The Levels of Health in Addiction Recovery copyright 2019
Anyone in 12 Step recovery knows about the Levels of Development from their daily life. It’s as simple as this: on good days I’m clear headed, serene, not emotionally reactive, less self-absorbed, can relax and do my best work, and am less distracted. In essence, I am more present to what is happening inside me and outside me, and less inclined to be distracted by my opinions. I still have them, I just don’t hold onto to them as if they were made of gold. And, I seem to have better access to feelings of well-being and contentment, and when feeling really good, experience a kind of seamless unity and kinship with those around me. I like everyone just as they are. Now we’re talking about a peak day, when the sun is really shining inside me. On these really clear days, I don’t mistake people’s moods and bad actions as indictments on me, nor indictments on them. I see they are suffering, that something is bothering them, and instead of reacting as a result of my own buttons being pushed, on this day my triggers seem immune to being ignited. What shows up instead of my reactivity is compassion, a soft heart and understanding heart, a mind that can discern clearly what is happening in front of me. I suddenly seem to be able to hold the otherwise difficult person in kind regard. Now I know I’m in the flow of a good day, and I’m also certain that something really sweet seems to be arising in me that creates this openness. That is, I’m aware that I didn’t make this delicious awareness occur. It, instead, is flowing through me. I notice that I seem to take in reality more deeply, vividly and with deeper satisfaction. You could say that in this healthy state I am more ‘present’ than usual and each moment seems to be something I can savor, taste, and behold with gratitude. Yes, I am being blessed me this day.
So, the Levels of Development actually measure our states of presence and openness, or our emotional reactivity and our narrowing perception of reality. We all know too well what it’s like when another person’s tone of voice, or words, or facial expression seem to trigger us into a robotic rage, or strike a chord deep in us that sends our insides whirling with fear or shame, or throw our quiet mind into a furious frenzy of worry. When our emotional ‘buttons’ are triggered, we don’t think clearly, we don’t act with intelligence or precision, we say things that curl our own toes, and then we instantly defend our behaviors with rationalizations. You see, ‘there were good and intelligent reasons’ for my actions and words. Not!
The Levels of Development measure whether our hearts and minds and bodies are open and awake, or closed and tightened like a fist. Put more practically, they represent the full spectrum of possibility for any Enneagram Type, describing the attributes and qualities that arise when the type is healthy, present and awake (the essential qualities of the type), and likewise describing the ways in which an individual’s behavior changes as they become less present and more defended and constricted, and drop down into the average and unhealthy levels of their type.
There are nine Levels divided into Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy Levels. Levels 1 to 3 are called the Healthy Levels in which individuals are conscious and in contact with their innate gifts. Level 4 to 6 represent the Average Levels of health, in which individuals are progressively losing contact with their innate healthy qualities and the ability to be present, and relying more and more on defensive emotional reactions and distorted perceptions inherent to their type. Levels 7 to 9 represent the Unhealthy Levels, in which individuals descend into mental illness, compulsion, delusion and self-destructiveness. Here’s a visual representation. Levels of Development
Level 1: The Level of Liberation—In contact with Real Self/Essence
Level 2: The Level of Psychological Capacity –In contact with my highest qualities
Level 3: The Level of Social Value—Giving my Type’s gifts to the world
Level 4: The Level of Imbalance/ Social Role—Identifying with a social role
Level 5: The Level of Interpersonal Control—Manipulating others to affirm me
Level 6: The Level of Overcompensation—Coercing through aggression
Level 7: The Level of Violation—desperate, trying to end suffering at any cost
Level 8: The Level of Obsession and Compulsion—out of control and agonized
Level 9: The Level of Pathological Destructiveness—murderous or suicidal
Each of us has had many palpable experiences of the Levels in ourselves. We know what it’s like to feel ‘with it,’ and able to respond with clarity, grace, precision and sensitivity to what arises in our life (Levels 1-3); and what it’s like when we’re not at our best, preoccupied and taken by stress, worry, shame, anger, hurt, numbness or fear (Levels 4 and below). It’s as if the light and clarity of our awareness, when stressed, is dimmed, fogged or blocked, and our perception of what to do in the present moment is obscured and narrowed. Instead of responding with clarity, precision, adaptability and sensitivity, we get tangled in our subjective interpretations of life, or knocked off base by the emotional reactivity endemic to our type. That is, we are taken by our type’s personality habits, preferences and particular skew of reality (Levels 4 and below). And each of us knows that there is a predicable path we descend down when we are not doing well. This path also reveals our personality type to us.
