Understanding others - and ourselves - is essential in relationships. Read on as Enneagram expert Suzanne Stabile guides our thinking.
Dealing with Crises: Enneagram Paths
By Suzanne Stabile
As I was entering the grocery store, I noticed a voicemail from my friend Carolyn. "Hi, I was hoping to catch you. I'll just try to call back later. Hope you're having a good day." Carolyn and I have been close friends for forty-eight years, but she rarely calls. She works at our ministry center, so if she calls about business and I don't answer, she leaves a detailed message. I listened to the brief voicemail again and I was sure something was wrong.
Carolyn is ten years older than I am. I met her when I was in college and we worked together for most of fifteen years.
When I phoned, she answered on the first ring.
"Hey, I got your message, are you okay?"
"Well, you know I finally went to the doctor a few weeks ago. I'm okay. At least I think I am. The doctor sent me for a mammogram. A few days later, she called to say I needed to schedule another one because of a suspicious spot. I did and there are actually two spots, so I have to go in for another test that should be more conclusive."
Carolyn has always been hesitant to share things that are personal. She is a Five on the Enneagram. Fives are called Observers or Investigators. They are the most emotionally detached of all the numbers. This kind of detachment means that they can have a feeling and let it go. Fives have a limited, measured amount of energy for every day so they are careful about what they offer to others and when.
I've often wondered if Carolyn's hesitance is because a Five doesn't want to have to manage any feelings other than their own. So my daughters and I always listen carefully for even a hint that all is not well in Carolyn's life.
Carolyn continued, "I've been planning to tell you and the girls. I thought I would just tell the one I talked to first. But I went to the movie with Joey the other night, and we were having such a good time I didn't tell her. I told Jenny this morning so I thought I'd better call you."
This woman has been my best friend for all of my adult life. She has never married, and although she has her sister, niece, and nephew, we consider her part of our family. I didn't want her to go in for her test alone, and I wanted to go with her - I'm a Two. Twos are called Helpers or Givers. They need to be needed. Twos give a lot, sometimes for altruistic reasons and sometimes in order to receive in return, although it is usually a subconscious motivation.
So I said, "Okay, well, as soon as I get home I'll send you my travel schedule and you can work with it so I can go with you for the next procedure." I always try to be respectful of her need for space and privacy, but I also don't want her to face difficult experiences by herself.
In my experience there are two things we all have in common: we all want to belong, and we all want our lives to have meaning. But finding belonging and meaning are dependent on our ability to build and maintain relationships - with people who are like us, and often with those who are not. Some things about the way we do life change over time, but other things stay the same, and there's seemingly not much we can do about it. We are often confronted with the reality that other people and how they view the world may never make any sense. Keeping in mind that none of us can change how we see, we are left with the option of trying to adjust what we do with how we see.
The Enneagram teaches us that there are nine different ways of experiencing the world and nine different ways of answering these basic questions about life: Who am I? Why am I here? and Why do I do the things I do? How we build and maintain relationships varies significantly from one number to another. Looking through the lens of the Enneagram makes it possible to better understand ourselves and others, increase our acceptance and compassion, and navigate the paths between us.
Sometimes when I insist on being with Carolyn, she thanks me for being there and admits that she's glad she's not alone. But this time Carolyn said that she would be fine and that she is "saving me for the big stuff" when she really needs me. I explained that there is enough of me to be with her for this and the big stuff.
"I'll be fine. Really, there is no need for you to go. Now I've got to get to work. I love you, love you, love you!"
Aware that when she said, "I love you" three times the focus had shifted to me, I told her how thankful I am for her in my life and I headed into the grocery store.
Suzanne Stabile is a highly sought-after speaker, teacher, and internationally recognized Enneagram master teacher, having conducted more than five hundred workshops. Her latest book is The Path Between Us. She is also the coauthor of the bestseller The Road Back to You and cocreater of the Road Back to You and The Enneagram Journey podcasts. Along with her husband, Rev. Joseph Stabile, she is a cofounder of Life in the Trinity Ministry, a nonprofit committed to the spiritual growth and formation.
Adapted with permission from The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships, Suzanne Stabile, InterVarsity Press, 2018.
You can take an Enneagram assessment at: http://www.exploreyourtype.com/details