Thursday, August 27, 2015

Laying Down the Armor

Each Enneagram worldview has some consistent patterns when in the box. For example, unexamined style Eights tend to view the world as a war zone and seek power to avoid feeling vulnerable. There's typically some toggle-switch thinking (“Whose side are you on?”), a fair amount of confrontation (it’s actually a search for truth), and a tendency to believe they’re seeking justice when in fact they want revenge.

All Enneagram styles operate from either/or polarities that maintain their worldviews. Here, it's "Either I'm strong or I'm weak." One coach described a female with these patterns who didn't know why everyone thought she was so tough and asked, "Do I have to bleed all over everyone to be vulnerable?" This sounds like a challenge, but it also reveals the weakness/strength polarity. Notice how she went to an extreme. If she isn’t strong, she’ll “bleed all over everyone.” Clients with this style respond well to humor: “Maybe just a cup of blood!”

One of my clients tried to engage her style Eight husband in a conversation about being less aggressive with friends and business associates. He replied, “What do you want me to do, jump off a cliff?” A natural tendency, in the face of such a response, is to presume the person is ridiculing the issue, or simply being ridiculous. Not so. Underneath their tough exterior, these are the most vulnerable of all the nine Enneagram styles. Hence the need to bluster. They’re reluctant to show vulnerability because they think it really might require jumping off a cliff. 

They like it when you're direct. You could reflect back their either/or assumption and suggest, “Let’s talk about how showing vulnerability can be a strength.” 

Another client I’ll call Mike said, “I’m working with a therapist who believes I have MUCH anger suppressed in me. As I was mulling this over, I remembered reading we're an anger-based type. I don’t really feel angry. Nor do my close friends see anger in me or from me. How do I access and/or release my anger?” Style Eights who lack awareness of their inner workings don’t understand how anger motivates their behavior. For example, they might criticize someone harshly without being aware of any inner rancor, yet the recipient experiences them as fierce and hostile. They may be surprised and apologize if people who feel attacked reveal their pain, because usually they don’t intend to hurt.

Mike said his friends didn’t see him as angry. A key pattern of this style is to be protective, even compassionate with a few trusted others, so he probably shows his vulnerability and not his anger to his closest friends. I recommended he seek specific feedback from people who aren’t close to him and who therefore may not typically experience his softer side: “You can pay close attention to others’ nonverbal reactions to you and probe for specifics; e.g., ‘I can tell by the look on your face, you’re struggling with what I just said. Is it the content that’s troubling, or how I said it, or something else?’" 

Asking for descriptive feedback is a good idea for all of us. We can’t know for sure how we come across until we can see ourselves through others’ eyes. This is especially important for style Eight. These clients typically feel innocent inside, as Mike did, yet their intimidating demeanor may keep others from giving them the feedback they need. 

I affirmed this with Mike, and suggested he could help people be honest with him by saying something like, "I have somewhat of a weakness in understanding what makes people tick, and I need your help." I also told him: "LISTEN to their feedback without a rebuttal. Ask for specific examples and don’t argue with them."