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.
I'm about to give my sixth Enneagram presentation next week and whenever I do it, I always shrink before the task of describing the early holding environment, and how babies develop their ego selves. Don Riso and Russ Hudson do such a good job in their one-hour Ireland talk that [used to be?] posted on their website (their website got a major overhaul earlier this year). When you hear a master do it, or two in this case, it's hard not to feel inadequate when you do yours. Plus, I don't have a baby, so how do I know what stages of development they go through?
So I've turned to Sandra Maitri this morning, who provides a good summary of the stages. I actually heard her give a variation of this talk in Los Angeles in 2013 and it was an honor to be part of the audience- she does it so eloquently. In her book, though, The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, she takes a different tack, quoting bits and pieces from A. H. Almaas' Facets of Unity, and rounding out her references with some preeminent developmental psychologists and psychoanalysts like Rene Spitz, Heinz Hartman, Margaret Mahler, D. W. Winnicott, and of course, Freud himself.
So when we're babies, we're in contact with True Nature. In the womb, we're connected to our mom's body, being fed vitamins and minerals through her amniotic sac. All our needs for development are met; our little bodies are in perfect homeostasis with our dark and moist environment. Our mom is our world, and we're in perfect unity with our world. We even share emotions with our mom- we pick up on her joy and her stress, and we're so connected, we don't know any difference between her experience or ours. Those who have done a lifetime's worth of meditating and have dug deep into the personality structure have told us that in pre-cognition stage, we're aware of a deep connection to all other beings, that at a certain level, we all emerge from the same source.
As infants, once we've emerged from the sac and had the initial shock of separation, for a while, that feeling of oneness is still there. We are unable to differentiate between our own body and mother's.
It is probable that while a child sees differentiations between things, he does not actually know that they are separate. He might feel the warmth of his mother's breast milk, for instance, and see the redness of his rubber ball, and feel the hunger pangs in his belly, but he probably does not conceptualize these experiences as different from one another. Warm, red, and hunger would all be part of the unity of his experience (Maitri, 2000)
Cognition then starts developping in stages. The first stage is a distinction between pleasure and pain. At the onset, we don't yet have our memory function connected to the right neurons to remember what causes pleasure and what causes pain, so first we go through a phase of just experiencing everything without trying to avoid or move toward any particular experience. As those neuron connections are made, however, we start remembering: being with mom equals pleasure, being put down in my crib for a nap and separated from her equals pain. Freud told us that the most fundamental principle underlying the ego structure was striving for pleasure and avoiding pain, which we see being laid here.
Margaret Mahler described this phase as the normal symbiotic phase- when the baby is aware of his mother, but is unable to distinguish between his body and hers.
Maitri moves us on to the next phase- a sense of inner versus outer. As the nurturer touches our bodies, we become aware of the sensations of our outer edges. "The collection of sensations on the periphary of the body coalesce into a sense of the body's boundaries", says Maitri. This is our first hint that we're separate from everyone else, that our skin is the boundary between "me" and "them", a distinction that forms the basis of object relations theory. "I am the subject, mom is the object." Margaret Mahler would call this the individuation phase. We start crawling and then walking away from mom, exploring our environment, and yes, coming back to her, but less and less frequently.
By the time we're four years old, our ego self has matured into a fully-formed understanding of the child's being separate from the rest of the world, founded in their experience of themselves as a physical beings who can leave and come back to mom. The development of the ego, then, coincides with our disconnection from True Nature- that essential state where we feel like we're one with everyone else. Maitri reminds us that religious traditions call it falling asleep, ignorance or darkness.
But we need that ego structure, it's not all bad. "Developing this structure", explains Maitri, "is a necessary prerequisite for spiritual development, since part of the ego's attainment is self-reflective consciousness. Without it, we couldn't be aware of our own consciousness."
And so as we grow and develop through to adulthood, we develop a greater and greater capacity to self-reflect, while the ego performs its job of getting us through school, navigating our social circles, and helping establish ourselves in the world.
Eventually, maybe in our twenties or thirties or forties (some seniors we're still waiting for), we begin to find that the ego is no longer needed; we can afford to shed some of the protective layer that has encrusted itself around our Essence self. If we do the work necessary to become more and more self-observant, we begin to shed the layers formed by social and psychological conditioning and relax into our True nature- the self we were meant to be beyond the ego structure.
