Type D personality traits can be harmful to your health and relationships
Do you tend to feel gloomy, keep to yourself, hide your emotions from others and tend to see the glass as half empty? You might be a type D personality.
Personality types were originally identified by cardiologists in the 1950’s to help determine patients who might be at greater risk for heart disease. As research has continued to develop over the years, more personality types have been identified and labeled with specific letters to represent a found set of patterned personality traits.
You have likely heard of type A personality before, which involves traits such as competitiveness, aggressiveness, and high levels of ambition. People with type A personality are found to be at greater risk of experiencing cardiac health complications such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
When we discuss personality types like this we are not referring to an established mental health diagnosis, but a pattern of traits that can help researchers learn who might be at risk for cardiac disease and other physical health complications.
What Does Type D Mean?
Type D is a particular personality type first labeled in the 1990’s by Belgian psychologist and researcher Johan Denollet. The letter “D” in this type of personality stands for distressed and is referring to a set of personality traits that involve things like:
Feelings of worry
Avoidance of social situations
Lack of self-confidence
Fear of rejection
Even though many of us can feel a variety of these things at times, people with type D personality experience these traits more frequently than the average person and more consistently over time.
How to Know If You’re Type D
To better understand type D personality and how it correlates with physical health risks, researchers have developed a standard assessment designed to help identify those with type D personality traits referred to as the Type D Scale-14 (DS14). This tool helps researchers measure for social inhibition and negative affectivity, both hallmark traits of type D personality.
Social inhibition means that people tend to shy away from social interactions, possibly due to fear of rejection or judgment, and that they tend to lack confidence in social situations. Negative affectivity means that people experience negatively valued emotions such as sadness, worry, and irritability.
Questions to Consider
If you are curious if you might have type D personality traits, it can be helpful to consider questions such as the following:
Do I tend to bottle up my emotions and not show them to others?
Do I find it difficult to meet new people?
Do I become easily overwhelmed in sticky situations?
Do I tend to avoid social interactions when possible?
Do I often talk negatively to myself?
Do I often find myself feeling sad or irritable?
Do I tend to be in a bad mood much of the time?
Do I worry a lot?
Sharing emotions with people close to us can feel vulnerable to many of us. The idea of sharing emotions with others can feel downright terrifying for someone with type D personality traits.
Type D individuals commonly fear rejection and judgment from others and, in an effort to protect themselves from those experiences, will often work diligently to hide their emotions. In addition to the fear of judgment and rejection, people with type D traits may find it difficult to trust others, especially in times of emotional distress.
As you might imagine, this effort to keep emotions contained can be a challenge. People with type D personality traits often experience negative emotions and are often left feeling as if there is no one to turn to. In addition to their fears of rejection and judgment, type D individuals may also fear burdening people with their emotional distress, especially those closest to them.
Type D individuals work hard to stifle, cover, and hide their most challenging emotions, often leading to health complications and putting them at risk for things like coronary artery disease (CAD), compromised immune function, and chronic inflammation.
Research continues to grow in these areas to help doctors and other healing practitioners identify patient risk and areas of needed care. Working hard to suppress or hide their emotions can cause an extraordinary amount of distress to the type D person’s body, such as increasing heart rate, causing blood pressure to rise, and an increase in blood sugar released.
Early research by Denollet suggested just how influential type D traits might be on physical health. In surveying over 300 patients in a cardiac rehabilitation program, they found that approximately 27 percent of type D patients had died within the following 10 years, as compared to only 6 percent in the group not identified with type D personality traits. Additionally, among almost 900 patients who underwent coronary artery surgery, type D patients were over four times more likely to have a heart attack or die within nine months of their surgery.
Because type D personalities struggle with increased worry, sadness, and can also find it challenging to engage in social interaction, relationships can be an area of struggle for those with type D traits.
Social inhibition limits the person’s ability to connect with others at any level of relationships, from those in more casual roles such as co-workers or acquaintances, to friendships and intimate relationships.
When type D individuals find that they can connect with someone, it may be difficult to grow and maintain the relationship as their negative affect continues to show up in the relationship dynamic. They can be perceived as pessimistic, gloomy, and potentially unapproachable to partners, friends, and family members.
School and Career
People with type D personality traits can experience challenges at school or work. With a tendency to be more socially inhibited, it can be difficult for type D individuals to develop and maintain connections with others.
This tendency to avoid or resist social interactions can make it challenging to find a sense of belonging and shared interests with others, as well as cause type D individuals increased distress when faced with group tasks or projects that require them to collaborate with others. Because of their more inhibited nature, type D individuals may be viewed as disengaged or perceived as unwilling to participate.
Knowing that type D individuals are often challenged with experiencing unpleasant emotions and struggle with negative self-talk, it is understandable that they can also struggle with setting and achieving personal goals.
