In the 1945 French film Children of Paradise, there is a pivotal moment when all seems lost. The story concerns a love triangle set in a theater company involving a shy mime, a glamorous actress, and a flamboyant actor who is a Seven. Late in the film, after much heartache and indecision, the actress finally realizes that it is the mime whom she loves rather than the actor. When she breaks the news to him the jilted suitor takes the rejection with predictable disappointment and a silence ensues.
Suddenly, his face is swept with a smile. “I think I’m jealous. I’ve never felt anything like this. It’s insidious, unpleasant. It infects your heart. You reason, but your reason fails you. Me jealous! And full of regrets. But why should I recover so fast? What if I enjoyed it? What if jealousy was helpful to me? Even necessary?
“Thank you! Thanks to both of you. Now I can play Othello! I didn’t feel the character before. He was alien to me. Now he’s a friend, a brother. I’ve found him!” Off he goes happily, eager to apply the pain he feels for the loss of the relationship – a loss that has become a gain.
Seven is in the trio of Enneagram styles that respond fearfully to life. Where frightened Fives withdraw socially and Sixes become self-doubting or suspicious, Sevens manage their fears in a much different way. People with this style tend to suppress and escape their anxiety by willfully focusing on the positive and imagining plans, options and possibilities. Sevens are natural optimists who look on the bright side, make lemonade out of lemons and keep happily active. While this is the key to what is healthiest about them, the defensive point of this strategy is to avoid inner pain and be hard to hit as a moving target.
At their healthiest Sevens are often well-rounded “renaissance” people who may be highly accomplished in many disparate realms of interest. People with this style are usually adventurous and multi-talented, with an authentic zest for living. At the age of 86, a peripatetic Seven adventurer-reporter was asked what he was going to do next. He replied, “I don’t like to talk about it. People steal my ideas.”
Healthy Sevens often possess an endearing blend of charm and curiosity; they can be outgoing, generous and progressively interested in new horizons. Unlike Sixes who anticipate negative futures, Sevens tilt toward the positive, looking forward to what will happen next, suffused with a feeling of “hooray for tomorrow.” As one Seven says, “For me, tomorrow always begins the night before.”
Childlike but not childish, healthy Sevens are great appreciators who can enthusiastically enjoy life’s gifts, even the small ones. Self aware Sevens are often highly resilient and recover well from calamity and loss. They also make sensitive and loyal friends.
At their best, people with this style accept the realistic necessity for both long-term commitments and occasional struggles in their lives. Facing and integrating life’s difficult dimensions gives Sevens more depth and consequently enhances their joy. Many report that being willing to make appropriate sacrifices gives their lives a stable structure within which they still find variety.
Receptive and open to experience, healthy Sevens have a kind of willed vulnerability, an attitude towards the world that is essentially defenseless, approaching each day with a kind of principled openness. “I want to set a precedent for my children,” a successful Seven explains, “They won’t hear me on my deathbed saying that I wish that I had lived my life differently. I am one big yes.”
By example, healthy Sevens teach the rest of us how to enjoy and celebrate life. A friend of a recently deceased Seven eulogized him this way: “If he had a mission, it was to emphasize that life was fun. He once said that his ideas were more humorous than practical. This meant that he was one of the few people I have known who strode through life rather than circumnavigating it. He always seemed to me a complete and fulfilled man and he died at the age of 84 without ever being old.”
There’s a man on American television who is a cheerful, hyperactive Seven. As a sideline he appears in advertisements, endorsing two separate products. The first is pretzels and the commercial depicts him as a victim of his appetite: “I can’t stop eating these pretzels!” he keeps shouting. The second product he endorses is a topical anaesthetic and in that commercial he exclaims: “You know what I hate? Pain!”
When Sevens are less healthy, their enthusiasm for life and their positive outlook devolve into compulsive appetite and an escapist desire to avoid pain. Their appetite can be for food, drugs, ideas, activity, people, new experiences, etc. This hunger is part of a defensive attempt to manage and suppress what one Seven called his “less than totally wonderful feelings.”
