I wrote about mindsets on my website Farther to Go! last month, but as with many of the topics I write about there, this seems relevant in terms of Enneagram types. I suspect it is easier for some types to develop–or to already have–a Get Better mindset, while other types find it more difficult to break out of the Be Good mindset. Full article here.
One of the things I like about the type profiles in Don Riso and Russ Hudson’s Personality Types is the succinct “Key Motivations” they describe for each type. Since my score on their Enneagram test (way back when) had only a one-point difference between 8 and 7, reading the Key Motivations helped make it abundantly clear to me that I’m an 8w7, not a 7w8.
Recently, I incorporated these Key Motivations and some of Jerome Wagner’s information on the shadow into descriptions of what drives each type. This was for a group I’ve been working with in which everyone knows their type. During the group discussion, it became clear that some people think these are conscious motivations. As conscious motivations, they seem somewhat objectionable or at least unflattering. But they’re not conscious, they’re unconscious. Enneagram behavior is automatic, or autopilot, behavior. It’s the opposite of conscious behavior.
1s, for example, don’t wake up in the morning and tell themselves nothing is more important to them that day than being right. I don’t get up in the morning and tell myself I’m off to assert myself and prevail over my environment.
Our unconscious motivations are like hidden—at least to us—agendas. They’re more obvious to others because other people see only what we do and say and how we react. They see us from the outside. They don’t have access to our inner experience or personal history. More importantly, they don’t have access to the stories and explanations we’re constantly spinning that tend to obscure our agendas and keep them hidden from us.
No matter how hard we try, we can’t uncover our unconscious motivation by looking inward. If we want to understand what drives us, we have to look not at what we think or feel or want to do, but at what we actually do.
Socrates was only partly wrong that the “unexamined life is not worth living.” The key is the kind of self-examination people perform, and the extent to which people attempt to know themselves solely by looking inward, versus looking outward at their own behavior and how others react to them.
–Timothy D. Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves
Paying attention to what we do is a great focus for self-observation. And paying attention to what we do pays off, too, because as long as our agendas are hidden from us, we’re stuck being at the effect of them.
Unconscious Motivation for the Nine Types
[Note: Key Motivations from Personality Types are in italics.]
1s are compliant to their idealistic obligations, moving toward what will help them earn righteousness and resisting the inner impulses that might lead them astray. To keep their angry impulses out of their awareness, they do the opposite of what they are inclined to do (instead of confronting someone, being nice to him or her; instead of being sexual, becoming puritanical). They tend to be concerned with what is right in front of them (subject, as are the other two Compliant types, to what has been called “the tyranny of the immediate moment”). They tend to play by the rules and expect others to do so, too. They want to be right, to have integrity and balance, to strive higher and improve others, to be consistent with their ideals, to justify themselves, to be beyond criticism so as not to be condemned by anyone. Type 1 is called The Good Person, The Achiever, The Reformer, and The Perfectionist.
2s are compliant to their need to be seen as friendly and helpful by others, so they move toward what will help them earn attention and approval. They tend to be concerned with what is right in front of them (subject, as are the other two Compliant types, to what has been called “the tyranny of the immediate moment”). They tend to recognize the needs of others and are happy to roll up their sleeves to tackle others’ problems while pushing their own into the background. Because their own needs make them anxious, they keep them out of their awareness by repressing them. They project their needs onto others (so other people are needy, but they aren’t). They want to be loved, to express their feelings for others, to be needed and appreciated, to get others to respond to them, to vindicate their claims about themselves. Type 2 is called The Helper, The Giver, The People Pleaser, and The Partner.
3s aggressively attempt to maintain both an inner and an outer image of success, moving against anything that prevents them from attaining their goals. To keep failure out of their awareness, they identify with whatever successful mask or role they are playing at the time. They identify with their roles instead of with themselves. Like the other Aggressive types, they tend to hurry through the present and not give much thought to the past. They will play by the rules if that works for them, but they’re willing to bend the rules in order to meet their goals or objectives. They want to feel valuable and worthwhile, to be affirmed, to distinguish themselves, to have attention, to be admired, and to impress others. Type 3 is called The Performer, The Succeeder, The Motivator, and the Status Seeker.