Whether at work or at school, stress over assignments or projects can cause type D individuals to experience excessive worry. In this emotional state, they may tend to forecast negative outcomes or can easily find reasons why something will not work out well.
Steps to Take If You Are Type D
Although identified as those struggling with excessive distress, type D individuals can learn methods to better help them live a full and enjoyable life. Not only may their emotional experiences and outlook change by taking some of these steps, but their physical health has a chance of improving as well.
Helpful steps that a type D personality can make to improve their quality of life involve the following areas:
Positive self-talk: Identifying and challenging old patterns of negative self-talk can help people begin to understand how this has impacted their decision making, behaviors, and relationships. Taking time to discover and incorporate honest, positive self-talk can be a game changer for type D individuals.
Emotional regulation: Dealing with sadness, stress, and worry can be a challenge for type D personality types. Understanding how these emotions work and tuning in to how they can be of help to us can allow for healthier decision making and less distress. For example, they might consider, “When I feel irritable, what is it that I’m needing?”
Healthy coping skills: Incorporating new, healthy behaviors to help cope with moments of distress can be helpful. Since many type D individuals have become so good at bottling up and hiding their emotions, learning to become more aware of their emotional patterns can help them to better navigate distress and cope in healthier ways.
Interpersonal skills: Inhibition is a hallmark of type D personality types, so learning how to overcome social challenges is key. Finding ways to reach out to others, looking for common interests and learning how to take small emotional risks with others can offer great practice. This can be something as simple as saying, “Hello” to someone new, or learning how to initiate conversation with others.
Exercise: Incorporating regular exercise into our everyday routines can be helpful on a variety of levels. For those with type D personality traits, it can allow them to better regulate their emotions and find healthy coping behaviors. Physical exercise helps to regulate stress hormones and can offer us an opportunity to relieve tension.
Distress tolerance: Life naturally has ups and downs, so eliminating distress completely is not a realistic option. However, learning healthy ways to manage stressful moments is of great help. Techniques like breathing, mindfulness, and practicing gratitude are examples of appropriate ways to manage stressful situations.
Self-efficacy: People with type D personality traits can find it hard to feel hopeful and empowered to influence change in their own lives. Discovering and celebrating small victories can help people to increase their sense of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a concept that refers to how competent we believe we are and the level to which we see ourselves as able to successfully complete tasks, for example. Celebrating victories, no matter how small, and taking inventory of our strengths can be of help to increase our sense of self-efficacy.
Relationship building: Because of their inhibition and fears around rejection and judgment, it is understandable that type D individuals have a hard time building and keeping close relationships. Learning how to trust, communicate effectively, and be a healthy partner can be instrumental in increasing quality of life in this area. Counseling can help people learn how to effectively navigate conflict in relationships and offer people guidance on how to build and maintain close, healthy connections.
Goal-setting: Hopefulness and optimism are a challenge for type D individuals. Learning to set meaningful goals can help people gain clarity of their personal values and priorities. Short term goal-setting can allow people to learn how to focus on their future with an increased sense of hope, optimism, and confidence.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness, prayer, and meditation can offer type D personalities a way to find calm, increase peace, regain hope, and offer a reliable method for regulating their emotions in times of distress. There are a variety of benefits, emotionally and physically, to practicing mindfulness and learning how to slow ourselves down when beginning to experience distress.
How to Help a Type D
You may care for someone with type D personality traits, which can present challenges of their own. Knowing that type D individuals tend to experience distress, yet have learned to bottle it up and hide it well, it can be difficult for those around them to know when they could use help. The type D individual in your own life may have become so good at hiding or stifling their negative emotions that you might find it surprising that they struggle at all.
So, how can you help? There are a few ways that loved ones can offer support and encouragement for those with type D personality traits.
People with type D personality traits can feel lonely in their distress and become hesitant to want to let anyone into their emotional experience. Because they find it hard to reach out, it can be helpful for loved ones to check in with them every now and then to see how they are doing. Even if the type D individual finds it difficult to discuss their emotions or let you into their experience, the fact that you took time to reach out is noticed by them and appreciated.
If your type D person tends to withdraw and this sense of isolation is impacting their physical health, take an opportunity to invite them to the gym with you, to go for a walk, or engage in a fun and healthy activity. Anything that allows them the opportunity to move and connect with others can be of great benefit for the type D individual.
Offering an emotionally safe space for them to talk is helpful to a type D personality. Fear of rejection and judgment can lead them to not want to reach out and can make it difficult for them to trust or be vulnerable with people, even those who are close friends and family. Showing interest in their emotional well-being and providing reassurance that you are available when they are ready is key for helping the type D individual learn how to reach out to others when in distress, rather than bottling their emotions and feeling isolated.
By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP