August 23 rd
Confusion. Anger. Shame. Exhaustion.By
What do you do when these feelings arise? What internal messages accompany these feelings? What do you notice in your body?
I have had a rough week and these feelings have been hanging around like old friends tugging at my feet while I try to move on to my next adventure. The details, the story and the drama (don’t we all like a good drama?) are really not that important.
In fact, what is a lot more interesting is that when life gets difficult for me, a particular set of cognitive and emotional patterns kick in. And if I don’t catch myself, a set of habitual behaviors follows suit. And all of this happens unconsciously and rather predictably.
I am a type One on the Enneagram. (See last week’s post to learn more about the Enneagram system of personality and finding your type). The One is sometimes called the “Perfectionist”, the “Idealist” or the “Reformer”. Those of us with One as our core type came to believe that we are loved and accepted for being good, responsible and conscientious. In whatever field is important to us, we have a strong work ethic and tend to exceed expectations. Integrity and improvement are important to us. We have a strong “should” detector. At our core, we came to believe that good behavior is expected and bad behavior is judged negatively or punished. The focus of attention is on what needs to be improved internally and externally.
When things get difficult and I lose my center, this is what I notice in my body . . . my jaw clenches, my throat tightens, my neck and shoulders grow rigid, I hold my breath, and I feel a pit in my stomach. If this goes on for a long time, I may also experience pain in my neck, shoulders and lower back. And occasionally I get headaches.
The feelings that routinely come up are: confusion, anger, shame, and exhaustion. And while all of this is happening, my mind begins to issue a particular set of directives: “keep going, get it done, do it right, just one more thing.” My fierce inner critic takes hold and suddenly I am on an obsessive-compulsive hamster wheel striving to be good enough and measure up.
And the kicker? All of this happens unconsciously and in a split second. If this continues for any length of time then certain behavioral patterns kick in: I get cranky. My language grows terse and curt. My words may sting. I become rigid and indignant. Resentment builds. I judge others. I criticize myself. I rationalize and self-justify. I also withdraw and mostly turn all of this ugliness inward.
Not a lovely picture is it? Well, we all have our own versions of this. We each have a set of adaptive strategies formed unconsciously a long time ago to protect us, to keep us safe, loved, and connected to the important people in our lives.
The Enneagram shows us how these unconscious patterns show up in each of the nine types. When these strategies are operating, we are on autopilot. We are operating from our type structure rather than from the essential self, from the essence of who we really are.
The Enneagram shows us where we put our attention, what our energy looks like, what our strengths are, what causes us stress, what makes us angry, how our anger is likely to show up, what the aim of our development is, and what supports our development. (For a quick rundown on each type, check out The Essential Enneagram).
The Enneagram shows us why one size does not fit all. It shows us nine different paths of development. Because we each have a type (whether we are aware of it or not), our type frames the way we see the world. It signals what we pay attention to, who we may be drawn to or not, and directs us to our most efficient path of growth.
At its core, the Enneagram is an invitation to awareness. When we slow down and observe ourselves, we develop awareness around our patterns. With that awareness, and some curiosity, we begin to watch these cognitive, emotional and behavioral patterns arise. With consciousness, we have greater choice. Rather than be run by these automatic patterns we can look at them and make conscious decisions about what to do next.
Confusion. Anger. Shame. Exhaustion.
Although these feelings are not fun, they are normal. They accompany me even as I write this post. My inner critic pokes and prods, it tells me this post is silly, and I feel shame. I wonder if what I am writing makes sense and whether I have offered something of value. Confusion sets in. I usually post on Mondays and this one will post on Tuesday. Seven weeks into blogging, I broke my Monday streak and I feel frustrated. I berate myself some more, and exhaustion sets in. When I stop and notice my body, I am hunched over my laptop, leaning forward. My shoulders and neck are locked in place, braced in a protective stance.
Despite the heaviness of these feelings (and how extra silly they sound on the written page!), they are more like clouds than boulders. They come, they go. They float in and out and they eventually pass. What is important is to notice them, name them, sit with them, and eventually mine the message. These feelings are part of the cycle of life. As I notice them, by body opens up. The rigidity in form and thought, softens.
The Enneagram is not required to experience awareness and presence. What the Enneagram adds is a framework and a lens for understanding what it is that we see when we are present and how to work with it. It furthers our meaning-making and it expands our compassion. When we understand the Enneagram, suddenly our behavior and the behavior of others begins to make sense.
I will close with a poem from David Whyte. This is from his book: House of Belonging. When I am in a dark place, this poem brings me solace.
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What triggers confusion, anger, shame or exhaustion for you? What do you notice in your body? What lines in the poem speak to you? What do you do to self-soothe when you are in a dark place? I would love to hear your stories.