4s withdraw in order to nurture an internal image of uniqueness, moving away from anything that triggers a sense of something lacking. In order to avoid experiencing the common and ordinary, whenever anything seems bland they turn it into something extraordinary or dramatic. Like the other Withdrawing types, they tend to focus on the past, often feeling victimized by it. They tend to feel like they’re on the outside to begin with and are very sensitive to slights and perceived slights (lack of support). They are easily hurt. They want to be themselves, to express themselves in something beautiful, to find the ideal partner, to withdraw to protect their feelings, to take care of emotional needs before attending to anything else. Type 4 is called The Individualist, The Tragic Romantic, The Artist, and The Sensitive Person.
5s doubt their ability to deal effectively with the external world, so they withdraw into their own minds to avoid coming in contact with anything that might make them feel inadequate. To avoid feeling empty, they isolate themselves in their heads away from their feelings and other people. They focus on their thoughts in order to make themselves feel full and comfortable. They also isolate or compartmentalize one time period—or aspect—of life from another. Like the other Withdrawing types, they tend to focus on the past and often reflect on their prior experiences. They aren’t interested in following rules. They don’t like being a part of the system, so they prefer to do things their own way. They want to be capable and competent, to master a body of knowledge and skill, to explore reality, to remain undisturbed by others, to reduce their needs. Type 5 is called The Observer, The Investigator, The Knowledge-Seeker, and The Thinker.
Because they are anxious about their inner worlds and the external world, 6s move toward whatever—and whomever—they believe will make them feel safe and secure. 6s are the most anxious of the three Thinking center types. They project onto others their own sense of disobedience and rebellion. Other people are trying to get away with things, and 6s need to monitor their activities and bring them in line with their authority’s principles. Or others are trying to trip them up and trap them. They tend to be concerned with what is right in front of them (subject, as are the other two Compliant types, to what has been called “the tyranny of the immediate moment”). They want to be seen as strong and reliable, but at the same time they want to feel supported by others. They can get defensive. They want to have security, to feel supported, to have the approval of others, to test the attitudes of others toward them, to defend their beliefs. Type 6 is called The Loyalist, The Questioner, The Guardian, and The Devil’s Advocate.
7s want to avoid experiencing the pain that could result from their own thoughts and feelings, so they aggressively move against whatever gets in the way of their happiness and contentment by focusing on external events and activities. To keep pain out of their awareness, they sublimate it and turn it into something interesting or good. They automatically look for the good in everything. So they might celebrate the new life of a deceased loved one rather than mourn their loss. Like the other Aggressive types, they tend to hurry through the present as they make plans for the future. They tend to be more focused on their own needs and often fail to notice the needs (and problems) of others. They want to be happy and satisfied, to have a wide variety of experiences, to keep their options open, to enjoy life and amuse themselves, to escape anxiety. Type 7 is called The Adventurer, The Epicure, The Generalist, and The Enthusiast.
8s aggressively assert themselves against others and the environment, moving against what gets in the way of their pursuit of their agendas. To prevent weakness from showing up in their awareness or persona, they deny any presence of it (the real kings and queens of denial). Like the other Aggressive types, they tend to hurry through the present and not give much thought to the past. They are comfortable in the supportive role, but they don’t want to need other people, so they keep their guard up to prevent others from getting too close. They are easily angered. They want to be self-reliant, to resist their weakness, to have an impact on the environment, to assert themselves, to stay in control, to prevail over others, to be invincible. Type 8 is called The Challenger, The Confronter, The Leader, the Asserter (and a few other things that are unprintable).
9s withdraw so others won’t disturb their inner peacefulness, moving away from anything that triggers a sense of distress and discomfort, whether it’s internal or external. To avoid conflict, they numb their feelings, wants, and preferences. They make everything the same and highlight nothing. They make molehills out of mountains. Like the other Withdrawing types, they are focused on the past and tend to ruminate about what happened, both good and bad. They try to pay attention to others’ needs as well as their own; as a result, they often become overwhelmed so they tune out instead of responding to either. They want to have serenity and peace of mind, to create harmony in their environment, to preserve things as they are, to avoid conflicts and tension, to escape upsetting problems and demands on them. Type 9 is called The Peacemaker, The Preservationist, The Mediator, and the Universalist.
Peace out. 🙂
What does it mean to “be yourself”? Do you know who that is? When someone goes on a journey to find him or herself, what—or who—do they find? And what are they actually looking for? Does a self even exist?
