Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"Do I Belong?"

The Instincts Dialogue at this year's Enneagram Global Summit was the most actionable discussion for my coaching practice, exploring the instinctual aspects of the self-preservation, sexual, and social subtypes--"reptilian, biological, unconscious, automatic impulses to survive" (Bea Chestnut), "drives and also sensation, known to the body and important to know what they feel like" (Russ Hudson). My main takeaway was to pay less attention to subtype descriptions and to ask instead, as Hudson suggested, "What's my habitual relationship with this drive?'" 

I've simplified the subtype distinctions as defined by three key questions:
  • Self-Preservation instinct: "Am I safe?"
  • Sexual or One-to-One instinct: "Am I loved?"
  • Social instinct: "Do I belong?"
In my practice, every coaching call in some way addresses one of these questions. We want our clients to find a YES to all three: "I am safe." "I am loved." "I belong." And deeper understanding of a client's instinctual subtype preference will heighten our effectiveness in helping them answer these questions--not with a series of prescriptions but by encouraging them to ask, "What's my habitual relationship with this drive?"

Bea Chestnut offers an inspiring personal example on her web site, with a deep look at her Enneagram Two self-preservation instinct. And we learn from her story that growth arises from staying present, observing ourselves without judgment, becoming conscious of what has been unconscious and automatic:
... I felt something sweep through my entire body--an emotional and energetic recognition that told me he was right. I couldn't argue with him, even though my pride wanted to. If I was really honest with myself, I did feel like I needed protection. I wanted to say I could protect him, but I felt, so clearly, in m body, it wasn't true. So, I went and sat in the group with the other Self-Preservation Twos.
Of special interest to me lately has been the "Do I belong?" question, several of my clients exploring how Enneagram patterns help or hinder connection to the world community--mostly through either political or environmental concerns. As Bea Chestnut said in The Instincts Dialogue, "We've lost touch with the fact that in primitive people, being part of a tribe was essential to survival."

I've been reading about the physiological and neurological aspects of our instinct to be part of a tribe (activating social connectivity via the ventral vagal nerve system in The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, and the effects of social connectivity on gene expression in "The Social Life of Genes"). So where does this curiosity lead me as a coach and mentor? As did Bea Chestnut in her story above, I typically explore the practical aspects of a concept through self-observation:
  • Historically, my one-to-one instinct had been the strongest influence on my Enneagram style Nine patterns ["At Best, bonds with others, supportive of their ideas, gets buy-in through consensus; At Worst, lives too much through another (parent, spouse, boss, friend, client)"].
  • I'd developed some fairly deep self-awareness and found my own agenda in relationships to a much greater degree than previously. Then my aging mother's need for help gave me an advanced course in staying present. During the 17 years of caring for her, our early life relationship dynamics threatened to define the two of us again. Exploring those triggers helped me further loosen the unconscious hold of my one-to-one instinct. 
  • At the same time, my least-preferred social instinct was being further compromised--by increasing responsibilities for Mom (she lived to be 104!), my natural introversion, and--with the burgeoning of the internet--the opportunity to maintain all my interests (phone coaching, reading/writing, painting) almost exclusively within these four walls. 
  • So, along with many of my clients, I've been feeling the pinch of a lack of social connectivity, wanting to be part of a tribe, wanting to feel in my bones, "Yes, I belong," yet also asking What's my habitual relationship with this drive? Noticing when I've stopped myself, and also noticing circumstances that help me to connect--groups of moderate size, groups where the discussion is centered on something I want to learn, groups where there's no pressure to speak but interaction is facilitated, groups whose members share my most fervent beliefs.
  • One step at a time.