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Hostility, Anger, and the Type A Personality

October 18, 2013

In reflecting upon Type A behavior patterns (TABP), I have offered a summary of the potential causal connection between TABP and coronary artery disease as well as the spiritual harm that such a way of engaging with the world may engender. I’ve also spoken about the need for self-knowledge to guide the choices of those who exhibit type a behavior. In this post, I would like to outline a few of the outward manifestations of TABP such as hostility and anger that stem from a lack of self-knowledge. It’s not accidental that Saint Hippolytus spoke of self-knowledge and hostility in the same passage cited in our last post.

According to Friedman and Ulmer (1984), those with Type A behavior patterns rush about trying to meet real and self-imposed deadlines, because of underlying insecurity and low self-esteem. Insecurity, low self-esteem, and time urgency in turn set the stage for angry outbursts when it seems that goals will not be met, which gets translated into the sense that one’s low self-esteem is indeed justified. According to these authors, “the general manifestations of this insecurity include the following:

•    A chronic inability to say no to requests from others for help with nonessential tasks
•    An extreme reluctance or refusal to delegate tasks and to reduce overall workload
•    An apparent greed to acquire an unrealistic number of responsibilities, material possessions, or symbols of achievement in trying to prove self-worth
•    A preoccupation with personal shortcomings and “weaknesses” coupled with a devaluing of strengths and positive feedback from others.”

The attempt to compensate for feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem greatly limits the choices of people with Type A behavior putting them in a no-win situation in which it becomes all too easy for anger to flare up and for hostility to be manifest. They not only feel unable to say no to requests or to delegate authority, but they also feel unable to control their swelling impatience or keep themselves from being resentful about others. The only behaviors that come easily are hostility and anger, behaviors that are also not under their control and moreover start another cycle eliciting hostility from others dealing with their own insecurities. The authors conclude, “It is essential to confront participants with the reality that their impatience often encourages them to view others as ‘obstacles’ in their way, thus promoting hostile behavior. This hostility can, in turn, erode or destroy relationships with others, depriving the individual of social support, a critical source of self-esteem. This vicious cycle lies at the root of TABP and helps perpetuate it.”

A significant lifestyle change is necessary if such a person is to be freed from the morass of hostility and anger. This will require more than the beneficial behavioral interventions offered by cognitive therapy (I will write more about these in future posts). In a previous post, I wrote, “The soul of fallen man has come under the illusion of self-sufficiency. Therefore, it is not satisfied with concerning itself with temporal needs (food, clothing, and shelter), but seeks also to dominate nature and others as well as to find new sources of sensual enjoyment. In fact, man begins to view self-expansion and the self’s pleasures in their extreme form as inalienable rights. Such a soul has become what is today called an ego. On the one hand, our spirit (or nous) in communion with God is our real self, the true seat of our personhood. On the other hand, the ego, that sum of a human being disconnected from God, is our false self, an illusory self-sufficient entity. Because the ego thinks to achieve its ends and overcome its obstacles through its own unaided powers, the ego can also be called our false “problem solver,” false because man was made to cooperate with God, not to be cut off from Him, false because the ego solves problems that are not really problems and fails to face the one problem that truly needs solving. This false sense of autonomy leads the ego to do everything in its power, consciously and unconsciously, to silence the spirit that seeks a relationship with God in humility and dependence upon His Providence.”

The extremes of TABP can best be overcome by spiritual struggle that consists of putting off the false ego, discovering one’s true self in the image of God, and cultivating the inner man by seeking first the Kingdom of God. Anger and hostility, as manifestations of TABP, are obviously inimical to the Gospel message of becoming a peacemaker, acquiring compassion, forgiving others, and sharing the love of God with the world. Overcoming this spiritual sickness requires humility, patience, and trust in the Providence of God. In an earlier post on philautia, I wrote something which is applicable to the lifestyle change required in TABP, “For the ancient fathers, the healing of the nous and its restoration to its proper place in the ordering of human thought and activity is paramount in overcoming both the false, biased perspective of egocentricity and the shallow, selfish aims of philautia. Once the nous is restored to its primacy over the rational, discursive, and aggressive faculties of the soul, then the egocentric soul becomes God-centered and the soul that lived for philautia becomes God-loving. Instead of seeing the world and others from the perspective of self, we begin to see the world from the vast and beautiful vantage point of the economy of God the Word. Instead of seeking the fulfillment of selfish desires and ambitions, our desires and ambitions are purified by the love of God and love for God that becomes the one, holy desire of our souls that purifies our thoughts, our desires, our ambitions, our hopes, and our dreams. Restoring the nous to its proper position brings about our transformation and transfiguration into children of the Highest who look with compassion on others and love God with all their soul, with all their heart, and with all their mind. This restructuring of our inner world means changing radically our way of perceiving the world around us by allowing our communion with God to correct our inner and outer vision. This, obviously, requires much asceticism and responsiveness to the grace of God. This is the primary task of the spiritual life.” Once accomplished, the TABP drive for perfection becomes the Christian striving for perfection in which we realize that we are all members of One Body relying on one another, in which we choose to let our priorities to be set not by our weaknesses or insecurities, but by our trust in the truth of God’s revelation, and in which our every yes to others becomes a knowing and cheerful yes to God.

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2 Comments
  1. Fr. Alexis:

    Thank you very much for doing this series. As I mentioned earlier I am a strong Type A personality and agree with most of what you have written. Your series is an outstanding spiritual roadmap for anyone who is a Type A personality or who is a loved one of a Type A personality.

    I hope to continue to discern and pray over your writings over the next few days and provide some more detailed reflections on my blog next week.

    Peace in Christ,
    W. Ockham

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

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