In retrospect, we often stand back, aghast, that once again we got hooked by something in us that led us astray. In time we begin to sense that, horrors of horrors, we live in a kind of predictable prison of habits that often chooses for us our next action (the longer we are sober, 15, 20, 25 years, the more clearly we see our deeper personality patterns which easily elude us). With deeper awareness we see that we wander about it in these habits, often mesmerized and entranced by them, wondering how we can finally free ourselves of their gravitational pull upon us. One friend said it this way: “I pace about in a psychological cage, reciting the same lines, thinking the same thoughts, and making the same errors, in spite of my best intelligence, my best intentions, or the libraries of experiences I have accumulated about myself. I should be able to use my acquired information to respond intelligently and gracefully in moments of stress, and yet, I too often repeat the same errors—I react predictably like a damn robot!” Welcome to the temple of Level 4 to Level 7! Where our Inner Robot runs free, going where it wants in spite of us and our intention to change! Here is where our deeper work is, which after a period of time, becomes more evident.
It’s not rocket science. When we are less present, we make more errors, and misread the signals that our loved ones, friends or life is giving us. In addition, we don’t ‘read’ ourselves well. It’s like we have layers of fog or sludge that distort the truth of our experience, or the clarity of our feelings, so that our intimacy and clarity with ourselves also distorts, and becomes vague and distant. We walk around inside ourselves like strangers in a strange land. With a little self-observation and reflection, each of us knows the story of what happens when we’re not ‘with it.’ It is then that something like an automatic pilot switch turns on, and in spite of our best understanding, we go ‘into action’ (or are ‘taken’ into action) by habits of being which we’ve probably vowed for years, to not be taken by. We might even notice a little voice in the distant back of our awareness that pleads with us, “Stop, dude. You are headed in the wrong direction. Stop now before you are swept up in the torrent of your fast-moving habits. You know where this leads!” Truth is, our personality habits are so quick and nimble that they blow past this inner observer with the speed and ferocity of a speeding bullet. Until we gain more presence and awakeness. The Levels of Development are a map and guide to greater Presence. Let’s take a closer look.
The Healthy Levels—Awake, Present, and Alive
When we are functioning in the Healthy Levels we are flexible, spontaneous, joyful, open-minded, heart-felt, compassionate, understanding of others and self, and more often objective in our interpretation of reality. We are often able to call upon courage, and are balanced, creative, perceptive, and curious. Put simply, we embrace life with heartfelt openness and sensitivity, are in touch with the aliveness, passion and electricity of our body, and are blessed with a quiet and curious mind. Wild open and awake, we are able to endure difficulty with grace, flexibility, spontaneity and intelligence. At home with our self, attuned to what is real and true within us, we are genuine, sincere and unpretentious. Truly humble, yet able to embody our gifts and capacities, we wear our personality (and our preferences) lightly and effectively. Clearly aware of our ‘reactive emotional triggers’ and able to own them often without acting them out, we graciously avoid blaming others for their emotional reactions. We take full responsibility for ourselves and are empowered to make healthy changes when needed. Not tied to our view of reality or our particular opinions, we are open and available to all the possibilities, and more importantly to receiving the input, intelligence and loving support of others. In this manner we are available to be touched by life. Pretty great! Exactly why we got clean and sober!
Similarly, we can compassionately see when others are projecting their suffering onto to us and don’t take it personally, don’t take it into our soul, don’t suffer with the attack, but see it for what it is—an errant projection. Because we are conscious, we are able to listen to our creative impulses and put them into action. We can utilize our intelligence and our emotional nature in the service of our life and those we touch. And because we feel good, we naturally share our well-being with those around us. We give away the best of who they are. Generosity comes naturally.
