I once spent a week at a resort hotel on a remote part of the Oregon coast. It rained every day and presumably the guests knew that Oregon is famous for its rain. Nevertheless, at mealtime the topic on everyone’s lips was the bad weather and how it was ruining their vacation.
Each day when I walked the sand dunes along the nearby shore, I saw no guests from the hotel except an older woman whom I had observed at mealtimes. She took no part in the general lament. Each day she would walk the shore, dressed in slickers, carrying a satchel with a small clam fork for digging up shells. She spoke very little, would only nod when I passed her on the beach, but she seemed to have a light in her eyes.
One night, tired of the complaining, I arranged to sit next to her at dinner. After idly chatting for a few minutes I asked her, “Why has the rain has ruined everyone’s vacation but yours?”
She shrugged and said, “It wanted to rain. So I decided to let it.”
As we move from Eights to Nine, we shift from an overtly forceful Enneagram style to one that manages anger in almost a reverse way. Nines tend to suppress and implode their anger, to derail their aggression and focus instead upon merging with and appeasing their environment.
Healthy Nines are even-tempered, stable, unassuming, tolerant and comfortable with who they are. They can be forgiving friends and slow to personalize or take offense. They often have a cheerful Seven-like outlook, although they live in the present rather than the future.
Nines are sometimes described as the “common people” of the Enneagram. When healthy, they are deeply modest and possess an elegant simplicity of manner and thought. A Nine CEO of a large corporation was so self-effacing that he worried not being admitted into his own headquarters whenever he forgot his photo identification card. Interviewed after he won the Nobel peace prize, Tibet’s Dalai Lama, another Nine, was nakedly delighted about the cash prize of one million dollars although it was clear he had no intention of spending the money on himself. Asked why he thought he had won the prize, he answered by explaining that he used to have a terrible temper but had worked hard to overcome it. “Now,” he concluded, “I have so many more friends!”
Healthy Nines are gently dynamic, suffused with a highly integrated sense of themselves and their implicit mission. Most try to contribute to the world around them in a way that benefits everyone. “A lot of times in my department at work I feel, if they’ve succeeded, I’ve succeeded,” a Nine explains, “My ego does not demand that much. As long as there is success, I’m satisfied.” Another Nine adds: “It’s not my agenda that’s more important but it’s an agenda that I may be involved with and it’s important, but it’s not for me, it’s for the accomplishment of the team or the facility or the institution or whatever. I will promote that if I’m involved with it but not for my own sake. I feel like an instrument of a greater good.”
Being an instrument of the greater good is generally rooted in love and Nines are fundamentally motivated by love although they may call it by other names. Unlike Twos, who specialize in personalized love, a Nine’s love is more ambient and generalized, an egoless path of least resistance. Their instincts are humanitarian and they express the power of love in their daily actions and behavior, through what Enneagram books call “right” action.
Nines have “novelists minds.” Good fiction writers can see through the eyes of each character in a story and transmit from their point of view, while still maintaining an independent “meta-position.” Novelist W. Somerset Maugham once said, “In a good play everyone is in the right,” and Nines are especially good at divining the intentions behind the behavior of conflicting parties, while maintaining their own point of view. NLP calls this “switching perceptual positions.”
Natural diplomats and mediators, Nines can be highly skilled at resolving conflict. Since they instinctively seek peace, union and harmony, it is often easy for a Nine to find points of agreement between warring parties. From there a Nine might patiently negotiate a settlement that builds on small positive steps. Most Nines are able to state blunt, difficult truths in constructive ways that don’t make others defensive, as if all parties implicitly know that the Nine has little ego investment in the outcome. A Nine who is a skilled mediator is described this way: “He is more, by choice, the shadow, watching everything, an elegant magnet who picks up on people’s strengths and weaknesses.”
But healthy Nines are also practical and pragmatic. “Negotiations are battles,” one says. “But you should aim for peace, not war. It’s not that I’m Gandhi-ish. But if it’s war… I’m sorry, but you are forced to win. I don’t believe in killing anyone. Because if you kill them, they should stay dead. If you knock them down, you have to keep them on the floor. Otherwise they might get up and hurt you.”
I once overheard two women discussing a male acquaintance:
“There’s something about that guy that really bothers me,” said the first.