Is there something about Fours and their noses? At my first Enneagram workshop, the teacher was going through all the types and would list the body parts associated with the types, so type 9 was the butt because of their sloth, type 1 was the eyes because they're like eagles scanning the surface of the earth for imperfections, and type 4 was their nose "because there's a" and then he spoke with a pinched nasal whine, "'Why me?' approach to life that Fours have". Fair enough. I didn't know I was a Four then anyway, but fair enough.
I found out a couple months later while I was working at a call centre... the same call centre where I got called into my supervisor's office because I was using a scented product- Burt's Bees lipgloss. The Individualist a few cubicles away had reported me. I was so insulted, I went up to her desk and showed her the list of ingredients. "This is organic! Look! It's all natural!" I was so mad, reported by my own kind for an issue I also have to suppress all my own demons over. Scented products have such a similar effect on me that it's one of the reasons I turned to all-natural products in 2007.
Last night I went to go pick up my car from the shop where I'd asked them to rotate my tires and clean it. I had forgotten to mention to use "organic cleaning products", which they apparently did last time, and when I got in my car, I hit the roof because it smelled like a chemical manufacturing plant. It smelled like some cheap-ass imitation-orange scent that was in the discount bin and Wheaton Chevrolet bought every last bottle and decided to spray the death scent into all of their customers' cars. So my windows are all down and I'm driving with my hand over my mouth, and my head tilted toward the open window as I'm driving home, and I'm almost crying.
Fours already get mad at objects, but smells are personal because they enter the body. Right? I get mad at walls for being there when I run into them and I take it personally, like, "damn wall, why do you have to be there? Just one more thing that doesn't understand me." Machines are another thing. But scents are a whole other ball game. When someone sprays Febreeze or some other cancer-causing scent in a room, my raging princess diva rises to the surface and scares the shit out of me and I have to be like, "not now! not now!" And she's like, "Yeah, but I know what to do here." And I'm like, "Actually, you don't. Please just go take a breather and I'll come check in on you when we're out of here." And she's like, "Yeah, breathe WHERE?!"
I could've easily raised hell last night at Wheaton's. I was so mad, I wanted to ask them to hold my car in their garage for an entire week where I could keep the windows open and let the wreaking orange smell off-gas back into their garage, but in fact, I had another reason to be mad- I had asked them to clean my car (they did- hence the smell), but the one spot on my passenger's side- a blob of liquid soap- that I wanted out was still there, so I had to ask them to come back and try again to wash it out. The guy was like, "oh, well I'm going to have to use a harsher chemical on the spot then", and I'm like, "actually, it's just soap. You should just need water." I was calm and respectful throughout, and that's the best I could've asked of myself in that moment. Good job, Erin.
Do any other Four have special issues around scents? I'm sure there are many stories to be told, and I bet it has something to do with our Holy Idea of Holy Origin- like we have this need to be authentic, or "all-natural", and for someone to spray something to cover up a natural smell, is an all-too-familiar metaphor for someone dismissing us in the outside world.... ??
When we cross the threshold into our thirties, something happens to our strident march into the future: we start looking around at the expensive car, the fancy house, the busy kids, and the gym membership, and asking, "Is this it?" Even for those who have none of these, after thirty, we start to realize that we need a more adult-like way of dealing with stress besides alcohol and late nights because whether or not we've checked off any of the Big Four Milestones yet-- marriage, career, family and home-ownership-- we've crossed a lifechanging mountain range that ends in a vague and lingering itch that's very hard to scratch. At thirty, we've reached a horizon with very few big landmark, life-defining moments left in the long stretch before us, and we ask ourselves, "This is everything I've been working towards?"
Not that life after thirty is a drag- I personally love it- but however you've appraised your progress, the daily routine of the nine to five-- couched on either side by groceries, traffic, line-ups, meal prep and alarm bells-- is the hallmark of the adult life. The endless string of expensive birthday presents, mortgage payments and bills can be overwhelming, and a lonely slog if we're single or in a relationship that isn't working. Whether we're raising children, working nine to five, or trying to get a book published, most of us after thirty would very dearly like a break: some rest, a sick day, a week at a retreat centre, a hug, a spa day, or a month-long Sabbatical to work on a side-project. If we stop and reflect on the pain after such a break is over, we start to understand the Buddhist principle of impermanence: any comfort and pleasure in life is too short.