With a quiet mind and an open heart we see the innate goodness in human beings, and also recognize when that goodness has distorted into its opposite, or is only partially embodied by the individual. In short, we have eyes to see what is real and true about human beings and ourselves. This is what it means to be healthy! We are often delightful to be around because we give others space to be themselves, are not compelled to judge them or try to fix others, and can generously appreciate other’s beauty, value and significance. Trusting other’s innate capacity to find out what is true for them, we listen to them with full attention without feeling we need to advise them or assume we know what is best for them. We are teachable because we are not under the delusion of believing we know everything. We are humble in this regard, which makes us more innately intelligent. (Note: Each Enneagram Type has a particular way they express the healthy aspects of their type, all of which touch upon the above qualities in a type-specific manner.)
Each of has had moments in our lives in which we have lived in the healthy levels of our type. When we are there, it feels great. Our sense of communion with life, our capacity to savor what is great about ourselves, our loved ones, and life on planet earth is enhanced. And truth be known, most of us make visits here and truly wish we could spend more time here. In reality, we live most of our time at the Average Levels of Health.
The Average Levels—Going on Automatic Pilot
At the Average levels of development (Levels 4 to 6), when an emotional trigger is touched by another or by a stressful circumstance, the individual frequently blames and judges the external source for the suffering they are experiencing (As in…”It’s your fault I feel so badly. If it weren’t for you I’d be having a great day!”). Here, feeling good and being ‘happy’ depends on life matching one’s expectations, wants and desires from the outside. Things need to go our way to feel okay about our lives. At the healthy levels, feeling good is an ‘inside job’ and not dependent on external factors as the source of well-being. We take responsibility for our experience and are empowered to make the changes we need.
Let’s take a closer more specific look at average Levels of Development as these levels are critical to understanding addiction, recovery and growth and indicate the warning signs that can undo an individual’s recovery efforts at any juncture in their journey.
Level 4: the Level of Imbalance and Social Role
At Level 4 the individual strongly identifies with his personality and a particular ‘social role’ (Riso-Hudson defined the social roles of each type, see The Wisdom of the Enneagram for additional information) that he tries to ‘be’ and get others to confirm and identify with. (Two: I am the Special Friend. Four: I am the Unique One. Five: I am the Expert. Eight: I am the Protector. Seven: I am the Energizer. Three: I am the Best.) It’s as if his actions are now an advertisement that says: “This is who I am.” For instance, the Type One takes on the role of the mentor/teacher and attempts to promote an image of ‘teacher’ to those around him. His message to the world is “I am the teacher, the one who can improve the way you and I do things. I know how things should be done and what should be corrected.” He see’s what’s wrong with you and will help you, in fact, he often feels obligated to help you. At level 4 his effort to be ‘the teacher’ is not harsh or abrasive. If you met this man (or woman) you’d find him to be likeable, intelligent, and easy to be around.
At Level 4 the mental and emotional habit of each Type makes its entry, both of which serve to disconnect him from a direct experience with himself and reality. For instance, the mental habit (or fixation) of the ‘judging mind’ and the emotional habit (or passion) of ‘resentment’ arises for the Type One as he begins to abandon his genuine experience of himself. The One begins to feel resentful because he feels compelled to take responsibility for assuring the quality of all the work around him, for correcting the errors of others, and feels he is working harder than anyone else to improve circumstances. At Level 4 he is becoming ‘the burdened one’ who carries the responsibilities of others on his shoulders.
Level 5: The Level of Manipulation and Interpersonal Control
At Level 5 all the constricting tendencies of Level 4, the emotional and mental habit, and social role, etc., intensify. The One goes from promoting his self-image to the world (Level 4), to trying to manipulate and coerce others to see him as “The Teacher” (Level 5). His emotional habit of resenting others intensifies and he responds by being more critical about the errors of others, while feeling more obligated and insistent in improving others through his interventions. He is losing contact with what is good about other people and himself, and is suffering more due to his disconnection. As the result of his increased suffering he reacts by applying his judgments and standards more harshly on others and himself. At Level 5 he is unaware of what is truly driving his behavior, and unable to see how he is affecting and offending others, while believing he has insight into the problems at hand. Unable to sense his real feelings, he gets lost in his personal reactivity and subjective feelings (as all types do at this level), while believing his impressions, feelings, and reactions to life represent objective reality. He is suffering with the “illusion of certainty’ regarding his take on reality, on who he is, and is offended when those around him do not agree (Each of us knows this dance in our own lives.). In his own type-specific manner, he is becoming more self-centered and unavailable for true connection with others. This is called going on automatic pilot. With a little awareness we will begin to see how much of our day is actually spent at this level where we are functioning yet ‘checked out’ for all intent and purposes. Becoming aware and conscious of Level 5 behaviors (and Level 6) is absolutely fundamental for sustaining a life of drug free living.
