Tag Archives: personality

The Ongoing Struggle of a Type A Woman in a Type B World…


It’s been a while since I’ve posted… in truth, it has been an age since I have felt I have the time to write. Isn’t that a shame, too. I know you all are waiting on the edge of your seat for me to say something profound.

That’s a joke… in case you were wondering.

The sad fact is that I have been too busy, or possibly too distracted to write anything on one hand. On the other hand, I’ve been terribly worried that anything and everything that might flight off my fingertips would be in the nature of a horribly alienating rant of biblical proportions or so very “emo” that it would set up depression in the heart of a reader that Prozac couldn’t fix (No, I actually do not think Prozac “fixes” anything, but you know what I mean).

Just to let you in on a secret… that maybe isn’t quite so very secret… I’m a Type A personality. Shocking! I know. Try as I have to fight the label and the traits, it seems I am doomed to always fall under the category. I don’t like it. I really don’t. I get very offended when people tell me that I am such a thing, or at least I used to get offended. I still feel a twinge if someone refers to me in those terms. It isn’t so much that being a Type A person is so very, very bad. At least, I don’t think it is so very, very bad. Oh, lord, I hope it isn’t so very, very bad… and off the tracks I go, giving you an excellent example of why I haven’t been able to bring myself to type anything lately. As a Type A personality, I do tend to overanalyze and rethink and second guess and re-analyze a bit.

Once upon a time, there were really only two types of personality in this particular classification. There were the Type A’s, who were the task-oriented, goal-oriented, pushy, bossy, busy… you get the idea. There were the Type B’s who were laid-back, go-with-the-flow, roll-with-the-punches, experience life, enjoy the right… yeah, hippies. Ok, so, not really hippies, but again, you get the idea. The point to all of it was that a lot of people with letters after their names (I can get away with saying this without being terribly derogatory because I have a couple or three of those letters myself… they totally do not give me any discounts when buying coffee or pop) ran some statistical tests that indicated that Type A people were more likely to have cardiovascular health issues than Type B people. It is pretty intuitive actually. Picture that Type A who wants everything in order and it its place and getting blood pressure increases because they are going to be late due to unforeseen circumstances like traffic or a Type B person having a friendly conversation at the checkout counter of the local convenience store while waiting to purchase coffee. Yeah… like that’s never happened to me, right? Anyhow, the idea was that Mr. (or Ms. I don’t want to appear to be sexist… though there was a point in time where it was shown that males were more likely to be Type A than women… but I digress again) Type A tends to sweat the small stuff lending to higher stress levels and putting more of the strain on his/her cardiovascular system. Type B persons would tend to be less tied to time schedules and wouldn’t get torqued if the person in the 15 items or less line had 23 and couldn’t find their wallet once they were rung up on the till.

And so it goes… Type A personalities were felt to be less healthy because of that sweating-the-smalls thing, and Type B got the rep for being so laid-back that they never really got anything done since they don’t set much store by accomplishment. NONE OF THIS IS ACTUALLY TRUE. It stands to reason there are traits and similarities, but people are individuals. Most of these personality things are a continuum, not a light switch that is ON or OFF. Which leads to the next evolution… and more types. Since society could not be satisfied with two types that might have varying degrees of how they fit, a couple more were identified. Type C’s are like Type A’s in being detail-oriented, logical, focused on goals and tasks, but seemingly with less of the heart attack in the wings situation of getting completely bent over the small stuff. In fact, they sway more towards not rocking the boat and leaving the big decisions to other people. They are way less concerned over the big pictures or ultimate goals than the details. They would rather examine the puzzle and put together the pieces than actually finish the whole 5000-piece-high-difficulty monstrosity and gaze upon the finished result with a sense of accomplishment. They seem to be a combination of Type A and Type Be personality, but they can get bogged down into the details to the extent they never finish the job. Type D’s are what someone at some point categorized as “distressed”; thus, D… for distressed… get it? These are pessimists with an external locus of control who believe that everything happens TO them and cannot be impacted BY them taking action. This is obviously the extreme of the type, but Type D’s are susceptible to depression, as you might well imagine.

Why am I even discussing this? Well, it has occurred to me that the most difficult part of being a Type A is that we can control our own behavior and very little else on this planet. That makes it a bit like torture when we are trapped in situations where our drive, focus, and task-orientation doesn’t do squat: In other words, when we have to wait and nothing we can do will change it.