In describing modern life, Buddhist monk Chogyam Trungpa could easily have been describing any adult's pre-internet days (which he was), but even moreso now that we have computers and smartphones.
Everything is suffering because the experience of our life becomes a nuisance. We are not just saying, "Our baby is a nuisance; therefore we should send him or her to the babysitter". In this case, nuisance is not ordinary nuisance, but fundamental nuisance. Whenever you try to do something, it is always a nuisance....
Technology is supposed to integrate our day-to-day activities to create more of a flow, but when they don't work, the constant stop and go of the flow exposes the irritation in the gaps separating our happy moments. We can be forgiven for trying to satisfy our cravings and aversions in our twenties- unless we were raised by enlightened parents, we tend not to know any better. But when we have to become responsible adults and start saving for retirement, we need to develop a more mature way of handling ourselves in those irritating fissures. Otherwise, we'll start to justify an over-reliance upon our unique ego distractions, things we do to make us feel a certain way, to help amplify the good feelings on either side of the cracks. Trungpa uses a mundane example to illustrate how satifying our cravings leads to a feeling of emptiness:
For instance, you have a good cup of coffee in your hand. You put cream and sugar in it, and you stir it with satisfaction. You inhale the aroma, you drink, and you have a great sense of satisfaction. At last! A good cup of coffee. You have been looking forward to it for a long time. But now you have drunk it- it is gone, and your appreciation has become pain. You feel as though you never drank that cup of coffee at all. It is all gone, which is quite disheartening. You could fill the gap by drinking a second cup, but the second cup dissappears as well, and you end up drinking so much coffee that you feel sick. (The Path of Individual Liberation, pg. 14-15).
Married people are blessed with the stability of a long-term relationship while at the same time, cursed with having someone specially suited to point out how they're being assholes much of the time. Single people just have their own internal critic to worry about, the voice chiding us to change. One of the biggest causes of insanity in the West is that we don't know how to change. As in, what are the core fundamentals to changing? Our society is no longer connected to its mystical heritage that tells us how, and in fact, we've disavowed it in favor of science. We know if we want to lose weight, we have to go to the gym and eat less, but what happens when we can't control our overeating and can't make it to the gym enough times to make a dent? Science is doing its best to give us the answers, and science is wonderful, but are we losing weight as much as we want? Is there a more fundamental level where change starts? This is what this article is about- the nine different ways that people with different personality types need to understand about themselves first before they can change. It has to do with how we deal with the gaps between the happy moments. Surprisingly or not, there are not two, not five, not eight, but nine ways our ego selves handle the gaps.
If the feelings of nuisance -or being a nuisance- prod us into painful enough territory like rejection, failure or loss, after more than enough false leads that bring home the painful reality that we're the ones causing our own problems, we'll start our journey inwards, looking for true Reality behind our egoic delusions. This is a difficult journey, but the most rewarding one, and invitations are only extended towards select individuals. Actually, getting an invitation feels more like getting hit on the head with a brick, or slapped across the face every morning for 18 years, or having the carpet ripped out from underneath your feet after years of building up stability. So if you've "received" a ticket, lucky you. But you need to be outfitted with the right gear before you get too far into the journey.
One of the most useful tools you'll want to take with you to help you understand your your ego's thesis statement is the Enneagram, a personality typing system, kind of like Myers-Briggs, but much more profound and helpful if you actually want to change anything. You can imagine the Enneagram like a healing labyrinth, inviting us into its geometry to become more and more aware of our unconscious emotional, mental, and instinctual patterns and how we relate to those of others. Of course, there is no actual labyrinth traced out on the ground somewhere; it's just a symbol, but a dynamic one nonetheless, and its function, paradoxically, is to liberate us from our patterns, to unfold us from our self-contradictory internal logic to one that serves us so we're not always shooting ourselves in the foot. You might say the Enneagram is for soothing the irritations in the cracks between our happy moments for an integrated experience of our true nature, who we were really meant to be when we're in flow.
Embedded within the name of the Enneagram are a couple hints about what it's about. The first part of the word, "Ennea", is the Greek word for the number nine, and the suffix, "-gram" hints that there's some kind of systemic philosophical scaffolding behind the number. Indeed, the Enneagram is a way of understanding types in nature that reflect nine qualities what to means to be in integrity with yourself, complete, and well, holy, if you will.
