One of the great things about blogging over the last six months, is that I have had the pleasure of virtually “meeting” a lot of interesting people. One of the blogs I follow is Ancient Christian Wisdom, a site run by Fr. Alexis Trader. Fr. Alexis has an interesting background in faith and science. Fr. Alexis is a chemist who became an Orthodox Christian monk. Later, Fr. Alexis also obtained a Ph.D. in psychology and has published a book on the intersection of psychology and ancient Christian wisdom. You can find his full biography here. According to Fr. Alexis, the purpose of his blog is to:
“use both my scientific background and my faith for a common aim: to lead a healthy life for the mind, for the heart, and for the soul. For the purpose of the blog, I try to take what is the best that science can presently offer using the consensual criteria of science on the one hand, and then the sanctifying truth of Christian revelation as understood by those who have lived the faith wholeheartedly on the other.”
Fr. Alexis’ extensive training in chemistry and psychology as well as his vocation as an Orthodox Christian monk presents a fair amount of common ground with the purposes of this blog. As such, I was very interested when Fr. Alexis started a series on spirituality and the Type A personality. For me, the interest was more than an academic exercise as I am a hard-core Type A personality.
According to Wikipedia, the Type A personality is
” ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status conscious, can be sensitive, truthful, impatient, always try to help others, take on more than they can handle, want other people to get to the point, proactive, and obsessed with time management. People with Type <!–aA personalities are often high-achieving “workaholics” who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.–>
In his 1996 book, Type A Behavior: Its Diagnosis and Treatment, Friedman suggests that Type A behavior is expressed in three major symptoms: free-floating hostility, which can be triggered by even minor incidents; time urgency and impatience, which causes irritation and exasperation usually described as being “short-fused”; and a competitive drive, which causes stress and an achievement-driven mentality.”
Yes, that describes me fairly accurately. Fr. Trader goes on to expand on this description with even less flattering terms:
“[T]hose who exhibit this type of behavior tend to have issues with time, people and events. . . [T]hese persons view the passage of time, the presence of others, and the unexpected interruptions of occurrences as enemies and obstructions to personal fulfillment. In fact, time, people, and events are secondary to the fulfillment of personal goals, however small and ultimately trivial those goals may be. Time becomes “my time” and such persons might be overheard saying, “My time is precious, don’t waste my time.” People become a means to an end so that others are not appreciated for their intrinsic value as icons of the living God, but rather as “what can you do for me in order for me to accomplish my goals?” The logic is my goals determine your value in my mind. And even events, parsed into my events and not my events, are perceived as always within the scope of control of the individual who does not like surprises.”
Ouch! This makes me sound pathological. Looking to bolster my self-esteem and for a little support, I asked my wife to read the descriptions, knowing that she would come to my defense. Instead, she simply smiled a mischievous smile and nodded her head :-). Double ouch!!
It took more no more than a few seconds to realized that the diagnosis above is true in my case. Moreover, it helped put some of the events of the last five years of my life in perspective. For most of my 30’s, I was exhibiting the actions described by Fr. Alexis. I was outwardly successful in many areas (career, family, financial security) but my soul was paying a high price. I was focusing solely on myself and isolating myself from others (God was not even in the picture at the time). Not surprisingly, despite my apparent “success” I was becoming increasingly angry and unhappy.
It was during this period that I rediscovered Ignatian Spirituality. One of the themes of Ignatian Spirituality is that we can discern God’s will by deep self-reflection and prayer and by listening to our thoughts and feelings during prayer. Fr. Trader also emphasizes the need for self-reflection:
“A good starting point for those with (and without!) Type A behavior would be the Socratic “know thyself.” The ancient Christian writer, Clement of Alexandria, wrote, “We have received a mind, that we may know what we do. And the maxim ‘Know thyself’ means here to know for what we are born. And we are born to obey the commandments, if we choose to be willing to be saved” (Stromata, Book VI, chapter 3). Elsewhere he explains that “know thyself” means to know “in whose image you are fashioned; and what is your nature, and what is your creation, and what is your relation to God” (Stromata, Book V, chapter 4). This knowledge has a calming effect on the soul, for the soul knows that she can place her trust in a loving God Who arranges all things for her ultimate salvation. This knowledge further reveals that low self-esteem is not based on the bedrock truth of being created in the image and likeness of the Creator, but on the whisperings of the enemies of the human soul. This knowledge finally changes the way the soul looks at others, they become brothers and sisters also made in God’s image, also made for freedom, also made for paradise, and ends each of them in their own right.”
Fr. Trader, coming from the Orthodox tradition, does not mention Ignatian Spirituality, but the prescription of “knowing thyself” is a crucial component to a healthy spirituality and a healthy person. Ignatian Spirituality, especially the Examen and the annual retreats, has been instrumental in helping me better understand myself and refocusing my energies away from my selfish desires and towards God and others.
Further, I want to be clear that despite some of the negative stereotypes about Type A personalities I am very proud to be one because that is the way God made me 🙂 Moreover, I work around a lot of Type A personalities and I enjoy their energy and commitment to make things better. Many of the people who have made significant contributions to society and the Church have been Type A personalities (St. Paul, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Ávila come to mind). Ignatian Spirituality was developed by a Type A personality (St. Ignatius of Loyola). The key for Type A personalities (or anyone) is to have a a healthy balance in the physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual components of one’s life. For me, Ignatian Spirituality helps me to discern God’s will and find that balance.
What is your personality type? Are you a Type A personality? Do you live with or work with a Type A personality? What spiritual practices do you recommend to Type A personalities? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
Set forth below are links to Fr. Alexis’ blogposts on the Type A personality:
Introduction: Type A Personality
An Initial Sketch of a Type A Behavior and a Needed Change in Perspective
Self-knowledge, Free Will, and Type A Personality
Hostility, Anger, and the Type A Personality
Materialism and the Type A Personality
Type A Behavior and the Need for Control
Bank Teller Lines, Type A Behavior, Self-Monitoring and Prayer
From Type A Personality to Christian Convictions: Inner Changes That Lead to Peace
Monitoring Self to Modify Type A Behavior
Type A Behavior and the Answers of Poets and Ascetics