Medical commentary from the late 1960s through the 1990s speculated about two types of personalities associated with disease. Cardiologists Meyer Friedman and RH Rosenman coined the phrase “Type A Personality” several years after they noticed that their waiting-room chairs needed re-upholstering sooner than those in other medical offices. Cardiac patients, more than most, were sitting on the edge of their seats and fidgeting and fussing with their arms and hands. In 1976 Rosenman and Friedman began research that confirmed their original suspicions. They found that there was a common set of traits associated with cardiac patients and identified the primary one as a propensity to be easily stimulated to anger. They also noted a high degree of competition and hostility. Type A people are hard working goal setters, but tend to lack a sense of joy in their accomplishments.
People with Type B personality were said to be more tolerant and relaxed than Type A individuals. They are thought to be more reflective, less hostile and aggressive, and not overly prone to anxiety or anger. They are described as imaginative and creative.
The Type C Individuals are a newer designation who are said to have difficulty expressing their feelings with a tendency to suppress or repress those emotions they consider negative, inappropriate, or uncomfortable. Anger and fear are the two emotions most often referred to. Type C individuals tend to avoid conflict, lack assertiveness, and generally comply to social norms, rules, and the various laws and statutes in place around them. They are usually thought of as highly agreeable and self-effacing with a strong aversion to speaking about themselves or their troubles. Their tendency to repress emotions is thought to contribute to illness, particularly cancer, asthma, arthritis, and ALS.
This paper outlines the present state of knowledge about the correlation between Type C personality and cancer, and raises legitimate concerns for academic validation of both the personality category, and it’s link to cancer. The authors call for a better methodology for future studies, and for new studies to test the correlation.
Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD, in the article What is a Type C Personality? gives a good summary of the characteristics of this personality, suggesting that the correlation with cancer is less clear than previously thought.
Gabor Mate in his book, When the Body Says No, presents some of his own observations about Type C personalities giving numerous case studies to support the correlation. Dr. Mate makes a strong effort to point out that stress is the underlying factor, rather than a particular personality. The theory seems to be that the personality creates stress, which in turn deteriorates health. Some cancer survivors concur and report that they believe that their personality does increases felt stress more than their peers with different personalities. The stress seems to be a result of holding in emotions and worrying what people will think about you.
Significance for Still in the Stream
I include these definitions because of Dr. Mate’s reference to Type C personality in his writings. I see the elements of Type C personality in myself, to some degree, and believe that my interest in sabi, solitude, enlightenment, and spirituality is directly connected to my personality. I also identify with some elements of the Type B personality.
The Big 5 personality theory may better explain the correlation of personality traits to illness, and some preliminary research suggests a significant connection, though almost exclusively to neuroticism. My suspicion is that people high in agreeableness and neuroticism would present the type of behaviour described as Type C personality. People high in conscientiousness, low in agreeableness, and high in neuroticism would likely fit Type A personality, and people high in openness to experience and low in neuroticism would match Type B personality.
Updated 09 Apr 2021