I am of the opinion that we are frequently controlled by the unconscious metaphors we live and employ to understand our lives. Mike McClean, a theologian friend, sent me this lovely article on how that works in discussions about economy. This is not about policy or even politics, it is about the power of unconscious metaphors to explain why people find it so difficult to talk about symbolic things like money, sex and politics.
Here’s the link:
The importance of this insight for Enneagram coaches is that every one of us has a symbolic self-understanding. When we say someone “is” a victim, we are noticing that the person, largely unconsciously, acts out “victim,” but would never use that rational term. And because we don’t rationally, consciously use the term, we think the reality is not present. The symbol and the habits that are corollary to that symbol of victim are powerful, consistent and operate at the level that transformational coaching has to address.
What’s your symbol?

Take a 4 to Wal-Mart

Fours are traditionally labelled as having envy. Envy is not a free-standing vice, it requires a point of comparison. We all naturally check out how we compare with others at some time or other, but style 4’s do it in a specific way: they compare themselves to someone who is either better than they are (in the 4’s opinion) — and this can be someone real or someone in their memory (sibling or relative, for example) or they envy someone who embodies the talent or quality the Four has but disowns. A talented singer will envy another singer because he does not own or develop his own talent. Envy is something a Four does to reinforce his conviction he is defective. He or she is defective in precisely the way he would like to excel.  So I often ask Fours to walk thru Wal-Mart and see if there are any people there that are superior, more elegant, more tastefully decked out than they are.  Of course, the experience shows the selectivity of his point of comparison.

Addiction and biology

Here’s a new controversial medical report from The American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Public Policy Statement: Definition of Addiction

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions within reward structures of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate cortex, basal forebrain and amygdala, such that motivational hierarchies are altered and addictive behaviors, which may or may not include alcohol and other drug use, supplant healthy, self-care related behaviors. Addiction also affects neurotransmission and interactions between cortical and hippocampal circuits and brain reward structures, such that the memory of previous exposures to rewards (such as food, sex, alcohol and other drugs) leads to a biological and behavioral response to external cues, in turn triggering craving and/or engagement in addictive behaviors.
What this means is that the metaphorical hardwiring of the brain is the same for all addictive behaviors. Addiction is this pattern, regardless of what the content is.
Addictions are important for an enneagram coach to know about. We can be addicted to work or anger or comfort if this pattern of reward and memory and hierarchy of motivation exists. If a 7 has this addictive pattern to novelty using the same pattern as a 9 does to comfort, they are neurologically the same.
However much I respect the force and consequence of addiction, I am philosophically wary of any declaration that says because the neurological pattern is the same, the personal reality is the same. The same muscle formation use to throw a baseball is used to throw a grenade. The spectre of reductionist science lurks here.
Yesterday I assailed the purely conscious level of a success coach. Today I warm about the other polarity, the “nothing but” syndrome. Addiction is nothing but a neurological pattern.
The third, integrated, way is to think symbolically. The neurological patterns are powerful, but so is the conscious activity that accompanies it.

Success, an accident?

Tommy Newberry, coach, has written a standard success book. His starting (and I fear, ending) focus is on your responsibility. He has ten commandments, each one an assignment of responsibility. The emphasis on personal responsibility is the central theme of Republican politics, motivation speakers and graduation speakers.
All of the things he says are true. If you do all the things he says, especially about goals, you will be financially successful, especially if you are white, healthy, come from a moderate to wealthy family and living in a suburb.
But there is almost no mention of community. Perhaps he assumes it, I don’t. If you want to be successful, this strident emphasis on the individual is toxic. Nobody makes it alone. You need a support community – you really go to college to network and make strong, perhaps influential friends. You can get most of the information from the library and internet.
And as an enneagram coach, what I noticed was that his approach, like most coaching approaches, is entirely conscious. I know goals are great. I’m a 7. My chances of having a stable long term goal of any specificity, is slender indeed. The author is a style 3, and his book is how to be a rich Three. The focus of our enneagram style that militates against his advice is powerful. Under stress, we ignore his advice and do what worked for us as children. We get angry, we run, we hid, we pout, we despair — all the usual reactions to difficulties that don’t work but we keep doing.
We are responsible and we are powerful, but we are also dependent on others, local and national and planetary and we make mistakes because our enneagram focus leads us to make decisions all by ourselves when we’re confused.
If the suggestions in his book were are conscious and easily implemented,one wouldn’t need either coaches or the enneagram, or a felicitous combination of the two.

Where are your choices?

In a fine TED lecture, Barry Schwartz argues that we have so much choice in our lives that we are paralyzed, at least for a while. He gives an example: his local supermarket has 175 varieties of salad dressing and that doesn’t count the 10 olive oils and a dozen balsamic vinegars.   Then, if we do make choices, we are unsatisfied with them because we mentally compare our selection with a myriad of other possibilities.
Yet, many coaches, including, definitely, me, believe in increasing choices.
Here’s the difference. The choices he talks about are “out there,” he is talking about making selections from among objects – salad dressing, cars, TV shows, careers etc.
I refer to our ability to make a variety of responses to any object or stimulus. If I want to solve a problem, I want to be able to try a number of options, not simply do what my enneagram style usually suggests. If an 8 has a hundred TV shows to watch, he has a lot of choices, but if he solves most problems by force and bluster, he still needs many more choices.
In other words, yes, we have a plethora of external choices – especially things – but do we have enough inner freedom so that we can solve problems in a wide variety of ways. Our enneagram style, our egotism, is among other things, a tight focus and a few select strategies that narrow our choices, no matter how many salad dressings we have.

Not of rage, of fear

Sometimes discerning an Enneagram style is easier than other times. Michelle Bachmnn is a lovely case in point. She is a style Six and Newsweek has it all wrong – she is not the queen of rage, she is the queen of fear. She wants congress investigated and is sure they are “anti-American.” The high side of style Six is loyalty and Michelle Bachmann is utterly loyal to the Tea Party agenda. Michelle Bachmann

When you see her picture, you don’t see rage, you see intense fear.  She probably believes the things that she says.  She really fears that real America – white, conservative, bible belt, wealthy — is under attack.  If you read her background/education, she is trained in the tradition of “Christians under attack, victims.”  As a Six, loyal to her tradition and frightened as a lifestyle, she has “that look” – deer in the headlights that Enneagram students could study.  That’s what fear, not rage, looks like.



Fall sports are about to begin, so naturally I’m thinking about the Enneagram. If anyone doubts that we are spiritual people, go watch a football game. The activity is entirely symbolic, therefore what is going on points to something else – and the coaches sort of know it. They do NOT say it is “just” a game. Well, if it is not pointless mauling of each other to get a spheroid then it must mean something. Manhood, heroism, dedication — that sounds spiritual to me and is absolutely riveting to idealistic youth who will work incredibly hard and endure hardships for some kind of “spiritual?” reward.
So we live by symbols. We throw, chase, bat, kick and otherwise maul balls in the name of something other than we are doing.
The same is true for a lot of our enneagram style. We keep rules, work hard, self-examine, and otherwise labor industriously in search of some kind of self-transcendence. Our actions point beyond themselves. When a Two gives and gives too much, when a Five spends her life researching arcane information about medieval herbs, they do so in an Enneagram focus on efforts to reach greatness – a greatness not articulated or perhaps even acknowledged, but a greatness lurking on the other side of visibility.
Play ball!