Dec 9, 2022

Solving Family Stress with the Enneagram

“That’s not how you do it,” she chided.

“It’s how Aunt Frances taught me,” the other defended.

“No, it’s not.”

“Were you there?”

“Do you make these every year?”

In a kitchen covered with 100s of wedding cookies, my two Italian aunts suddenly turned from excited chatter to excessive bickering. How did two sisters in their 40s suddenly become fourth graders?

Oh, family.

There is a special place for the stress of family. It’s layered, nuanced, and often hidden. It can almost feel like we take on a different personality. And isn’t December just full of opportunity?

Here’s what you need to know about stress and our personality: your reactive self will go with what’s easy, what’s simple, and what requires the least amount of energy.⁣

⁣You go for the path of least resistance.⁣The path of least resistance makes men and rivers crooked, to paraphrase Thoreau.⁣

The Enneagram gives you a prediction of which river bend your personality wants to take in times of stress. ⁣

When you float down a stress path, it’s like a reflex. You don’t change your core number, but you intuitively escape into the unhealthy ways of another number.⁣

Your personality is activated because one of your basic needs feels threatened right now: security, love, or belonging.⁣ When you’re fighting for those things, of course, it’s easier to blindly fall into old habits.⁣

It takes a whole lot more energy to respond in healthy ways than it does to fall into old patterns and habits (like one-upping your sister). I call it the blind spot path.

So how do you leave the blind spot path for a more stable way? First, you have to notice you’re on the blind spot path, and then you have to try a different action.

Here are signs each number is headed down the blind spot path and opportunities to put you on a different path.⁣

Enneagram Types on the Blind Spot Stress Path

Eights, when you notice yourself:

Inserting yourself into everyone’s business to protect everyone, usually without asking.

  • Inserting yourself into everyone’s business to protect everyone, usually without asking.
  • Clinging to family and close friends, overly dependent on their appreciation.
  • Behaving as an angry martyr.

Try instead:

  • See yourself as an empathetic servant. Giving to love, not to get or control.
  • Reveal how you feel, being vulnerable by asking for (not demanding) what you need.
  • Create space for others to tell you, “No, thank you. I don’t need that right now.”

Nines, when you notice yourself:

  • Doing random busywork. Not what needs to be done.
  • Wanting to brag about your achievements and accomplishments.
  • Becoming angry with people pointing out your mistakes or faults.

Try instead:

  • Discover your own feelings and wants, even if they’re not affirmed by others.
  • Stick to a prioritized plan.
  • Allow helpful critique to inform your growth.

Ones, when you notice yourself:

  • Become more demanding and self-focused.
  • Finding unhealthy excesses to escape your inner critic.
  • Doing things that don’t align with your values.

Try instead:

  • Find peaceful joy in the little things.
  • Extend grace to others who don’t do it your way.
  • Observe and withhold judgment for both your thoughts and feelings.

Twos, when you notice yourself:

  • Behaving in moody and overly emotional ways.
  • Indulging yourself in unhealthy treats or behaviors. “I deserve it.”
  • Feeling like you are missing something others have right now.

Try instead:

  • Take care of your needs, not just indulge yourself.
  • Feel and process the negative emotions by naming them and rating them.
  • Know you have what you need to love yourself and others

Threes, when you notice yourself:

  • Venting about all the things you think are wrong, dreadful, or angering.
  • Being suspicious and untrusting.
  • Lashing out or reacting when feeling blamed.

Try Instead:

  • Express your feelings without having to achieve anything.
  • Cooperate as a team player, trusting those around you.
  • Relax knowing your worth isn’t in what you achieve or get done.

Fours, when you notice yourself:

  • Seeing all the things that are wrong, in others, in your environment, in your world, and judging it all, but doing unproductive things.
  • Developing a little internal critic that is telling you your imperfections.
  • Behaving impatiently and controlling. Overly nitpicky.

Try Instead

  • Find objective and balanced ways to feel and express your emotions and recognize the emotions of others.
  • Focus on one task to complete that helps you and others in your home.
  • Make the mundane tasks enjoyable to accomplish.

Fives, when you notice yourself:

  • Becoming confrontational and argumentative.
  • Debating facts and outcomes forcefully and arrogantly.
  • Questioning the competency of others in authority. Believe you know better.

Try instead

  • Pause to ask more questions before offering wisdom (not just information).
  • Connect with your feelings and body to spur you toward action.
  • Connect with others to bring help and hope.

Sixes, when you notice yourself:

  • Shutting down and numbing out.
  • Avoiding confrontations but making side comments and passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Acting out when people interrupt or disturb you.

Try instead

  • See others’ frustration and pain too. Choose compassion.
  • Slow your mind enough to trust your inner gut.
  • Know you are safe and secure. Help others feel that way too.
  • Withdraw for a time to get some energy before returning to the group.

Sevens, when you notice yourself:

  • Experiencing pessimistic and cynical thoughts.
  • Finding being positive wearying and exhausting.
  • Becoming greedy for your own resource and retreating away from people.

Try Instead

  • Discipline yourself to have a routine.
  • Accept that this is time can be both hard and good.
  • Know you have enough and can share with others, your time, and your resources.
  • The blind spot response path feels like it comes outta nowhere. Hence, blind spot! It can show up with your family and even your closest work friends. You might even say, “Who am I right now?” 

Your personality hasn’t changed; it’s just trying to protect you in a really old way.

Notice that and try one of the techniques above to restore you to a healthier place.

Which path fits you? Tell me in the comments.



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