Level 6: The Level of Overcompensation and Early/Middle Stage Addiction
When an individual becomes addicted to a substance, they descend to Level 6 (and below) where they are more constricted emotionally, mentally and physically by their type-specific defensive habits, causing their innate gifts and capacities to constrict, disappear and morph into their polar opposite. They feel numb, depressed, lonely, ashamed, angry, and afraid, and use substances to alter or numb these feelings. In response to deep suffering and addiction, the Two’s capacity for loving-kindness becomes shrouded in fear and manipulation; the One’s capacity for fairness is distorted by strident, one-sided judgment; the Seven’s enthusiastic joy gets lost in impulsive hedonism; the Fours creative sensitivity is smothered by self-indulgence and entitlement.
At Level 6, the individual has further constricted his capacity to sense his true feelings, to inhabit the aliveness of his body, and has fully lost contact with quiet mind. He is suffering terribly and filled with fear, shame, anger, despair, hopelessness, and heart-break, and is more unable to accurately comprehend reality. Here, addiction begins to take hold as he finds substances that temporarily quell his suffering. He has moved from ‘promoting’ a self-image at Level 4, to ‘manipulating others’ into seeing and approving his self-image at Level 5, to becoming ‘aggressive’ about forcing his personality agenda onto others at Level 6, all of which correlates with an ever-deepening unconscious sense of despair within him. The Type Four gets aggressive about whether people are seeing and reflecting his uniqueness; the Eight gets aggressive about convincing people that he’s in charge while certain others are betraying him; the Seven gets aggressive about asserting his desire for pleasure, the One gets aggressive about his principles and ideals and turns to reprimanding and punishing others when they don’t follow his dictates, his principles, or his judgments.Each type at this level tries to inflict on others what he fears most. That is, “Do unto others what you’d least like having done to you.” Whatever the type fears and hates most they impose and punish others with. Riso-Hudson have named this aggressive behavior as the “Leaden Rule.” The Eight, who fears being harmed and controlled, begins to threaten harm and is abusive to others. The Three, who fears having no value, treats others as if they have no value. The Type Six, who fears having no support or guidance, makes others feel like they have no support or guidance. The Nine, who fears he is nobody special, treats others as if they were not special.
At L5 and L6 individuals are acting in ways that defy and oppose their self image (their idealized view of themselves which when healthy, represents the truth of who they are), yet imagining they are in accord with it. The Four, who sees himself as deeply sensitive, is rejecting and humiliating those who don’t have ‘good aesthetic taste.’ In fact, he is despising them, but can’t ‘see’ himself acting badly. His actions are done in the service of his self image: “I am deeply sensitive and creative.” Each type has their version of this. Of supreme importance to recovering and thriving in addiction recovery is the critical ability to see when one’s actions do not match one’s idealized self-image, that is, when one has descended to Levels 5, 6 and 7. And to realize daily, that each of, at some point in our day, drops to Level 5 and 6. For those in addiction recovery, this dip to Level 6 is a major wake-up call because the more one inhabits this level, the more the unseen tendrils of our addiction reach through to us, sweep in unseen, and begin chanting the fatal lines that devour many: “You can have one drink (or drug). It’s safe. You know how to control your addiction now. Go ahead, you deserve a break.” At Level 6 we can easily decide that “We want what we want and screw the world!” Of course, driving this ego-centeredness is despair, sadness, hopelessness, and shame, which if not held with kindness and clarity, so easily morphs into self-indulgent, it’s-all-about-me, behaviors that deliver the hammer-blow of addiction.
