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Breathing Underwater....The Life of an Enneagram 4

Updated: May 16

This week I was "Zooming" with some dear friends who, with incredible kindness and compassion sit with me in hard spaces. I was sharing about a disruptive event that happened in my workday recently. In this space of safety, as I allowed my body, heart and mind to catch up with each other, I discovered that they were totally out of alignment. In this context, one of my friends asked about my outfit because I have noted in the past that I will dress for the day based on my moods. When I pondered her tender question, I noted that I wished that I had decided on my t-shirt that says, "In the darkness I'll dance, in the shadows I'll sing...." and we busted out laughing because WHO enjoys those thoughts?

I do. It's the water I swim in. No matter how hard I try to deny myself well,... me, I can't run fast enough to get away from that intense, melancholy, uber tender little girl inside me who loves to dance in the shadows. Otherwise stated: she (little me) loves to dance with the caveat that it has to be REAL. I have an internal barometer that tells me I can't dance if we haven't first named all of the painful, hidden parts of truth. Hence, "in the darkness I'll dance."

The cost of this has been that I feel as if I live life on the outside looking in. I experience a deep desire to feel joy and the freedom to dance, but the concern with being real and authentic sometimes weighs me down like heavy skirts that are soaked with water. The feeling is something very akin to fear, although it's probably better named as anxiety. I am sad to remember the many times I have chosen to "sit this one out," because of the anxiety associated with needing to be real.


There have been a handful of incidents over the past decade that have turned my world completely upside down. It's been a long road of feeling like someone grabbed me by the ear and drug me to the bottom of the ocean and then told me I was supposed breathe down there...in the dark, in the depth, in the pressure. My desire in writing about this isn't to rehash painful events so much as to share a small part of the discovery that lo and behold, I actually can breath underwater; that perhaps that is what I have to offer others. It feels like such a strange kindness, one for which I wouldn't have imagined asking.

So, how does the Enneagram fit in here?


A few years ago, I learned of this thing called the Enneagram. I had heard the word thrown around a little bit, but I had simply let it come in one ear, and go straight out the other. Enneagram? Did you say pentagram? Nope. Not for me. Moving on....


Sometime later, my coach asked if I would be willing to take an Enneagram assessment. Sure. Why not? I was intrigued as multiple and various words danced on my screen. I was supposed to rank each word by how much I resonated with it. The results were that I most identified with the "1" space.


Let's take a brief pause to review the Enneagram from a 30,000 foot perspective. The Enneagram is composed of 9 basic personality types. These 9 numbers are broken down into three groups of three: the Gut, Heart and Head Triads. Along with the Triads, two other important aspects are Orientation to Time and Stances. Depending on your number, you will be oriented to the past, present or future and will have either an Aggressive/Assertive, Compliant/Dependent, or Withdrawn stance.


Assessments don't always accurately interpret your actual number. Many times, they point you in a direction, but the best way to discover your number is by good old-fashioned studying.

After taking the assessment and reading on "1's", I felt confused, but with the help of my coach, decided on "4" as my number.


As I did a deep dive into information about “4’s", however, my brow began to furrow with confusion again. In all of the literature, the "4's" basic (read deepest) desire is to be special, and the core fear is one of abandonment. Because I didn't relate to either of those features, I discarded the "4" as an option.

I wasn't a "1". I wasn't a "4". I WAS frustrated! Many times I wondered if it was worth continuing to explore. I wondered if perhaps it didn't really matter.


About that time, I tripped on a podcast about all things Enneagram. (See the link below.) Because I knew I wasn't a "4," I put all the interviews with that number on the back burner and spent many hours listening to all the other numbers. Many times, I would get to the end of the podcast and think, "maybe this is my number." I have spent significant time thinking I was a 1, 3, 6, and 8.

Eventually, I heard a niggling little voice in the back of my mind ask, "what if you're a 4 after all this?" I began listening to a two-part interview with a "4." As I listened, I heard the podcast host say that she no longer uses the word "special" to describe the "4's" deepest desire because in her experience, that's not really the best description. Instead, she said, they want to be seen, known and understood.


blink. blink, blink....


Crickets....

Yeah, that's me....


