Sunday, October 12, 2014

Terrified of Being Typed

Do not be overly confident, and do not despair if you have mistaken one style for another. You will learn as you go that typing is an art, not a science. It is difficult, subtle, and in many ways foreign to our usual way of thinking. Typing is an inference, not a linear conclusion. Be aware of these common traps: looking for one or two traits, typing too quickly, noticing behavior instead of motives, basing your notion on one or two examples, not getting enough information, having too narrow a definition. Mary Bast and Clarence Thomson, Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram.
Many of the coaches I mentor want a tried and true way to help clients determine their Enneagram style. But different coaches have their own ways of knowing. Some rely on tests, others have a checklist of behaviors. Clarence Thomson has people answer twelve symbolic questions and then talks with them, confident of a conclusion within one call. He has more years of experience than most of us and that approach works well for him.

I don't trust any of the tests completely, and it works for me to listen closely to the content, pace, and tone of their language. From my 25+ years of experience, I may hear more in the first call than coaches new to the Enneagram, but my approach works if you trust your intuition and listen deeply. Even so, I always stay open to possibilities over several sessions, waiting for clients to know what's right for them.

Here's an example of a recent client who talked nervously and fairly rapidly about a variety of things. He had identified his ‘type’ years ago while working with an Enneagram therapist but found the books he'd read to be so focused on the negative that knowing his style “terrified him.” If he was that awful, he said, how could he possibly change? He couldn't even remember the specific number identified as his.

Already I had a hint, from the height of his emotion, he’s probably not an Eight (wouldn’t so readily admit terror), or Seven (possibly, but only if said with humor), or Five (would have used more intellectual language), or Four (usually curious about self-discovery), or Nine (typically quieter, slower style of speech and not so dramatic), or Three (not so in touch with feelings), or One (he’s not at all rigid, doesn’t use right/wrong, black/white language).

So within minutes I was guessing Two or Six. Then he told me of a dream about “talking too much” and said “I don’t know why I talk so much; I don’t have that much to say.” As we explored the over-talking, he continued, “Sometimes I think it’s a territorial position, an alertness, like this feral dog I have that paces and paces like a dingo or a coyote.”

You’ll read in Enneagram books that Sixes sometimes talk nervously, in almost a manic way. Tom Condon writes about Nicholas Cage's role as Charlie in the film Adaptation: 
"Charlie's Sixness is communicated through tormented voice-over monologues... 'Maybe it's my brain chemistry. Maybe that's what wrong with me. Bad chemistry. All my problems and anxiety can be reduced to a chemical imbalance or some kind of misfiring synapses. I need to get help for that. But I'll still be ugly though. Nothing's gonna change that...'"
Charlie goes on and on with his anxieties and interpretations, to the degree that one of my Six clients says she can only watch five minutes of the movie at a time.

So isn’t it fascinating to hear my new client describe this nervous chatter as “a territorial position”? I think it could represent another way for the Six’s scanners to be in operation, a kind of verbal “pacing and pacing.” And it now seems more likely to me that he’s an Enneagram Six. I’m still open to other possibilities, but confident we’ve left the not-types behind, and after another session or two I’ll be more certain we're on target. 

By the way, I’m not pushing the Enneagram, but am emphasizing the positives so he might be more ready to consider it as a guide at some future point. For example, when we talked about his abusive father, we found a little boy who was in grave danger. I connected this with his comment “If I see someone being mean to an animal I’m The Avenger,” and I said, with truly felt emotion in my voice, “I LOVE that little boy! He’s like a guerrilla fighter; he had to be to protect himself.” Then I casually mentioned this was an example of what Enneagram theory refers to as Sixes identifying with and fighting for underdog causes.

Most important, I’m never expressly searching for Enneagram style, just getting to know new clients, diving deep into their issues and patterns, looking for areas where coaching might help, and coincidentally listening for Enneagram clues.