Do you know someone, whether at work or in your personal life, who often seems irritable, closed-off, and generally negative? These are some clues that they may have a Type D personality, which is associated with being avoidant and pessimistic. According to research, the Type D personality is relatively common in the general population, with a prevalence rate of about 20% among healthy adults and more than 25% among those with heart disease.
Unfortunately, studies suggest that the combination of emotional suppression, rumination, and poor coping skills dealing with stress make Type D people particularly susceptible to various problems, including poor-quality relationships and depression.
If you work with someone who’s Type D, they might avoid new experiences or responsibilities and be reluctant to take risks. If you yourself are Type D, it’s likely hard to make new friends, step outside of your comfort zone, and see the good in challenging situations.
In this article, learn about the unique attributes of Type D personalities to understand and communicate with them better, both in and out of the workplace.
What Does It Mean to Have a Type D Personality?
A Type D personality is characterized by high levels of negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, and stress, along with a tendency to suppress these emotions. The “D” in Type D personality stands for “distressed” because people with this personality type tend to avoid social situations due to fear of rejection or criticism. Research suggests that women may be more likely to exhibit Type D personality traits than men and that this personality is more prevalent among older adults.
The term “Type D personality” was first introduced by a Belgian psychologist named Johan Denollett in the late 1990s. He described this personality type as being mostly negative and distinct from other types. Research suggests that Type D personalities are associated with an increased risk of various health problems, including heart disease, depression, PTSD, loneliness, and anxiety disorders. Therefore, it’s believed that having other personality types, such as Types A, B, or C, is more beneficial because they’re associated with less social-related stress.
The most common Type D personality traits include:
- Negativity: This trait refers to pessimism (viewing the world in a negative light), plus a tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety. Type D’s can appear gloomy, hopeless, irritable, anxious, and insecure.
- Social inhibition: Type D’s often have a tendency to avoid social situations or to feel uncomfortable when socializing due to fear of judgment and disapproval from others. They usually avoid large crowds and aren’t inclined to meet new people or make friends with strangers. Additionally, Type D’s often have a heightened sensitivity to social rejection or criticism, leading to social anxiety. Avoiding situations altogether further exacerbates their feelings of loneliness.
- Emotional suppression: Often times Type D people are closed off and suppress or hide their emotions rather than express them openly. Because they’re prone to bottling up their feelings, they don’t form connections easily which increases feelings of isolation.
- Helplessness: A feeling of powerlessness or lack of control over one’s circumstances affects many Type D people, which can contribute to feelings of stress and depression.
A Type D personality, according to DISC theory, is different from the one described in this article. Using the DISC system, Type D styles are described as being dominant, highly motivated by new challenges and settings, goal-oriented, and results-driven.
How Others Perceive Type D Individuals
People with Type D personalities can be perceived by others as reserved, introverted, or shy due to their tendency to avoid expressing themselves and shying away from social situations.
Type D people can also come across as cold, moody, irritable, or pessimistic if they frequently ruminate on negative thoughts or expect the worst in various situations.
Because Type D individuals don’t often speak up or share much about themselves, they can appear distant or unapproachable. This can lead to even more difficulty expressing themselves and may be seen as unassertive or passive.
On the other hand, some Type D individuals are perceived as empathetic and caring due to their heightened sensitivity to emotions. It’s possible for them to have a deep understanding of others’ feelings and to offer valuable support and insight. Overall, perceptions of Type D people vary depending on the individual and the situation, plus each person is unique.
Physical and Mental Health Effects of a Type D Personality
The emotional suppression that results in poor relationships associated with the Type D personality can lead to chronic stress and sometimes the development of various physical and mental health problems. For example, according to Harvard Medical School, “Poor social conditions, it turns out, are as risky for the heart as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.”
Type D people may be at increased risk for:
- Heart disease: Some research suggests that having a Type D personality is associated with an increased risk of mortality among adults with cardiovascular diseases. It seems to put people at risk for issues including coronary artery disease, hypertension, and heart failure. This may be due to having higher stress levels which is associated with higher blood pressure and other negative effects.
- Depression and anxiety: Being Type D puts people at greater risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders due to dealing with chronic stress, rumination, poor social connections, loneliness, and low self-esteem.
- Poor quality of life: Type D individuals may experience a lower quality of life due to their high level of negative emotions. They may struggle with relationships, work, and overall life satisfaction.
- Chronic pain: Type D’s are more likely to develop chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, due to the relationship between negative emotions and pain perception. Chronic stress can also increase inflammation and take a toll on the immune system, worsening discomfort and delaying healing.
- Immune system dysfunction: Research suggests that the Type D personality is associated with immune system dysfunction, which can lead to a higher risk of infections and other immune-related health problems.
One possible explanation for why Type D individuals experience high levels of negative emotions is that they have a tendency to ruminate on negative thoughts and experiences. This means that they may dwell on past mistakes or failures, worry excessively about the future, and focus on negative aspects of themselves or their lives. This rumination can lead to low self-esteem and a poor outlook on life.