I am the world’s worst Type A in situations where nothing I can do will impact it. It could, possibly, turn this Type A into a Type D if allowed to spiral out of control. I am first, and foremost, a control-freak… which is a common trait of the Type A’s of the world. I make lists. I cross things off. I make plans. I have back up plans. I have back up plans to back up my back up plans. I have not only plan B but plans C through Q, typically. It is how I try to avoid being taken aback by contingencies that I didn’t expect. I literally try to expect the unexpected… BUT the world doesn’t quite work like that. Especially my world, it seems. Whether I like it or not, I work and live in environments chockablock with Type B’s and C’s and D’s who aren’t nearly as concerned or involved in planning and acting as I am myself. Additionally, the laws of physics and nature have yet to obey my commands, and that is highly unlikely to change in future… but I do continue to try.

For the most part, I have developed my own coping mechanisms for living in the less than pressed world full of beings that do not realize that being five minutes late will cause me agony the likes of which no one without Type A personality will understand. To me, it is about consideration and valuing the time and efforts of others, but I have, after many, many years grown to understand that not everyone has this sense of concern nor do they possess a desire to control their environment and outcomes to that extent. For me, having a list of tasks that is due by a certain time will prompt me to start getting said tasks done as quickly as possible so that if any snag happens to present, I have time to sort it. This usually results in me handing over all the necessary work and elements far ahead of the deadline and waiting… and waiting… and waiting for some bureaucratic process in the ether and Bureau of They to be presided over by a Type B person who believes everything will just fall together… or it won’t, and that won’t end the world… Type C who is more concerned about their data or details than my project… or some Type D procrastinator who might feel that it isn’t worth hurrying because they will just screw it up anyway.

My father had a great way of dealing with his Type A daughter. When I worked myself into a tizzy of frustration due to the Type B world I could not force to my will, he would calmly ask, “Can you do anything about it?” That was all. The first time he asked, I was almost offended (Well… as offended as a 7-year-old worrying about anything could be). He followed up with, “If you can do something about it, do it.” That floored me. I hadn’t really thought about examining the situation to see if there was a further action on my own part. Quickly, I assessed and decided I had fulfilled every possible part of my own requirements and any action I could take in this situation. Dad watched me and gauged precisely when I had taken appropriate inventory and again spoke, “If there is no action you can do to impact the situation, then there is nothing to worry about.” Just like that… at the delicate age of 7 years, I had heard the mysteries of the universe: If there is something I can do, I should do that instead of wasting energy worrying, and if there is nothing I can do, worrying is just a waste of energy that could be applied to some other task. Holy @#$%! Lightbulbs and lightning bolts and all sorts of astounding claps of thunder should have accompanied this epiphany. As it was, I think my father returned to reading his book (oblivious to the earthshattering revelations he had imparted upon his female offspring), and I went about my business of winding myself up into a tizzy again only to repeat my father’s words to myself.

It still isn’t automatic, even after a good many years between the first time I heard the wisdom and today. I still get frustrated with the inability to bend the world, time, the universe… and mostly other people… to my will. I grind my teeth (as evidenced by the new crown on a back molar where I broke it… *tsk…tsk*) and put my phone on mute while I vent profanities. I push and shove and try to make outcomes fall into the place where I want them, and the rest of the world continues blithely along without one bit of care that they are messing with my plans. And so it goes… I live my life as a Type A person in a Type B world. So, I stop sometimes, and I go for a run. I take a moment to reset. I stop the continual circle of rumination and pointless activity and take time to ask myself again, “Can you do anything about it?”

If any reader might like to find out whether you are Type A or Type B, Psychology Today has a test that takes about 15-20 minutes: http://psychologytoday.psychtests.com/cgi-bin/tests/transfer_ap.cgi

The Ins and Outs

First, let me start by saying that this is a blog, not a doctoral dissertation on the psychological concept of the personality. Despite the prevalence of alleged personality surveys and quizzes available on the internet, it is not so easy to define the different personality factors, nor is it easy to define the profile of any given individual. While it is fun to find out which Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Disney Princess character you may arbitrarily match via the bubble gum magic of the various Cosmo-quizzes available… These do not constitute an accurate measure of personality and certainly do not enable the responder to suddenly understand with brilliant insight the complex workings of the human brain and personality. As this is far too brief a venue for the purposes of elucidating readers to the complexity of psychological development, and I’m certainly not claiming to explain it all either; I will attempt to steer clear of the more in depth discussion of human development and neurochemistry. However, I will address some misimpressions about one of the personality factors and what it actually means.

