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Self-knowledge, Free Will, and Type A Personality

October 18, 2013

Many Type A people know a great deal about many things. Many are perfectionists at what they do. They make hard choices and follow difficult paths. And yet, they appear to lack a particular type of knowledge and kind of willing that could offer them true wisdom and unfettered freedom, so that they could use their God-given talents in a way that neither wears themselves nor others down. Although they may know that they are Type A, they do not appear to really know themselves at some existentially crucial level. And although they may will to do many things, they do not feel ultimately free.

know-thyself-1024x436In their article, “Reducing Type A Behavior Patterns: A Structured Group Approach”, authors Paul E. Bracke and Carl E. Thorsesen note that TABP is characterized by some rather negative characteristics such as suspiciousness, cynicism, and alienation. Type A people lack trust, expect disappointments, and feel so alone, in part because they feel anxious about the their future, insecure about their ability to cope, and ultimately have a low opinion of themselves. Bracke and Thorsesen maintain that this TABP approach to life is often a result of a lack of self-awareness. The authors write, “Those with TABP seem to have lost much of their innate ability to be subjectively aware of themselves (i.e., to know what’s going on within and around themselves). The most serious consequence of this loss is that participants too often direct their lives in mindless attempts to please, impress, or protect themselves from others. Many participants have chronically ignored their feelings (e.g., exhaustion, insecurity, and loneliness) in order to strive aggressively for more professional status and economic gain. They often appear numb to their feelings.”

It seems that a lack of self-knowledge and the sovereign freedom to choose are at the heart of Type A engendered problems. Self-knowledge and the offering of one’s own free will are also at the heart of the Christian life. Commenting on the scriptural passage, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor. … and come and follow me,” Saint Jerome writes, “Great enterprises are always left to the free choice of those who hear of them … If thou wilt be perfect. There is no compulsion laid upon you: if you are to win the prize it must be by the exercise of your own free will (Letter to Pammachius). The great deeds of the Christian life and in the Christian life are not compulsive knee-jerk reactions, but free responses of being able to hear, being able to listen, and being able to recognize the Shepherd’s voice. But how does one hear? Saint Ephraim the Syrian once wrote, “free will is the word of life…, but you cannot hear His words if you do not know yourself” (Admonition to Repentance).

A good starting point for those with (and without!) Type A behavior would be the Socratic “know thyself.” The ancient Christian writer, Clement of Alexandria, wrote, “We have received a mind, that we may know what we do. And the maxim ‘Know thyself’ means here to know for what we are born. And we are born to obey the commandments, if we choose to be willing to be saved” (Stromata, Book VI, chapter 3). Elsewhere he explains that “know thyself” means to know “in whose image you are fashioned; and what is your nature, and what is your creation, and what is your relation to God” (Stromata, Book V, chapter 4). This knowledge has a calming effect on the soul, for the soul knows that she can place her trust in a loving God Who arranges all things for her ultimate salvation. This knowledge further reveals that low self-esteem is not based on the bedrock truth of being created in the image and likeness of the Creator, but on the whisperings of the enemies of the human soul. This knowledge finally changes the way the soul looks at others, they become brothers and sisters also made in God’s image, also made for freedom, also made for paradise, and ends each of them in their own right.

Knowledge of the Type A behavior pattern can be the beginning of freedom from its effects. Even more so, self-knowledge can be the beginning of the liberty of the children of God. Saint Hippolytus in his Refutation of All Heresies put it this way, “This is what the saying, ‘Know thyself’ means: discover God within yourself, for He has formed you in His own image… So be neither inflamed with hostility towards one another, nor hesitate quickly to retrace your steps, for Christ is the God above all, and He has arranged to wash away sin from human beings renewing the old man. And God called man His likeness from the beginning and by this has showed you His love for you. And if you obey His sacred commandments and become a faithful follower of Him who is good, you shall resemble Him, inasmuch as you shall have honor conferred on you by Him, for the divinity of God’s divine perfection is not diminished in making you like God unto His glory.”

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