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Acceptance or Cynicism in Type A Behavior: A Matter of Life or Death

November 5, 2013

In previous posts, we have spoken about how free-floating hostility, materialistic values, and time-urgency are manifested in the Type A-behavioral pattern. Studies have show how hostility in particular involves an attack not only directed outwards, but also directed inwards on one’s entire body. In his doctoral dissertation entitled, “Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Type A Behavior Pattern”, Tony John Sorensen notes, “Hostile people have greater elevations in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress-related hormones following the introduction of an emotional stressor relative to other people.”  The “fight-or-flight” response indicative of hostile reactions disrupts many systems in the body such as the digestive system and the immune system. It impairs the memory and concentration. It increases the heart rate and elevates blood pressure. And when this state is maintained, people become vulnerable to heart disease, not to mention anxiety, depression, and stomach ulcers.

Obviously, someone with this Type A pattern (TABP) and prone to anger would be well-advised to work on managing these hostile feelings and impulses. But for that work to bear fruit, it is also helpful to have some insight into that hostility beyond the fact that the negligence and inconsiderateness of others irritate us. Fortunately, there is some research available on precisely this issue. In a study of TABP among medical students, the authors noted a correlation between hostility characteristics of Type A behavior on the one hand and cynicism and low self-esteem on the other. They suggest that cynicism and low self-esteem are two sides of the same coin. People who are cynical believe that others are insincere and their motives suspect. People who have low self-esteem believe that they are unworthy, incapable, and incompetent. In simplest terms, they believe that they are rotten and the world is rotten as well. Hence, they need to work extra hard, be extra careful, not get duped, and fight on all fronts if they want even a smidgeon of success. This is, of course, a recipe for disaster, a recipe for heart disease, and a recipe for mental anguish rolled up into one.

Clearly, one needs a new stance on life, a new way of thinking and feeling, if one is to let go of cynicism and gain some acceptance of who we are in the eyes of God. Like the Apostle Paul, we each need to learn to say “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Saint John Chrysostom comments that “this language teaches that each individual justly owes a great debt of gratitude to Christ, as if He had come for his sake alone, for He would not have grudged this His condescension though but for one, so that the measure of His love to each is as great as to the whole world” (Homily on Galatians 2). This love is not dependent on what we do, what we accomplish, or how we compare to others, for “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is the rock upon which we can build our lives, move forward towards Christ with boldness, and be grateful for everything that Christ has given us. If we accept the fact that Christ accepts us, we can use that acceptance to accept ourselves and then accept others. With self-acceptance, the problem of low self-esteem is ameliorated; with the acceptance of others, the problem of cynicism is also improved.

Above all, just as the Lord “was moved to compassion” again and again in the gospel accounts when He encountered demanding people with their own pressing needs, so we need to develop a compassionate and merciful heart for the people that make up our lives. This is medicine that goes to the heart of the problem of hostility caused by the Type A behavioral pattern. Saint Isaac the Syrian teaches that “a merciful man is the physician of his own soul, for as with a violent wind he drives the darkness of the passions out of his inner self” (Homily 64). The expelled passions certainly include the negative, pessimistic thinking that low self-esteem engenders. Elsewhere, Saint Isaac further defines mercy as “a sorrow and pity stirred up by goodness, and it compassionately inclines a man in the direction of all; it does not requite a man who is deserving of evil, and to him who is deserving of good it gives a double portion” (Homily 51). For the sake of God, for the sake of goodness, for the sake of our own selves, let’s try to be compassionate with ourselves and with those around us. In so doing, you will not only have happier, healthier lives, but most importantly “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). Amen.

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