Enneagram Growth through Stress: The work of Antiracism

I introduced what the move forward across the Enneagram means for me in my last post and want to share a brief possibility for each of the numbers. And, I will share some possible antiracism implications of this shift for each type. I’ll need your input to help evaluate my thoughts knowing this is coming from a white, male perspective and wondering how the Enneagram relates to our racialized and gendered experiences. 

My focus here is how we respond to racism and in order to frame this, I want to ask you to consider your response to this thought from Layla Saad. How do you respond from your personality, that is, from your core number? And, how can the number across (or ahead of you) on the Enneagram shape your response? 

A White person cannot change their white skin color to stop receiving privilege just like a Black, Latinx, Indigenous, or any person of color cannot change their skin color to stop receiving racism. What we can do is wake up to what is really going on, challenge our complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within ourself and our world.

For me, this call to action means considering my response as a white, male 3, as well as how 9 traits show up in my response. My pattern as a 3 is go-go-go and we want to look good while on the go! That is how I jump to respond: I want to avoid the failure of being racist and will do so by making my contributions to challenging my complicity clear!  But, we 3s get to a certain point where we hit a wall, or the work becomes performative, where it’s more about looking good than doing good.

What might be the characteristics of 9 that I can draw from? What I know I need in these moments is balance, the balance of an engaged connection to type 9 characteristic that can heal me, and be a resource, particularly in times of stress. I can slow down, commit to the inner work of racial justice, as Rhonda Magee is teaching me, and engage the work in a way that can be sustained, which is what my colleagues need far more than an image-conscious performative “ally” who wants to look the part. Dismantling the system in myself and the world? That takes time, it takes the 9 within me as well as the 3.

Below is an image of the Enneagram with the Arrows pointing to your forward direction number, what Bea Chestnut describes as our “growth-through-stress” number. Below it is a brief characteristic of what you can grow toward with this number in your own work for racial justice. I present this with a curiosity about new possibilities for you in terms of Enneagram thinking. How do these fit your experience of responding during this past year?  Let’s look at the work we do for racial justice, recognizing the role of stress in the work, and the shifts that we can allow as we approach the work from the unique perspective of our own personality.

I will say that none of these will be a perfect fit. This highlights a possible shift in one direction; and we know our personality adapts in two directions based on the arrows (maybe we can consider the other arrow another day). Here is a partial understanding of possible responses as we respond to the stress of antiracist work; my hope is less about perfectly describing you and more about inviting you to reflect on these shifts and the extent to which they shape your response to racism. If my description does not describe your understanding of this shift in perspective, how do you understand it from your experience? I really want to know!

Here are some initial thoughts and possibilities along the arrows:

For 1’s, who have a need to relentlessly engage in reforming racism, stress is common.  You believe it’s not ok to make mistakes and you are a no-compromise-in-the-work kind of person. In this, you value self-control and discipline, and fear mistakes. You connect to a 4, where you can slow down, focus within, and be more deeply in touch with how you feel about the racism that surrounds us and impacts us. Connected to 4, you can feel compelled to create, to find motivation from within, and to recognize that perfection does not matter as much as you typically believe. Here, you can be more expressive with their emotions; you can hold your strong opinions more lightly and more in touch with the feelings that shape your actions.  And, you can be more direct about how you really feel and what you need.

2’s have a desire to connect personally with others, and relationships are easier to navigate than the systems involved in the fight against racism. Stress happens when 2’s pour themselves into helping others until they are empty. Others don’t reciprocate, they don’t anticipate your needs, and you may be upset, but you feel the need to keep helping.  In a move that benefits you, you connect to 8 where you can become boundaried in your giving and your helping; you can become more discerning about how to connect with others in this work. You can advocate for yourself, as well as others, and think productively about what you need. Here you can manage being assertive, and learn to handle conflict, which is not always easy for 2s, but is inevitable in the work for racial justice.

3’s want to be admired and desired; we want to achieve always, and stress is inevitable.  We believe feelings get in the way of what we need to do, so we bottom out and fear that we are failing, that we are not being successful in this important work. And we connect to 9, where we can stop our need to over-accomplish, be measured in our need to achieve, and realize we do not have to be the one to make everything happen. We can identify with being when we usually over-identify with doing. We can be open to input from others and slow down to understand the implications of our work for the sake of improving equity and inclusion.

4’s want to be loved and seen. As someone who feels the feelings of stress, you are content to sit in the recognition that there is no way to be happy in a situation like this. You connect to 2 where you can step out of the depth of your own feelings and focus outwardly on others. Other people can take precedent over your internal needs. You can recognize the unique value of other’s stories with racism, not just your own. This can help bring you out of your interior world where you care deeply, but tend to become isolated. Here, you can choose to leave your comfort and connect with others in working for what is right.

5’s worry about their ability for a competent and capable response to the work of racism, and the energy required for the work is stressful. You believe you need more time alone to make sense of racism and to find a comfortable way forward. You fear that you might not find a way in this racist world, so you retreat into an isolated world where you are more comfortable thinking of a response rather than acting on it. And, you connect to 7. This moves you toward other people and helps you connect with others rather than disconnect. You find a way to participate in the world, to stop observing and start engaging. And, you find the energy to offer genuine outgoing response to the racial strife.

6’s plan for the worst, and this may be it! But, you still find it hard to trust yourself. Distress and stress follow you and you can’t get it out of your head. Trust is difficult so you seek connection and loyalty in order to gain safety and security. You fear losing the support of colleagues in the work; and you are also unsure of yourself. You connect to 3, where you are able to start doing what is needed. No more analysis paralysis, or fear of scrutiny. You know what you can achieve and see the value of moving ahead. You move more quickly into action and this can be a great relief for helping you leave behind the excessive doubts about race-related work.

7’s keep yourselves preoccupied for fear of the painful feelings that will inevitably arise. You can think about feelings, but feeling them and staying with them is much more difficult. You don’t want to depend on others; you want to find a way forward and you are full of ideas for dealing with our crisis, but sustained work for justice and the constant commitment is much more difficult for you. You connect to 1, where you find the energy to be thorough and committed, to responsibility, organization, and detail. This practical focus helps you not just think about and inspire action, but stay in the hard work for racial justice. 

8’s have a vision of life that’s bigger than life itself, and when they are not in control, stress is inevitable. They can be aware of their anger about what is happening, but other feelings get in the way; you are convinced it is not ok to be vulnerable. And, 8’s connect to 5, where you learn to be comfortable with the inner work for racial justice and not just the outer fight. You can begin to act more slowly. This helps you to learn your limits in hopes of being less likely of burning yourself out. Instead of your usual mode of charging into activity, this move allows for reflection and strategy for your action. 8’s tend to overinvest in everything, so some amount of detachment and distance can be helpful.

9’s lose themselves in seeking comfort, which is hard to find in the racism that surrounds us. You are afraid others will demand responses from you and you tend to live in denial. Surely your response is not needed, you believe. You connect to 6. Here, healthy anxiety helps you find a way to engage and focus on the work. You recognize problems and can exhibit healthy worry and concern. This meaningful reflection helps you learn that it takes action in order to affect results. Here, you can be more perceptive. Rather than spinning your wheels, seeing all points of view, you can focus, make difficult decisions, and get to work for right action.

I look forward to your responses!

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