Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Gift of Fear

Question: Are Sixes more fearful than other Enneagram styles in the face of real danger?
It's true that people with Enneagram style Six can be too focused on potential risks, but when they develop the courage to trust themselves, their sharply-focused antennae are equally attuned to potential opportunities. They're both appropriately cautious and highly intuitive.

While I won't presume Gavin de Becker's Enneagram style, his brilliant book, The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence, could be a manual for healthy Sixes, as well as for the rest of us.

After a childhood where his ability to sniff out the moods of his suicidal mother and her several physically abusive husbands quite literally meant survival, de Becker parlayed his hypervigilance into a world-renowned business -- serving victims of domestic abuse and stalking, evaluating threats to political and media figures, working with the CIA and others to prevent and manage violence:
"When the U.S. attorney general and the director of the FBI gave me an award for designing MOSAIC(TM), the assessment system now used for screening threats to justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, I am certain neither realized it was actually invented by a ten-year-old boy, but it was. The way I broke down the individual elements of violence as a child became the way the most sophisticated artificial intuition systems predict violence today. My ghosts had become my teachers.

"I have gotten great benefits from taking the voice of skepticism that I used to apply to my intuition and applying it instead to the dreaded outcomes I imagined were coming. Worry will almost always buckle under a vigorous interrogation.

"If you bring yourself to apply your imagination to finding the possible favorable outcomes of undesired developments, even if only as an exercise, you'll see that it fosters creativity. Worry is a choice, and the creative genius we apply to it can be used differently, also by choice."
Recently, a client and I explored her anxieties about a potential family member's unusually close attention to her two young children, playing with them and their toys for longer periods of time than most adults would enjoy.

Her worrying was triggered by having been sexually abused by a family member as a child. She wondered, though, if her worries were unfounded. A wrong guess could unnecessarily destroy a cherished family connection.

To help her assess this person without making unwarranted assumptions, we reviewed de Becker's summary of a potential abuser/violent person's typical escalating behaviors. This helped calm the spinning of her mind by focusing on a few observations about language and behavior:
  1. Forced Teaming ("we" language with you or the children).
  2. Charm and niceness that may be even slightly excessive given the situation.
  3. Too many details when responding to a question or setting the stage (it's characteristic of lying to say more than you would if telling the truth).
  4. Typecasting such as "You probably don't trust anyone else with your child" (which tends to engage a "No, I'm not like that" response).
  5. Loan sharking -- doing you or a child a favor (then you "owe" him something).
  6. Unsolicited promise such as "Don't worry, Mommy, we'll just go for an ice cream cone and be right back."
  7. Discounting a clear "No" from you or your child.
To increase the objectivity of her observations and bring more logic to her emotional whiplash, she also took a look at de Becker's elements of accurate predictions as they relate to her situation. The first two (different order than presented in the book) spoke to her confusion about trusting her intuition that something was "off" in this man's behavior:
  1. Investment:  With your strong investment to know if there's danger, your fear/anxiety will color whatever you pick up unless you have objective and reliable data.
  2. Experience:  On the plus side, your own experience with abuse can help your intuition pick up signs that might not be obvious to others. 
  3. KnowledgeWhat do you know about him, his background, his relationships with others, especially children?
  4. Vantage:  Are you in close enough proximity to see his behavior with children in general, not just yours? Can you get accurate information from others who might observe him in other situations, with or without children?
  5. Context:  How does the way he acts in other situations compare to his behavior with children; what exactly is different?
  6. Comparable Outcomes:  Is there anyone else who behaves in a comparable way with the children? In what context? How is he different?"
  7. Measurable Outcomes:  For example, how long does he play with the children? Does the length of time change? How many times has he repeated certain phrases with them or you about them?
  8. Replicability:  Can you observe the same or similar behavior with other children? Is his behavior the same repeatedly with your children? Does he behave in similar ways in other contexts?
  9. Imminence:  Do you see any signs of imminent danger?
From Chapter 15 "The Gift of Fear"(pg. 303):
"The relationship between real fear and worry is analogous to the relationship between pain and suffering. Pain and fear are necessary and valuable components of life. Suffering and worry are destructive and unnecessary components of life... there are three goals to strive for. They aren't easy to reach, but it's worth trying:
  1. When you feel fear, listen.
  2. When you don't feel fear, don't manufacture it.
  3. If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why."

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