When the Advice we Don’t Want is the Advice we Need

This summer at my parents’ house I learned about personality typing through the Enneagram, and my mind was blown. The day after Matt arrived to join me on vacation, I sat him down at the kitchen table and made him do all the tests to find out what number he was. He was pretty skeptical until he got to the test for his type, and then his mind was blown too. We and my parents all spent hours talking about our types, how we think, what makes us upset, how all those different factors collide when we are doing life together.

Matt and I talked about ordering our own copy of the book (my parents had it on loan from the library), and this month I finally got around to it. {Plug: I also saved money by cashing in Swagbucks for amazon.ca giftcards!} Two nights this week I had girls from youth group over to find out their number and learn/chat about how they operate – more minds blown! It is hilarious to watch someone reading the chapter on their type because inevitably they burst into laughter or literally drop their jaw in amazement at the accuracy of these descriptions. The types are based on a core fear/goal that drives us, and the book explores how each personality type develops, how it plays out under stress, and how it can flourish when a person is emotionally and spiritually well.

The book also explores a very ironic truth that when we act according to our core fears we can end up manifesting exactly what we’re trying to avoid! For example, type 2’s core fear is not being loved, and under stress they often lash out to make other people feel unworthy of love. This pushes people away, causing the individual to feel even less loved than before. Each chapter identifies a “red flag” to recognize when you are acting out of fear or vulnerability, and there is advice for how to counteract your type-specific tendencies that lead to self-destruction.

Which brings me to the title of this post.

The solution for each type to find peace and fulfillment and freedom is to resist the influence of their core fear, to deny whatever distorted internal message we hear that feeds into that fear; it’s completely counter intuitive, and that makes it so difficult to put into practice! My enneagram type is 6, so my core fear/top priority relates to security and stability. In my chapter I was amazed to read the explanations for why I struggle so much with decisions, how anxiety drives pretty much everything I do for better or for worse, and then I came to the solution. It’s difficult to put in a nutshell that will make sense without plagarizing the whole chapter, but what it boils down to is that I evaluate decisions by all kinds of criteria and principles that I have developed over time to make me feel safe. If I want to buy a pair of shoes, I first think of how they look and how they feel. I consider the price and quality and imagine what else I could buy for the same amount of money. I think about where I would wear them, how often that would happen, whether I imagine regretting spending the money once I get home or if I think I’ll regret not buying them more. If I’m really torn, I might factor in the store’s return policy and the likelihood I would take advantage of it if I did have buyer’s remorse. I’ll think about how things turned out with the last pair of shoes I considered (or maybe any impulse buy), I will fret about making the wrong decision, and, ultimately, I will make a choice. Are you exhausted? Welcome to my world. The solution, says the enneagram book, boils down to throwing out that long list of things I think about. I need to learn to trust my own judgment. (That example was just for shoes, by the way; I have a whole book’s worth of considerations bundled up in my brain for any decision involving a menu).

The problem is that the whole long list of criteria that makes me so crazy and cripples all my decisions is my safety net. It represents lessons learned from many regretted decisions and hope for a future in which I make the right decision every time. Giving that up feels like giving up a huge part of myself, not to mention the (flawed) sense of security that comes with it. However, focusing less on establishing and maintaining “safety nets” would allow me to participate more freely in real life, to actually do the things that I’m waiting for my life to be secure enough to try. The advice I don’t want is the advice I really need.

One of the girls from church had the same reaction to the advice in her chapter (type 1) – she creates a sense of security for herself by adhering to a strict set of principles, and the book says to distance herself from those principles, not to let them infiltrate her very identity. Again, it is counter intuitive – not the advice that she wants.

I feel like a quick disclaimer is in order, that I am giving such bare bones from the ideas of a 400 pg book – see if your library has a copy of The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson so you can soak it up for yourself! I love the concepts in this book, even the bare bones, because they really show why there is no one-size-fits-all solution for healing and personal fulfillment; what works for some people would absolutely sabotage some others, and to prescribe one tactic for every person will just make some people feel like extra big failures. Even such new-agey, self-help cliches as trying yoga or meditation to “engage with the present,” or the conflicting advice from different self-help gurus to put others first or focus more on yourself can be self-defeating without understanding whatever lies at the core of your self, what drives you.

All this to say that true change and healing take hard work and patience and failing and trying again, and I think it very often starts with being open to taking advice that rubs you the wrong way. Obviously bad advice is still bad advice, but I’m realizing that good advice often doesn’t feel very good in the beginning. Fortunately for Don and Russ, my rah-rah pregnancy books have softened me up to their advice to connect with my intuition, distinguishing the quiet sense of inner knowing from the clamouring chorus of voices in my head. Besides, all those anxious voices aren’t very good company anyway!

Have you ever received really good advice that you really didn’t want to take?

Also, while I have you, if you would like to receive an email to tell you when a new post goes up, leave a comment or shoot me an email at alyssa (at) movingwithGod (dot) com, and I can set it up! 🙂

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Full Term! (37 Weeks) | Moving With GodMoving With God 17-01-2013, 13:42

[…] a visit to my Grandparents since we are so close and had a great night talking about babies and enneagram types. I have been pretty good about not procrastinating my last-minute to-dos, helped along by […]

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