The Unhealthy Levels—When the Lights Go Out
When individuals drop to Level 7 and below, they are fully leaving the track of reality, in fact, you could say they are off the rails, having lost contact with objective reality. Here they act out the distorted versions of their innate gifts and become destructive to themselves and others. Desperate to the core, they are ‘driven’ by the type-specific defensiveness of their personality type, hoping beyond hope that this will somehow head them in the right direction. It doesn’t. They have entered the realm of mental illness and once here, need the support and guidance of others to find their way back. Unable to comprehend what is real and true, they will continue their slide down into ever-deepening mental illness, despair and hopelessness unless support arrives. (The Eight becomes abusively aggressive, the Three, deceitfully self-promoting and destructive of other’s dreams, the Two, more manipulate and dishonest in service of love, the One, vitriolic and hateful in service of integrity, the Seven, insatiably self-centered and hedonistically driven in the name of joy and freedom.)
Level 7: The Level of Violation—Deepening addiction
At Level 7, individuals are mired in active addiction and often enter recovery through the vehicle of a treatment center, jail, or an intervention that alerts them to the reality of their life, and the need for emergency assistance. All the types at this level are in a state of full-blown addiction, be it to a substance, an activity, or the particular type-specific trance they are taken by. Feeling they have been violated and abused by life, they feel fully justified in being abusive and violent to others. In response to their intense suffering and fear, they attack self or others for relief. Aggressiveness at L6 turns into harming self and others physically, emotionally, and verbally at Level 7. Mental illness begins at Level 7 and deepens at Level 8 and 9.
At Level 7 and below, the individual, caught in cross-hairs of addiction, has glimpses of the horror he or she is sitting in, but often cannot hold and digest these impressions, nor has the power and clarity to move in a direction of true support. In the face of actions that harm others, their ability to see what they have done, to absorb the real consequences of their actions, is at zero. As in, “No one is home.” And yet, if one has taken a foray to Level 7, one might remember that in spite of being checked out, one can still formulate stories, rationalizations and denials that appear sane to oneself. Everyone else observing can see these distortions like huge monoliths, but the individual caught at Level 7, in the face of death or utter destruction, does not. At Level 8 mental illness deepens and we see compulsion and delusion gripping the individual. At Level 9 pathological destruction occurs in one form or another, be it towards self or others.
Understanding the Movement Up and Down the Levels
Everyone has a center of gravity located in one of the Levels of Development. That is, each of us has a customary level of awareness and sensitivity, or center of gravity that we live at, where we feel like we are being ‘our self’. During the course of the day, our awareness (but not our center of gravity) moves up and down from this central position based on what is occurring within us. Let’s say one’s ‘awareness’ or ‘presence’ or level of health (remember, the Levels measure our degree of our ‘presence” or ‘awareness’), is located at Level 4. Here, our personality patterns are stable and we’re not creating much mischief for ourselves or others. We have a comfortable social role that we utilize to navigate reality. Our negative, unconscious manifestations are operating in a manageable fashion. We can comfortably navigate life and get along with the people in our lives. Then we go to a workshop or retreat and become relaxed and undefended. Suddenly, we experience a clarity of mind that we really like. Everything seems more evident and understandable. We experience deeper and more heartfelt connections with others around us. We notice how much better, awake, alive and clear we feel. Our awareness (but not our center of gravity) has moved up to the higher levels (perhaps Level 2 or 3) during the retreat, and we feel good, as ease, self-confident, trusting ourselves and our impressions, and comfortable in our own skin. We feel grounded and have the strong sense of knowing who we are and what we are about. In this relaxed, more present state, we may have deep insights into actions we took that harmed others. We sense and see the effect we’ve had on others in our life, and perhaps realize how we’ve been checked out and missing what is sacred and precious in those we love. We prepare to make heartfelt amends to them.
