Tag Archives: Relationships

Mom, Me, and the Enneagram

no-one-wayI’ve written about my relationship with my mother on Nine Paths before. And yesterday I posted a portrait of her on Facebook, along with these comments:

This is a portrait of my mother as a young woman. It was taken before she married my father, so late 1930s or early 1940s. She was born 12/19/17 and died 11/05/99. We were about as opposite, temperamentally, as a mother and daughter could be. But she had a great sense of humor, so although we argued–a lot!–we also laughed a lot, which is probably what carried us through.

Temperamentally speaking, my mother and I were kind of a match made in hell. She was a 9 with a very strong 1 wing, which we both learned when she agreed to explore the Enneagram a couple of years before she died. I’m an 8 with a very strong 7 wing. To top it off, on the Riso-Hudson (RHETI) test, her lowest score was for 8 and my lowest score was for 9.

This is typically how things went between us:

Mom: Follow the rules.
Me: Well, I will if I agree with them.

Mom: What will the neighbors think?
Me: Who cares what the freaking neighbors think?

Mom: Do what I tell you to do.
Me: Why?

Mom: Why can’t you kids stop fighting? (I have two younger brothers.)
Me: Because we don’t get along–obviously!

Mom: You need to do (fill in the blank) exactly this way.
Me: Well, that makes no sense. If you want me to do it, I’ll do it my way. Otherwise, feel free to do it your way.

To say the least, I was a challenge for my mother to raise–much more so than either of my brothers. And my mother was a challenge for me to deal with. I knew nothing about the Enneagram when I was growing up, but I did pretty much figure out how to get around her. Although I didn’t know she was a 9, I was aware that she really didn’t want to know about all the stuff I was doing that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, so I just told her what she wanted to hear. When anything questionable came to her attention, her 1 wing compelled her to take action, which she did–or tried to do. But as an 8, I was willing to accept the consequences, and I knew she would eventually get over it.

I learned a lot about the upside of type 9 many years later from my friend, Donna, when we co-facilitated groups at the substance clinic where we both worked. I like to think that growing up I would have been more sympathetic to my mother and less of a pain in the ass if I’d known then what I know now.

The practical benefits of learning the basics of the Enneagram can be enormous. For one thing, they can give us a fighting chance of understanding each other, which is something the world could really use right now. That’s one reason why I support making the Enneagram accessible to a much bigger and broader audience.

Type 8: Embrace Your Inner Weak Sister

Powerful, I take responsibility for who I am, ...

(Photo credit: Tomas Sobek)

8s are pretty darn capable people. They will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Sometimes they will even do more than it takes. They are proud of being able to accomplish what they set out to do and of their ability to deal with adversity, challenges, and obstacles. 8s tend to feel as if they can weather whatever storm nature throws at them. If you are being treated unfairly—caught in a metaphorical or an actual storm—8s will also direct their considerable energy on your behalf.

But their tough exterior covers the same kind of fear every other type has, which is that deep down—or when push comes to shove—they are not all that. 8s whose identities are completely wrapped up in being a powerful force of nature expend quite a lot of energy proving it over and over again to themselves and to everyone else. Once is definitely not enough.

However, no man is an island—and no woman is, either. We are interdependent. We need each other. As far as 8s are concerned, it’s perfectly OK for someone else to be needy. But it’s definitely not OK for 8s to feel needy, actually be needy, or—horrors!—be seen as needy. It’s kind of the opposite situation to the boy who cried wolf. 8s do such a good job convincing everyone else of their hardiness and durability that others assume they don’t need help. Ever.

Notice that 8 over there who just fell through the ice? No worries. He’s got everything under control. See, he’s signaling that he’s just fine. Yes, he’ll be waving everyone off until the moment he slips under the ice and is gone, victim to his compulsion to always be the rescuer and never the one who is rescued.

It’s great to be able to tough things out, but it’s not so great to risk life and limb out of the compulsion to tough them out.

People…people Who Need People…*

One of the things 8s fail to recognize, in addition to the utter folly of their total commitment to their position, is that other people like to be needed. They appreciate being able to help each other. Another thing is that always being the one to lend a hand and never being willing to accept a hand creates an imbalance in all of one’s personal relationships. This ought to make an impact on 8s, who are greatly concerned with fairness and balance. Give and take—or give and accept—would make a good mantra for 8s.

When 8s embrace their inner Weak Sister (whether male or female), they can let down their guard and admit they don’t have every single thing under control. They may not be able to deal with a thing or two life throws at them. So once in a while, they could possibly use a little help from their friends. It’s OK to ask. When they do, they may be surprised to find out that expressing vulnerability does not knock them down a notch in everyone else’s eyes. It might even raise them up a notch or two.

*not an endorsement of the song