Unpacking the 6

This is me, according to the Enneagram Institute’s website:

Type Six in Brief

The committed, security-oriented type. Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy. Excellent “troubleshooters,” they foresee problems and foster cooperation, but can also become defensive, evasive, and anxious—running on stress while complaining about it. They can be cautious and indecisive, but also reactive, defiant and rebellious. They typically have problems with self-doubt and suspicion. At their Best: internally stable and self-reliant, courageously championing themselves and others.

  • Basic Fear: Of being without support and guidance
  • Basic Desire: To have security and support
  • Enneagram Six with a Five-Wing: “The Defender”
  • Enneagram Six with a Seven-Wing: “The Buddy”

Key Motivations: Want to have security, to feel supported by others, to have certitude and reassurance, to test the attitudes of others toward them, to fight against anxiety and insecurity.

The Meaning of the Arrows (in brief)

When moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), dutiful Sixes suddenly become competitive and arrogant at Three. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), fearful, pessimistic Sixes become more relaxed and optimistic, like healthy Nine.

I discovered this whole Enneagram thing through a few friends of mine (namely Aaron B) and my wife has really gotten into it lately, looking at it as a way to try to understand herself better and, by some extension, me.

She’s a 9, which if you’re paying attention, is apparently the healthy version of me (and, ironically, my 6-ness is the unhealthy her), and that means there’s a lot to unpack just in the context of our relationship. But for my purposes here, I’m a little more interested not just in my interactions with her, although those matter a great deal, but how they impact my dealings with people everywhere else.

So that’s the modus operandi to be taken on in this space. I’ll take a look at who I see myself in my various contexts, and see how my 6-ness (a term I picked up from the Road Back to You podcast, which E and I soaked in on our drive to and back from Chicago) impacts those areas. Obviously this remains a curious exercise, and an on-going one at that, but maybe writing it down will allow things to kick into gear a little better.

Home: I fudged a bit. I do want to explore how my 6-ness plays out at home, but less so in terms of my relationship with E, and more so in terms of how it plays out with little L. She just turned 4 in June, and so her personality is coming out more and more the older she gets, even if it does sometimes manifest in manners I’d prefer it not to (such as whining or crying about things that, to my mind, should no longer be handled in that way since she’s fully capable of expressing herself through words). Obviously she’s too young for me to pinpoint her on the Enneagram (although at her age, I’d say she’s got a little 4 in her, but I also see from 5 and 8, and, on rare occasions, her mother’s 9), but I definitely would count a certain amount of our interactions together as stress inducing. She’s a toddler, she’s pressing issues and pushing buttons, trying to test her limits to see what she can and cannot get away with. On top of that, she’s got multiple living situations she finds herself in and out of, so there’s a lot of transitioning going on. She probably feels the stress as much as I do; but she’s 4 and isn’t good at expressing it in a way that makes sense.

Which brings me to my own situation as it plays out with her. Her pushing on me definitely brings out the 3 in me. It becomes a competition, and there is no way I’m letting a 4-year-old beat me at anything, especially when the game is Listen to the Adult. This impacts my effectiveness as an authority figure and a parent, because it becomes less about explaining what I need her to do and why and more–nay, completely–about my winning the battle. The more she pushes, the more I press into the you are not going to win this parenting style. In other words, no good for anyone. But there is something enlightening about seeing it written down–when I get stressed it taps into all my insecurities of being incapable, and so I’m fighting against those feelings as hard as I can. Unfortunately other people have to deal with me, and I am left, usually within a few minutes, ashamed that I’m not better at realizing my flaws and working them out in the moment.

Work: My professional situation is a lot different from almost anywhere else. While my years as a 7th grade teacher often left me beaten down and exhausted, for the most part my time has a college instructor has allowed me to separate the home and work situations pretty effectively. Sure, there’s some overlap, but my work time is work time, and home time is home time. That said, my 6-ness often comes out in its best light when I’m at work. I’m fiercely loyal to my job when I’m there, and work hard at doing my best job. Pretty much all of the characteristics listed on the “In Brief” section above come out when I’m at my best at work. That said, there’s still often an impending sense of “am I good enough” that can bleed into things, which can lead to a fear of venturing outside of comfort zone and taking on new challenges.

That has made the circumstances of the past semester all the more difficult. It’s hard for me to put myself out there and to reach out for something that might change my daily interactions with my job, and yet I did it over the past two years, only to have the message returned to me and sound like this: “Don’t bother. It won’t be worth it. You’ll just get used up and then sent back to where you came from.” It that isn’t the fearful, pessimistic side of my 6-ness coming out, I’m not sure how it manifests itself better. I’m still grappling with the repercussions of that, and it’ll probably linger over me throughout the semester as I reintroduce myself to life without additional, non-teaching duties. My hope is that I’ll lean into the opportunities it presents, seeking the optimism and relaxation promised in my move towards healthier version of me, rather than the competitiveness I can feel stirring up in me from time to time.

Other relationships: Obviously this is a wide open context, as it depends on the nature of the relationship, but I’ll settle into the area of my close friendships, especially with those few friends I see on a regular basis. I think all elements of me come out at various times with my best friends. On one hand, I’m intensely loyal to them, and have always been to most of my closest friends throughout my life, which explains why one of my groomsmen in my wedding was my friend way back when I was 12 (and remains so). My friends are idiots sometimes (as am I), but it would take a lot for me to just jettison them from my life, because that’s the type of person I pride myself on being. The element of needing security and support really plays out here, as do both the 5 and 7 wings. I will defend the honor of my friends when they need it most, and feel like I’m generally a good buddy because of my ability to settle into my 7-wingness. My move to more healthy 9-ness is vital here, too, as I often feel much more relaxed with those people who know me best and with whom I can fully allow myself to just be with, regardless of how I actually feel in the moment. It sometimes manifest by my negative side coming out, by my allowing the fear and indecisiveness to come out, but that’s only because I feel comfortable enough with these people to let that come out.

And yet the unhealthy 3 stuff comes out with my friends a lot, too. I sometimes feel a need to be better at them at things, and this nagging sense of discord often accompanies seeing a friend accomplish something. This is an awful way to be, and it makes me sick to my stomach when it happens; I’m also working hard at pushing away those sentiments, trying to find the 9 (or even a healthier 6) in me during those times. This, I understand, will be better for everyone, as it will allow my friends to get what they need from me, free from my own hang-ups and lack of contentedness.

Faith: This is a complicated one. It worries me, too, because my 6-ness screams something about me that I don’t like: there’s a chance I’ve stuck to my faith out of a sense of loyalty. Now, I don’t believe this is true all the time, and I don’t believe it’s true at this point, but I do think there were times when I was in college where I had a chance to turn a different direction, but didn’t out of a loyalty to what I’d always believed. Over time, I’ve made it my own, and the loyalty stems from a sense of knowing who God is, rather than one that is bent upon not wanting to disappoint my family or something more along those lines. But there’s still that creeping sense, and it’s something I need to work to develop as a I continue to get older. In other words, the more I feel connected to God, the less it feels like I’m part of this family of faith because I feel like I should and more like it’s because it’s what I know is right. Most of the time, it’s the latter, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that the former rears its head from time to time. Sometimes more often than I’d like.

And so I seek to find a place where I realize where my ultimate security comes from, and I think that’s the whole point of this Enneagram thing anyway. I’m supposed to remember that, above all else, I am who I am because that’s the way I was made, and that the Creator, not only of me but of all things, loves me just as I am.