In the waking trance of their Enneagram style, less healthy Sevens flee their pain by searching out the new, trying to maintain a high by flavoring reality with their fantasies of what will be. To this end, they can be dilettantish, impulsive, undisciplined and impersonal; covering up their pain with high spirits and antic behavior. In contrast to Sixes who focus on the doughnut hole instead of the doughnut, Sevens may compulsively deny the negative. A woman who had worked for a Six and then for a Seven said, “With my first boss nothing was ever right; with my second boss nothing was ever wrong.”
Sevens can entertain many interests, but sometimes indiscriminately so; their knowledge is extensive but shallow, rather like a jack-of-all-trades. As a friend of a Seven grumbled, “I’ve never met anyone who can be so fascinating on so many subjects that I don’t give a damn about.” Another friend agreed: “He is one of those people whose fascination with ideas tends to obscure the fact that the ideas are not connected to reality in any tangible way.”
A story is told about a writer hiking through the Austrian alps with a local guide. The guide was a friendly capable man with a strange habit. Each time he began to climb a new mountain he seemed to be filled with cheerful enthusiasm and began to whistle happily. But, after they climbed each hill and began to descend, the guide’s mood seemed to darken. His shoulders slumped, the energy seemed to drain out of him and he began to whine, grumble and complain.
After several hours of this behavior, the writer asked the guide what was happening. The guide explained that when he approached a new mountain he would make the climb easier by imagining the ease and pleasure he would feel going down the other side. But when he descended the mountain he would begin to think about the effort of climbing the next one.
Under stress, Sevens adopt what are called “as if frames,” where they make up enjoyable fantasies about the future and pretend they are present and real. The Seven sees an image of himself carrying out a new plan and then steps into the image and immediately enjoys the future rewards and benefits. The fantasy future surrounds the Seven and protects him from the pain of his current reality.
Unhealthy Sevens sometimes avoid difficult situations in this way, fantasizing so much about an existing problem that they begin to believe they have actually solved it. This eliminates the need to struggle, risk failure or have their actions judged.
Many Sevens fear they are inadequate and unconsciously compare themselves to others. This creates a “worse than/better than” subtext in the back of their minds; a Seven can feel inferior to someone whom they admire and then defensively act superior towards someone else to even the balance.
Very unhealthy Sevens can be outright delusional, living in a self-generated fantasy world, a parallel universe that makes only glancing contact with the real one. They stay in touch with reality just enough to maintain their self-justifying story-line but protect themselves from the fear, guilt and helplessness they would feel if they faced facts. An irresponsible womanizing Seven was described by an acquaintance this way: “I don’t think he feels guilty about anything. That would imply he was capable of understanding what he’d done. If he were capable of knowing what he’d done, people would hate him a lot more.”
Very unhealthy Sevens can also be paranoid and delusional or have periods of frenetic social activity, followed by monk-like catatonia, cycles of great productivity alternating with no productivity. This mimics Bi-Polar disorder which very unhealthy Sevens are probably more prone to than some Enneagram styles.
Deeply unhealthy Sevens can narcissistically inflate themselves and grow obsessed with grandiose visions. They refuse responsibility for their actions and resist all constraints on their behavior. Anyone who gets in the way of an unhealthy Seven risks being knocked down; all promises to others are broken. Tendencies toward addictions and manic-depressive cycles can become grippingly strong. They may even call legal forces down on themselves. The “world” has to restrain the antisocial behavior born of the Seven’s inner cravings. Recalling his drug-addicted years, a Seven said, “My drug of choice was always more.”
Confusion of Action and Gluttony
Sevens are part of the emotional trio who project their power, oppose themselves and have trouble taking action. Unlike Sixes, who project their power to be independently self-responsible, Sevens project their power of choice onto outside forces that can then confine, restrict, depress or judge the Seven.
Fives, Sixes and Sevens all struggle with taking action. While Fives can fear initiating a course of action and Sixes may fear both starting and finishing action, Sevens are strong on beginning but weak on follow-through, more often afraid to finish what they start. “He has a lot of really great ideas but he’s a pipe dreamer,” a woman said of her Seven husband. “He goes from point A to point Z and doesn’t want to do the in-between.” Another Seven added, “I’ve never known what I am searching for, only what I’m not searching for. My life is defined by what I’ve quit.”
Some Sevens fear process. They may have no sense of how to do things in a sequenced, stepwise manner. The thought of putting one foot in front of another is not just boring but daunting. The Seven feels helpless, fearing he might somehow drown in the repetition and attention to detail required to complete a long-term task.
