What Is a Type A Personality and Am I?

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type A

Nearly everyone has heard the term “Type A” and most possess knowledge that it refers to a set of personality traits.  However, most people are unaware that the classification was actually discovered by accident by two cardiologists in the 1950’s.  Friedman and Rosenman were surprised to discover that chairs in their waiting room needed to be reupholstered so quickly after their original purchase.  Upon further inspection, they noticed that the arms and edges of the chairs were worn out in similar and predictable patterns.  Friedman and Rosenman deduced that their patients were unable to sit patiently in their chairs and rather, sat towards the edge, while often jumping in and out of them. 

The cardiologists categorized these behaviors as Type A personality traits and hypothesized that individuals with these traits pose a higher risk of cardiac issues.  In their research, Friedman and Rosenman linked certain physical characteristics to Type A behaviors, including tension in the face, teeth grinding, facial sweating, and dark circles underneath the eyes.  Other associated physical traits included clenched jaw, tightened lips, and tongue clicking.

Type A behaviors refer to an individual’s personality type and stress response.  People who are Type A are exemplified by a competitive nature, a sense of urgency, and aggressiveness.  They are often inpatient, immersed in work, focused on winning and achievement, and are commonly stressed.  Type A personalities tend to do well in their academics and careers, as they are always striving to finish first and to be the best.  A Type A personality attempts to succeed and triumph in everything they do, even if their pursuits are not of a competitive nature.  Type A people tend to base their self-esteem and confidence solely on their achievements and promote dominance in all their relationships.

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As Friedman and Rosenman suspected, research has found that Type A personality traits may be linked to certain negative outcomes.  An association has been found between high blood pressure and cardiac conditions and people with Type A personality traits.  Individuals with Type A personality traits often take on challenging and taxing jobs, which leads to job related stress and other health problems.  Those with Type A personality traits may focus attention and efforts too much on their work and on job related responsibilities, while neglecting personal and social relationships and interactions.  The lack of importance associated with socialization may also put a Type A person at risk of social isolation. 

If you find yourself identifying with some of these personality traits and characteristics, it might be indicative of a Type A personality.  Having a Type A personality by no means constitutes a negative character flaw, as Type A personalities are consistently associated with higher productivity and accomplishments.  However with that being said, Type A traits might also be suggestive of an individual who is under constant stress and not enjoying life as much as they could be 

Type A behaviors are not fixed and can always be changed, reduced, or altered.  If you find yourself constantly stressed, you can make a concerted effort to focus more on the meaning of your work rather than on products and outcomes.  You can change the way that you think and try to put more focus and effort into social relationships and those around you.  If you are feeling insufficient with low self-confidence, try to focus on other accomplishments.  Try to slow down and show more patience, both with yourself and with others.  Attempt to mitigate stress through relaxation strategies such as journaling, yoga, or meditation.  In other words, embrace your hard working and time management skills, while attempting to improve on impatience, intolerance, and irritation.

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.