Why is the Type A Person’s Mental Health at Risk?


The Type A person needs to pay attention to their mental health.


So why does the Type A personality need to be concerned about their mental health? It’s a good question. Type A’s are driven, successful and talented. But they are also flawed and vulnerable.

I am not a Type A person but in my counseling practice, my work, and my relationships, I work with Type A’s all of the time. Each Type A is a little different, but the kind I am thinking of right now are those who describe themselves as logical, rational and sensible. They are driven and focused. And they are emotional deserts.

The type A person can cause harm to themselves and to their relationships when they view themselves as always correct or their mission as the only mission that has any real value.

A while back I counseled Tony (not his real name) and his family. He is a soldier, driven and very successful at what he does. He described himself as rational. And then he looked at his wife, his kids and then at me. Part of my mind concluded that if he is the rational one in the crowd, what does he think about the rest of us?

He’s a type A.

The type A person is rational, but may be lonely because they isolate themselves, and frustrated because they never quite reach the perfection they crave. Control is an illusion and rather than seeing their family and coworkers as resources, they begin to see them as obstacles.

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for the Good Men Project about the impacts of power on your mental health. The type A person is especially susceptible to the negative effects of power.

The 5 impacts from power on the Type A person:

  1. Power can alter your beliefs about the intentions of other people. You suspect rather than accept.
  2. Power can affect your responses to the kind acts of others. You question whether kind acts are just that or a product of mixed motives.
  3. Power can erode trustYou become less willing to trust others and avoid being vulnerable.
  4. Power can eat away at your commitment. You pull back, becoming more isolated and more cynical.
  5. Power can damage relationships in the very moments when they have the greatest potential to develop.

Any personality type can become unhealthy because our health is based on the way that a person approaches their work, their relationships, and their world. The type A person can cause harm to themselves and to their relationships when they view themselves as always correct or their mission as the only mission that has any real value. They end up closing themselves off from the people they love.

People end up feeling they are nothing more than a means to an end, or at the worst, they are bulldozed and never have anything important to contribute. In my counseling session, Tony made his family feel as if he is right and they are wrong, he is rational and they are reactive.

What Tony does not see is that his pursuit of cold rationality is isolating him from those who care about him. And the loneliness is contributing to his perfectionism and his depression. When I looked at him and touched on the edges of his emotions, the only thing he could offer back to me was a blank stare and frustrated responses to his wife. Type A’s do that, when unhealthy, their arsenal becomes the twin barrels of blame and shame.

Mental health and the Type A

Underneath the surface, Tony was facing a number of health and mental-health issues that many Type A’s deal with (for more on the Type A Personality see the Type A Personality by Saul McLeod):

  • Inability to calm himself and reflect
  • A perpetual sense of urgency and task focus. Perfectionism is linked with higher rates of depression and anxiety.
  • Impatience with other people
  • Higher levels of stress, always having to be “on,” and hyper-competitiveness (always needing to be right).
  • Easily angered
  • Lagging sense of dissatisfaction that can contribute to an overall sense of unhappiness.
  • Rigidity and black and white thinking.
  • A 50% greater likelihood of coronary heart disease

Recovering from the Type A personality

The unhealthy Type A personality is at risk from a number of physical and mental health issues. Recovery is not only possible, but it will increase their effectiveness. True and lasting impact will come when we are both effective at tasks and also at stepping back and enjoying our lives with those we love.

Points 1-3 are adapted from Amanda Walkins, who describes herself as a recovering Type A personality.

1.Be present – slow down long enough to sit and watch the world. Make time to do slow down and just be for a while. Having to be busy all of the time will not make you more effective, but rather it will drive you to feel exhausted.

2.Fill your to-do lists not just with tasks, but with life – this can be difficult for any personality type.

Make a to-do list for yourself that includes life moments, not simply tasks. Include meditation, a slow stroll through the neighborhood with your dog or your partner, a designated timeframe to read something other than your emails/Facebook feed/Twitter feed.

3.Take off the blinders – your drivenness may be a form of avoidance. Are you willing to admit to yourself the reasons for your drivenness, and what it allows you to avoid? The first step in any change is admitting to ourselves that we see something that needs to change. If you are not ready to do it for yourself, think about what your family needs from you. Then make a change.

4.Let go of perfectionism, but hold onto your strengths – This may sound confusing, but you bring a significant number of strengths to any workplace or relationship. You get things done, you are focused, you can be personable and build something that lasts. People rally to you and you know where you are going. But the perfectionism, the anger and feeling that your way is the only way will do you in.

Capitalize on your strengths, while also accepting that life will not be perfect like you hope it will be. Remember that your personality is simply a reflection of the choices that you make. You can make a change.

My personality now reflects my daily choices. I now choose to be present, and to ignore my to-do list when something better comes along. I choose to enjoy the ride and to forget about the past. I choose to relish in perfectly mundane moments with those I love. And when I slip up and find myself stressing out or focusing too much with blinders on, I actively choose to stop myself and to reevaluate. I am not perfect and I never will be. But I am thoroughly enjoying every moment my imperfectly perfect life.

5.Make room for life and for all of the emotions that life offers you – your primary emotions may be passion and anger, but all around these powerful feelings are other emotions that you have cast aside. How will empathy help you in your work or personal relationships? Or acknowledging your grief? Or touching the deeper emotions like your shame over not measuring up? These are just a few examples, but it is important to remember that each person carries with them a rich range of emotions to draw from. If your range is just two primary emotions (anger and passion), you are missing out on the rest of what life has for you.

6.Don’t be alone – take a moment to ask your closest friends and coworkers for some feedback on your strengths and also how you can become more healthy. People care about you and will offer honest responses when you ask them.

7.Find a door – You may not be able to completely open up all of the time, but finding a door to open up to those you love will help you to maintain your humanity, your compassion, and your empathy. Showing love to your closest friends and family is not only healthy for your relationships, but also for your mental health.

Many of my best friends are Type A personalities. I may be a Type B, but I need Type A’s to help me get things done and to become a little more assertive. I care about the Type A’s in my life and I hope that they can become their fullest selves.

I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photo by Tuncay

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