Let's say you have nine friends, one of each type. Your type One friend is the Perfectionist who shows us what it means to be a moral, serious, and upstanding person. They want to do good and they hardly ever get angry. If they do, they'll suppress it unconsciously and become really nice instead, because feeling angry isn't a "good" feeling. While they want to be in complete integrity with themselves, they end up splitting themselves off from their bad parts, ironically creating a dualism within themselves.
Your Type Two friend is the Helper who shows us how to be a sweet, loving person. They're always complimenting you and giving you banana bread and casseroles. They want to be helpful because love is what makes the world go around, but they suppress their own needs because having needs is selfish, let alone stating them. So they have to get their needs met a round-about way... like kind of tricking you into giving it to them. For example, eventually after enough compliments and banana bread, you'll start feeling either grateful or guilty and you'll wrap the Type Two in the same brand of love and affection they've been lavishing on you.
Your Type Three friend is the Achiever, the cheerleader, the type who shows us how to be winners. They're the perky friend who always surprises you with how competent they are. They get a lot of things right- they can be quite efficient and productive- because they study successful people to learn their secrets. Their inner contradiction is that their drive to be seen as successful is "a tad" stronger than the need to actually do the things necessary to be successful. So the image takes precedence over the actual homework needed to look as dazzling as they want to look, and oh how loathe they are to be found out for the corners they've cut.
Type Four is the moody, creative friend who has the same drive for a positive image like the Three, but whose melancholic moods and their feelings of deficiency hold them back from starting things, finishing things, marketing their things, or saying anything positive about themselves in general. Like the Three, Fours are ashamed of their deficiencies, but unlike the Three, don't do anything about it; in fact, they hide their true self behind their inadequacies. They retreat into their emotional lives to create a fantasy self that they'll probably never actualize unless they become aware how their moods are controlling them and preventing them from getting any significant work done on their goals.
Type Five is one of the "head types." Now ask 50 people if they're "head, heart, or gut types", and all 50 people will tell you they're "head types", even though the nine types are evenly distributed between the three. It's just that we all hear ourselves think too much these days due to all the distractions around us. But few types demonstrate more clearly the thrill of linking new concepts together and the hell of having no place to go but the head. This is nerd culture archetype, the one who you ask how they are and they tell you about something in the news or about computers, as if information is supposed to be the answer to a subjective question like how their day was. GIving you information is their way of connecting with you.
Type Six is also a head type, but, as Russ Hudson explains, while Fives try to know everything as a defense against the uncertainty of the world, Sixes are constantly looking for those people outside themselves who know the answers. Masters of projection, Sixes look for anything that looks secure, true, honest, reliable like an organization, a boss with a good reputation, or a confident and reliable spouse. A Six can finally relax when they've found them, and holds on to them, denying that they might be a source of knowledge themselves.
Your type Seven friend is the Enthusiast that is always busy moving from one fun activity to the next and you can barely keep up with them. One day they're learning how to fly a plane; the next day they're getting their realtor's liscence and planning a trip around the world. The Seven's internal contradiction is they want to experience everything life has to offer, but as Russ Hudson explains, never allow "anything to touch [them] deeply, and only in allowing things to touch [them] deeply is there any possibility of transformation."
Eight and Nine are body types, but they're complete opposites to each other. Both of them have an intelligence around the instinctual centre- the gut. They use their gut energy primarily to stop things in their tracks before they affect their way of doing things. Unlike the Twos, Threes or Fours who press their faces up against the window of someone's soul to see how they need to act in order to gain approval, the gut types just act how they want to act and it's up to you to make a berth around them. You can think of them as having issues around their first chakras- where issues of boundaries and "hereness"-- how you take up your space on the earth-- are of primary importance. Body types enforce their boundaries without having to spend a lot of time thinking about them.
The Eights are the Challengers. They're the friend who goes after what they want, whether loudly or quietly, but very directly, and aren't ashamed or ambiguous about their desires or drives. They do what they need to do to survive- it's a tough world out there, and Eights know it. They can be brusque and use too much energy, volume, or sneaky underhanded tactics to get control of their environment, but it comes from a fear of someone getting control of them, whether financially, physically or otherwise. Their irony is the most obvious of the nine types- if you're grabby and pushy about getting what you want in life, you'll inevitably push people away.
