personal level maintain realistic expectations about themselves and others. For example, to embark upon the true Christian life with the unrealistic expectation that there will be no suffering involved is a recipe for disaster and disillusionment.”

In the earlier post on Type A Behavior, I mentioned the potential physiological dangers associated with this pattern of behavior. However, there are equally serious, spiritual dangers. If we look at how those with Type A behavior approach time, people, and events, we see two manifest characteristics that call for transformation: egocentricity and philautia. Egocentricity has to do with perspective. In place of looking at the world as revolving around them, those who are egocentric need to view their world as revolving around God. Philautia has to do with motivation and intentionality that are linked to something pleasurable just within one’s grasp. Philautia is inevitably impatient. In place of the tyranny of impatience, those sick with the passion of philautia need to acquire the freedom of patience. Saint Gregory the Great, pope of Rome, notes that “love, which is the guardian of all the virtues, is lost through the vice of impatience, for it is written that love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). So where there is no patience, there is also no love” (Book of the Pastoral Rule, Part 3, Chapter 8). Hence, healing of philautia can be achieved through learning to love those around us, rather than use them, and to be patient with the events that come our way in God’s own time, not our own. Already at this early stage, the fathers provide a dual focus—God and love—that can provide gentle healing and wise direction for those with Type A behavior.

Again, it should be underlined that Type A behavior is not all bad. Wonderful things can be done, have been done, and will continue to be done by those who do their best and throw their heart into their work. Those who exhibit Type A behavior can learn to channel these traits into zeal for the Lord and salvation. While behavioral interventionsThe_Apostle_Peter_an_icon_from_Mount_Athos_1546 may prove helpful, the ultimate guide to changing behavior is found in the Gospel and the teachings of the fathers. One might surmise that Saint Peter, prior to his illumination, exhibited signs of Type A behavior. He was impetuous, rash, and quick to judgment. In all of his weakness, the Lord treated Him with gentleness and love, guiding Peter to keep his eyes fixed on Christ and patiently to trust in His mercy. Saint Peter’s life was indeed transformed because he never gave up seeking the Lord in spite of his faults and failings. And so he became the chief of the Apostles who taught us that patience leads to piety (2 Peter 1:6) and advised all of us to “be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love each other as brethren, be caring and kindly,” (1 Peter 3:8) and “offering hospitality without complaining” (1 Peter 4:9). Such advice is itself is a beautiful antidote to the excesses of Type A Behavior.

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3 Comments
  1. Excellent article Fr. Trader. You definitely hit on some of the challenges of being or dealing with a Type A personality. However, I also believe you underestimate the potential good that can come from being able to shift the focus of a Type A personality from one of self to one of God.

    In addition to the example of St. Peter, I would also surmise that two of my favorite saints: St. Paul and St. Ignatius of Loyola (a Saint for Western Christianity) were Type A personalities. Once their energies were channeled towards God, they were able to accomplish wonderful things.

    I look forward to future blogs in this series.

    Peace,
    W. Ockham

  2. Thank you so much, William, for your comments.

    I think Saint Paul is another wonderful example as would be most missionary saints. Thank you for mentioning them. I believe it is also worth pointing out that such Saints were also people of prayer, which means that they were people who also knew how to slow down, how to be still, how to wait on God as well as how to love and how to say with all their heart, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” In other words, they had Christian values and traits that overrode many Type A characteristics.

    I also think you are quite right that there is another brighter side to being Type A. Because of its initial association with heart disease and the use of therapeutic strategies to decrease its deleterious effects, there is a tendency to focus, perhaps even over-concentrate, on the darker side of Type A Behavior, and my posts may well follow that trend, not to denigrate what is good, but to suggest where even what is good might become better. I know of no treatment or special cautions for Type B behavior. That being said, the more placid Type B behavior surely has its own problems with inherent tendencies to spiritual laziness, behavior that is not guided goals, and even obesity with all its negative health ramifications. On the brighter side, though, Type B behavior can be expressed as meekness and as a readiness to meet God in the present moment, in the present situation whatever it might be.

    In Christ,

    Fr. Alexis

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  1. Ignatian Spirituality and the Type A Personality | Teilhard de Chardin

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