Such was the case with Marie, who had great difficulty making decisions and speaking up for herself. In her 11-year marriage with Doug, she’d adapted by going along with her “narcissistic” fellow-attorney husband, until she’d finally become angry and fought back against him. For instance, he didn’t want her having friendships with other men, fearing potential betrayal—a theme she’d experienced with her father, who perceived almost any attention directed away from him as betrayal. As a result, she’d cut off a long-time friendship with her first serious boyfriend from school and college days. This decision reflected her Type Nine core belief that you must go along to get along with others’ agendas or risk rejection. With anguish in her voice, she tearfully said to me, “Eventually, I decided there was just no middle ground. I had to get out of my marriage: I realized I could never be who I am with Doug.”
An example that may seem small, but contains the essence of Marie’s personality structure and her core issues, was an incident that had recently taken place during a visit with her mother. “One day, my mom suddenly announced that we were all going to an awful place to eat and what time we were going to go do it.” Then, with great tensing of her muscles in the abdomen, thorax, and neck, Marie found herself erupting, “Well, nobody asked me! Doesn’t anybody care to find out if this is OK for me?” But as soon as those words came out of her mouth, she immediately felt she’d gone too far.
At that point, I said, “For someone with your type, speaking up at all can feel like going too far. So pause and notice your inner state as you recall the feelings inside your body. From that place of reactive upset, you know what you don’t want—you don’t want to be told. But it comes out, ‘Nobody asked me!’ Let this be a step toward getting to what you do want.” The goal was to help Marie get in touch with the core issue of making herself matter without either suppressing or acting out her anger.
An important part of Enneagram work is teaching clients to welcome their own reactivity and upset as a way of exploring their personality style. With Marie, I said, with considerable resolve, “When you get that reaction, you really need to befriend it. Ask yourself, ‘What’s this reactivity trying to tell me?’ I then asked her to make a commitment to herself to determine what mattered to her and how to best speak up for what was important to her. Since Marie wasn’t practiced at speaking up with thoughtful compassion, I provided a suggestion of what she might say to her mother: “What about saying, after you breathe back down, of course, to get grounded and receptive, ‘In the future, I’d like it if you asked me what I want.’”
Working with the Patterns
Enneagram work is structured by what we call the Universal Growth Process (UGP) consisting of “5As.” These are:
- Awareness: having a practice to increase receptivity and grounded presence; basically, having a fundamental breath practice.
- Acceptance: opening the heart in kindness to self and others, but especially to one’s own reactivity and upset. This doesn’t mean capitulating, condoning, or agreeing with our own or others’ behavior! It simply gives a positive way to work with our reactivity.
- Appreciation: manifesting gratitude and staying in the natural flow of giving and receiving.
- Action in three parts: first, pausing at times of reactivity to access the first “3As.” Practicing inner inquiry to discover, discern, and work with what’s causing this reactivity, especially determining if the reactivity is driven by the old core beliefs embedded in a client’s type structure. Finally, mentoring the self into a conscious action that’s either letting go or taking action that’s respectful to self and others.
- Adherence: committing to the UGP and to working with type-related core issues in daily life, realizing that changing our patterns takes continual practice.
When we can witness, or self-observe, our own habit of mind and its repetitive, limiting pattern in a nonjudgmental way with gratitude—the first “3As”—we gain great leverage in changing the pattern. We get many opportunities each day to work with our pattern, since it shows up all the time in large ways and small in our reactivity and defensiveness.
Focusing on Marie’s new relationship with quiet, nondemanding, 50-year-old Elliott, a man with few voiced needs, demonstrates the importance of recognizing underlying personality patterns even when external circumstances change. In one session, Marie observed, “Now, I’ve found someone who shares my view of the world and completely allows for my decisions and opinions. But while he makes me feel understood and supported, I still find myself getting upset and reactive because I want to nurture and support him, too.” She added sadly, “It just seems so one-sided the other way!”
In response, I said, “Sense that anger in your body and really welcome it.” I put my hands on my gut, chest, and neck, where Marie manifests anger in her body. “When you’re angry, get grounded, and open your heart and speak up for what matters, for what you want. It’ll transform the energy.”
I said this with passion, as the challenge with Elliott felt so central to Marie’s struggle to speak up for herself, and not against what she doesn’t want. I concluded with, “My hunch is that whatever Elliott’s type style, he also needs to know that you’ll nurture him, rather than deplete him. He needs to welcome your support.” Essentially, I said that speaking up for herself would likely help her and benefit her relationship with Elliott.
Marie still hesitated to do that. As she put it, “If he disagrees with me, I fear that bad feelings will develop, a rift will grow between us that we won’t be able to bridge, and the relationship will dissolve.” Again, this fits with Type Nine’s basic belief that speaking out leads, ultimately, to conflict and rejection.
I responded, “Can you allow yourself to grasp that, in speaking up, you believe that you’ll be found unacceptable and not worth keeping—which simply is no longer a valid, core belief?”
I encouraged Marie to stop for a minute or so three or four times a day to reflect on how she was doing at speaking up for herself and how grounded she was at the time. As we worked with her becoming more self-aware and less self-judgmental, she learned to befriend her reactivity, rather than condemning herself for it. Within a few weeks, she began to find release from this old belief and pay more attention to what mattered to Elliott and herself.
With its focus on long-time core patterns, the Enneagram is a transformative but not a brief therapy. Marie continues to work with her Type Nine Mediator/Peacemaker style. This is how Marie describes her own process of change and transformation: “I’ve learned to welcome the gifts that come with my type. I’m taking action in my life to make changes despite my natural reluctance. I’m doing more now to expand my life than I’ve ever imagined that I could, stretching myself beyond my perceived limitations every day.”
Marie is learning to live Rabbi Hillel’s saying: “If I’m not for myself, who am I? If I’m only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” In the process, she’s coming back to the higher essential quality of true love of self, which is equal to—and not more or less than—love for any other.