Probably the most familiar form of personality assessment is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It has been probably one of the most abused tests in the history of personality assessment. Having the dubious privilege of being one of the most user-friendly assessments, it is the one usually latched onto by human resources, professional trainers, online dating sites, and sadly, the makers of magazine and internet quizzes flooding the popular media. So, you access the point and click online survey, and after answering a bunch of forced-choice (yes or no) questions, you are assigned a “personality type” that defines your character in four easy letters… or descriptive types and characters reflecting said factor combinations. Would that it were just that easy.

The thing is, it’s not that easy. While the original Myer-Briggs was a great boon to the counseling (and especially the career counseling) field, this was not really meant for the lay person to grab up and start attributing characteristics to their friends and family. The profiles that come from taking this particular personality instrument allow you to identify parts of your own personality that clarify why you interact in certain ways and what situations and scenarios might be more your style. The point is that personality factors and profiles are not restricted to this particular theoretical perspective. There are a metric @#$%-ton (yep, clinical term) of personality theories and instruments that assess and develop unique personality profiles. I could actually write a dissertation on that (and have done), but this is not the place or time (and probably not the audience, unless you are suffering from insomnia and looking for a non-pharmaceutical cure) for that discussion. So, for now, I will restrain myself to the popular MBTI.

And now with all of that out of the way, you will find that the MBTI addresses personality from the perspective that there are four main factors that contribute to a personality type. This was founded on the concept of psychological preferences extrapolated from Jung’s theory of personality. Jung focused on the dichotomy of the personality as it addressed the rational and irrational functions. The original authors of the MBTI initially studied personality factors during the second world war. The first of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator survey was published in the early 1960’s. The MBTI addresses preferences. This is the most likely way that an individual will respond to particular situations. Truth is, it is not what we in the psychology field like to call a predictive or projective measure. It mainly indicates a preference on the continuum of the factors. It also does not tell the person interpreting the test whether someone is more or less of one factor or another than any other individual on the same scale. It just  indicates the tested individual’s presence within the aspects of their own preferences and personality. The four factor continuums are as follows:

  • Introversion vs. Extraversion (I vs E)
  • Intuition vs. Sensory (N vs S)
  • Thinking vs. Feeling (T vs F)
  • Judging vs. Perceiving (J vs P)

While all these spectrums are interesting in their own right, and the combination of traits are what give the reader the actual personality profiles; the spectrum that is the focus of this particular post is the Introversion-Extraversion scale. Perhaps, at a later date, I may actually address the whole bloody mess; but for this moment, the I vs. E will be the focus.

Introversion vs. Extroversion addresses the aspects of personality that impact how the individual deals with their environment, including socialization… on an energy level. This is what people primarily misunderstand. The immediate response when someone hears “I’m and introvert” or “I’m and extrovert” is the amount of time and energy that any individual spends interacting with their fellow humans, often in a noisy and raucous manner, or determined by the size of the crowd in which the individual could be found at any given time. A lot of people assume that introversion means something to the tune of say… Howard Hughes, and conversely attributes to the extrovert the personality of Charlie Sheen on a binge. WRONG!

The scale is a spectrum, not a switch with an “on” and “off” position. Introversion and extraversion are descriptive analyses of the energy the individual acquires from interacting with the world. Introverts are energized by thought and contemplation. The typical introvert primarily obtains their energy from being alone. They expend energy by action and need down time to recharge from the day to day brush and bump with the world at large. Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized from their contact with the rest of the human race and need the constant interaction of society to power their processes. Extraverts obtain and draw their energy from action. They act first, then evaluate the outcomes, and act again. At their extremes, these two very different types seek alternate means of maintaining their processes by arranging their circumstances to suit their preferences. This has fueled the assumption that individuals on the introversion end of the scale are reclusive types that avoid all social interaction and the extroverts of the world cannot exist in a vacuum, removed from the atmosphere of constant society.