Type D Strengths and Weaknesses
People with Type D personality traits have both strengths and weaknesses, as with any other personality type. Below are some examples of challenges and advantages that Type D people have.
Type D Strengths
- Empathy: Having a Type D personality can make someone attuned to their own and others’ emotions, which can make them supportive and very good at understanding and empathizing with others. While they often have low self-esteem, they’re still trustworthy, compassionate, and deep thinkers.
- Strong work ethic: Type D’s are often highly conscientious and detail-oriented, which can make them effective and reliable workers. Since they fear criticism and rejection, they’re likely to follow through with plans and complete tasks in order to avoid being given negative feedback.
- Self-reliant: Adults who are Type D typically work well independently and enjoy being in quiet settings. This allows them to complete tasks more easily, even when they aren’t being monitored.
- Resilience: Despite experiencing high levels of negative emotions, Type D individuals can develop resilience and coping strategies to manage stress and overcome challenges. This can take some work and intentional effort, but it’s possible for Type D people to form bonds, be successful, and feel generally happy.
Type D Weaknesses
- Poor social skills: Type D people struggle with social interactions, which can limit their opportunities for personal and professional growth.
- Work-related problems: Some studies have found a negative effect of the Type D personality on work performance, including higher absence-leave, higher levels of exhaustion and burnout, and more work-related stress.
- Increased risk of health problems: As mentioned above, a negative mindset and high amounts of stress make Type D people susceptible to poor health outcomes. According to psychologists, the Type D personality is often combined with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and stress-related disorders, as well as cardiovascular problems.
- Overwhelmed by emotions: Type D individuals can experience intense negative emotions that they struggle to manage, which can lead to feelings of overwhelm and distress.
Type D people should consider their skills, strengths, and preferences when exploring career options. Careers that require a lot of social interaction and emotional expression aren’t usually the best choices for Type D’s. Instead, jobs that are well-suited for individuals with Type D personalities include those that are done independently, on a flexible schedule, and involve analyzing and using logic, such as:
- Researcher or analyst
- Writer or editor
- Information technology
- Graphic designer
- Laboratory or healthcare professional
How Type D Personalities Compare to Other Types
While Type A and Type B personalities are focused on individual behaviors and characteristics, the Type D personality is focused on emotional experience and social behavior. Type D’s experience higher levels of negative emotions and usually struggle more in social situations. That said, it isn’t always easy to determine if someone is Type D because they may hide how they feel inside.
A Type D personality is different from Type A and Type B personalities in these key ways:
- Type A personality: Type A people are typically competitive, ambitious, and highly driven. They are often impatient and may be prone to anger or hostility. In contrast, Type D’s are more reserved and introverted and may avoid competition or conflict.
- Type B personality: Type B’s are relaxed, laid-back, and easy-going. They may be less goal-oriented than Type A’s and less likely to experience stress. In contrast, Type D’s experience high levels of negative emotions and may be prone to chronic stress.
- Type C personality: Type C’s are very conscientious and reliable, but they tend to hide their feelings to avoid conflict. They can appear to be people pleasers and may struggle with stress and resentment.
If you work with someone who is Type D, consider these tips to help improve your communication with them:
- Applaud them for their hard work and determined nature, including their ability to do repetitive, “boring” tasks well.
- Be gentle when giving criticism since they are often people pleasers and sensitive.
- Let them know that they are needed for their work; validate them and their contributions.
- Ask direct questions to help them open up and share.
- Avoid forcing them into too many new situations or those that require taking risks.
Managing a Type D Personality Type
To determine if someone has a Type D personality, psychologists use different measures, including the DS14 and the Type D Personality Scale. Once someone is identified as having this personality style, they can be helped to improve their outlook on life and general attitude.
Those with a Type D personality often have a lot of unresolved stress and anger, which manifests negatively in all other areas of their lives. Type D individuals can take several steps to prevent or reduce the risk of mental health problems:
- Practice stress management techniques: Type D people can benefit from learning and practicing ways to manage stress, such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga. Exercise can be a great way to reduce stress and improve mental health and confidence. In fact, every personality type is likely to be rewarded when they incorporate physical activity into their daily routine, such as going for a walk or joining a fitness class.
- Seek social support: Even though Type D people shy away from being social, they’re encouraged to seek out connections and support from friends, family, their community, or support groups. Sharing feelings and experiences with others can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and boost one’s self-image and self-esteem.
- Challenge negative thinking: Type D’s can challenge negative thinking patterns, such as rumination or pessimism, by focusing on positive experiences and practicing gratitude. Some questions that Type D’s can ask themselves and journal about to improve their mindsets include: “What am I great at?” “What are my natural strengths?” “What challenges have I overcome?” “How do I add value to other people’s lives?”
- Consider therapy: Speaking with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can provide Type D people with additional support and tools to manage their negative emotions and improve their mental health.
Want to learn about improving your communication and social skills to thrive in different areas of life? Check out this article: “Increasing Your Interpersonal Skills Can Further Your Career.”
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