Let's consider the issue of control from the standpoint of your personality. I'm sure you've heard of the so-called type A personality—the people who are always in a hurry. Never take time out to smell the roses. Often speak at a very rapid rate of speech and finish your sentences for you because they get impatient waiting for you to say whatever it is you're going to say, probably because whatever you have to say is not important to them in the first place.
There is a certain amount of overlap between the type A personality and what is referred to as the controlling personality. This person is basically in a win/lose mode. "I'm going to win. You're going to lose. We're going to do it my way, or we're not going to do it at all." This person is personally threatened by dialogue. If you disagree with him, he'll take it as a personal affront. "Why waste time talking about the problem. We're going to do it my way anyway. So let's just get on with it." That's his attitude.
You've probably heard that it is the time-oriented, controlling personality who is most likely to succumb to a heart attack. Well, that's only partially correct. That was the interpretation of the data from the Framingham study when first completed. And on the basis of the limited information available to the psychologists at that time, that was the correct interpretation.
But it was only a correlation. Subsequently, Dr. Redford Williams and others designed more expansive studies and applied more stringent statistical methods incorporating other variables, and it turns out that they discovered there was something else that accounted for most of the correlation between the type A personality and coronary arterial disease. It was anger and hostility. The emotions of stress. In other words, "It's all right to be a workaholic, just don't be an angry, hostile workaholic." And if you are, for heaven's sake, don't internalize it. That makes things even worse.
Let's consider now the so-called type C personality. This is the person who is the opposite of the controller, one you would call the accommodator, perhaps. This person is in a lose/win mode. "I'm going to lose; you're going to win. Your needs are more important than mine. There's no point in talking about this, since we're going to do it your way anyway." This is the person Dr. Lydia Temashock labeled as the type C, or cancer-prone personality. It is the person Dr. George Solomon described as being susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis. It's a very passive individual who will experience a great deal of personal discomfort in order to please other people. Basically, her need is to be loved, to be liked, even at the expense of her own feelings.
In a clinical setting, this person will wait until her throat is parched before troubling the staff for a glass of water. Then she will apologize profusely for having taken that person's time. Just the opposite of that jerk on the second floor who is constantly demanding the staff's time wanting to know, "Why am I taking this pill, that pill, and what do you mean waking me up at 2:00 in the morning to give me a sleeping pill." It's the person who in the clinical setting is often labeled as difficult to manage.
It's no surprise that's the person who does not get much voluntary attention, the person the nurses will try to avoid, and the one the doctor will spend minimal time with. Yet, despite this, the demanding person is often the one who is most likely going to survive. Whereas that very passive, sweet individual, the one you become emotionally attached to, is the one who's going to die. But don't feel bad about it. If he is really angry and hostile, the jerk may well get his in the coronary unit.
Reflect for just a moment on these two personalities, but from a standpoint of what I've just talked about—the issue of control. The person asking the questions would not do so if he did not believe there was going to be an outcome. In other words, he has made himself a part of the negotiation of his treatment. He has given himself a metaphorical bar to press. In contrast, the type C individual has basically advocated responsibility, handing it over to the healthcare provider. "Here I am. Do whatever you will." Oh, I'm sure there are many factors and explanations as to why one person has a better prognosis than another. But in view of the data I briefly summarized a little while ago, there is no question in my mind that giving up control is a very important variable. Acting like a victim, believing and then acting in a helpless manner.
There's another personality type that you hear about, which is the so-called type T, or thrill-seeking, personality. These are people who take calculated risks. Bungee jumpers, sky divers, and motorcycle racers. And they should be viewed as valued members of our society. It is the type T individual who does not accept conventional wisdom or certain existing beliefs. It's the person who explores new horizons and is always looking for a better way to do something. This is the person who makes the discoveries, the one not afraid of risk. Indeed, a person who thrives on it.
And there are many other personalities as well. For example, there's the collaborator who is in a win/win mode. I want to win, but I'm concerned about your needs. I want you to win as well. This person is very different from the controller. Collaborators are energized by disagreement. They welcome dialogue.
There are also avoiders, who are the corporate equivalent of repressors. "Problem? What problem?" These same people fail to acknowledge unmet needs within their own body, just as they neglect important issues in the workplace.
These are just a few of the designations used to describe personality. I want you to realize that there is nothing wrong with any of them. Just like beliefs, it is not the personality that is good or bad, but the context in which it is exhibited. Thank goodness all of our mothers were at least temporarily type C personalities. Thank goodness they were willing to sacrifice their own need for sleep in order to nurture us as infants. We would never have survived if they had not been willing to do that. In that environment, being a type C personality is a beneficial response.
There is also nothing wrong with altruism. It is not good, however, when you are recovering in a hospital bed and place other people's needs ahead of your own. Not when you are the one who needs the nurturing.
You might believe the collaborator is the best way to be, and it most certainly is in many environments, especially the business environment. When I'm lecturing to corporate clients, that is exactly what I encourage them to be like. The focus used to be on always winning. Now, a more collaborative stance is advocated for many work environments. Organizations recognize that even their competitors play a useful role in the economic ecosystem. But there are times when being the collaborator is not the best way to be. If you happen to be a law enforcement agent staring down a criminal's gun, that is not the time to be asking, "Look, I really want to know what your needs are. How about if I just handcuff one of your hands. Will that be all right?" No. In law enforcement, coming in second is not good enough. Winning is everything, just as it is in the healthcare setting. When you are the person who's been diagnosed with cancer, you don't want your doctor coming up to you and saying, "Look, there is a treatment for which you are an ideal candidate, and it's practically guaranteed to put your cancer into remission. The problem is it's still considered by some insurance companies, including yours, as being experimental, so they won't pay for it. But that's okay. There's another treatment; it's not as good, although there's still an 80% chance you'll survive using that treatment." No, you are not going to accept that kind of collaboration.
Problems arise when the coping style, or personality displayed, is inappropriate for the environment. And when does that happen? When your beliefs give rise to mental images that fail to accurately depict reality.
For everything, there is a season. That includes your personality, or rather, your personalities. You see, we are really each composites of these different personalities. I hope you don't interact with your children in the same way you interact with your co-workers. I hope you don't treat your spouse in the way you treat subordinates at work. I hope your personality does vary, depending upon the circumstance. And for that reason, I wish we could dispense with the label "personality" altogether, because all it is, in reality, is really a coping style.