In truth, few people can guess who is an introvert and who is an extrovert by pure observation. Training gives some insight, but most people exist not on the extreme ends but instead fall somewhere along the spectrum with varying degrees of intensity and magnitude. Contrary to the belief that they are antisocial or pathologically shy, introverts can often be found socializing with friends and having a decent time doing so. And similarly, even the most extroverted individual will occasionally seek out the solace of some alone time. However, primarily these two different types generally seek to recharge in their own very different ways, true to their natures. There is nothing maladaptive or wrong about either method.

Where the fly gets into the ointment and one of the main conflicts that I have observed (and experienced) is when an introvert and extrovert have close interaction or enter into a relationship of some intimacy (not necessarily physical intimacy). The introvert will need to retreat into their cave of solitude and the extrovert, not understanding why anyone would ever seek to have so much time in silence or loneliness, will assume an emotional content to that lack of interaction, conversation, or response. Negative emotional content at that. Much confusion and conflict can result from such assumptions, and unfortunately, a lot of frustration and eventual explosive discharge from the introvert who, like a cornered animal, may lash out to make everyone leave them hell alone. The introverts come across to their counterparts as cold, distant, or moody. Conversely, the poor extrovert may be perceived as a needy, clingy, self-centered, spotlight whore who cannot be still. It is an inaccurate description, a very poor profile for either to carry around with them, and is unworthy of their true natures.

As odd as it may seem to the extroverts out there, it is entirely possible to be content and live well without human contact or conversation, including communication via non-face-to-face media. When an introvert has retreated to the cave for recharge, this does not mean it is time to repeatedly ask what is wrong, if there is something that they need, or to send supportive texts to bolster their spirits. What they need is peace and quiet. When do they want it? NOW! Leave them alone. They will eventually come out of their caves, or off the top of their mountain, or whatever metaphor works best. They will reenter the world of social interaction after their recharge and be better for their time away to collect themselves.

Similarly baffling to the introvert is the seeming inability of an extroverted individual to be at peace. To be still and silent for any amount of time appears an alien concept to the extrovert worthy of Close Encounters. They may spend some time without human companionship, but they will fill the social void with phone, text, social media, or any other form of communication that will give an outlet of to their need for human contact in any form available. Lack of interaction and enforced solitude frequently results in bouts of depression exacerbating the extrovert’s attempts to resolve the situation by reaching out to any and every person they know by whatever media available. It is often helpful for the healthy, happy extrovert to have a large pool of natural supports from which to draw their energizing social contact so as not to overtax the introverts among their friends.

The upshot of all this rambling discussion is that people are different (Really Columbo? What was your first clue?). Not everyone participates in this game we call life in the same way or with the same strategy, and there are no prizes, not even for first place. What matters is that we understand that all individuals tick in their own way and at their own pace, and no one is a piece with another (even identical twins can present remarkably different personality profiles). How we interact with each other is the important part. Additionally, while the concept of personality is that there is a constellation of consistent traits that make up the identity of the person, and that these traits are reliable and unchanging over time; research has found that personality factors do change, subtly, but they change. Traits moderate and shift with age, with events, and sometimes even week to week due to chemical and hormonal changes experienced by the individual. Generally, these changes are not drastic enough to completely change one person from an introvert to an extrovert or vice versa. Changes on the spectrum usually are within the same side of the scale but with greater or less intensity to make someone more introverted as they get older or just maybe less extroverted.

I suppose the actual point that I was trying to make is that your choice to take one of the personality profiling tests should be to understand more about yourself  and is entirely a matter for fun or self-exploration. That is admirable. If you take one of the full surveys and find your type, read up on it and think about how that works for you or might present obstacles in your path. Use it to your best advantage by doing what you need to recharge and enhance your daily interactions. Avoid making assumptions about how in applies to others, because, in truth, it probably doesn’t. Personality profiles are not absolute. People are unique. If you want to use personality profiles or even any projective measure, use it to understand yourself and what you need from your own interaction with this world and the other inhabitants of it instead of trying to profile those around you. Our first and most difficult battle always begins within our own mind and body, and the only personal actions we can truly control with any amount of accuracy is our own.

The author is an INTJ.