How many times have you heard that Fibromyalgia is associated with Type A personality? I know I hear it all the time. I wondered if there was actually any research to confirm a personality relationship to Fibromyalgia or even chronic pain. Personally, I’ve wondered more and more lately if that concept wasn’t something created to find another way to blame the victim.
Torres and colleagues examined this question in a 2014 study. They compared four different groups of patients. Group 1 was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia only. Group 2 had confirmed diagnoses of Fibromyalgia and another rheumatoid issue. Group 3 were patients suffering from chronic pain that did not meet the criteria for a Fibromyalgia diagnosis, and finally Group 4 were patients were epilepsy. This last group was basically a control group, as they were the only group that were not suffering from chronic pain.
All four groups were tested using a number of measures for pain and personality, including the McGill pain scale, 5 Factor personality inventory, pain catastrophizing scale, and the hospital anxiety & depression scale.
Did they find a link between Fibromyalgia and Personality?
The biggest differences were that the pain patients showed higher levels of neuroticism than the epileptic patients, and (not surprisingly) lower levels of extroversion. Neuroticism as measured by these scales typically refers to a combination of anxiety, fear, anger, moodiness, worry, and loneliness (among a few others). So, the fact that those of us with Fibro would score higher on this is really not surprising.
Fibromyalgia patients who also suffered from another rheumatoid disorder displayed higher levels of “openness to new experience”. This is interesting as what it suggests to me is that those Fibro patients with other diagnoses may be more willing to try treatments that are outside the box (and more willing to try new things, in general).
Fibromyalgia patients actually scored higher than the non-Fibro groups for Agreeableness. This one factor would almost seem to contradict the idea that those with Fibromyalgia are Type A. Last time I checked the A in Type A did not stand for agreeableness.
Here’s where things get really tricky, though. After controlling for demographic factors results showed no real difference between patients with FM and other patients (either chronic pain without FM or epilepsy). Age had a negative impact on neuroticism, as did gender on extroversion. Married females tended to be higher in agreeableness, and multiple factors impacted openness. So, as much as it initially looked like there were some big differences, Fibro alone does not account for those differences, nor does pain. The researchers did consider that there was a big gender difference in the different groups of patients (those with Fibro alone were primarily female, while other groups had higher percentages of males). They did an analysis that accounted for the gender difference, looking at only females in the groups and they found that the results lined up much closer to the original results, with the exception of extroversion (where gender did explain a small percentage of the difference). Therefore, it looks like it’s possible that Fibromyalgia patients are more neurotic, open to new experiences, and agreeable than non-Fibro patients.
There are so many factors in our life that impact our personalities, and our personalities impact those factors. It’s a two-way street. For now, the one thing I would say is that we need to get off this idea of blaming our personality “flaws” for our illness(es).
If you still think that Fibro is caused by having a Type A personality, don’t worry, there are other studies and I will share those with you soon.
Source: Torres, X., Bailles, E., Valdes, M., Gutierrez, F., Peri, J., Arias, A., & … Collado, A. (n.d). Personality does not distinguish people with fibromyalgia but identifies subgroups of patients. General Hospital Psychiatry, 35(6), 640-648.