In for a routine check-up, a patient says to his doctor, “I want to live to be 100 and will do anything I can to do so.” The doctor replies, “Very well. Give up smoking, drinking, chasing women. Oh, and exercise for an hour a day.” The patient swallows hard and says, “If I do, will that guarantee that I will live to be 100?” The Doctor replies, “Probably not, but it will feel like it.”
Sevens can confuse commitment with confinement, unconsciously creating and then escaping jails of their own making. Sevens are “self-jailing” in that they unconsciously feel attracted to circumstances and people who may deprive, trap or obligate them. After creating a jail of expectation and obligation, Sevens feel helpless and stuck, as though they have no choice. Note the element of powerlessness in this dilemma: Sevens will often say that they avoid pain but what they are really avoiding is overwhelming, bottomless or unsolvable pain. They fear they will get stuck in their pain and lack the power to free them selves.
While many Sevens seem to glide lightly through life, they are often dragging an invisible ball and chain and their escapist impulses are in direct proportion to how trapped or burdened they feel. The pattern is like someone breaking out of jail on the last weekend of their sentence, going on a spree, getting caught and then thrown back in jail for a longer term.
Sevens control their fears through physical, mental or emotional gluttony – addictively eating past the point of hunger and not fully digesting what’s been eaten. When feeling trapped or deprived or scared, Sevens compensate by expansively seeking gratification, stimulation or satiation that will eclipse their negative feelings. As an award-winning Seven pastry chef joked: “I basically think of the universe as a dark, oppressive place whose sense of menace is alleviated by pastry.”
Some Sevens are prone to physical gluttony – for food, drugs, alcohol or other substances. In other Sevens the gluttony is mental; a Seven could have a modest lifestyle and healthy habits, but be prone to vivid fantasies or get chronically excited by new ideas and interests. For other Sevens the appetite is experiential, taking the form of wanting to try everything once. “Life is a Disneyland and I haven’t been on all the rides yet.” is how one Seven put it. Another described himself as a “self-licking ice cream cone.” Still another Seven added, “Deep down inside I’m four years old, and every morning when I wake up I think, ‘Out there in the world today, there’s a cookie for me. It’s in a jar somewhere and I have to find it.’ The thought gets me out of bed each day . . .”
Although a Seven’s gluttony is psychological in nature, sometimes it is metaphorically evident in how he or she eats. I once watched a Seven friend of mine consume an expensive dinner in what seemed like seconds. Jokingly, I asked him if he had tasted any of it. When he thought about it he reported being aware of a sequence: first he took a bite, half-tasted it and decided that it was good. Then he saw an image of the dish in his mind. Then he thought: “This is so good I have to have it again.” Then he imagined being unable to have it, which made him anxious and want to eat more. Then he began to plan ahead to the next time he could have the same dish. Meanwhile he continued tasting his mental image of the food, as if he were eating a photograph of the meal, the kind you see featured on some restaurant menus.
Sevens protect themselves through the defense mechanism of reframing, which means changing the meaning of your raw experience into something more pleasant or desirable. One way to reframe is through rationalizing – using words as a form of self-hypnosis, to talk yourself in and out of different feelings, putting a positive spin on negative events, creating what psychologists call “slidings of meaning.”
A Seven who had been married eight times and was defensive about his reputation said, “I’m sick and tired of being described as ‘much married.’ I’ve only been married twice in the last 26 years.” Rationalizing takes the bite out of the truth, the edge off of unpleasant facts. Two marriages in 26 years sounds reasonable compared to an embarrassing grand total of eight.
Another Seven, known for his infidelities, reframed them in this idealistic sounding way: “Many people think that love is like a piece of pie that you take from one person and give to another person. I always think that if you find someone else that you care for, you just make a bigger pie. I would never take away the feeling that I have for someone and give that to someone else.”
A Seven who worked for a large corporation was called into a special meeting with his boss. The boss began with an lengthy review of the Seven’s strengths and accomplishments as an employee. The boss spoke for a while longer and then pronounced the meeting finished. The Seven then rushed home to tell his wife. After listening to her husband’s excited account, his level-headed wife said, “Bob, you were fired.”
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