Finally, your sweet Nine friend - the peace-loving, gentle Nine is the laid-back friend who will never impose on you. They'll invite you over to their house or to the gym with them to relax or do push-ups together. They just want everyone to get along, but they think they'll cause conflict by asserting themselves, so ironically, under stress, the self-effacing Nine unwittingly causes conflict by receding into into a stone wall of stubborn - yet deceptively peaceful-looking- silence as a way of asserting their autonomy.
If we've reached a certain age and we're smart, we'll start to notice how our internal contradictions are working against us and we'll start to do some inquiry around some of our most obvious self-destructive habits.
We can take some advice from Plotinus, the neo-Platonist who urged us to forgo things that promise immediate gratification for things further down the line with a bigger payoff. In the language of the ancient Greeks, we're forgoing "The Many" for something that looks more like "The One".
In Plotinus' way of seeing things, the One is the Source of all creation; it is uncreated and eternal. Contemplation of the One is where we lose our ego self. Think how truly satisfying it would be to not only not be an asshole anymore, but to lose the identity on behalf of whom the asshole acted so that you see that you're One with everyone else.
We can understand our essential nature by contemplating how we are a manifestation of one of nine divine forms, we have the essence of The One within us.
In other words, our very own personality type can lead us toward the source of those pure essence qualities we're trying to cultivate in our lives- vibrancy, success, attentiveness, calm and peace. Each of us represents a facet of The One, or The Truth, or a legitimate viewpoint on true reality.
So why nine and which one are you? Let's first look at why the number nine is so important.
The ancient Egyptians had a base 10 numerical system -- most likely because of our ten fingers-- and the first nine numbers, to them, each reflected a core spiritual principle that applied to natural life. The number one stood for perfect unity, two stood for connection, three stood for a finished process, and so on.
The Egyptians also had developped a complex mythology around the original family of nine gods. Today we call it the Egyptian Ennead. They were the nine primary deities who created each other, the heavens, the earth, and everything else in the manifest world.
The fact that nine gods arose from the One (Atum) speaks to how Egyptians understood the number nine to represent completion.
With the genesis of the nine gods from the One, the creation theology of Heliopolis is completed. The number nine is, numerologically speaking, a limit that cannot be surpassed without returning once again to the beginning."
Horus was the last god to emerge from this incestual family of gods. He's not pictured, but he represents the number 10, which is a mirror image of Atum. So we see the return to one.
As their mathematical and geometrical principles were just as useful in the manifest world as in the inner world, we can appreciate how Egyptians viewed "humanity [as] a complete process within a complete universe" (Schneider, 1994)
As in the Egyptian tradition, the Greeks approached the study of truth through mathematics and geometry. In fact, you couldn't study philosophy until you'd learnt the essentials- how a circle represented one, wholeness, and perfection; two represented division, polarity and inevitably, the search for connection back to the One; three represented a finished product arising from the tension of the two opposing polarities.
Commensurate with their love of geometry, when the Greeks conquered the Egyptians, they absorbed a lot of ancient mathematical principles of the pyramid builders into their own culture, but then added dimension to it. In an ancient Greek math class, young students would learn the shape and volume associations with each number between 1 and 9. One was represented by a circle, the picture of unity and perfection; two was represented by the dyad, the two-sided shape that results from two half circles joined together. Three is the triangle, and so on. Each shape had very important qualities that helped you understand the spiritual and philosophical significance of each form. Mathematics educator Michael Schaffer points out that the phrase "sacred mathematics" gets thrown around a lot without people really understanding it, but it really means that mathematics is sacred when it helps you discover the hidden spark of the divine within yourself.
The Greek philosopher Pythagoras-- who was probably educated in Egypt-- "considered the first ten numbers to be seed patterns for all the principles of the cosmos", says Schneider.
Nine is the final number having a specific identify. It represents the highest attainment to be achieved in any endeavor. Nine is the unsurpassable limit, the utmost bound, the ultimate extension to which the archetypal principles of number can reach and manifest themselves in the world. The ancient Greeks called nine 'the horizon', as it lies at the edge of the shore before the boundless ocean of numbers that repeat in endless cycles the principles of the first nine digits. Nothing lies beyond the principles of nine, which the Greeks called the Ennead.
