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.

Post-Summer Blues

Please, for a moment, let me allow my non-teacher friends to get out your “but at least you get summers offs” out of your system. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

 

Okay, now that we’ve moved past that, I can do what I came here to do: summer is officially over for me, and frankly I’m less enthusiastic about that. To be honest, my new job, which began in earnest this summer, has meant that I’ve not been as removed from my campus as much as I have been; so minus my honeymoon and an extended weekend in Gatlinburg, TN recently, I’ve seen my office for extended periods rather regularly since mid-May. This has been unusual, and even that has taken a little getting used to. Even the past two summers when I’ve been teaching, those classes basically consisted of showing up for the class and going home; but this summer has been different in that I’ve done a lot of going in for a few hours and taking care of new job responsibilities, that sort of thing.

Still, when summer really ended yesterday, the emotions really started to settle in. Everyone was back, and that was really great see all my colleagues and see how their summers went, and to share with those who I hadn’t seen as much of the various highs and lows of my own. The downsides, of course, include that at my school, they don’t believe in slow rolling us back into the year: we hit the ground running, hit the bottom of the hill and break into a dead sprint from there. Day 1 was meetings from 8:30-3, including an hour-long keynote speaker right before lunch; day 2 was making the meetings look enticing, as each full-time faculty member in the school of arts and sciences was instructed to work on some assessment of work done by our recent graduates. This is all work I know to be necessary, but it is a long and often confusing way to spend the second day back.

This is not intended to be a vent session. I actually really like my job for the first time in probably my entire life, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. I never thought I’d be one pushing for upward mobility, but I’m working toward that goal, hopefully with the ability to stay where I am. Add to the fact that my wife is in education, and our parallel career lines should make for a very nice schedule for us. But getting up early in the morning after not having to for several weeks isn’t fun, especially when you realize that this isn’t just anomaly, but the state of the rest of your life for the next several months. Again, I’m not seeking affirmation or the playing of the world’s smallest violin or really a stringed instrument of any size; this is merely a reminder of my reality.

The worst part of it is how bad I am at transitions. On this statement, you’d likely think I’ve made a poor career choice, since mine is a profession rife with transitions (a point I’ve made in another blog on this very site); but a lot of my struggle with this past few days (and what will likely prove to be difficult about the next 2-3 weeks) has to do with this very conflict. Things are changing, and I don’t much care for that.

And of course, things are changing all around me. My marriage is only a month and half old, and I’m learning to live with not only a new adult but a small child; my wife’s new career is just getting started, and she’s facing her first-year of teaching with a confidence and grace I’m not sure I had my first time out; and our new home means figuring out our routine from multiple perspectives, something that butts up against my own desire to get up and do the same thing every morning. Pretty soon, I’m going to be responsible for my three-year-old step-daughter every morning, yet another challenge, yet another change to my norm.

I’m learning to be okay with these, learning that it isn’t all about me and how I like things, but that other people in my life have thoughts and opinions and expectations, and that part of my new role as husband and father is to be better at going with the flow and adapting to the changes faster than I might generally be comfortable doing so. This is an interesting part of all the new things going on in my life that I sort of knew about, but it is also truly a case of “you don’t know until it happens to you.” And so I’m working on saying more of what I mean, on expressing my thoughts and preferences, and yes, on not allowing small hiccups to throw me off entirely.

The first week back at work, then, is maybe a small way for me to deal with that. At least there are elements of the familiar there, and at least at the end of these wild, brain-wrenching days, I know that my girls are home, just excited to see me.

Who’d have thought?

On Stepfatherhood

Since this isn’t supposed to be strictly a music blog, I figured it was high time to shift the focus a little. Over time, I’ll be looking to write about film, other writers, poetry and other literature, as well, as my last blog was a small attempt to do, some cultural commentary as viewed through my own lenses.

This latest post, however, is going to be my most personal to date, so I’ll lay a few ground rules for these types of posts that should continue to hold true whenever things of this nature come up.

First, I’m getting married this summer (that’s her in my profile photo with me), but for the sake of keeping things at least somewhat anonymous, I won’t divulge the date or location or time or any other elements like that. My fiancé will also remain nameless, as will her daughter (whose face also won’t appear anywhere on the blog). Instead, they will be E and L, respectively, and I think all these stipulations will be best for all involved.

With all that said, I can now press forward with the topic at hand: namely, that in just a little time from now, I’ll be at least partially responsible for the upbringing of a small child.

