The Enneagram is the opposite-a superb diagnostic tool that lacks much in the way of method for getting over the dilemmas it describes. The Enneagram offers deep diagnosis, and lots of content to identify with, but it's not a method, properly speaking. This is why just knowing about your Enneagram style is often not enough.
Looking more closely at the two systems I
realized they had a lot to offer each other. When I applied NLP
distinctions to Enneagram styles, I recognized that each style
was driven by a pattern, a central, repetitive strategy that is
unconsciously repeated many times a day. NLP techniques of
change could be customized to modify the pattern of each
EM: Is NLP considered to be part of
mainstream psychology, or is it still considered to be a
NLP is based upon the premise that experience has structure, and that by altering the structure, you can change the experience. It helps you analyze how you create your subjective experience through your senses. At any given moment, your internal experience has a visual component-what you see outside of you or in your mind's eye; an auditory component-hearing the sounds in your environment or listening to internal voices; and a kinesthetic component-your emotions and body feelings. As you experience the world through your five senses, you filter the information and then act on it.
In broad strokes, NLP helps you recognize your primary sensory bias-whether you are generally visual or auditory or kinesthetic, or favor a combination of those primary senses. Once you've determined your sensory bias, there are recommended techniques to broaden your experience of your other senses.
NLP also holds that all subjective experience has a sensory
structure, an inner architecture. Anything we do habitually
follows a sequence of internal sensory steps called a strategy.
Strategies are like recipes the unconscious uses to get
When they have the right word, they get a good feeling in the middle of their chest. If you ask them, how they knew that word was right, they say, "I don't know, I just felt it."
If the spellers don't have the word in their memory banks or
they find the word but it's misspelled, they'll get an
uncomfortable feeling in the middle of their chest. Good
spellers may sometimes spell phonetically-sounding words out-but
usually as a back-up system to visual spelling.
Knowing NLP and the Enneagram, I began to wonder, "What if there
is a central strategy driving each Enneagram style? What if an
Three was always doing the same thing when she was seeing things
Threeishly, or responding in an overly Threeish way that was
problematic for her. What if there was a set of steps that could
be altered?" That led to quite a bit of exploration and
discovery. Each Enneagram trance turned out to be supported by a
consistent sensory strategy.
For example: let's say I'm a One sent to a seminar by my employer. The class is required for my job but the subject is math, something I've never been good at. As a One I'm sometimes perfectionistic but in this situation I'm especially anxious about my performance. To manage my anxiety and find a sense of control, I begin to judge.
Entering the classroom, I start looking for what's out of place. First I notice that some of the chairs are disarrayed. Next my eyes go to the casual dress of some class participants; a few are wearing jeans and sandals, others look more formal and have higher quality shoes. This is a visual step.
Meanwhile, I start talking to myself, finding fault in the situation: "What's going on here? The chairs are out of order. What is the correct dress code? And why are there empty coffee cups strewn on the back table? Why is no one here to greet us? Who is in charge? What sloppy organization! These people couldn't know much about math!" This is an auditory step.
As I judge, I talk to myself in an angry tone of voice. I tighten my stomach muscles, hunch my shoulders and narrow my vision to see only what's wrong. I feel physically rigid and tense but also in control. Though this inner state isn't pleasant, it feels more powerful than being anxious about my math skills. Through the strategy of judgment I arrive at a feeling of neurotic power and soothe my own insecurity, having displaced my own nervousness about myself off onto the situation. This is a kinesthetic step.
Each time I respond to life in a Oneish way, there will be a similar sequence to it, just like a spelling strategy. Since there are dysfunctional spelling strategies and effective spelling strategies, one approach to working with someone's Enneagram strategy is to contrast what he's like when he's at his worst with what he's like when he's at his best - to get him to experience the difference. Then you can work with the structure of that difference.
You might also want to know, "How did you produce the sense of
insecurity in yourself in the first place?" That has its own
strategy as well. How'd you get so nervous before you ever got
to the class?
The other thing that NLP offers the Enneagram is
techniques that are eminently customizable to the dilemmas of
Enneagram styles. Following their success with spelling
strategies, the guys who created NLP wondered if good therapists
also had something in common the way good spellers did. They
studied the behavior of several master therapists who had vastly
different styles but who all got results. These included Gestalt
therapist Fritz Perls, hypnotherapist Milton Erickson and
Virginia Satir, the mother of family therapy. Bandler and
Grinder then tried to figure out what these different therapists
had in common. From that effort they extracted techniques that
were common to them all, techniques that appear and re-appear in
all kinds of therapies.
Another level of working with this person would be to get him to discover how he internally creates the problem reaction. I'd have him mentally and emotionally run through the last time he blew up at somebody, and find out what he put himself through. If he was a One, he might have seen the girl's red fingernail polish, said something to himself internally in a loud critical voice ("I'm just not reaching this kid, I'm no good as a teacher"), and then blamed the girl. Or maybe he found her attractive and judged his own reaction as wrong and yelled at her because of his "illicit" feelings.
When people habitually blow up they are unable to disassociate, to stand back from their experience. Instead they're overly associated. People who are overly associated are described as volatile, theatrical or impulsive, or passionate. They are immersed in whatever they're doing and have all of their feelings, good or bad, at any moment in time. They get so involved that they can't let go. This teacher could have desperately needed his students to respond well to his teaching. If they didn't, he might have felt that he had no emotional choice but to blow up.
