Fr. Dale Matson
As a retired psychologist suffering from Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) I find it both interesting and ironic that the concept of the Type A Personality was coined not by psychologists but by cardiologists, Doctors Friedman & Rosenman. They found that the Type A personality had characteristics, which made them more vulnerable to heart disease. The three personality factors are competitiveness, time urgency and hostility. This was further refined and referred to as “Type A Behavior Pattern” (TABP). https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html. By the end of their study, 70% of those men judged as TABP developed heart disease. They were twice as likely to develop heart disease as a comparison group of Type B individuals that did not exhibit the same three personality characteristics.
Other research also points to an inability to deal with stress. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20030722/type-triggers-heart-disease
What I also find interesting is that the usual list of risk factors for heart disease does not even list the TABP. The Mayo Clinic lists the following:
Age, Sex, Family history, Smoking, Poor diet, High blood pressure, High blood cholesterol levels, Diabetes, Obesity, Lack of exercise, Stress, Poor hygiene. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/basics/risk-factors/con-20034056. I really believe the role personality plays in heart disease is understated.
I had only two of the listed heart disease risk factors. I am a male and over 70 years old. However as a Christian I can reflect on a third risk factor that is more important. Both Old and New Testament use the phrase “hardness of heart”. Hardness of heart can be understood to mean many things but the Internet includes, “being incapable of being moved to pity or tenderness; unfeeling.
Synonyms: unfeeling, heartless, cold, hard, callous, unsympathetic, uncaring, unloving, unconcerned, indifferent, unmoved, unkind, uncharitable, unemotional, cold-hearted, cold-blooded, mean-spirited, stony-hearted, having a heart of stone, as hard as nails, cruel.”
Unfortunately, while there are a host of pills to treat most of the heart disease risk factors, there is no personality pill that will transform the hard heart of the person with TABP. How many cardiologists would say to a patient, “Your personality is the main reason you have heart disease. You need to change who you are.”?
Yet this is exactly what the theological process of Sanctification calls each of us to do as we mature in the faith. Sanctification doesn’t just mean becoming holy. It also means becoming whole. It means, putting off the old man and putting on Christ. “…To put off your old self, who belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
I resonate with St. Paul when he states, “…For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11b). Notice however, that contentment is the result of a learning process, especially for me. I am still learning to be content.
I also think the fruit of the Spirit is an antidote to the poisonous turmoil within the person with TABP. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23). Can you imagine the treatment plan for the hard hearted in general and the hard hearted person with CAD in particular if these fruits increasingly manifested themselves in their daily life? Isn’t a diet high in fruit, good for the heart? For me I think that patience and peace in particular would be the Balm of Gilead.
Loreena Mckennitt has a wonderful haunting song titled “Full Circle” http://www.metrolyrics.com/full-circle-lyrics-loreena-mckennitt.html.
Her final lyrics state, “In your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there? If only, Lord help me. Amen