Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Enneagram: A Dynamic Way to Cope With Stress

It is my intention to post blog entries every week to week and a half, but I’m definitely behind the curve this time. There’s a good reason for this, however. Stress. And refusing to give into the automatic habit that is the default of moving to my stress point.

Every six months or so, my husband and I pull up stakes and move. Now all of us know that moving is a stressful business. Of course, we two are moving from home to home so it isn’t quite the magnitude of moving all your worldly possessions to a new locale. Still, we are moving two businesses and all our personal electronic crap not duplicated in both homes. In addition, we are closing up the home we are leaving, arranging care for cars, gardens, appliances, and physical plant. No matter how organized and prepared we are to relocate, we still find it stressful.

The Enneagram can be inordinately helpful under conditions of stress. How? Understanding movement on the Enneagram diagram, we can predict how we will act, perceive, and feel differently when we are overwhelmed.

The Enneagram map is a dynamic one and describes not only our basic personality, but how we seem to change under conditions of stress or conditions of security and ease. We actually seem to “move” on the Enneagram diagram and take on aspects of another point or type. (See photo - the arrows are in the direction of stress.)

Our initial reaction to stressors is to exaggerate our normal behavior. We become almost archetypally our points. Our usual way of perceiving and being has helped us cope in the past, and we call on our default mode to help us deal with the stress. If our default mode is unsuccessful in alleviating the stress, we then “move” on the Enneagram diagram to access the energies and traits of another point. While we do not become this point or truly change our internal worldview, we can look and feel like our “stress point.”

For example, my usual Optimist Seven worldview undergoes a profound change to a more Oneish paradigm when I am stressed. Like a real One, I can fall prey to overdoing and resentment, to black-and-white thinking, and to judging myself as well as others.

Luckily, I know the Enneagram (and I have the benefit of experiencing all those times past when I exhibited the less desirable characteristics of the One point.) I can observe my feelings and behavior and CHOOSE the best attributes or “high side” of One.

The high side of the Perfectionist type helps me plan, organize, and complete my extensive to-do list with an eye to detail and precision. Knowing the “low side” of One includes overwork and an excess of feeling responsible to do everything with a concomitant blaming of those who aren’t doing as much, as well, I can interrupt this pattern before it has a chance to take hold.

When I find myself overdoing or feeling resentful, I stop and take a break. I breathe and slow down. I read or take a walk for 30-60 minutes and come back a new woman. I prioritize and let go of those things that can be put off without causing a shift in the Earth’s gravitational field or my sanity. Things like putting out another blog entry within my self-imposed time constraints. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll be relaxed enough to see that the moving preparation process is already perfect in its imperfection. What gets done is enough - and it will be GOOD enough. Just like me. Just like all of us.