The opposite of association is dissociation-the
ability to detach and disconnect from your emotional feelings or
from part or from all of your body. This could mean looking at
your own experience from a point of view besides your own-as
when you imagine what other people think of you-or observing
yourself from a distance, or seeing the world from an inner
distance, as though through a thick pane of glass. Somebody who
is more disassociated might care less how his students
Neither association nor dissociation is better.
They are both useful in different circumstances. Association is
great for feeling the pleasure of your accomplishments, making
love, skiing down a mountain, whatever experiences you want to
really feel. Dissociation is useful for stepping back from
difficult situations, thinking things over, intellectual
pursuits, etc. Many psychological problems can be cured by
learning to associate and dissociate at appropriate times.
You might try to teach a Five how to associate into her feelings and see what happens. Instead of seeing her feelings from a distance, she would bring them closer and kind of inhale them. As she steps into her feelings, she will become more in touch. If she resists stepping into her feelings it could mean that she's defended against them somehow.
Then you need to consider more factors. There
could be childhood fears, memories of earlier circumstances, or
it could bring up an image of a younger self who is too afraid
One thing I've done with Fives is to have them look for a younger self who is frightened. Very often, there will be one located in the Five's chest-say an image of a young girl. I'll ask the Five to bring that young girl out in front of her, see it in detail and begin to have a dialogue with her; to try and discover what the child needs to be less fearful. Very often with Fives it's power, some kind of social self-confidence.
I'll ask the Five to continue looking at the
image and to give that child every present resource the Five can
think of-especially power and self-confidence, drawn from other
parts of the Five's life. Usually the image then starts to
change although the whole process can take a while. When the
Five is eventually satisfied that the younger part has
everything she needs, then I'll ask her to bring the image back
into her chest-to reassociate into her feelings. Usually then
the Five experiences her body and emotions in a very different
way. What was young and scared in her feels older and more
Dissociation is useful for processing trauma. You can see an
image of yourself going through an unpleasant past experience
without the body feelings and body chemistry that you would
otherwise have. Then you literally "have perspective." You can
watch a younger part of yourself go through an unfinished
painful experience to completion, to learn whatever it is you
need to learn from the past without having to fully relive it.
You still have visual information about what you may need to
avoid or deal with in the future.
I would add that there is another level to this work which involves what are called secondary gains. Sometimes dissociating from and processing pain isn't enough because the person is attached to the benefits-the secondary gains-of having the pain. A Four could, for instance, be so identified with his pain that he believes it is his identity. Trying to dissociate will then sound to his unconscious mind like he will cease to exist: "no pain equals no me."
This leads to helping the client discover his attachment to his defense, finding out what needs it fulfills. After that gets experientially unraveled, the task becomes finding other, more up-to-date ways to fulfill the same needs that work at least as well as being in pain. Another approach is to consider deeply whether you even need what your pain gives you. Could you live just as effectively with fewer defenses?
Another fruitful course is to find out how you are both recreating the past and then defending against its shadow. From there, there are many techniques to help you work though the pain and let it go.
Usually a reproduced pain is related to a
defensive stance you took early in life, something you felt
driven to in childhood. Often there is a preemptive quality to
it. Fours who felt rejected in childhood now reject themselves
before others can. They set themselves up, recreating their
wounds as a way to protect against a more painful, surprise
wounding by others. Within the logic of their defenses, they are
making the best of a bad situation, beating others to the punch,
breaking their own hearts before anyone else can. So there's an
element of control.
But the question "Why?" only takes you so far. If you want to actually change, the question is always "how?"-as in "How do I recreate the past in the present? How do I create my Enneagram reality? "How do I do this to myself?" A detailed answer to that question will begin to point you where you want to go.
You usually need some motivation to even want to ask this question. And you need to take a certain amount of responsibility, to assume on some level that any difficulties you have are somehow your creation.
If you're not motivated then it's possible to use
the Enneagram in the service of the status quo. You can say,
"Well, my problem is my type. Naturally I'm paranoid, I'm a Six,
what do you expect?" But that really is a profound misuse of the
Enneagram, a sweeping reversal of the point of the model.
Let's say I grew up in drastic circumstances and began drinking at an early age. I probably drank to medicate myself, as a strategy that got me through those early times. If it's twenty years later and I'm still drinking, then my attempt at a solution has now become the problem.
That actually is a way to think about Enneagram
defenses. The thing that once saved you is now the problem. Your
ticket out of early circumstances has become the very thing that
gets in your way, the very thing that you have to go on finding
a rationale for. So you keep setting yourself up, narrowing your
reality, excluding the other 8/9ths of the truth, as Richard
Rohr would say.
When people do change, it usually has something
to do with their defenses being outmoded. If I'm an Eight who
grew up in a violent, hostile environment, I might have
conceived of my early life (and then the broader world) as a
kind of war zone. If I'm running around 30 or 40 years later
still seeing the world as a war zone, then I've got to actually
do things like provoke people to behave towards me in a war-like
way, so that I reinforce my premises and justify my defenses.
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