We notice when we return home that things that typically irritated us or set us off, don’t seem to activate us. We’re nicer to our loved ones, and it comes naturally. Where we were feeling frustrated and filled with judgment towards a loved one, we now feel open, compassion-ate and less disturbed. Our ability to understand and feel empathy for them is enhanced and we like this! It seems that we can be with whatever arises in a healthy and constructive way, and we are not taken be taken by our habitual and often not useful reactions. We have more freedom to be with whatever we encounter, to stay open and receptive, to see options more easily. But we also notice that in a very short period of time, perhaps a week or so after we’ve returned from the workshop, that we’ve lost the positive traces of the workshop inside us, and we’re back to our normal experience of reality (Level 4). Our openness and well-being constricts. We had the good grace of experiencing Level 2 or 3, and now are back at the center of gravity point, Level 4. We might even experience this return to our ‘home’ level as “I feel like myself again.” You find yourself relaxing into a familiar, but less alive state of being.
Then, life being life, we have an upsetting conflict with someone we love and we get angry and defended, and become brittle and restricted inside. Life does not feel good and it seems that all our emotional buttons are easily ignited. We overreact, take things personally, and react to control others and our environment in the type-specific manner of our Enneagram type. In the moment we can’t access what usually makes us feel happy, or at least, normal. In essence, we’ve dropped down to Level 5 or 6. When we’re out of the conflict and our tension releases, we return again to Level 4, our default setting.
Each of us knows what it’s like to be clearer and more aware on a given day, or to be foggy, irritated and confused, and that during the course of the day we see that we go through a wide range of responsiveness, from being awake and clear, to upset and reactive, depending on what is occurring around us. Real spiritual transformation is about moving our center of gravity up to the higher levels, to the clearer and more present states of awareness, so that a deeper and more expanded state of awakeness is stabilized within us. For example, as we work on our spiritual transformation in recovery we notice over time that we are a lot calmer on a daily basis than when we first arrived in recovery. This represents a qualitative movement to a higher level of awareness or presence. We’ve moved our center of gravity up, perhaps from Level 7 to Level 5. Although we can swing back to Level 6 or 7 temporarily, we don’t live there. And on good days we may experience Level 4 or Level 3. Let’s take a look at how addiction and relapse operate in reference to the Levels of Development.
Addiction Recovery and the Levels of Development
When individuals arrive in addiction recovery their center of gravity is often located at Level 6 or 7. Locked in a narrow type-specific personality prison, their range of choices for meeting their needs are small, repetitious and rarely satisfying (which increases their fear and despair). Their substance of choice has been the vehicle that has given them fleeting moments of joy, pleasure, and happiness, but by the time addiction is in full bloom, the positive benefits of their substance use have vanished. Now they use substances to feel numb and less anxious, which in turn, causes more unhappiness, anxiety, and despair. The worst of their personality type is fully in control. Stuck at Level 7, their heart has shut down (numbed and hardened) which blinds them to what really nurtures and expands their heart, and destroys their capacity to sense the hearts of others. Heart-dead, they take actions that injure those they love while being utterly unable to see how they have hurt them. With my heart shut off, I can’t sense that my inattention to my children is devastating them. I can’t ‘feel’ how my angry words cut through my partner’s heart. I can’t feel the true heartbreak of my disconnection with those I love. I can’t feel the true heartbreak of the destruction I’m causing myself. I think I’m whistling past death as death tightens its grip around my soul.
My mind, capable of perceiving reality with curiosity and intelligence, constricts to the ever-hardened certainty that my view on reality is the “correct” and “only” view. I perceive life out of the fear-filled, deluded window of Level 6 and 7. I become more certain of my delusions, saying, “I don’t have a drinking or drugging problem; you’re the one with the problems!”—which is maddening and heart-breaking for loved ones. I’m possessed by a consuming selfishness regarding what I want, need or deserve (Level 6 and 7 manifestations = me, me, me!) while inundated with bone-cracking, low self-esteem that I am either crushed by, or transform into a stance of crazy superiority. It’s as if I’m returned to a raw state of early childhood and am solely concerned with my singular needs. In reality, I’ve shut down and can’t sense the needs or feelings of others nor my own.
