Dynamics of Change: Myths & Reality
The following happens with amazing consistency: an individual comes to an Enneagram workshop and identifies her Type, sees it clearly on the page, and says, “Yes, I am a crazy, on the go, never resting, Type Seven. I’ve got my life charted eight weeks in advance, and frankly, it wasn’t till I got really ill that I even slowed down enough to realize that I have emotional issues I’ve been trying to out-run with all my heart and soul. But in fact, I didn’t really sense I had any problems until I had a life threatening health event.” I listen to her as she shares her insight, and how glad she’s found the Enneagram, and finally seen the frantic outline of her Type Seven personality. And then I dare to ask the big question: How’s life now that you’re in the non-planning mode. She halts, taken aback, and then says shyly, “I haven’t been able to really slow down. It’s just in my bones. I am working on it.” I am shocked because in the face of nearly dying, she has still had great difficulty taking actions that would address her particular Types fixated personality habits. You see, the personality has a mind of its own, it’s fast and it’s quick, and I’m sure that everyone knows exactly what this means. Everyone has at least one major personal area in their life that they swear they are going to change, and having studied it, analyzed it to death, noticed the toll it takes on their life, they see that it is still up and running and operating. It might be the habit of the Type One who thinks to himself, “Yes, I judge too much. I’m too much of a perfectionist. I’ve got to relax.” And then seconds later, after this spot-on realization, is engulfed in an intense inner conversation with himself about the flaws and imperfections of his partner, or boss, himself or however is in front of him. His thinking, judging, resentment driven personality is back and running the show as quick as you can say boo. That’s the nature of an unconscious mechanism. And for certain, death does not scare it.
This adage applies: you can’t fix the personality with the insights of the personality. This is like trying to heal yourself with what’s already making you sick. As one teacher said, “Trying to change the personality on the level of the personality, is like trying to lift the stick you are standing on.” And yet there is so much in our culture that suggests that if we simply re-route our thinking, change our thoughts (as if we have this power), or we have an insight, that somehow this engineers change. But a day comes when an individual, after trying a dozen different techniques to change oneself, arrives at a conclusion: “What I’m doing is not changing me. Try as a may, when I’m upset I sound an act exactly like my father, and this is after years of therapy, self-help, reading, you name it. With all my intellectual understanding, this thing inside me still runs the show. Try as I may I can’t exorcise it.“ He has just encountered the reality of his fixated personality, this automatic system of emotional reactivity, his fast spinning thinking and emotional patterns that has a life of its own. And surely, the first step is to get a glimpse of it, as often as possible such that he begins to see with utter amazement, just how often his fast-moving personality is in total control. Then comes the second step which means beginning to utilize tne next level of the inner tools of the Enneagram, where change can begin to occur. For some, at first glance, seeing the story of their personality is a sort of novelty, but glimpsed once, an individual starts to see the outlines of this fast moving entity till a critical juncture occurs and with clarity, an individual asserts: I cannot live like this anymore. I am rarely present, and am consumed by personality and its machinations.
Or take this example. One young man, upon reading about his Type Fourness, said with great enthusiasm, “That’s completely me. Amazing. I get caught in envy and shame, and start fantasizing about how everyone around me has such a great life, and how I’ve wasted mine and should be farther along than I am. And I get so caught up in this sadness that I retreat and feel I don’t belong, like I’ve failed big time, and I begin to find myself in front of the computer screen playing video games.” I say, “Well, how long are you there in front of the screen.” He replies, a flash of shame in his eyes, “Well, sometimes ten hours straight. I can come home from work at 10 PM and still be on the thing at 7 AM. I get hooked. There’s some kind of rush I get out of it.” We talk more about his connection with the Type Four unhealthy aspects, going straight to one of their prime difficulties, getting caught in fantasy, and leaving the playing field of life where they can land their real gifts, and again, he says “This is exactly what I do. I begin to feel that I have nothing to offer life and turn inward to this useless fantasy life, and then feel worse and worse. This drives me deeper into fantasy escape. I’ve got to stop doing this, and get out and be with people.” Eight weeks later I run into him and he looks exhausted. We sit and chat and he begins to share that he’s feeling awful, like he doesn’t have any friends, and he’s mostly staying at home and being alone, and playing video games. I slowly remind him of the unhealthy aspects of the Type Four and it’s as if the light goes on in his head again, he’s just remembered the trap of his personality, and he says, “Yes, I’ve got all the Type Four fixations. I start envying everyone, believing they have everything I wish for, but get so caught in it and I actually can’t think of a concrete plan of action to really go after what I wish for, and fade back into video-land. That’s amazing. I’d forgotten completely about these patterns. They’re hard to remember.” No kidding, I think to myself.
His experience of forgetting all the prime triggers and Type Four habits that set him up for moving in the direction of depression and disempowerment, are no different than the Type Seven’s habit of being driven by their lust for planning, being on the move, completely dodging the here and now where real satisfaction can be experienced. The point is this: an individual reads the Enneagram material for the first time, gets a deeper glimpse at herself, and it is only a matter of seconds before these profound insights can disappear like dust in the wind. In the beginning, one can only hold the precious jewels of these insights for brief periods. Why is that? Because the personality that they have acquired, the fixated emotional and mental habits of their Type, are precisely wired to dodge these insights, and to quickly get the machinery of personality moving. And yet it is so easy to assume that once you’ve seen a particular pattern once, that this somehow magically removes it. Not so. A door has been open. The possibility of utilizing the Enneagram to free oneself awaits. It is here, at this precious doorway, that an individual can begin to look and know precisely how his or her personality pulls them away from reality, here that they can begin to take important actions to lesson the power of their emotional reactivity, whether it is the trance-like emotional state of Envy that pulls the Four into withdrawal and self-hatred, or the fast moving judging, critical mind of the One which narrows her focus down to the thin razor’s edge of “what’s wrong here, or the disassociated state of “I’m invisible and nobody special, so don’t mind me” that haunts the Type Nine, now compensating for this feeling state by playing the role of the invisible one, the one who makes no waves.
So it is at this juncture that we can begin to contemplate what real change is.