This journey inward can be difficult at times. We go through so many of our moments avoiding the darker, less acceptable parts of us. But that means there are parts of us that are not being acknowledged. Parts of us that need our attention. It’s important to remember that our personality structure developed for good reason. It kept us safe and secure. It protected our most vulnerable spots. It gave us strategies that we could engage in to keep us behaving in socially acceptable ways even in times of great distress.
Using the Enneagram can help us begin to acknowledge and accept those parts of us that don’t fit within our idealized versions of ourselves. Each Type Structure has its Idealized Image, Avoidance, and a sub-conscious Defense Mechanism that keeps everything in check. I can use my Type Eight perspective as an example: My idealization of myself is “I Am Strong.” I Avoid being Vulnerable. I do this by using Denial as my defense mechanism. When I apply this principle to my life I get scenarios like the following: I have a loved one that I couldn’t reach and hadn’t spoken to in several weeks. When I finally got in touch with him, I scolded him and told him how hurt I was. (What was coming out of me wasn’t hurt, but anger). I told him all the reasons why he shouldn’t disregard me in that way. I was trying to control his behavior so that I didn’t have to feel the pain. That’s how I do life when my Eight Structure has me in its grip. I control people to avoid being hurt by them.
I had been working with the Enneagram for a while and was able to observe my behavior even in that moment. What happened to me was an experience I hope I never forget. Simply watching myself with curiosity, even as I was demanding and controlling, brought me “online” with myself and I stopped mid-sentence and began to cry. I took a breath and said quietly, “I really miss you.” I was now in touch with my vulnerability. I was no longer focused on his response to me, but on what I was feeling on the inside. From this new vantage point, I could begin communicating with him in a way more honoring to myself and to him. I could begin in vulnerability to share with him how I felt about him and how important it is to me to have him in my life. This is a whole different kind of conversation with someone I care about so deeply. This is the kind of conversation that honors everyone and provides a foundation for a way forward that is deeper and more real.
Putting my vulnerability out there didn’t ensure a positive outcome. I wasn’t sure if he would receive it or “stomp” on it. But, that was a risk I was willing to take because in that moment, it was the only True thing I had to give.
Reading about my defense mechanism and what I avoid is one thing; living it is another. I’ve experienced many scenarios in my life similar to the one above and have walked away in anger, having never gotten in touch with my true feelings and believing myself to be totally justified in my reactions. What I didn’t realize was that the very thing I wanted – connection with another – was being damaged. My vulnerability might have been safe for one more day, but my relationships surely weren’t.