Lost in the deluded states of Level 6 and 7 it appears to others that I don’t care about my family, my children, my jobs, or my health. Truth is I am overwhelmed (which translates to a heart, mind and soul that are closed and frozen like a fist) and unable to comprehend the truth of my situation. I have one goal: to end or numb my suffering. If I am fortunate and get sober, you will witness the terrible, heart-breaking remorse I feel for the abandonment of all whom I love. As reality comes on-line (my objective experience of what has happened in my life), I will drop to my knees in horror, shame and heart-breaking sorrow. I truly could not see what I was creating.
At Level 6 and 7 the individual has fallen down the rabbit-hole of psychological awareness and can barely perceive any facet of reality with clarity or precision. This is the horrid nature of addiction. The further one falls down the Levels of Health, the more likely that some kind of devastation will have to intercede to stop the descent, and to hopefully inspire or guide them to get help. Often people do get into recovery via the loss of everything they care about. But it is by no means the only way.
Addicted individuals (or substance abusing individuals) are not easy to help. They are defensive, reactive, and blame others for their suffering (The nature of being at Level 6 & 7). As individuals who have attempted to get loved ones into addiction treatment will attest, the addicted individual is often tenaciously resistant to their attempts to help them. And for good reason— they are unable to embrace and ‘see,’ ’sense,’ or ‘feel’ what is real—that their life is in serious danger and they are destroying everything they care about. However, if they get clean and sober and are living in an environment of support and compassion, they will start to relax their defensiveness and get glimpses of reality. By not acting out their impulses to shame, blame, judge or hurt another or themselves, and by staying sober and clean and following a path of 12-Step Recovery (or another spiritual path), they will begin the process of truly seeing and healing their suffering. And with continued inner work, they will begin to make the ascent to the higher levels of health. This is where the gift of the Enneagram intervenes. As they understand the psychological terrain of their type, and what is required to ascend the Levels of Health indicated by their type, they begin to take the type-specific corrective actions that support this growth. In addition, they will develop the awareness and skill to disidentify with the magnetic habits of their personality type, which brings further clarity and growth.
Navigating the Levels in Recovery—What it Means to Become Conscious
When an individual is living at level 5 or below they are living in a state of unconsciousness. (This doesn’t mean they don’t have times during their day when they are more conscious and present.) What does being “conscious” of oneself mean? If an individual is conscious they are able to objectively observe themselves in action. That is, when they are triggered emotionally they remember the event and their feelings as it ‘actually’ happened. If someone pushes an emotional button of vulnerability in them and they respond with quick anger or make an aggressive attack to cover this feeling of vulnerability, in self-reflection they can say to themselves: “Wow, I wasn’t really under an attack by Thomas, but his tone of voice seemed to ignite fear inside me. Without thinking I reacted as if he was bringing on a full-scale attack. I was scared for some reason, and instead of simply saying I was triggered by his tone of voice, I reacted with instantaneous fear, anger and attack, and put him on the defensive. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t control it, and I completely lost track of my real feeling of fear. None of this was planned. I need to apologize.”
A more conscious person is able to track their reactive responses and to quickly make amends in their communication. Or, at the very least, can quickly reflect in the aftermath of the reactive explosion, that “Yes, I was a little insane in my response, in fact, I wasn’t there at all. What was there was my habitual emotional ‘reaction’ that got triggered before I could even say, Hold on there, Jackson, let’s think this through. The reaction exploded from the gates of myself like a frenzied racehorse, while I stood in the aftermath thinking, yikes, I will need to apologize for this reaction once again.”
An unconscious person will believe their reactive response (Level 5 and down), and believe that their over-reaction was a necessary and correct interpretation of reality. At the healthy levels of expression (Level 1 to 3) the individual is less likely to misread the behavior of another as an attack on them, or will be able to notice in the moment that someone’s behavior is triggering something vulnerable or reactive in them. They will not impulsively retaliate with either withdrawal, or counter attack. This is precisely what happens at the average levels and unhealthy levels of health. People go unconscious and don’t know they’ve gone unconscious. It all happens so fast that they are unable to sit back and observe what they felt, how they reacted, and to what extent their response was a result of their own internal reactivity. Their type-specific way of leaving reality has taken charge.
