Nines: "You're Not Really That Sick"

A couple years ago, a woman I know developped a rare condition.  The symptoms of her condition, affecting a mere 6,000 people in the world, are mostly invisible, so her regular doctors had a hard time believing she was really in pain.  After about year of physical pain coupled with the psychological torment of watching her life unravel, no longer able to work, drive, think straight, or get enough sleep, and not knowing why, she eventually- and incredibly- found a specialist a mere ten hours away who knew about her illness, a massive comfort after encountering hostility and skepticism from her general practitioners. 

One day, her specialist was asking her about her family.  He mused, "It's a wonder your children still talk to you".  Dumbfounded, she asked why.  "Because a lot of my patients' children have cut off communication with their sick parent, saying it's all in their heads."  Although this woman's children still talk to their mom, her daughter has suggested in round-about ways that her mom isn't really as sick as she says she is. 

It's one thing to discredit a sick person because what they're saying doesn't sound objective or logical, but her daughter is a Nine, and Nines discredit people for a different reason: Nines rather enjoy the settled feeling of everyone being alright.  Riso and Hudson say their internal feeling "resembles someone riding a bicycle on a beautiful day, enjoying everything about the flow of the experience", and acknowledging that a loved one is in deep pain ruins that inner experience.  In other words, maintaining this internal blissful state is so important to Nines that they'll cling to it and pretend that that is reality even when evidence points to the contrary. 

This is not to say that the daughter hasn't been helping her mom- she helps as much as she can- but it would be fair to say she's justifiably overwhelmed with her own life.  So while I'm not pointing fingers at the daughter-- under enough stress, we all "disallow" certain experiences in others because it makes us too uncomfortable--  when I heard that line, I became curious about the role of the Nine energy in that family.

I believe my sick friend is herself a Nine with a One wing (9w1), and she also has an adult son, whom I believe is a One with a Nine wing (1w9).  I have trouble telling the two subtypes apart, really, and Riso and Hudson offer a possible reason:

The traits of the Nine and those of the One tend to reinforce each other.  Nines repress their emotions to maintain their peace, and Ones repress their emotions to maintain self-control.

Between all that One energy and all that Nine energy, I feel like the Nine's need to maintain the peace is the most detrimental in this dynamic, but I could be wrong.  Without first-hand experience observing this, it seems like Ones can be decent caregivers, or at least steadfast friends, under a friend's long-term emotional stress.  Because they're so intent on doing the right thing, and with the ability to separate exegencies from emotion, they can be counted on to provide support whether they feel like it or not.  However, I would expect that they would prefer that the whole situation stay cool and dispassionate.  Ones don't have much time or patience for drama or self-indulgence.  Their own superego rakes them over the coals constantly for what it deems to be self-indulgence, so as long as you're not faking it or going over the top with your self-pity, you should have a pretty solid friend, even if she's repressing her emotions to maintain self-control.  The fact that she's maintaining self-control is probably a good thing, seeing as you're the one who's sick, not her. 

Nines, on the other hand, are repressing their emotions to maintain peace, even if it's a contrived peace, and that can affect a sick person. 

Let's break this down.  Nines are particularly characterized by a tendency toward inertia.  For better or for worse, when they get going, they can stay in motion for a long time, but it takes quite a bit to get them going.  Therefore, the ease with which they can repress their emotions makes it easy for them to go along with what's already happening in their environment, suppressing any urge to stick out and slow things down.  This suppression is like whiting out their edges to merge with others or their environment to feel peaceful and at ease inside.   On the surface, this makes it look like Nines can put up with quite a lot, and they do abide more than most without complaining, but at some point, their tendency to ignore themselves and concentrate on keeping the other peoples' individuality intact means the Nine has to numb themselves to the pain of not feeling honored as a distinct individual.  They merge with others because they don't feel very important, an ego lie that lets them off the hook from doing much inner inquiry, a particularly arduous task for Nines. 

In order to maintain a vague and indistinct merge-y vibe, Nines try not to feel too much intensity, and may maintain deeply entrenched daily habits that serve to lull them to sleep psychologically, preferring the serenity that their habits bring to asking themselves if their habits are still contextually appropriate given the ever-changing nature of reality around them.  Nines are particularly averse to changing course, and will cling to habits like a well-loved security blanket.