THAT made so much sense! I felt like I was standing in front of a mirror and could say, “Ah! There I am!'

I've let the new/old reality percolate for some time, so I can confidently say that I am a "4". The realization has brought so much understanding. The a-ha moments I'd been looking for have absolutely come! Seeing myself more fully didn't only bring warm fuzzies, though. It also more fully exposed the familiar messages of shame and regret that resonate so often in the deep parts of my soul. It even exposed some of the most painful ways I've allowed those feelings to convince me that there's something wrong with me, causing a big pull back and away, into my cloak of shame at the reverberating message that I'm too much or not enough. But, even in that, perhaps because of it, there's been an understanding of myself like I've never had before. And, with that comes deeper capacity for doing things in relationships that help rather than hinder, which is really the thing that I've always most desired. In fact, that's how I have couched the fear of abandonment. Loss of relationship is a huge fear.


As I continue to learn about myself as a "4", realities like envy being a dominant emotion, are hard to bear and yet, I feel simultaneous hope and freedom to grow and heal. In addition, the owning of so many every-moment feelings even before my head leaves the pillow in the morning, has brought new perspective and understanding. And that makes me far more compassionate of myself and others in the heart triad. I realize that I/we feel so many feelings all. the. time. As a "4", it sometimes feels like my skin is on inside out. The world is often a hostile, painful place just by virtue of being. We "4's" are slow movers in a world of fast and furious, and if I’m being honest, sometimes seemingly shallow. That coupled with our need for mirroring and being known, makes for lots of trauma. Within this realization, I find it utterly incredible that any of us find our way to hope, frankly.


But we can and do.


It is for that reason, that when a "4" finds hope, it shines as a steady, warm beacon of light. It embodies a refusal to ground itself in anything other than what is true and right and worthy and good. It is nothing short of sacred.

When a "4" finds joy, it isn't the joy found in the forgetting of painful things or reframing of heartache and heartbreak into something less heavy to lift. It is a Joy full of truth; knowing and naming and feeling all the pain, but, choosing to keep breathing in and out and to risk dancing anyway...no matter the cost.

The confirmation of being a "4" comes in many and various ways, not the least of which is in my assessment of all this which is notated at the very top of this blog post as the title: Breathing Underwater.… Yes, I learned to breathe underwater (as opposed to I learned how to come up for air or I learned how to fly over the water.) The best way to describe it is that I am still underwater. Somehow I find my most true space in that description. Perhaps I am more mermaid than woman. hmmm...... Oops, pardon me! I just slipped into my fantasy world.

I'm back now!


When I sit and really think about it, perhaps no one drug me to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe it's better said that I dove deep as I always do, and just lost my way for a little while because the shame of painful relationships and trauma responses and wounds tripping us up left me believing that there was something inherently wrong with me. Maybe it's kinder to say that I was simply overwhelmed and hurt.


You might ask why it matters? Isn't it just a bunch of navel gazing or negativity? I can only answer with my experience. I am finding a new pathway that offers thoughts such as, "maybe they like you better than you know," and, "maybe you're a good mom!" These spontaneous messages that pop up out of nowhere are new. Let me repeat: I have never heard those particular, kind voices before. To be clear, I've heard kindness. Intellectually, I've even learned to create and speak language that is affirming. Additionally, there have been many kind people in my life who have spoken goodness and truth. Most importantly, I've learned to hear from God who is always patient, kind, and generous with praise.


So, why the Enneagram? I believe that the wisdom of the Enneagram came into my life at the right time in the right way for the right reasons.


The Enneagram has brought texture and color to my inner world! My mind and heart feel brighter like when the sun coming up casts light over the shades-of-gray world of the nighttime. It's given language to help me understand the vast emotions that I feel and the depth of relationship I long for. Because nothing in our world is perfect, I naturally see what is missing and what is wrong, but I’m learning to ask myself, "What's here? What's right?"


I hope for you, dear friend, that you are learning to find your space (under, in the middle, or perhaps above), the water of your life.

If you'd like more information about the Enneagram, below are two resources that I've found to be wonderful guides.






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“Every person’s life is a story and every story is worth hearing.” – Unknown

© 2020 The Broken & Beautiful - Storywork Counselor and Life Coach - Lincoln, NE

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