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Modifying Type A Behavior: Learning to Listen, Learning to Love

January 9, 2014

Getting personal projects done on time and done well are important aspects of life for those with Type A tendencies, sometimes so important that they eclipse everything and everyone else. And yet we all know that life is so much greater than any of our present projects and that a flourishing life needs something more than projects that are bigger and better. The Gospel is clear. What we need is God and our neighbor. We need to learn to step out of ourselves and out of our own little worlds and into the world of God and the world of our neighbor, beloved of God. This suggests another kind of intervention to modify the Type A behavioral pattern that complements the more private interventions that we have been discussing until present, interventions such as such as prayer, gratitude, fruitful repentance instead of barren self-criticism, memorizing helpful Scriptural passages, and altering patterns of thinking, talking, and even eating.

According to an article entitled “The Empirical Basis for Cardiac Psychology”, authors Robert Allan and Stephen Scheidt note “Social support, or the degree to which one is connected to others in the community, has emerged as an inverse risk factor of considerable magnitude, not only for CHD [coronary heart disease] but for morbidity and mortality of all causes.  Of all psychological risk factors, the social support literature appears the most consistent in establishing a relationship between heart and mind.” In an earlier post on “no man is an island” we discussed this empirical finding that coincides beautifully with the spiritual truth expressed in the words of Psalm 133, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.” Practically speaking how are those accustomed to living according to the rules of a dog-eat-dog world to start living in the pastoral unity of the Davidic psalm?

A first step suggested by psychologists is on a daily basis to express genuine warmth, appreciation, affection and gratitude to others with the spontaneity of a child. They also suggest asking a family member about his or her day’s activities and actually being interested in them! This could then be extended to listening to others talking about their own concerns and their life experiences, rather than talking only about one’s own current projects and goals. Paul Tillich once said, “love is listening” and that suggests an even higher goal in modifying Type A time urgency, overt hostility, and competiveness. And that goal is love.

Saint Augustine once wrote, “We are commanded to love one another, but the question is whether human beings are to be loved by other human beings for their own sake, or for the sake of something else. If it is for their own sake, we enjoy them; if it is for the sake of something else, we use them.” (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 22). Those with Type A tendencies often view others as means to further their own projects. Something they need to learn is to simply enjoy their brothers and sisters, because they are who they are.  Elsewhere, the Saint further comments, “Christ has thus given us a new commandment, that we should love one another, as He also has loved us. This is the love that renews us, making us new, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song. It was this love, beloved, that renewed also those of olden time, who were then the righteous, the patriarchs and prophets, as it did afterwards the blessed apostles… Because of this, the members of the Body of Christ have a mutual interest in one another; and if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it” (Tractate 45 on John).

Saints and psychologists both counsel that we be interested in one another and that we enjoy each others’ presence, which presupposes that we learn to listen to one another. Saints and psychologists both recommend that we be kind to one another and that we empathize with one another, which in the language of Scripture means that we “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The Church further advises us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). And that law is: “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” This is, perhaps, the ultimate intervention for the Type A Behavioral Pattern, an intervention that not only protects our physical hearts, but also opens our spiritual hearts to all the joy, peace, and love that the Gospel of Christ offers those with ears to hear.

  1. chalcedon451 permalink

    I was bought your book as a Christmas present and am finding it a true source of wisdom. It, like these articles, provides what I have been looking for, a Christian approach to this subject which, for me at least, is beginning to turn the key in a rusty lock. Thank you, Father.

  2. I am glad you are finding the book in particular and the blog in general to be helpful. There is indeed much wisdom in the writings of ancient Christian strugglers. The difficulty is that they offer so many keys that it requires a bit of sorting to find the one that opens the appropriate lock.

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