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From Type A Beliefs to Christian Convictions: Inner Changes that Lead to Peace

November 28, 2013

People don’t simply decide to become Type A. It arises quite naturally from their efforts to make sense of their own world during the process of maturation on the basis of their experiences with others, their observations about life, and their sense of their own strengths and weaknesses. Having reached some conclusions about how the world operates and how they need to act to get ahead, they press forward on the basis of these conclusions that they may never have put into words, but that are always present, guiding them with a less than gentle hand. These conclusions that orient the Type A person in the context of cognitive therapy are known as schemata or core beliefs. People don’t really have a choice about adopting these conclusions or core beliefs, but they can decide to change them.

Sorensen notes in his dissertation, “Many of the harmful effects of Type A behavior may be explained by the influence of these beliefs on the interpretation of social situations. An interesting model of this was proposed by Price in 1982. The model of this is comprised of three core beliefs about self and others: a) one must constantly prove oneself through successful, socially recognized accomplishments, b) resources needed to be successful are scarce and insufficient, and c) universal moral principles do not exist to ensure fairness, justice, and goodness. These organizing schemas are the foundation for excessive competitiveness, hostility, impatience, and quick anger.”

Now, these beliefs usually have some basis in past experience. If little Jamie’s parents only praised him and showed him affection after winning a race or getting an A on a report card, that could be the start of a core belief about the need to prove oneself. If he heard his parents talking incessantly about how they cannot make ends meet and about how life is not fair, those beliefs would also have been wired into his little brain and engrained in his little heart. But what is 43 year-old James who is developing high blood pressure to do, having lived according to these beliefs with some degree of success most of his life? He needs to modify those beliefs or if possible replace them with beliefs that can help him become calmer, more peaceful, more concerned with others, more trusting, and ultimately a better Christian.

In order to modify beliefs, which is no easy task, one needs to weaken the old belief and to choose a new one to live by. The first belief in the TABP triplex—one must constantly prove oneself through successful, socially recognized accomplishments—equates self-worth with what one does meriting recognition by others. The solution is not found in discovering people who will more consistently validate and affirm you for an A on your latest report card in life. Rather, the solution is found in the recognition that self-worth is not based upon the esteem and validation of others. Self-worth does not need to be founded on the shifting sands of the situational or social, but can be grounded in rock-hard, ontological reality that we are sons and daughters of a God who loves us unconditionally and never wavers or withdraws that love regardless of our earthly successes or failures. This is not something that can be understood rationally, but it can be sensed in the heart that prays and lives in the divine mysteries of the faith. The Lord once told His disciples, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Partaking of that life, rather than accomplishing this or that, needs to become the new source of self worth.

In cognitive therapy, a person first identifies the core belief that may be causing problems, suggests an alternative, and then daily looks for instances in which the old belief doesn’t really work and in which the new one leads to better functioning. For it to sink in, the individual is instructed to keep a notebook and write about proofs for the new belief every day One way for a Christian to do so is to search the Scriptures for the Truth of God about us and about the world and to gratefully ponder the greatness of God’s love for us. Perhaps, instead of “I must constantly prove myself through successful, socially recognized accomplishments,” one could recall the Heavenly Father’s response to the Prodigal Son or adopt a variation on Romans 12:2 “Instead of being conformed to the world, I can be transformed by renewing my mind that I may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” seeking God’s will rather than our own personal agenda in our relationships and endeavors. Instead of “resources needed to be successful are scarce and insufficient,” one can recall the feeding of the five thousand or adopt a variation on 2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound toward me that I, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work,” trusting in God’s abundant mercy that endures forever. Instead of “universal moral principles do not exist to ensure fairness, justice, and goodness,” one could look towards the Resurrection of our crucified Lord or adopt the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over,” placing one’s faith in God.

Having found these passages in Scripture, the believer can then be open and aware to examples of these truths in day-to-day life. They are there if we have but eyes to see. As we notice more and more instances of God’s providence and God’s love in our lives, older TABP core beliefs begin to weaken, genuinely Christian convictions begin to take root, and we become calmer, happier, and kinder people, less prone to anger and high blood pressure as well.

Elder Porphyrios noted how the awareness of God’s love for us can have a profound impact upon us: “We ought to feel that Jesus is our friend. He is our friend. He confirms it Himself when He says: ‘You are my friends…” (John 15: 14). We ought to look up to Him and approach Him as our friend. If we fall, if we commit an offence, we ought to approach Him with love and courage and be filled with trust bestowed to us by our mutual friendship without fearing His punishment. We ought to tell Him: ‘Yes, Lord I have done this, I have fallen, forgive me.’ At the same time we ought to feel that He loves us, that He receives us with tenderness and love and that He forgives us. Let our trespasses not separate us from Jesus. If we believe that He loves us and that we love Him, we will not feel like strangers, neither we will feel separated from Him, not even when we commit a sin. We have secured His love and no matter what we do, we know that He loves us.”

Such a core belief changes everything: it changes our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us. It softens our heart to the point that there can be no bitterness, no divisiveness, and no rancor. For what is greater than the love of God which is offered to us as a free possession? How often we proclaim during the Divine Liturgy, “For Thou art a good God and a friend of man.” If we recognize how greatly God affirms us in our very existence, if we recognize how He provides for us, and if we recognize that His justice will ultimately prevail, we will begin to live that abundant life He came to give us. The pearl of great price is already before us and with it, the peace of God that passeth all understanding.

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