That last question may seem a little out there, but I think these are all good questions to ask. People end relationships because they weren’t able to be themselves. They like to have friends with whom they can just be themselves. And sometimes, for one reason or another, people are afraid to be themselves.
This train of thought was inspired by the post of another blogger, Donald Fulmer at Museical Garden. It begins:
Whoa—not me. I didn’t want the attention, the humiliation, people making fun of me. I wanted people to smile and leave me alone. Which they did.
I couldn’t just be myself. Or wouldn’t, I mean.
Don is a 9, as he makes pretty clear right off the bat (and as he’s told me). He goes on to talk about a tattoo he just got:
A large tattoo—of flowers. Lotuses to be exact. Beautiful, rich red lotuses.
And here it is:
He took a chance on doing something a bit outrageous—and, hey, it turned out OK. To me, Don’s post was like a celebration: a coming out party for a 9. The title, “It Hurts to Be Yourself,” is a double entendre. It hurts to get a tattoo, of course; and sometimes, maybe, it hurts to be yourself. While I was thinking about what he’d written, I realized that as an 8, my experience is pretty much the opposite of his. I’d say that for me, it hurts to not be myself.
OUR SELVES R US
But again, what or who the heck is that? The truth is that we’re probably composed of many different selves. In Stumbling on Happiness, for example, Daniel Gilbert says we have at least three: our past self, our present self, and our future self. Our past self has set in motion much of what our present self now wants nothing to do with. And our present self is quite confident it knows exactly what will make our future self happy. His premise is that our present self is really clueless about our future self. It’s one of the problems with the way our brains work: we equate confidence with validity when the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
But returning to the question of selves, I suspect that what we think of as our true self is really the particular set of compulsions, automatic responses, and (as David Eagleman calls them) zombie subroutines we have developed since birth. I doubt we were born in some perfect state and have been corrupted by our subsequent experiences—otherwise known as life. I think the development of our particular compulsions and autopilot behaviors is just a natural response and reaction to the joys and exigencies of life. Our unique dance with life, if you will.
The desire to locate some essential, authentic, uncorrupted self underneath all the compulsions and automatic responses seems literally wrongheaded. As Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine always said, what you see is what you get. And that’s amazing enough! We are marvelous, amusing, innovative, and fascinating creatures with astonishing possibility, not in spite of our compulsions and idiosyncrasies but because of them. We just need to shake loose from our concepts about who we are or who we think we’re supposed to be.
Don wrote that the lotuses in his tattoo symbolize enlightenment: seeing things as they really are. Right on, Don!
So, yes, by all means be yourselves. There are no other selves you can be.
If you aren’t yet convinced that much of what you do is completely outside your conscious intentions and control, the Enneagram might change your mind. At the time I wrote the following introductory post (Know Thyself) for my Enneagram blog Nine Paths, I had yet to learn just how much of our lives we spend on autopilot.
When you identify your type, you may find that the Enneagram knows you better than you knew yourself. It isn’t the personality equivalent of a Theory of Everything, but it gives you a place to look, a way to pay attention to what you’re doing, thinking, and feeling. It’s absolutely the best tool I’ve found for demonstrating how habitual and compulsive our behavior is and for expanding self-awareness. Unless we develop self-awareness, we have little chance of changing or overriding our compulsive behavior.
Was the ancient Greek sage who inscribed those words at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi exhorting us to understand ourselves? It isn’t entirely clear. But it is clear that Socrates, who insisted the unexamined life is not worth living, meant exactly that when he used the same words. But how do we examine our lives? How do we get to know ourselves?
The Enneagram is one means to that end. It is an apparently simple, yet rich and complex system that reveals our strengths and weaknesses, our deeper-level motivations, and most importantly, the compulsions that often rule our (unexamined) lives. We move through this world under the impression we’re making authentic choices, but most of the time we’re just blindly following our compulsions, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome. We’re living our lives on autopilot; asleep at the wheel.
Only after we become aware of our habitual patterns of behavior and responses can we turn the autopilot switch off and freelychoose what to do or how to respond. The better we know ourselves, the less likely we are to be ruled by our compulsions. The less we are ruled by our compulsions, the more open and authentic we are. Gaining this depth of personal knowledge and understanding has another benefit, also pointed out by Socrates: it helps us understand other people better, too. In fact, Socrates believed we have to understand ourselves before we can truly understand anyone or anything else.
