The first hint of what type A personality was like came from an upholsterer who was hired to recover chairs in the waiting room of two cardiologists. The upholsterer told the cardiologists that he had never seen wear patterns on chairs like he saw in their waiting room. The wear pattern suggested that patients sat on the edge of their seat, jumped up often, and grasped the armrests of the chairs all of which suggested impatience. The cardiologist remembered these comments when they discovered that a subset of their patients did not respond well to treatment for high blood pressure or coronary artery disease. In addition to wearing out furniture, the risks of Type A personality include high blood pressure, heart disease, a constant sense of failure and an increased risk of suicide.
What Is Type A Personality?
Type A personality is a term coined by two cardiologists who wondered why some of their patients responded much less well to treatment. These people were excessively competitive, critical of themselves, and did not get any real satisfaction from their accomplishments. Their lives are generally consumed by their work. They tend to overreact and are seen as “wound up.” They themselves feel a constant sense of urgency and are upset by anything that seems to delay them. To the degree that these folks view life somewhat inaccurately they are neurotic which puts them in the personality type that has a higher suicide risk largely due to constant preoccupation and worry.
Type A Individuals Pay a High Price for Their Perceptions
Many people seen as successful by the world have Type A personality traits. They work longer hours. They focus on their work to the exclusion of their personal and family lives. These individuals tend to believe that their success comes from their constant preoccupation with their work and time. This is not the case.
Researchers have carried out long term studies in which they categorized people by personality type, including Type A, and compared them to other types when assessing their success in life. While levels of education, intelligence, and personal or family connections were positively connected to monetary or professional success, the degree to which a person constantly worried about their work, was obsessed with time spent on the job, and were perfectionistic were not.
The most visible price that Type A people pay is in having high blood pressure and having heart attacks, heart failure, and early death. Not all early death is due to heart attacks or strokes in these individuals. A subset of Type A individuals find themselves trapped by their Type A belief system, cannot see a way out, and end their lives. These are commonly suicides that “no one saw coming” as the person was economically successfully and had routinely “checked all the boxes” for what people would call success with family, professional status, social connections. Sadly, the Type A person is unable to truly enjoy their success as it is never good enough in their own eyes.
Is There Treatment for Type A Personality?
A problem in treating Type A personality is getting the person to accept the treatment. These folks need to slow down, worry less, and stop being so intensely competitive. They look at techniques like meditation as a waste of time, frustrating, and unproductive. Because the Type A person always needs to be “doing something” they will commonly accept yoga rather than meditation. Likewise, listening to music can be helpful and since this is “doing something” the Type A person is more likely to accept this approach than one that requires silence.
Type A People Get Better When They Change Their Beliefs
A Type A individual may accept writing or journaling as a task where they will not accept medication or one on one psychotherapy. This approach opens the way to potential insight that may be helpful. Exercise helps get a Type A away from the work treadmill and is good for both blood pressure and heart disease. Because many forms of exercise include some degree of social connection, this approach also helps get the Type A individual away from his work-centered life. Hobbies can also be helpful but are more useful if they bring the Type A person into contact with people outside of the work setting.
The cardiologists who first recognized this personality type told how one of their patients who was constantly driven and hyper-aware of time hated when he had to wait in his car for a train to pass until he learned to view the experience as a “free vacation” in which he was given “permission” not to worry, compete, or work himself to death!