What Does It Mean to Have Type A Personality Traits?

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Since researchers started studying Type A personality, beginning with cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman in the 1950s, it’s become a household term. Most people now know that Type A personality characteristics have something to do with being competitive and work-obsessed and can bring an increased risk of health problems, but it’s not always understood exactly what traits constitute “Type A Behavior,” or exactly how these traits impact health and wellbeing.

Here you'll learn more about Type A, how it affects people, and how to deal with stress if you have a “Type A Personality” or if you work closely with someone who does.

Type A vs. Type B

Type A personality traits, including competitiveness, time urgency, and a tendency toward workaholism, can be seen (particularly by Type A people) as beneficial for career success. However, they are counterparts with Type B personalities—those who tend to be less focused on competitiveness and more on enjoying the journey.

This doesn't mean that Type Bs don't like to achieve. They may work hard and take real pride in their accomplishments, but they don't attach the same stress to their outcomes if they don't come in first or achieve the most, something that tends to create significant stress in Type As. Type Bs also tend to be more creative and low-stress by nature. Fortunately, some of this relaxed perspective can be learned and developed.

A Note About Type D

A somewhat newer personality type known as "Type D" (the D is for "distressed") is distinct from Type A and Type B. It is characterized by negative emotions like worry and attempt to inhibit these emotions at the same time, all while avoiding social interaction.

These factors, while different from Type A, can also cause significant stress and negative health outcomes.

Fortunately, as with Type A traits, there are effective ways to combat Type D traits like negativity, excessive worry, and inhibition.

Traits of Type A Behavior

While the term “Type A” is thrown around often, it’s not always fully known what specific characteristics make up Type A personality, even among experts. For some people, the term applies to rude and impatient people. Others see workaholics as Type A. Many see competitiveness as the main characteristic. According to research, the following characteristics are the hallmark characteristics of Type A Behavior Pattern (TABP):

  • Time Urgency and Impatience, as demonstrated by people who, among other things, get frustrated while waiting in line, interrupt others often, walk or talk at a rapid pace, and are always painfully aware of the time and how little they have to spare.
  • Free-Floating Hostility or Aggressiveness, which shows up as impatience, rudeness, being easily upset over small things, or ‘having a short fuse,’ for example.

Additionally, Type A behavior often includes:

  • Competitiveness: these people need to "win" at everything from work to relationships, even if these activities aren't inherently competitive.
  • Strong Achievement-Orientation: Type A people tend to get their feelings of self-worth from what they achieve.
  • A Need for Dominance: Many Type A people try to show dominance in business and personal interactions, disregarding the wishes and needs of others on favor of their own.
  • Certain Physical Characteristics: these result from stress and from years of Type A behavior, and are listed below.

Friedman associated the following physical characteristics often accompany TABP.

  • Facial tension (tight lips, clenched jaw, etc.)
  • Tongue clicking or teeth grinding
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Facial sweating (on forehead or upper lip)

Negative Effects of Type A Behavior

Over the years, the type of extra stress that most Type A people experience takes a toll on their health and lifestyle.

The following are some of the negative effects that are common with those exhibiting TABP.

  • Hypertension: Although the relationship between personality types and high blood pressure is complex, there has been some association between hypertension and Type A personalities.
  • Heart Disease: There is some ambiguity, but some research shows that there is a causal relationship between TABP and coronary heart disease. However, recent analysis has failed to confirm this.
  • Job Stress: Type A people usually find themselves in stressful, demanding jobs (and sometimes the jobs create the Type A behavior), which can lead to stress-related health problems.
  • Social Isolation: Those with TABP often alienate others, or spend too much time on work and focus too little on relationships, putting them at risk for social isolation and the increased stress that comes with it.

Fixed Characteristic vs. Situational Reaction

While many personality traits, such as extroversion, are innate, most researchers believe that Type A personality characteristics are more of a reaction to environmental factors, or tendencies toward certain behaviors, and are influenced by culture and job structure. For example:

  • Many jobs put heavy demands on time, making it necessary for workers to be very concerned with getting things done quickly if they’re to adequately get their jobs done.
  • Some workplaces put heavy penalties on mistakes, so efficiency and achievement become extremely important.
  • Other jobs just create more stress, making people less patient, more stressed, and more prone to Type A behaviors.
  • Other people do have a natural tendency toward being more intense, but this tendency can be exacerbated by environmental stress, or mitigated by conscious effort and lifestyle changes.