“He seems normal enough to me,” was the casual reply.Enneagram
Nodding intently, the first woman said, “Yeah, that’s what it is.”
When Nines are less healthy they suppress their priorities, needs and ambitions in favor of keeping the peace and adapting to norms. If Nines tend to see all sides of a situation, now their talent for mediating devolves into accommodating others while they neglect their own needs, delete their own dreams and conceal their own opinions. Their natural modesty warps into compulsive self-effacement, identifying with others becomes a form of hiding and their Nine ability to negotiate serves them in seeking peace at any price. introverted Nines can be taciturn or even cipher-like.
When less healthy, a Nine’s modesty devolves into self-concealment. They begin to merge blindly with the wishes of others and play the roles their environment wants them to play. In the process, they erase their own needs, priorities and ambitions, hiding their opinions and preferences to keep an apparent peace. The more Nines absent themselves from their own life, however, the more passive, unfocused and ambivalent they become.
Since most Nines take on the coloration of their environment, there is a confusing variety to people with this style. Nines can have a wide range of occupations and outwardly appear quite different from each other. What they share underneath, however, is a distinct tendency to fall asleep to their inner needs. When you are trying to identify a Nine, it helps to look for the absence of something rather than an obvious definite quality that the person displays.
Nines can focus on absurd or irrelevant details and lose track of the obvious. They can obsessively complicate simple tasks even as they minimize the consequence of not completing important ones. They can feel overly responsible but underperform. Going in circles relieves them of the necessity to make decisions and personal choices, to take responsibility for having a self, something they think might upset others. The more Nines absent themselves from their own life, the more passive, unfocused and ambivalent they become.
Less healthy Nines tend to see all sides of a situation and identify equally with each outside perspective. They often focus on absurd or irrelevant details and lose the big picture or forget the original purpose of a task. They can be overly responsible but under-perform, obsessively complicating simple tasks even as they minimize the consequence of not getting important things done. Going in circles relieves them of the necessity to make decisions and personal choices, to assert a self that they think might be rejected by others.
Nines often avoid overtly saying “no,” but can say it in other ways, perhaps by being silently stubborn and passive aggressive. As a sister says about her Nine brother, “He’s a much stronger character than the gray man he appears. When he digs his toes in, no one can shift him.”
Deep down unhealthy Nines are angry, depressed and nihilistic; feeling like the answer to a question that no one ever asks. They have given up on life and see no reason to rouse themselves to play at what they are convinced is an empty, fruitless game. Desultory and recessive, unhealthy Nines can sink into depressed self-neglect, inhabiting a zone of oblivion within which they imitate the dead.
Some Nines experience this as a kind of existential fatalism, a condition of being spiritually dispossessed: “Sometimes I feel we must be clowns of God or something and I feel, oh what’s the point of life? I’m not interested particularly in committing suicide, but it’s like: there’s no point to any of this, so why bother to try so hard?” Another Nine adds: “I’ve felt sometimes ‘what is the use?’ You get to thinking there is one solution to all the world’s problems and that’s for people to get along. But there’s no heaven on earth, there is no paradise, I figure we’re supposed to be at odds with each other. But on a personal level I have felt a “can’t win” situation for some time in my life. Regardless of what I do, I feel like it’s not going to work out, I can’t resolve it, I can’t win.”
When deeply unhealthy, Nines can sink into depressed self-neglect and a kind of lazy oblivion that is an imitation of death. They may be apathetic, habit-bound, callous or numb. They could talk incessantly about what they know they should do but then never bother to do it. They might try to avoid conflict but accidentally provoke it through bursts of disassociated nastiness. They might be disorderly, chaotic or cluttered and offer convoluted, ill-formed rationales for their irresponsibility. Deeply unhealthy Nines can do great harm to others – through neglect, broken commitments and passive aggressive behavior – while stubbornly believing that their actions have no consequence. Drug and alcohol addiction can also be problems at this stage.
Anger and Sloth
Nines are part of the emotional trio who tend to delete themselves, are unconsciously angry and have trouble thinking clearly. Nines delete themselves in anticipation of being ignored by others, often by blending with their environment. Unlike Eights, who express their anger directly, Nines tamp their anger down in order to adapt to their surroundings and avoid conflict. This tactic requires that Nines suppress their rough edges and conceal any part of them that might seem disagreeable. If some Eights can resemble sleeping volcanoes, Nines act more like underground fires.
