What it Mean to Become Conscious
When an individual is living at level 5 or below they are living in a state of unconsciousness. (This doesn’t mean they don’t have times during their day when they are more conscious and present.) What does being “conscious” of oneself mean? If an individual is conscious they are able to objectively observe themselves in action. That is, when they are triggered emotionally they remember the event and their feelings as it ‘actually’ happened. If someone pushes an emotional button of vulnerability in them and they respond with quick anger or make an aggressive attack to cover this feeling of vulnerability, in self-reflection they can say to themselves: “Wow, I wasn’t really under an attack by Thomas, but his tone of voice seemed to ignite fear inside me. Without thinking I reacted as if he was bringing on a full-scale attack. I was scared for some reason, and instead of simply saying I was triggered by his tone of voice, I reacted with instantaneous fear, anger and attack, and put him on the defensive. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t control it, and I completely lost track of my real feeling of fear. None of this was planned. I need to apologize.”
A more conscious person is able to track their reactive responses and to quickly make amends in their communication. Or, at the very least, can quickly reflect in the aftermath of the reactive explosion, that “Yes, I was a little insane in my response, in fact, I wasn’t there at all. What was there was my habitual emotional ‘reaction’ that got triggered before I could even say, Hold on there, Jackson, let’s think this through. The reaction exploded from the gates of myself like a frenzied racehorse, while I stood in the aftermath thinking, yikes, I will need to apologize for this reaction once again.”
An unconscious person will believe their reactive response (Level 5 and down), and believe that their over-reaction was a necessary and correct interpretation of reality. At the healthy levels of expression (Level 1 to 3) the individual is less likely to misread the behavior of another as an attack on them, or will be able to notice in the moment that someone’s behavior is triggering something vulnerable or reactive in them. They will not impulsively retaliate with either withdrawal, or counter attack. This is precisely what happens at the average levels and unhealthy levels of health. People go unconscious and don’t know they’ve gone unconscious. It all happens so fast that they are unable to sit back and observe what they felt, how they reacted, and to what extent their response was a result of their own internal reactivity. Their type-specific way of leaving reality has taken charge.
The Type Eight Going Blind—The Dynamics of Type “Triggers”
As an example of this, let’s look at the Type Eight. When healthy, the Type Eight is inspired to express strength, decisiveness, courage and power in service of love and support of others. He enthusiastically takes charge of his life and its direction. At his core he has a fear of being violated and controlled. His ‘triggers’ center around his perceived loss of control, and his potential violation or betrayal by others. When he is living at the average levels of health and below his gut response to perceived threats is unrestrained anger and assertion, forceful and quick. (As in, “Get the hell out of my way. This is war. Don’t mess with me or I’ll hurt you, now.”) But here’s the deal. When the Type Eight is unaware of his triggers (the perception and fear that he’s being attacked—L5 and down) he may be prone to attacking and confronting the environment, people, groups, etc., when they aren’t really attacking or threatening him in the least, while he feels certain they are. If he stays unconscious to this internal response pattern, he will feel justified in attacking whenever he senses a threat, real or imagined (Level 5-7 dynamics) and he will end up causing the very attacks he is fearful of receiving.
He will be constantly monitoring the environment for signs of betrayal, or for signs of someone trying to take his independence away, and will snap into action when he feels this is happening. In effect, he becomes “an attack waiting to happen” and will experience life through the tiny window of “Life is a battle that I must defend myself against.” The more unconscious he is (L5 and below), the more he will be an attack-dog simply waiting to be betrayed.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the Type
Charged for attack, what sort of freedom does this give the Type Eight? Almost none. The farther an individual has descended down the Levels the less freedom he has to navigate life with flexibility and clarity, and the more he creates what he wishes to avoid (welcome to the prison cell of Level 5-7). His ability to open up and experience loving connection with others, to trust life itself, to feel the graceful flow of life, will be greatly hindered. Until the Eight gets healthier he will continually create and fulfill his self-fulfilling prophecy and core belief: that life is a battle and he must defend himself against it or be harmed. His capacity to be at ease, to be vulnerable and open to others will be minimal. He will have little range of movement to taste and experience the broad range of possibilities for joy, spontaneity, love, celebration, tenderness and gentle reverie. Little real happiness will touch him. And his unhappiness will further support his belief that life is an unpleasant place where people will attack you and harm you. (And addiction will look like a solution. Why stay clean and sober when I can’t trust life or enjoy it?!)
Looking at life through the window of paranoia and betrayal, he will see justification everywhere for his feeling of paranoia and betrayal. He will be unaware that he is missing a broad expanse of human experience and confusing his one-window view of the world as reality (Level 5 and below in all the types). Nor will he see that this fixed way of seeing life creates life to be exactly as he projects it.
Recovering individuals living at L5 to L7 are often in the grip of their own self-fulfilling prophecy, paradoxically creating the reality they wish to avoid. Sober, they discover that they habitually undo their very best work. As their heart, mind and body close down due to their emotional reactivity or fixated thinking patterns, they unwittingly head in the wrong direction. The Type Nine lives fearful of conflict and separation from loved ones and by disengaging from reality he creates terrible conflicts and separation from those he loves. The Type One lives fearful of being wrong and making errors and through his opinionated, harsh judgments makes psychological and emotional errors that isolate him from others. The Type Two lives fearful of having no love and by her unhealthy attempts to intrude upon, connect with and create love with others, insures she will not be loved. The Type Three lives fearful of failure and striving to promote an image of success at all costs and gain approval from others, fails his own heart and loses what he cares most about. The Type Four lives fearful of being insignificant, and through his self-absorbed, envious, entitled behaviors (L5-L7 behaviors) creates the very insignificance he seeks to avoid. The Five, afraid of not understanding life, withdraws into his analyzing mind and loses contact with real understanding. The Six, filled with doubt and wanting security, creates more doubt and insecurity through his worrying, anxious mind and reactive behaviors. The Seven, seeking true satisfaction and joy, creates unhappiness through his impulsive search for satisfaction. The Eight, fearful of being harmed, defends and protects himself in such manner that he inspires retaliation and rejection by those he cares for.
With the dynamics of the Levels of Development under our belt, let’s take a look at the next chapter.
Michael Naylor, M.Ed, CCPC, LADC, CCS, is a faculty member of the Enneagram Institute, a Certified Professional Coach, an Authorized Riso-Hudson Enneagram Teacher, and IEA accredited teacher, and a Licensed Addictions Therapist. He teaches in the U.S.A and coaches internationally.