In the Enneagram, Nines are the self-effacing, "aw shucks" type that don't go out of their way to attract attention, but by virtue of their easy-going nature, tend to endear themselves to others... at least initially.  The singular object of their desire is for peace, and who can argue with that?  The longing for peace on earth, and for peaceful relationships are nearly universal.  So when a Nine tries to create that experience on earth, both outside and inside themselves, it seems like a good plan.  Riso and Hudson describe the origin of that motivation.

The inner landscape of the Nine resembles someone riding a bicycle on a beautiful day, enjoying everything about the flow of the experience.  The whole picture, the entire situation, is what is pleasant and identified with rather than any particular part.  The inner world of the Nines is this experience of effortless oneness: their sense of self comes from being at one with their experience.  Naturally, they would like to preserve the quality of oneness with the environment as much as possible. 

 Mr. Carson, the butler from Downton Abbey, is uncomfortable with conflict between himself and Mrs. Hughes, the lady's maid, over the site of the War memorial, and wants her to come on board to his way of thinking.  His awareness of his discomfort, by the way, seems to be the mechanism by which he discovers he's in love with her.  Awareness opens doors into the psyche- remember that.

Mr. Carson, the butler from Downton Abbey, is uncomfortable with conflict between himself and Mrs. Hughes, the lady's maid, over the site of the War memorial, and wants her to come on board to his way of thinking.  His awareness of his discomfort, by the way, seems to be the mechanism by which he discovers he's in love with her.  Awareness opens doors into the psyche- remember that.

But their need to feel at one with everything overrules the need to deal with conflict, and when things get discordant, Nines withdraw into themselves to maintain that feeling of comfort instead of facing the discord, dealing with it, and moving on.  So their inner sense of peace is mostly contrived because Nines only deal with conflict by engaging in psychological techniques to make the problem look smaller than it is, or to numb themselves to the pain.  To them, they're just practicing their morally upright virtue of non-indulgence in a low-brow conflict, but to their loved ones, it feels like pretentious holiness when the conflict could be so easily worked through.  When Nines are unwilling to wade into the murky waters of conflict, they withdraw into themselves by mounting a wall of stubborn silence against the guilty party, impenetrable even to the most ernest of friends acting in good faith, an incredibly frustrating and maddening situation by those trying to connect with them.  When those around them accuse them of manipulating the situation by going silent, Nines very rightly tend to say, "What?  I'm not doing anything," which is the point- they're disengaging into their inner private tropical island, as Riso and Hudson say, or, as they also say, into a pious pillar of white light to gain control of the situation.  So by absenting themselves from their lives, they assert themselves.

Conflict is difficult for everyone, but especially for Nines because of their fundamental belief that if they were to actively engage in it, their standing up to take a stand and assert their desires and wishes would effectively be cutting them off from that feeling of oneness that they are trying to maintain.  By ignoring their inner promptings in order to stay in flow with their outer experience, Nines never really learn about themselves by exploring their inner landscape.  Rather, they ignore it, which is why their "passion", or central psychological issue is sloth or laziness; not necessarily a laziness around getting things done, although that certainly can happen, but an indolence toward their own inner lives.

Ultimately, ... the central issue of a Nine's indolence is not related to either outward doing or physical neglect.  This is an extremely important point to grasp, since it explains why some Nines can be workaholics, while others seem to do little with their time.  What is personally significant is what is most neglected by a Nine, and ultimately, her laziness is about paying attention to and cultivating contact with what is most real within herself; at its heart, this laziness is fundamentally being unconscious to and remaining unconscious to her essential nature.

From their position at the top of the symbol, and as the highest number out of the Enneagram types, in their unconsciousness toward the true self, Nines act as the universal archetype for man fallen asleep to his true nature.  As Sandra Maitri says,

This loss of contact [with our True Nature] is often referred to in spiritual work as falling asleep, resulting in a state of ignorance or darkness.  The process of losing contact with that which is innate and unconditioned occurs gradually during the first few years of life, and by the time we are four years old, Essence is mostly lost to perception.  This loss of conscioueness of our essential nature starts the development of the scaffolding that is the ego structure.

