This fifth life story, from the forthcoming book co-authored by C.J. Fitzsimons, is condensed from an interview with an Enneagram Five. In the book there will be eighteen life stories, two for each Enneagram style.
“Transformation is moving from one consistent and orderly psychic state to another more consistent and more integrated psychic state. The Enneagram provides a context to become aware of the assumptions, biases, and limitations of my point group and begin consciously choosing different assumptions and points of view.
“I can think of many times when I had flashes of insight where I’ve seen things in a different way than I’d ever expected. I changed in college – just from attending classes and having conversations with fellow students. In a philosophy class as a Freshman we discussed how God could not contradict Himself. And I said to the professor in this very naïve voice, “You mean, God cannot do everything?” That was a flash of insight for me.
“The depth of interest in Jung came from my mid-life issues: I saw his approach as a way to understand men and women and their roles, realizing this approach was a fascinating way to understand myself and others. The Enneagram system came from curiosity – Is this a real system? Why are so many people fascinated by it? I’m still trying to understand why I got this direction. Part of it came from hearing about transformation in an Enneagram context – particularly what Helen Palmer had to say about developing the inner observer. Part of it came from a retreat experience where we practiced meditation, and later I joined a meditation group.
“I’ve also had an experience of dramatic emotional change. I did everything in the world to keep my first marriage from ending, and when it finally did happen it was a blow to my self-esteem. Specifically, I realized I didn’t really understand what feelings were all about. My wife would accuse me of not having feelings, of being too logical, and I didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Finally, I realized intellectually I needed to do something, and that’s when I got involved in therapy. What the therapist did for me was just listen. He’d even show feelings of sadness and sorrow. His expressing emotions really helped to give me some kind of self-confidence by conveying I was somebody worthwhile. At the same time I joined a therapy group where we’d talk about things that were happening to us. I had always been a good guy and never did anything wrong, but in some of these sessions I’d yell and scream and let out all this horrible unconscious stuff. I had to accept it, and realized I really did have feelings. That was the beginning of the transformation. I started reading books on psychology, which was my first involvement in things deeper than the conscious.
“I was more of a typical Five in my twenties and early thirties, a scientist doing research. It was through the struggle of my first marriage that I became more than just a normal Five – bringing emotional dimensions into my life. As painful as it was, my divorce was also liberating. I felt a certain amount of freedom because the relationship had been such a terrible block to my doing anything other than reacting to it. But the biggest lesson I learned from my divorce, besides realizing I have feelings, is that you need to share your strength as well as your compassion. You can’t deal with some people kindly because they aren’t going to be nice to you. I’ve been able to express myself more aggressively instead of withdrawing, although most of what I’ve described left me shaken. Certainly whenever I express explosive anger it shakes me up.
“I’m also aware of how my strength can be over-exercised. In my second marriage, I found myself living with an alcoholic, and became aware of my strength as a co-dependency issue. It wasn’t one big insight, but it was definitely a shift over time to realize how I would take care of things. I’m well aware of this issue in my life now and consciously try to deal with it. I realize, for example, how I like to take care of my kids, and wonder, Do I get involved too much? Do I not let them do enough, do I not make them live up to things?
“Hearing people in the Enneagram community talk about transformation has legitimized it for me, and given me a mental framework – that the way to live is to somehow get away from personality. The Jungians say you need to have some contact with your unconscious to develop the Ego/Self axis – between your ego and your inner core. I like the whole intellectual idea you learn from the Enneagram, that we’re living in some kind of unconscious activity, and to try to get away from that, to get out of being asleep.
“In all cases, I’ve helped the process move by learning more about the subject relevant to my transformation. In most cases I joined groups to help me with new insights or ways of acting. In mid-life I went to T-groups, therapy groups, male-female workshops. More recently, I’ve attended Alanon, groups on Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram. I attend a weekly meditation group and have thought about doing Tai Chi – because the whole idea is getting out of my head, getting into other parts of my psyche, of who I am. I realized I was just thinking too much. I’ve also written down my dreams, trying active imagination.
“I use the Enneagram in a retrospective rather than a prospective way. For example, when I learned I was a Five, I looked back and realized I had been able to engage with people and really enjoy it without revealing who I was myself, because I’d always been behind a screen of words. I assumed people didn’t want to know about me. Now I reveal more, when I’m comfortable with someone. I can look for my generic Enneagram traits, noticing for example, I’m probably too much in my head right now.”
“I see the process of transformation as a Hero’s Journey. You receive a call, you engage in the search, then there’s a struggle, you have a breakthrough, and you return, somehow changed. One situation where the call was particularly clear to was to teach a university course on personal development. After I retired, I was just living my life when I got a phone call from the woman then teaching it, who told me she was leaving town and asked me to attend the following week to see if I’d be willing to take over for her. I took it as a call into the journey, because I thought Why did I get a phone call out of the middle of nowhere, from someone I’ve never had contact with in my life, and who somehow knew there was a good chance I’d do it? It appealed to something inside of me at an intuitive level that said Something is going on here, and I decided to try it out. I could not believe the response of people taking that course – the warmth, and love. It’s been great, wonderful! It’s made these intellectual concepts more human. It’s taken me outside my house and outside myself. And this is the way my life is going. The trick is to recognize it when it happens.”
Mary Bast, PhD, coach and coach mentor, is co-author of the first Enneagram coaching book – Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram – and author of several coaching workbooks. More information at www.breakoutofthebox.com.