Why Do We Use Type A Personality As A Badge Of Honour?


I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the first time I heard the term ‘Type A Personality’. What I do know is that it has become synonymous with ideas surrounding ambition, perfection and drive. Sounds impressive huh? How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m totally Type A”? Hell, I’ve said it numerous times and while, within that, I have always recognised the downsides to what I thought was a Type A personality - stress, anxiety - I’ve never really investigated the traits fully.

The term was coined in the 1950s by a pair of cardiologists and, if you look into it, being a Type A personality isn’t always pretty. In fact, there’s little in there that’s endearing. Competitive, impatient, quick to anger, intolerant…the list goes on. Being a Type B personality, on the other hand, seems to actually be the thing to aspire to. Kind, patient, empathetic…Type B is actually the badge of honour we should have been giving ourselves so it’s interesting that so many of us are identifying with a personality type that appears to be harmful. Because of this, I can’t help but feel that being a Type A personality isn’t necessarily something that is innate within us. It seems more likely that the pressures and stresses of everyday life are forcing us into it as a way of coping, trying to manage the onslaught. We’re adopting these traits because we feel overwhelmed and it’s time that we challenged this label and, quite frankly, threw it away.

The good news is that I think, in this day and age, we can discount the theory that you have to be in one personality camp or the other. We know that ambitious people can also be empathetic. We know that being patient doesn’t mean you can’t be competitive. What I’d like to see is women, especially, not use the term Type A as if it’s a good thing, as if we should be celebrating anxiety, celebrating impatience and intolerance. Yes we all feel those things from time to time, but let’s celebrate the other things. Let’s celebrate our kindness and our empathy, rather than our need to control everything.

It’s similar to the way in which we use the term ‘control freak’ - and I’m guilty of that too (it’s quite normal for those who identify as Type A will also identify as control freaks). Part of my need to control everything and everyone around me has played enormously into my relationship issues with both my husband and my kids and working on this through therapy has been a large element of rebuilding those things. As someone who has exhibited that Type A control freak behaviour, it’s not a comfortable place to be in. It’s not great for my mental health, my anxiety is off the scale and it’s made the people around me miserable at times. It’s not a badge of honour.

I think I’ve used the terms to normalise my behaviour and, yes, probably to excuse it too. Many a time I’ve bonded with someone over our ‘Type A-ness’; its made me feel like it’s ok, totally normal and acceptable. In the same way alcoholics seek out other alcoholics so that their behaviour isn’t challenged or judged, people who refer to themselves as Type As find comfort around others who are the same. But, what I’ve learned is that kind of behaviour isn’t normal and acceptable but the good news is - it’s not innate within you. It’s learned behaviour that you can choose to let go of. There’s no such thing as a Type A personality - there are Type A traits that we can implement or abandon - but there are also Type B traits that we can pick up and wield with love.

We don’t have to be one thing or the other and actually, if you look up Type A and read what it means, you’ll probably never want to call yourself that ever again.