This sixth life story, from the forthcoming book co-authored by C.J. Fitzsimons, is condensed from an interview with an Enneagram Six. In the book there will be eighteen life stories, two for each Enneagram style.
“One of my friends had told me several times you can’t fundamentally change – all you can do is change your behavior. I’d argued that point with him, but I don’t have to argue it anymore. I think transformation is profound change, to the point where you never want to go back.
“I recognized I had to change a long time ago, for my own well-being as well as for those around me. I’ve been yearning for this for a long time. I just never found a way to do it. Frankly, when I first looked at your web site I thought, My God, this is some sort of cult! It’s that funny diagram – I thought, What the heck is that? Then I read what you wrote about a counterphobic Six, and realized part of the reason my company hadn’t been successful in our new ventures was because I had a tendency to state my objections in such a blunt and often challenging way, I put my partners on the defensive. With coaching, I began to examine my own contribution to our lack of progress toward our strategic objectives, our ineffectiveness as a leadership group. I’d been so furious once about someone, the President said, “You know, I’m worried about you. You’re angry and accusing beyond anything that’s called for.” He was brave to say that because usually I’d fight to the death to defend my position. But this time I said, “This has got to change, for two reasons: I can’t keep acting like this, and we’re not effective.”
“I’d made substantial changes earlier in my marriage, but these changes weren’t so far-reaching. I complained a lot, I could be sarcastic, and realized if I didn’t make any changes at home I was going to lose my marriage. That was fairly profound, but I never carried it outside my marriage. I didn’t care what other people thought about me. I was going to go get the job done, and fuck ’em if they didn’t like the way I did it!
“At first I thought I was an Eight. I read Goldberg’s The Nine Ways of Working where he wrote that “Eights see black or white, friend or foe, strong or weak, likeable or not,” and I saw those extremes in me. I was bothered by my anger, and by what my anger did to people, including me – I probably took minutes or hours off my life every time I lost it. But Goldberg’s statement that “Eights are apparently guilt-free,” didn’t resonate at all. Along with the desire to change, I’ve carried tremendous guilt that I wasn’t able to change effectively, or wasn’t making any progress, or would revert.
“I used to dominate a conversation with nervous talk, but coaching sessions have taught me to look at somebody and listen to them and not to be in a hurry to overwhelm them with my answer. This weekend we had two huge training sessions, and from the minute I stood up in front of that 90-person group I felt different about them, what I was going to say, and how I was going to say it. I watched their responses and found myself letting people answer their own questions. Afterwards one guy stuck out his hand, and said, “Wasn’t this a really great weekend?” I had to get in the car and put my dark glasses on because there were a lot of people standing around and I wasn’t going to let them see the tears. This is so overwhelming, I don’t even quite know how to think about it.
“I’m far more relaxed. I used to get so upset over little things. Just this morning I went in the garage to put some stuff into the trunk of my car and the trunk was locked. My reaction a few weeks ago would have been, Goddamn it! Why is the trunk locked? But this morning I just thought, Oh, the trunk is locked, and I walked around to the door and unlocked the trunk. This sort of thing happens to me all the time now. I don’t know where my irritability went, all that pointing of fingers at other people.
“One result is that I’m having so much more fun. A year ago someone told me, ‘You never smile,’ and I’ve thought about that a lot recently. I was anxious, uptight because I didn’t want to show it. Now I find myself smiling all the time. Pleasant doesn’t even begin to describe how that feels.
“When I first talked to a therapist about my anger he said, ‘You’re doing fine.’ There I was, saying ‘I get angry, SO WHAT!!!!’ What the hell was he going to say? The next counselor I saw was not by choice either. The President of that company said, ‘Get some help or you’re out of here.’ But also, I was very dissatisfied where I was – I could do superb work but that was offset by my relationships with other people, my tendency to light into people who didn’t follow the ground rules. So this time the work with the counselor was good, but we just scratched the surface. For example, I’d put Post-It stickers on my dashboard to remind myself I ought not to lose my temper. And it worked until the Post-It fell off.
“Yet I knew I needed to make profound change. I had no knowledge of the Enneagram, no idea I’m a Six, no idea where the hell the journey would go or how to even start. I knew I had to change for my own good, for my marriage, for my job – probably mostly for my own good – but I didn’t know how to do it.
“What’s so awesome about this to me is that for some reason I’ve had absolute, almost child-like, unqualified trust in this process, a kind of surrender. This is very interesting, because growing up a Christian Scientist, one of the fundamental notions was, yield to God’s will and I always resisted that. I mean, ‘Nobody’s going to tell me what to do!’ The notion of spirituality has gained significance for me it never had. What I’ve done here is yield to something that has let me change. There’s this incredible sense of peace, a recognition there is some sort of spiritual force – relinquishing the notion there’s nothing out there or, if there is, it won’t help us.
“Learning Gendlin’s Focusing technique has helped – not self-condemning, simply noting. When I understood that, it was easy. It’s tied to what I was saying before about yielding. You’ve got to accept it’s the right thing and go with it. And I don’t have to sit there and think about what I’m doing. I’ve also read more about my Enneagram style. I can go back, look at the behaviors of a Six, recognize how that relates to me and what I can do about it. The oddest part is that I haven’t had to sit here and plot some kind of change. It has just sort of unfolded in front of me, and that has continued to awe me, the notion of yielding and letting it happen.
“I’ve learned that self-condemning is a major impediment to change. That’s the gorilla I’d been wrestling with, and you don’t easily get that off of your shoulders. But when I look at positive responses to changes in me from people I’ve treated pretty badly, it’s so rewarding that I’ve begun to say to myself, “Get off the guilt trip. There’s nothing you can do about it now, other than changing your current behavior.” And I think I’ve made progress.
“If I tried to model this, I probably could, but that would seem artificial to me. My experience of the process is more intuitive, diffuse, emotion-laden. It’s joy that moves it along. I don’t know if it has stages. I didn’t spiral into this, I didn’t go up steps, I didn’t go down steps, I’m not struggling or trying. I still find it amazing that I don’t have to go through the great labor I’d been enduring for years. Maybe whatever was blocking this change was tired. Maybe I’d beat that little mother to death!
“All through life I always had to know where I was going; otherwise I wasn’t going to do it. I mean, why the hell would we start if we weren’t going some place we had defined? But I got to thinking about your question, Where do I see this going and where am I in it? That supposes there is an end point, and I’m not sure I want to define an end point. Probably the most important part of all this is the continuing recognition that transformation makes sense, that it’s right, and just to continue the process.”