In a small school, the intellectual librarian remarked to me, “The most neurotic person in the community always controls the situation.” The reason is that our egos are rigid and narrow, so we tend to be highly focused and unwilling to compromise. This works in the beginning of the struggle to get our way: the more flexible person yields because they are not so heavily invested–a number of alternatives seem attractive.
True story. A big strong man in prison for a violent crime absolutely insisted that the TV in the lounge area be on the program he wanted, and everyone knew he would fight, perhaps to the death, to have his way. One day an equally insistent man a little bigger than him killed him in their fight for their favorite channel.
An unwillingness to compromise usually means we win the battle and lose the war. We get to say which movie we will watch and then we watch movies alone. We insist that the room be a certain temperature and then cringe at the heating bill. We can’t stand eating Chinese, so we eat American in silence. We get our way and our price comes in ways we hadn’t planned.
So a lovely question to ask ourselves is, “What is my Enneagram style costing me?”
When we are isolated, our Enneagram styles get worse. A brilliant but lonely style Five up in Canada taught me that. Now Fives love privacy and solitude – most of the time. But as she struggled to find community, it became clear to both of us that part of the problem was her self-isolation and part was the structure of North American society. Other than sports, church and our work, we don’t have many satisfactory structured communities. Support groups are a response to the hyper-individualism of industrial society. (Every motivation speaker promises “independent” wealth. I’ve never heard one talk about belonging to a wealthy community. I heard a number of graduation speeches and they were all addressed to the individual as individual).
So if your Enneagram style is keeping you stuck, it may be because you’re trying to help yourself. Perhaps a good way to help yourself is to find/join/create/enrich/belong to a community.
I’ve coached a large number of married couples and almost without exception, marriages in trouble do not have a support community, either of extended family or real church membership. (Going to a suburban church with 500 people you don’t know doesn’t help much).
Every Enneagram style is a younger part of our self and I think it takes a village, not only to raise a child, but to help the child within us grow up.
I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s great book, “In Defense of Food.” Do you want to have a little less of what makes your Enneagram style a problem for you? Learn to eat right. Start with Pollan’s book.
Why would nutrition help you with your Enneagram style? Because every Enneagram style is an experience of deprivation – we don’t have enough of what we really want. So if we are malnourished, we accentuate our feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, helplessness and impotent rage. We feel like a member of the Tea Party.
That’s why we eat to make ourselves feel better –and whenever we feel bad, we feel bad in the patterns of our Enneagram style. When hungry, sixes feel anxious. eights get angry and fours know that nobody loves them.
Religious traditions have understood that, so fasting was always important. Fasting makes us realize our weaknesses. Being hungry brings out the worst in us so that we and everyone else can see our darker hungry side. It is like public confession: “sorry I snapped at you –I’m hungry.” What rotund America does not really understand is that malnourishment feels like fasting to our nervous system, so when we are stuffed and starved, as the clever phrase goes, we are putting the kind of pressure on our nervous system that monks and gurus and roshi masters do to face their demons. The significant difference is that they do with conscious intent and therefore conscious control. When we are malnourished, we are in one sense, putting ourselves under pressure and are out of control.
If anyone doubts this, go talk to a grade school teacher in a ghetto and ask them about discipline, order and conscious control issues with hungry children.
The book is titled, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” by Oliver Saks. It is a selection of clinical tales of people with brain malfunctions. He makes a brilliant observation that supports my symbolic approach to discerning Enneagram styles and making coaching suggestions and interventions.
…”two different, wholly separate, forms of thought and mind, ‘paradigmatic’ and ‘narrative.” And though equally natural and native to the expanding human mind, the narrative comes first, has spiritual priority. Very young children love and demand stories, and can understand complex matters presented as stories, when their powers of comprehending general concepts, paradigms, are almost non-existent. It is this narrative or symbolic power which gives a sense of the world—a concrete reality in the imaginative forms of symbol and story—when abstract thought can provide nothing at all. A child follows the Bible before he follows Euclid. Not because the Bible is simpler (the reverse might be said), but because it is cast in a symbolic and narrative mode.
One fine way to understand our Enneagram style is to get in touch with a narrative that runs through our life. People often say, after recounting an event, “That’s the story of my life” without realizing how profoundly that is true. Our Enneagram style is not a paradigm or algorithm or assignment. It is our story.
I am a mild man, serene and unruffled as a placid mountain lake.
But there is one phrase that ruffles my waters. “Just sayin’” or its full expression, “I’m just saying.” Nobody says anything just to say it. The next time someone says it to me, I shall reply “Five and four are nine.” They will be irritated because they won’t know how to respond.
Well, it serves them right. When one says “just sayin,’” they are asking you not to draw any conclusions from what they just said. They want to say something for which they do not want to endure or even enjoy any consequences. In technical terms that is bullshit. All communication requests, consciously or unconsciously, a response. Even silence is a communication –if you pass a friend in the hall and say nothing, she is offended.
So why do people say that obnoxious phrase? Because of their enneagram style, of course. An enneagram ego pattern has a certain urgency — Twos must help and Threes must perform etc. And so when someone needs to express their enneagram agenda but doesn’t want consequences, they cover their mouth with “just sayin.” Like a child crying when hurt, like an adolescent in rebellion, they want to express their urgent (perhaps unconscious) concern but don’t want to have to answer for it. Think of swearing when you close the car door on your hand, or screaming when the guy in front of you in traffic cuts you off. You just say stuff because you gotta.
I think people should consider therapy for that kind of talk and I’m not just sayin ‘ that. That phrase evidences a mild neurosis that is enneagram-specific. Sixes will talk about impeding doom, sevens about imminent pleasure, fours about how bad they feel and in each case, they are not considering any outcome – they’re just sayin’.
Sometimes we have to break a habit before it breaks us. One explanation is that we think thoughts, which become actions that when repeated, become habits and our habits are our character.
Habits are efficient. You can drive without paying much attention to the mechanics of starting, stopping, signaling, accelerating and the rest.
A habit is something we do without attention. So one of the ways to weaken and break a habit is simply to focus attention on it. That weakens the efficient patterns that are getting us into trouble…sometimes, somewhat. Our Enneagram style is held in place by a complex of perception and response habits. They are so deep and pervasive that we are reluctant to give up the gains they make for us and spend the effort required to weaken them.
But it can be done. One reason a coach helps is that especially the perception problems seem natural and we aren’t aware we even have them, unlike habits like smoking, procrastination or watching TV that are visible.
In the good ole USA, you can see how much people need coaching to find out what they really want by asking recent graduates two questions: what do you want to do for a career and what do you want to have? They usually are quite clear, often detailed, about what they want to have. They’ve been taught from the cradle what to want by skilled advertisers equipped with the finest technology.
But when you ask them what they want to DO, they fumble, evade, qualify and become confused. That’s why coaches are so important and one major task is to help not just style Nines but every Enneagram style learn, admit and cherish what they really want. Until they know that, focus is of minimal value.
Coaches should learn from the political scene in the US today. Voters are not rational. The speeches and the commentaries are not rational. They are often effective, but they do not use syllogisms (and often not even grammar), the politicians are not at all upset when they are caught in factual errors. Marketing, the science of collective persuasion, is done with many forms of literature and literary devices, but the kind of rational discourse you learned in college is not one of them.
Coaches, like marketers and politicians practice the arts of persuasion. So don’t try to reason with your clients, it is the least effective way to change and improve disposition, behavior or outcomes. Use emotion, association, repetition, benign treachery, confusion–all the grey if not black arts of politics.