At the simplest level, the Enneagram can be viewed as a personality typing system, but don’t think recognizing and accepting your Enneagram type will strip you of your unique sense of identity or individuality by lumping you together with every other person of the same type. Far from being a narrow one-size-fits-all box, each point has plenty of room for subtleties and variations.
Since it doesn’t simply pigeonhole people, but is a comprehensive and multifaceted system, it takes a bit of effort to fully grasp. Numerous books are now available on the Enneagram, written from various perspectives. Below is a very basic overview of the key elements.
Enneagram is a Greek word that means nine points. The Enneagram symbol is composed of a triangle and a hexad within a circle.
The resulting nine points represent nine basic, or core, personality types, each of which has a unique perspective and approach to life. The theory behind the Enneagram is that we each polarize at one of the nine points. We then overdevelop the characteristics associated with that point, while leaving the characteristics associated with the other points undeveloped. So each point also represents a particular type of imbalance. Our core personality type doesn’t change over the course of a lifetime, but as we become aware of our imbalances, we gain the ability to moderate them. We are no longer ruled by them.
Read the rest of the post here.
Current neuroscience research supports the Buddhist belief that we are sleepwalking through life (“budhi” means to wake up), as well as the theory behind the Enneagram that we are all on autopilot most of the time. Although we have the impression that our behavior is consciously chosen, consciousness comprises only a small part of our brain’s activity—and consciousness is both limited and a huge energy hog. The vast majority of our thoughts, feelings, and actions are the result of brain activity we aren’t even aware of.
It can be hard to come to terms with the idea that we’re not consciously choosing every single thing we do. Even if we don’t always like what we’ve done—or at least the results—we want to believe we have freely chosen to do those things. Choice and freedom go hand-in-hand for us, and free choice means we have the ability or power to decide and to act of our own free will. But the reality is that our unconscious rules us to a considerable extent; and there is no way for us to directly access the unconscious.
We evolved this way in order to increase our chances of surviving. If we were forced to consciously think about everything we do, starting when we get out of bed in the morning, we would quickly deplete our brain’s reserves of conscious attention. Then, when a situation arose that required conscious attention, we wouldn’t have any left to devote to it. The expression “brain dead” aptly describes this state.
When we’re “brain dead,” our brain hasn’t really stopped functioning. We probably can’t solve a tricky problem or plan a complex project or learn and retain new information. But our unconscious is still operating just fine. It can get us home while looking out for any potential danger, take us through the operation of familiar kitchen appliances or drive-through restaurants to get us fed, and make sure we complete our regular bedtime routines.
Those are the kinds of things our unconscious does best. It’s always looking out for us, which is a very good thing. However, it has much more influence over us than we’re aware of, and it’s been influencing us our entire lives. After decades of believing we’re running the show, it can be tough—and initially alarming—to recognize how little control we actually have.
Yet, waking up to this state of affairs and figuring out where to find the autopilot switch is the only chance we have of actually gaining some control. Neuroscience is now giving us an opportunity to take a peek under the hood, so to speak. It’s fascinating to me. The research supports what I’ve been aware of ever since I was introduced to the Enneagram nearly 20 years ago–and what Buddhism has been telling us for centuries.
This is the video clip of Type 9 from understandingpersonality.com, the last one in the series. Viewing this from my perspective as an 8, I was keenly aware of being impatient at how slowly the keywords appear in the beginning and how many times the people being interviewed pause.
“Oh, get on with it,” my inner voice nearly shouted. Then I stopped and took a deep breath.
While 8s visibly expend their energy, 9s expend their energy internally. If you didn’t know that, you might wonder why they are the ones who are so tired. But I get that being a 9 can be exhausting. And I thought this was the most profound statement:
There’s a moment where you stop adapting.
You can almost feel this woman letting go. Ahhhh.
Here’s the video clip on Type 8 from understandingpersonality.com. After watching this a couple of times, I still had trouble relating to several of these people and their descriptions of their personal experiences. I thought that might be because I have such a strong 7 wing. But I’ve watched 8s on other videos with whom I’ve identified quite closely. Then I noticed that someone else commented that he or she thought only one of the people in this video is actually an 8. I don’t know whether that person was another 8.
I call a spade a spade, and I use it.
Ha! That was my favorite comment. It made me laugh out loud. But what I related to most were the two comments about dealing with “fools.” My partner used to threaten to get me a T-shirt (one in a series) that said “Does Not Suffer Fools Gladly.”