The nine ego structures have their distinct ways of protecting us from being truly open and present to the moment as it is unfolding, and as adults, if we take the path of "waking up" to the true self, we uncover the real attributes that our false ego selves are blocking us from.  But on the flip side, as Riso and Hudson point out, the Nine at their best also shows us what it really means

to be at one with the self and at one with the world.  [When healthy,] they are an example of the profound unity which is possible for human beings- the unity of the self as well as the unity of the self and the other.  They teach us of a self-possession and self-surrender so profound as to have mystical overtones.... To be completely ourselves and yet fully related to the other is a mystery to be surrendered to in silence.

The desire to smooth things out is based, not on true altriusm, but on a fear that people will abandon her if she is true to herself. 

Her superego demands, in a vague and not too evident way, that she is responsible for keeping the environment happy and safe, and pushes her to take care of others.  As a child, she might feel compelled by her inner demands to befriend the new kid at school or the sick one that the other kids ostracize.  Often this is a way of minimzing the pain of another so that she will not be reminded of her own sense of not being loved or loveable.  Her superego pushes her not to upset anyone, to stay middle-of-the-road, so that even as a rebellious teenager, she makes sure everyone feels good about her.

So while a Nine's obliging temperament may make it look to others like they are cooperative and easy to be with- and at their best, they really are these things without compromising their commitment to themselves- for most Nines, the reality is that the fundamental belief underlying this graciousness is that they aren't worth paying attention to and are worth far more to the group if they can erase the borders of their individuality to keep the whole intact.

When your self-esteem is so low, you won't give yourself permission to express, let alone have any problems.   Riso and Hudson elaborate on what happens with Nines' problem-solving skills under a significant amount of stress.

By this stage, it is likely that average Nines have a number of genuine problems in their lives, but they take pride in their ability to endure whatever happens: they know that they can get through problems by tuning them out.  Thus, rather than exert themselves, they become fatalistic, feeling that nothing can be done to change things, and that in any event, whatever the problem is, it is not so much a problem after all. ("Well, it doesn't really matter anyway.")  Their healthy receptivity has deteriorated into resignation, a giving up rather than a mature letting go.  This is not optimism, but selfishness.  ("I don't want to hear it- I just don't want to be upset.")

So under enough stress the phrase "I'm fine" gets projected onto others so Nines don't have to leave their fantasy world.  "You're fine" is often heard coming from a Nine, which in some contexts can be truly reassuring, like when putting a band-aid on a child who slipped and skinned their knee.  In more serious contexts, however, telling someone that they're fine is more self-serving than helpful.  Riso and Hudson explain how a Type Nine takes that pat reassurance too far.

The nature of their selfishness is now clear: without being aware of it, Nines are able to put their peace above the more serious needs of others, in effect, above reality and the harm they do by ignoring it.  Their appeasement of others is a defense against changing anything essential about themselves or their idealization of important relationships.  By minimizing reality, average Nines, in a sense, sacrifice others to continue the illusion of union with them, so that they can maintain their identities and their tranquility.  In this way, they are able to sacrifice their spouses, their children-- and themselves-- to the god of peace.

So are Nines good, solid, dependable friends?  Sure.  Are they comforting and reassuring?  Yes!  Are they willing to put your needs before theirs?  Often!  Are Nines going to stick by you when you've spent a year going from doctor to doctor desperately trying to get a diagnosis, and you've been denied health insurance three times, and nobody's listening to you and you're running out of money, and you can't do anything you used to do and need them to do your grocery shopping for you and set up a bed for you at their house?  Sure, they'll stick by you, but they might shuffle their bum over a little so they're not too close, because what they really want is for you to chill out so they can get back to their inner tropical island, and if you won't chill out with them, they might get "aggressive" by vacating themselves psychologically to the point that they look lifeless and catatonic, and saying you're not really that sick so they don't have to stand up for themselves and create some boundaries or other kind of changes. 

In conclusion, all the type Nine repression in my friend's family can make for heavy-handed, forced peace during this incredibly stressful time, and there needs to be an allowance for emotions to be expressed- even difficult, complicated, yucky ones- in order for better balance in this dynamic to be achieved.