How to Change and Soften Type A Characteristics

Fortunately, like traits such as optimism or assertiveness, Type A characteristics can be altered. The following are ways to soften Type A characteristics in yourself if you possess them:

Change Your Work Life

Altering certain factors in your work life to make your job less stressful, more rewarding, and less demanding. For example, you can consciously make an effort to enjoy the meaning you attach to your work rather than focusing primarily on outcomes. You may talk to your boss about expectations to be sure that it is possible to meet them  with a reasonable level of work if your job has been stressful enough to affect your health.

Change Thought Patterns

With practice, when you alter your thinking patterns to more positive ones you develop more trust in yourself and in those around you, and can soften your Type A  tendencies. When you find yourself feeling inadequate if you make mistakes, for example, focus more heavily on what you are doing well. When you find yourself using negative self-talk, focus on talking to yourself the way you would a good friend.

Fake It Till You Make It

Sometimes you can ‘act’ your way into new habits. Even if you don’t always feel calm and serene, if you make a conscious choice to try to slow yourself down and be more patient with people, that behavior will most likely become more of a habit and begin to come more easily to you.

Note: it’s not recommended that you become completely detached from awareness of your feelings, or that you keep them bottled up until you eventually explode, but that you focus on making some changes in your behavior in conjunction with emotion-oriented strategies, you should make more progress, more quickly.

Start Journaling

The practice of keeping a journal has many proven benefits for your stress level and overall health. It can also be a helpful practice in softening Type A characteristics, especially if done right. The following are the best ways to use your journal as an instrument of change:

  • Keep a record of how many times you lose your temper in a day, treat people rudely, or feel overwhelmed by frustration. Becoming more aware of your tendencies and what triggers reactions in you can be a valuable step in changing your patterns.
  • Write about your feelings. This helps you to process them, and takes some of the intensity from them, so you’re less overwhelmed by strong emotions.
  • Write about solutions. Solving your problems on paper (rather than obsessing about them in your head) can help you to feel less overwhelmed by them. You can also look back through your journal to remember old ideas on solving new problems.

Face Your Fears

This may sound crazy, but a good way to work past Type A tendencies is to give yourself an extra dose of what frustrates you in order to show yourself that it’s not so bad.

For example, some therapists would recommend that you pick long lines in the grocery store, just to show yourself that you can survive the frustration of waiting in line for a few extra minutes. Or, perhaps the threat of having to wait in a longer line will force your subconscious mind to be more patient in one of the shorter lines.

Make It a Game

When you’re frustrated on the road, make a game out of it and count what frustrates you. The same can be done for life in general. If you see how many frustrating things you can playfully tally, for example, you’ll almost look forward to people’s quirks.

Breathing Exercises

The next time you’re about to scream, why not take that deep breath and, instead, just breathe it out? When you feel you’re about to explode, a few deep, slow breaths can do wonders! Learn these breathing exercises and you’ll have a stress reliever you can use anywhere.

Love Your Pets

Pets have many stress management and health benefits, and can help provide you with the extra calm you need. Walking a dog can be relaxing and social, get you out into nature (or at least out of the office), and gets you exercise as well.

Caring for an animal and receiving its unconditional love can get you in touch with the best parts of your own humanity. Even watching aquarium fish has been known to have a measurable affect on blood pressure! Learn more about pets and stress here.

Gardening

Getting out into the sunshine, beautifying your yard, and getting back in touch with nature are some of the benefits of gardening. It all adds up to some great stress relief. This tension taming tool can reduce overall stress and teach you to take it easy a little more, softening your Type A tendencies.

A Word From Verywell

Changing your Type A traits doesn't necessarily imply that your existing personality is not a good one. If you're looking to soften a few of your Type A traits, it may just mean you're looking to reduce stress and enjoy your journey more. You can still achieve your goals.

What if you’re not the one with the Type A personality characteristics, but you have to deal with someone else who is? By practicing assertiveness and healthy conflict resolution techniques, you can maintain healthier boundaries and keep yourself from being overrun by a person who exhibits strong Type A personality characteristics.

Sources:

Myrtek. (2001). Meta-analyses of prospective studies on coronary heart disease, type A personality, and hostilityInternational Journal of Cardiology. Volume (79)2-3, pp 245–251.

Petticrew et al. (2012). Type A Behavior Pattern and Coronary Heart Disease: Philip Morris’s “Crown Jewel”American Journal of Public Health. (102)11, 2018-2025. 

Sararoodi. (2009). Type D Personality. ​Journal of Behavioral Sciences.

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