Illuminate the Path

by Mary Bast

We are all used to objective, linear analysis - but so-called left-brain language doesn't persuade or induce transformational change. Stories and other forms of right brain communication can change us in ways and on levels that we often don't "understand." That's good. We break patterns by inviting confusion - that's the hallmark of a good riddle.

We are carried beyond our worldviews by breakthrough experiences. Metaphors illuminate the path. Your clients can move with the speed of light if you hold a clear vision with them of what's possible. One aspect of that vision can always be their transformed image when not boxed in by their type.

Let's say your client is an Eight, and he's just revealed his feelings to such an extent that he's near tears. Even if he (only half-jokingly) complains that you "tricked him" into getting emotional, you can gently hold him to his vision. "It's hard, isn't?" you might acknowledge. "Your whole life up until now, you've felt you had to be tough. With me you can let yourself feel vulnerable, even awkward. As you get more practice and as you experience the relief of letting down that huge burden you've carried, you will feel great compassion - for yourself first, and then for others. Instead of holding the world on your shoulders, you'll be on top of the world."

Notice how the example above pre-supposes the desired outcome: a shift to compassion from a style whose worldview has always been one where "life is a jungle." If you're looking for images, Atlas shrugging is an easy one to come up with for Eights. But don't worry about getting just the "right" picture. The real understanding of a metaphor is often individual. Listen to your clients. They'll give you the metaphors most meaningful to them:

In our first session I gave a client who's a One the task of being a student of labeling: to observe the world around her (ads, articles, billboards, conversations) for global, judgmental words, then to translate each label into neutral behavioral descriptors. She was not to notice her own language. The next week we talked through her observations, which she had detailed for me by e-mail. She was clearly learning how endemic judgmental language is in our culture (positive and negative), and how to make such labels more descriptive.

Then she asked, "What are we doing here?"

I explained that her efforts in the past to fix herself had not worked, had actually reinforced her underlying perfectionism; that this approach was different, how quite naturally she would find herself using more descriptive language because of her ability to observe without judgment. After this summary, I asked, "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

She (an expert canoer) replied, "Here's how I understand it. From the perspective of a paddler, when you see a rock you don't look at the rock because you're more likely to run into it; you look in the direction you want to go." It doesn't get any better than this.

Figuratively Speaking

by Clarence Thomson

Have you ever seen somebody do something "stupid"? Oh, you have? What can we learn from the inappropriate things people do?

My principle is that we do everything for a purpose. To the extent it doesn't work, we could say it is wrong, but we all make mistakes that others don't call stupid. When we call someone's behavior bizarre, we often reveal that we don't understand the other person's motives. An Enneagram coach can often make the first contribution to a client by helping them see ineffective actions as previously effective, and now ineffective, rather than "stupid."

When something doesn't make sense on one level, it always does on another level. If a man rushes into a burning building, that is stupid. Unless, of course, we realize his child is in the building; then his action moves from stupid to heroic.

Our Enneagram style is a bundle of strategies that we develop to deal with the world as we have decided that world is. Our strategies are ways of coping with a model of the world we fashioned at a young age. So when people do something we consider inappropriate, what we really should understand is that they are acting out of their Enneagram model. Many unbelievable actions are a metaphor for Enneagram style. Our confusion is our hint. For example, if someone throws a temper tantrum, we know that at some level of his development, he learned that this got him results.

Our Enneagram style is a younger part of ourselves. It worked when we were three and we never forgot it: (Thomson's Law) Healthy people do what works. Unhealthy people do what used to work. So from now on, don't think of incongruent behavior as "stupid," especially to yourself. Instead, ask how the behavior is metaphorical. A Nine refuses to ask for a promotion or a raise because in her world, that is futile. She "knows" she doesn't count. In her world, effort is bound to fail. Her behavior reveals her inner Enneagram world of low expectations. It may look silly to an outsider, but that's because the behavior is not understood metaphorically. It is sensible if you have a Nine worldview.

A Three works 90 hours a week, is exhausted at home but rises rapidly up the corporate ladder. From his lofty perch he waves heroically to his family who grows more distant with every promotion. Is he stupid? There is a better understanding. Threes have an Enneagram worldview that says, "If I perform well, I will be loved." All the time he is leaving his family and working like Hercules, he is telling himself, "Now they will love me. Everybody loves a winner." At some time in his life that was so true he never forgot it. The context changed, but his behavior didn't. It now reflects his Enneagram model of the universe.

The greater the discrepancy between your assessment of appropriate behavior for clients and their assessment of appropriate behavior, the clearer the revelation of their Enneagram style. There are no stupid behaviors. There are only symbolic ones. And the more foolish your clients' behavior seems, the more information you have to work with because the metaphorical behavior reveals the contours of their Enneagram style.