L is almost 3 and she’s a spunky, smart, thoughtful and stubborn little girl. None of these traits is lost on her mother or anybody who spends any time with her at all. She can be sweet, and often is, but can also be a typical two-year-old, pushing back on expectations, testing the waters of how much she can get away with, and trying to use the tools at her disposal–things like being cute or her innate ability to whine her way through things if she wants to–in order to get what she perceives she wants.

And that’s the kicker: she’s two and in many cases doesn’t really know what she wants, and certainly can’t tell us, at least in the long-term, what she needs. This is about as difficult as you might expect, but thankfully it isn’t L’s normal modus operandi. She is, more often than not, a good, cheerful child, and I’m proud to able to help continue to shape the person she is going to grow up to be.

All that said, parenting of any kind is a difficult thing, and I’m saying that having not really been fully invested in the process with E and L for very long in comparison. It requires a lot of thinking on your feet, flexibility and the ability to, ironically, simultaneously stick to a plan and schedule, skills that, in large part, aren’t ones I’d call “areas of strength” if asked. Making it even more complicated is that our present situation is a busy one: E is student teaching, all while trying to plan a wedding, take care of L and deal with my neediness. Oh, and she lives at home with her parents, which is a gift for her in many ways, but also means those relationships are more at the forefront of her life than they might be if she were living on her own. As for me, I teach full-time at a community college, but otherwise the rest of my life is focused on E and L and making sure the rest of our lives are ready to start once the wedding festivities are done.

I should be clear that I don’t mean to disparage any of this or anyone here. Relationships are complicated and life is busy and difficult, no matter who they are with or how much you love those people. But the situation brings in a lot of voices into little L’s life, and as the person who entered into the picture most recently, I find that I’m okay with getting pushed to the back of the line in terms of who should be heard. And this isn’t because I don’t want to be involved or that I don’t believe I can handle things, but because I am constantly aware of the eyes and ears on me, and my perception is that as they are watching and listening, I am being judged.

This may be incorrect. For all I know, the other people in L’s life could be cheering me on, encouraging me to step up and take over responsibilities (and, if I’m honest, many of them often do so), but I’m so stuck in my own mind, it’s difficult to ignore the voices and be confident in my role. The truth is, when I’m on my own, I mostly feel in control, so why I am unable to take those feelings, that confidence, and translate it into the rest of my experiences, no matter who is around, is baffling to me. My guess is that like most things, this issue is multifaceted and too intricate to cover in this space.

The biggest thing is the confidence issue. I depend on my intellect a lot to get me through life; it’s why I’m in academia for a career, and why jobs like waiting tables or schlepping coffee never really appealed to me. The problem is that child rearing isn’t always an intellectual thing. Sure, you can know things or believe things are true about children, but since they are human beings, they can’t be boxed into expectations all the time, and that’s where the feeling of the raising kids comes into play, and where my confidence becomes fully shot. Add to that a room fully of people who have raised more kids than I probably ever will or a person who I think probably has more “right” to discipline L or take care of her needs, and suddenly I even lose the intellectual side. Suddenly I’m left feeling pretty helpless about it all.

E and I talk about a lot of subjects fairly regularly, and my role in L’s life is one that comes up rather often. She, being the best person I know, reassures me that I’m doing a great job, and this is what I try to keep in my mind as I’m interacting with L and other people in her life. But my mind, I’ve started to realize, isn’t my ally very often, and the sabotage that takes place in these moments is deafening and debilitating. This is not good for anyone: L loses a sound adult mind, E feels like she has to take care of me when it’s really L that needs the attention and I am frustrated because damnit-I’m-an-adult-and-this-shouldn’t-be-happening.

I do not expect there to be a quick fix on any of this. My mind has spent a lot of time building up mechanisms that it thinks might be beneficial to me, but more often than not become detrimental to my being a successful human being. And so there’s this:

26 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city;
    he sets up salvation
    as walls and bulwarks.
2 Open the gates,
    that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
3 You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:1-4)

I’m not very good at remembering this, especially the emphasis (mine) in verse 3. I’ve known this verse for a long time, but I’m not even moderately proficient at implementing it into my life. And here’s the craziest part about this: God trusts in me, and yet I am unable or unwilling to trust Him. If anything, the opposite should be true.

And so in reality it is far less important how I feel in these situations with L and really all about who I lean into when the confidence is shot and I have no clue what I’m doing. It’s about trusting that He is who He says He is, that He’ll do what He says He’ll do, and that He’s got all of us–myself, E and L included–under His perfect peace.