Question: I was wondering if you have any advice to give an Enneagram Six who's having a hard time getting out of a rut.
One of the characters in a Nelson Demille novel asked another who recklessly exposed himself to gangsters if he had "any feet left to shoot." So I'm not being literal in the title to this response, although the metaphorical shot in the foot can be painful for style Sixes, and it's easy to forget the wound was self-imposed. The positive side of this phenomenon is a willingness to challenge that I call the Patrick Henry Syndrome: "Give me liberty or give me death!" (It's interesting, given style Sixes' focus on hidden agendas, that Patrick Henry also said "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.")
People with this Enneagram style typically hold high standards for leadership, their own and others, and want to be helpful to their bosses. In personal relationships they may even seek partners who need help, and then keep the cycle alive by criticizing their partners for their failings. On the up side they're giving potentially useful feedback (and they're good observers about what makes relationships work). At the same time, constantly reminding your boss or your life partner how s/he could be a better person has its obvious pitfalls.
A style Six client, for example, took great pride in his ability to pull projects together across functions, and couldn't understand why he received so little recognition and wasn't being promoted. Yet every time he and I met he had another complaint he'd raised with his boss (style Five): "He's got to see that holing himself up in his office won't help him. He needs to wander around and let people get to know him. He never gives me or the others any praise," etc., etc., etc. Another client, also style Six, bounced from job to job because she'd eventually get into an argument with her boss over some injustice and quit in anger (and without another job waiting on the side).
In Beginning Your Enneagram Journey, Loretta Brady outlines a process for self-observation that gently reminds us of the joys and difficulties of all nine styles. She says Sixes "offer trust and reliability in their friendships. And they seem able to be committed to others through all the ups and downs of relating..." However, "Because safety is tied to friendship, any change in affection is very threatening...."
Sixes tend to conclude "I'm somehow lacking and may be abandoned," but instead of staying with their feelings and embracing their fear, they create a cover that makes it seem as if they know what's going on. This cover is associated with a psychological mechanism known as projection, observing and reacting to something in others we fail to see in ourselves.
Enneagram Sixes certainly aren't the only ones to use projection, but they sometimes seem to have a corner on the market. As pointed out by William Miller in Chapter 7 of Meeting the Shadow, projections can be positive as well as negative. So the fact that Sixes make heroes of certain people, for example, may be a projection of their own positive traits held in their unconscious. More often than not, however, our projections are negative. Some aspects of projections truly fit the other person (e.g., the Five boss mentioned above was indeed a little stingy with praise). You're probably projecting when your feelings about others are unusually strong and persistent. If you can't let go of focusing on how stingy with praise your boss is, for example, chances are you carry the same trait to some degree.
Style Sixes may not face the fact that their criticisms are held toward people they desperately want to like them. Nor do they typically realize the degree to which they give away their power, by placing all that energy outside themselves instead of learning to love and trust themselves. It takes real courage to look inside, because to get there you've also got to face what you don't like about yourself.
Of many excellent self-empowerment strategies, here are two of the best for Enneagram Sixes:
- Get feedback from others about how they see you, and listen to it. Don't explain or defend yourself. Just try it on for size for a few days, giving yourself permission to see some things about yourself you may not like, as well as some strengths you find it hard to believe about yourself. (People with this Enneagram style do a lot of self-doubting.)
Notice when you get really hooked by someone's behavior, assume that your reaction is partly projection of some unknown part of your unconscious, and bring it home. For example, if you think your wife or girlfriend is too critical, accept that as partly true but also try it on yourself. Notice the ways you're critical (of her, for example). If you think your boss is too stingy with praise, accept that as partly true but try it on yourself. Notice when you're stingy with praise. (We know already you're stingy with praise for your boss.)
Over time you'll develop the capability to know what fits you and what doesn't. When you catch on to a projection, the strength of your emotion toward the other person will lessen and you'll begin to see aspects of the unwanted trait in yourself. That's O.K. This doesn't make you a bad person; it just makes you more fully human. And the more you accept yourself as you are, the less those unwanted behaviors will own you.