The Type Eight Going Blind—The Dynamics of Type “Triggers”
As an example of this, let’s look at the Type Eight. When healthy, the Type Eight is inspired to express strength, decisiveness, courage and power in service of love and support of others. He enthusiastically takes charge of his life and its direction. At his core he has a fear of being violated and controlled. His ‘triggers’ center around his perceived loss of control, and his potential violation or betrayal by others. When he is living at the average levels of health and below his gut response to perceived threats is unrestrained anger and assertion, forceful and quick. (As in, “Get the hell out of my way. This is war. Don’t mess with me or I’ll hurt you, now.”) But here’s the deal. When the Type Eight is unaware of his triggers (the perception and fear that he’s being attacked—L5 and down) he may be prone to attacking and confronting the environment, people, groups, etc., when they aren’t really attacking or threatening him in the least, while he feels certain they are. If he stays unconscious to this internal response pattern, he will feel justified in attacking whenever he senses a threat, real or imagined (Level 5-7 dynamics) and he will end up causing the very attacks he is fearful of receiving.
He will be constantly monitoring the environment for signs of betrayal, or for signs of someone trying to take his independence away, and will snap into action when he feels this is happening. In effect, he becomes “an attack waiting to happen” and will experience life through the tiny window of “Life is a battle that I must defend myself against.” The more unconscious he is (L5 and below), the more he will be an attack-dog simply waiting to be betrayed.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the Type
Charged for attack, what sort of freedom does this give the Type Eight? Almost none. The farther an individual has descended down the Levels the less freedom he has to navigate life with flexibility and clarity, and the more he creates what he wishes to avoid (welcome to the prison cell of Level 5-7). His ability to open up and experience loving connection with others, to trust life itself, to feel the graceful flow of life, will be greatly hindered. Until the Eight gets healthier he will continually create and fulfill his self-fulfilling prophecy and core belief: that life is a battle and he must defend himself against it or be harmed. His capacity to be at ease, to be vulnerable and open to others will be minimal. He will have little range of movement to taste and experience the broad range of possibilities for joy, spontaneity, love, celebration, tenderness and gentle reverie. Little real happiness will touch him. And his unhappiness will further support his belief that life is an unpleasant place where people will attack you and harm you. (And addiction will look like a solution. Why stay clean and sober when I can’t trust life or enjoy it?!)
Looking at life through the window of paranoia and betrayal, he will see justification everywhere for his feeling of paranoia and betrayal. He will be unaware that he is missing a broad expanse of human experience and confusing his one-window view of the world as reality (Level 5 and below in all the types). Nor will he see that this fixed way of seeing life creates life to be exactly as he projects it.
Recovering individuals living at L5 to L7 are often in the grip of their own self-fulfilling prophecy, paradoxically creating the reality they wish to avoid. Sober, they discover that they habitually undo their very best work. As their heart, mind and body close down due to their emotional reactivity or fixated thinking patterns, they unwittingly head in the wrong direction. The Type Nine lives fearful of conflict and separation from loved ones and by disengaging from reality he creates terrible conflicts and separation from those he loves. The Type One lives fearful of being wrong and making errors and through his opinionated, harsh judgments makes psychological and emotional errors that isolate him from others. The Type Two lives fearful of having no love and by her unhealthy attempts to intrude upon, connect with and create love with others, insures she will not be loved. The Type Three lives fearful of failure and striving to promote an image of success at all costs and gain approval from others, fails his own heart and loses what he cares most about. The Type Four lives fearful of being insignificant, and through his self-absorbed, envious, entitled behaviors (L5-L7 behaviors) creates the very insignificance he seeks to avoid. The Five, afraid of not understanding life, withdraws into his analyzing mind and loses contact with real understanding. The Six, filled with doubt and wanting security, creates more doubt and insecurity through his worrying, anxious mind and reactive behaviors. The Seven, seeking true satisfaction and joy, creates unhappiness through his impulsive search for satisfaction. The Eight, fearful of being harmed, defends and protects himself in such manner that he inspires retaliation and rejection by those he cares for. The Type Nine, fearful of conflict, disengages from reality and unwittingly calls conflict to himself by those who need his engagement with him. He causes the conflict he wishes to avoid.