What It Means to Have 'Type A' Personality Traits

You may have heard people say they are "Type A." 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 that they 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.

Understanding what it truly means to have a Type A personality can be transformative. It can help you manage stress and help you recognize and respond to people who may be Type A.

What Is a Type A Personality?

Characteristics associated with a Type A personality may include operating at a more urgent pace, demonstrating higher levels of impatience, having a more competitive nature, getting upset easily, and associating self-worth with achievement.

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6 Key Traits of a Type A Personality

Type A, Type B, and Type D Personalities

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

These factors 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.

Type A Personality Traits
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

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

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

Free-floating hostility or aggressiveness, which shows up as impatience, rudeness, being easily upset over small things, or "having a short fuse," for example.

Competitiveness

People with Type A behavior 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.

Need for Dominance

Many Type A people try to show dominance in business and personal interactions, disregarding the wishes and needs of others in favor of their own.

Physical Characteristics

Years of Type A behavior and stress can prompt physical characteristics and changes, including:

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

How Situations Influence Type A Behaviors

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 situations, including 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 to perform at work. Similarly, 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.

Some people have a natural tendency toward being more intense. This tendency can be increased by environmental stress, or reduced by conscious effort and lifestyle changes.

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 in 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: 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 often have 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.

How to Change Type A Characteristics

Fortunately, like traits such as optimism or assertiveness, Type A characteristics can be altered. You can soften Type A characteristics in yourself, if you possess them, with these strategies.

Change Your Work Life

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

Change Thought Patterns

Though it takes practice, you can change your thinking patterns to more positive ones. This helps you develop trust in yourself and those around you and can soften 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 'Til 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.

This is not the same as being completely detached from awareness of your feelings, or keeping them bottled up until you eventually explode. Rather, focus on making changes in your behavior in conjunction with emotion-oriented strategies, and you should make progress.

Start a Journal

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. 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 can be a valuable step in changing your patterns.
  • Write about your feelings. This helps you process them and takes some of the intensity from them, so that they are less consuming.
  • Write about solutions. Solving 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 that might help solve 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. Or, just the threat of having to wait in a longer line may help you be more patient in a shorter one.

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, you’ll almost look forward to people’s quirks.

Take a Breath

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! Breathing exercises are 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 provides exercise (another stress reliever) 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 can have a measurable effect on blood pressure.

Work in Your Garden

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

While you may decide to try and modify some of your Type A traits, this personality style is not necessarily all bad. 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.

If you’re not the one with the Type A personality characteristics, but you have to deal with someone else who is: Practice assertiveness and healthy conflict resolution techniques. This helps you maintain healthier boundaries and keeps your from being overrun by a person who exhibits strong Type A personality characteristics.

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