Self-Preservation Nine

A Kind of Low Key Absence

I have a young friend who has the maddening habit of calling me up and talking for a long time and saying only one or two things. He repeats and repeats and repeats until I am ready to ask if he is deliberately torturing me. If he is, I will give him whatever he wants. And I like him. He has a heart of gold, a smile that is negotiating currency and he wouldn't hurt anyone or anything. He's a Nine.

Why then, does this Nine repeat? Because he has an inner conviction that his words don't get through. Which is turn is rooted in a deeper conviction that they don't count, because he doesn't. Repetition can function like screaming. (Mothers often combine both with "If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times.")

At the heart of the Nine strategy is a deep seated, often unacknowledged hopelessness. Their sin is traditionally called sloth, which is best understood as spiritual laziness. Don't expand it to all kinds of laziness, many Nines work extremely hard. But they fail to pay attention to their own spiritual needs, they ignore their most important task in life, the cultivation of their own soul. Laziness in this context means doing the extra-curricular and not paying attention to the main concerns.

Nines often have trouble staying on track to get a job done. They can be distracted -- by anything. Focus is difficult for them, so they will set out to clean the garage and end up deciding to plant the seeds in an old packet they found, but of course they had to dig up the garden first.

They raise passive aggression to an art form. They see how energetic you are, but that's easy for you to do, you have a life. They don't. In fact, I've seen elderly Nines weep bitterly because they didn't live their life. (I heard a great Nine country western song last night; "I spent my whole life pleasin' everyone but me and making love in someone else's dream." (I know, that could be a Two, also.) Nines and Twos are often hard to tell apart because they both have this tendency to merge and carry out someone else's agenda. The difference is that the Twos keep track and the Nines lose track of what they did.

Nines are hard to identify because they go with the flow of whatever energy is available and they'll look like their environment. They have a hard time self-identifying because they identify a little bit with everyone.

I refer to really unhealthy Nines as numb because that is their defense. They don't attack, they take the anger they feel about the situation and turn it in on themselves. They implode instead of explode. They're sitting on a lot of anger, but they can't/don't show it. Instead they go numb.

Sometimes they use drugs (especially alcohol), sometimes they just sit and eat, and they make really devoted couch potatoes. They can just sit and watch and somehow they don't even pay attention to the TV - or themselves.

Their sedentary lifestyle can cause them weight problems. But many Nines are not at all sedentary. They are numb inside, but quite active and energetic in their work or hobby. The numbness is about their spiritual task; their activity often functions as a distraction. I knew a successful interior decorator who told her husband after 20 years she wanted a divorce and revealed during counseling that she hadn't loved him for as long as she could remember, she just never got around to divorcing. I told that story at a seminar and an old woman in the back row got up and said that that was her story except it was 46 years instead of 20.

Their ability to merge and identify with other's agenda has a lovely secondary gain. Nines are often uncommonly sweet, even the males. They have few hard edges; they know well how not to offend anyone. They can negotiate because they see everyone's position so clearly; but have a bit of trouble with their own.

Nines often have a childhood background in which conflict raged and they just hunkered down to let it go over their heads. Or they were faced with conflicted parents and it would have been emotional suicide to take sides. So they learned to straddle, to be inconspicuous, to look friendly to opposing sides. And in the process, they learned to delete themselves and their opinions. Their agenda is to get along, not to push their own views.

The psychological consequences are a kind of spacing out, a neglect of themselves, and a kind of low key absence. They join but they don't lead. They join but come late or stay on the margins.

Until they get focused. They are practically immovable. Think of Anita Hill, a young black female facing the most powerful white males in captivity as they grilled her about Clarence Thomas. She didn't get angry, she didn't get defensive, and she didn't rattle. She stood firm.

Nines can be the most powerful number on the circle. They can get everyone together; they can hold the team and keep it productive. Politicians: Clinton, Reagan, Quayle, Ford, and Eisenhower all wielded enormous power - not their intellects, but through their ability to assemble and run an organization.


  1. If you are a Nine, list the ways you know to be passive-aggressive. If you don't know, your friends will be glad to help you. And you really may not be aware.
  2. If you are a Nine, talk about your use of time. You probably "waste" a lot of time.
  3. How do you go about (if you're not a Nine, how do they go about) asking for what you want?


  1. Make a "to do" list every morning. Check it in the evening.
  2. Read a brief book or article on time management. How tired does it make you feel? What does that tell you? Can you do just one of those suggestions? (If you have a strong connection to 3, this will be easy, most time management books are written by Threes for Threes)
  3. Make a list of three things you want and under each one list two things you'd be willing to do to get what you want.