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Monitoring Self to Modify Type A Behavior

December 13, 2013

While Type A behavior is often lauded and promoted in contemporary culture, chronic behavior of this sort has profoundly deleterious effects on the individual. This is why cognitive therapy’s goal is often aimed at changing or altering these behavior patterns by modifying the way a person thinks about those patterns of behaving.

Of course, behaviors and reactions often take on a life of their own that is often no longer under the control of the rational mind. Hence, the first step in behavioral change is awareness of the behavior itself. In their work, “Reducing Type A Behavior Patterns: A Structured Group Approach”, authors Bracke and Sorensen note that “without an accurate and reliable awareness of their own TAB, participants are seriously hampered in making informed and healthier choices about how they respond to the situations they encounter. The cultural glamour sometimes associated with TAB can be eliminated by reducing TABP to its essential features and effects. To do this, the acronym ‘AIAI’ (anger, irritation, aggravation, impatience) was created to facilitate a greater awareness of the actual nature and consequences of TABP.”

Behavioral therapy suggests the development and implementation of a “self-monitor” so that the Type A person can learn to detach from the present situation and focus “more objectively on the occurrence of the distress itself” (Bracke and Thoresen, p. 271). The self-monitor would then assist in moving from impatience (or anger, aggravation, irritation) to an alternative state such as serenity and calm. This exercise may serve to help the individual to pinpoint the triggers to TAB such as anger, irritation, aggravation, and impatience and to consciously choose an alternative.

In group therapy settings, the group leader would assist participants in recognizing that impatience and anger are emotional responses that affect health and well-being. Bracke and Thoresen note, “We encourage participants to develop a self-monitor that is respectful, curious, and interested in understanding the self, rather than the harsh, rigid, and perfectionistic internal critic that usually lies at the core of the TABP. A helpful self-monitor observes behaviors, attitudes, and emotions and generally chooses to respond in a patient, calm and reassuring manner” (Bracke and Thoresen, p. 272). In order to assist the self-monitor accomplish this transition, some form of relaxation training is often suggested as a therapeutic complement.

In Ancient Christian Wisdom, I have written about the Christian version self-monitoring as the spiritual fisherman’s art in which “a person separates himself so thoroughly from his thoughts that they become like fish swimming in the sea and he comes to resemble a fisherman looking into its depths. This objectification of subjective thoughts requires a mind as calm as the sea on a windless day as well as the possession of knowledge about the thoughts and observational skills like unto those of a fisherman who knows the ways of fish in the deep.” For the Christian whose life is characterized by Type A behavior, perhaps the most important movement to gain self-awareness, serenity, and freedom from knee-jerk Type A reactions is the movement towards Christ who looked on those who made terrible mistakes in life—like the tax-collector, the harlot, and the thief—with love, compassion, and forgiveness, and to observe ourselves and others, with all our mistakes big and small, from that same vantage point that is intrinsically calming. In other words, rather than just being respectful, curious and interested in understanding the self, one could approach the self in a Christian fashion as a peacemaker, as a loving friend, and as a humble servant of the Lord. Yes, relaxation helps, but virtue helps far more.

In the ascetic tradition, self-monitoring or to use the proper ascetic terminology, watchfulness, is always linked to communication and communion with God. This is what provides the driving force for transformation. In other words, Christian advice would be “watch yourself, but do it with the love of Christ, and then reach out to Christ with prayer.” Thus, when the Christian recognizes the impending feelings of anger or impatience about something not going the way he would like it to go, he would do well to look at the situation, look at himself, look the others involved with the gentle kindness and humble compassion that characterize the life in Christ, and then take up the Jesus Prayer, re-focusing attention on the very words of the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on my sister, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on my brother.” Returning to the aggravating situation and to ourselves from this place of prayer, I know longer have to do battle against my destructive behavioral patterns alone. I do more than accept the givens of my situation; I accept the healing power of the Lord Christ Himself, who desires our serenity and our communion with Him. There is something calming in the recognition that such profound change is not done alone. I don’t have to be crushed under all the weight and pressure for changing my behavior. I can let go of the Type A behavioral characteristic of trying to control everything on my own terms. All I have to do is make a simple movement in the direction of Christ. He is waiting to help us all. He calls out, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). A soul at rest knows no anger, no irritation, no aggravation, and no impatience. A soul at rest knows Christ Who can calm any storm, heal any wound, and bring light to any darkness. A soul at rest has already passed through the fire and water of Type A pressures and stress and been brought to a place of refreshment (Psalm 66:12) in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  1. Maria permalink

    This whole series has been enormously helpful and practical. I thank God for His grace in giving you the words to share.

  2. Thank you, Maria, so much for your encouragement. It literally came at the moment that I was wondering whether I was perhaps going overboard on this theme! There will probably, God willing, be about four or five more posts on this series and then we’ll turn our sights in other directions. Thanks again.

  3. Edward permalink

    Fr Alexis, I am so grateful to you for this series. It has been a real eye-opener for me. I am without doubt a type A personality and hugely appreciate your articles. I also very much look forward to reading your book.

  4. Thank you, Edward, for your encouragement. Reaching out the way you are now and being proactive are among the blessing of a Type A behavioural pattern. I hope you find some helpful material in my book as well.

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

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