Unlike Eights, who directly express their anger, Nines tamp their angry feelings down. Their central defensive strategy is to self-efface, to adapt to and accommodate their surroundings. This tactic requires that Nines suppress their rough edges and conceal any part of them that might seem disagreeable. Most Nines resent the results of this strategy – people overlook them – but even their anger about this comes out in indirect ways.
Some Nines express their anger by being silently stubborn, passive aggressive or slowing their tempo and quietly thwarting others; for instance, by being late for a meeting the Nine resents having to attend. This is not unlike a protest demonstrator who offers the police a limp body instead of a struggling one. One police officer can take a struggling protester to jail, but four or five policemen are required to drag a limp body.
Nines often downplay their anger if they are conscious of it at all. “Everyone gets mad and frustrated,” one says, “but there’s no reason to really get angry and hateful. I wasn’t brought up that way. Angry, vindictive people normally don’t get ahead.”
Once in a college history class a professor who frequently got excited by his own lectures rounded on a half-asleep student. “And Johnson!,” he said, “who won the Battle of Waterloo?” Startled and defensive, the student blurted a completely honest answer: “I don’t care!!”
Nines neurotically control through sloth, by being willfully indifferent to their own needs, by defensively not caring. In Enneagram books this is also called “laziness,” although the term is misleading since Nines are only sometimes physically slothful. Defensive Nines tamp down their aspirations, their sense of industry – whatever they would otherwise be passionate about. This can lead to being physically indolent and avoiding labor but its source is spiritual and psychological apathy. One Nine describes her experience of sloth as “wanting to rest before I’m tired.” Another Nine explains: “when my circuits are overloaded, it takes away from the opportunity to have a serious understanding of the situation at hand. So I tend to shut myself down.”
While some Nines are slow moving and phlegmatic, many are busy and active, resembling Type A personalities. Busy Nines get swept up in the needs of an environment to the exclusion of their own priorities, in what amounts to a lively active sleep. “Laziness” in Nines has less to do with taking action then with taking focused prioritized action – right action.
In a regional guidebook to an American desert valley there is a photograph of an ancient petroglyph. The photo’s caption reads, “Unknown people from an unknown time left these messages for people who don’t understand them.” A Nine’s laziness is born from a deeper belief that what they do doesn’t matter and deeply committed effort is pointless. In most Nines there is a resigned fatalism that takes the form of a small voice that says, “Why bother? When I’ve tried in the past nobody noticed or understood; they took my creations and claimed them for their themselves. Or if I did something well I was expected to do it well again, like a trained seal.”
The word indolence – being aversive to action or labor – originally meant “causing little or no pain.” Nines protect themselves through the defense mechanism of numbing, also called narcotization. When they start to feel disruptive emotions that could disturb their equanimity, lead to disappointment or provoke conflict with others, Nines make their feelings go numb. Some Nines describe this as “freezing” their emotions, sort of like giving themselves knockout drops. Like Eights with a Nine wing, Nine can have high pain threshold. Some report refusing novocaine when they go to the dentist.
In medical terms, kinesthetic numbing is known as anesthesia – a total lack of sensation; what you experience, for instance, when your arm “falls asleep.” Nines more specifically practice analgesia, a subset of anesthesia. Analgesia is the absence of pain, but with the ability to still sense pressure. You have partial external physical feeling, but the inside is dead.
Going numb is supported by the Nine auditory habit of negative comparing or minimizing. When Nines get roused with feeling or begin to want something that could disrupt their defensive equilibrium, they make the feeling go numb and preemptively disappoint themselves. To manage their disappointment they then say to themselves (auditory) a variation on the statement “At least I don’t live in Siberia.”
In other words, things could be worse: “Yesterday my house exploded, my car was stolen and my children are criminals. But I just bought a fresh box of strawberries at the Farmer’s Market and they are really luscious.” Nines focus on the immediate and appreciate what little they do have. It’s like giving yourself a consolation prize, an act of defensively counting your blessings.
Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon
Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon
Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website http://www.thechangeworks.com
Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.
Tom can be contacted at: http://www.thechangeworks.com