Throughout history and across religions, we see repetitions of this principle. In the mystical sect of Judaism, Kabbalah, there are nine sephirot (the circles connecting the lines) in the Tree of Life, with the number 10 assigned to God himself. The nine sephirot denote the nine manifestations of God in the natural world.
The Tree of Life was actually instrumental in clarifying the connection between spiritual qualities and emotional health in the early 1940's. It was a chance insight while studying the placement of the sephirot that led Bolivian mystic Oscar Ichazo to try to not only match up the nine qualities with the nine points on the Enneagram, thereby assembling the first dynamic model for how the nine personality types ebb and flow into each others' territory depending on mental and emotional resilience, but he placed them in the correct order. For example, on the Enneagram at least- not on the Tree of Life- Type Fives are connected by a line between 8 and 7. When a Type Five person is stressed, they will deteriorate to the negative qualities of the number 7 like being frazzled and hyper, but when they're at their best, they're embodied and secure not needing to know everything, while putting their ideas into action.
Healing The Enneagram Types with Geometry
So now that we've established why the number nine is such an important number, how does knowing ancient Greek geometry help us become integrated, healthy, and whole people today? We could call this the sacred part of geometry right here. understanding the geometric representation (The One) behind our type helps us uncover our gifts and heal from our inner contradiction.
In the Enneagram, Type One is the perfectionist. People of this type want everything to be "just right". They are bothered by disorder, messes, spelling mistakes, and they abhor people who take shortcuts. Their eyes scan for disorder so they can put it in order.
To the Greeks, the number One was represented by a perfect circle. Circles represented the mother that gives birth to all of the shapes via the vescies pisces. The world was frequently depicted in European paintings as enclosed in a circle containing all creation. Because the Type One longs to be in integrity with itself, it vehemently denies (represses) everything in it that it feels to be bad, predominantly its anger. So irony of ironies, the Type One, who wants the most to be in integry with itself ends up the most split apart from itself than any of the other types. Type Ones can heal by identifying with the all-encompassing circle that accepts the good and the bad in them instead of denying the bad. Knowing their tendency toward repressing the parts of themselves they don't like, and knowing that they're represented by an all-enclosing circle can help them become aware of their tendency to judge themselves so harshly.
Again, the number four is represented by the Tetrad, the first of the geometrical shapes to have 3-D depth to them (think of the pyramid shape) whose flat surface gives it maximum stability. Conversely, people who are Enneagram type Fours are always trying to attain greater and greater depths by mimicing their true Essence nature represented by the Tetrad, but tend to get seduced and entranced by their ego that persuades them that reality is only in the shadows and depth, and end up- ironically- the most depressed and unstable of the types. By returning to their Essence nature through self-awareness practices like meditation, Fours can become more healthy and stable like their representative shape. Also, he might pair up with Cynthia Bourgeault or Russ Hudson who have one of the most fine-tuned understandings of the Law of Three, a critical ancient Egyptian principle that serves as a lynchpin for the entire lot of numbers 1 to 9.
One important figure in Enneagram history who didn't get mentioned in this article is the Chilean psychiatrist who studied the Enneagram under Oscar Ichazo. He brought it up to California in the early 1970's. Claudio Naranjo was a psychiatrist-in-residence at Esalen at Big Sur, and started fleshing out the type descriptions, using material gathered from his work with his own patients. To introduce the topic of the Enneagram, he quotes Dr. Oliver P. John, author of the Big Five Inventory, and professor at University of California, speaking about the need for an objective personality typing inventory.
Like any field of scientific study, personality psychology needs a descriptive model or taxonomy of its subject matter... a taxonomy would permit researchers to study specific domains of personality characteristics.... Moreover, a generally accepted taxonomy would greatly facilitate the accumulation and communication of empirical findings by offering a standard vocabulary or nomenclature.... Most every researcher in the field hopes, at one level or another, to be the one who devises the structure that will transform the present Babel into a community that speaks a common language (Naranjo, 1994).
Wouldn't it be remarkable if the structure psychologists were looking for was beneath our noses this entire time?
I've been reading about neuroscience these last four months, and I've really been struggling to integrate the material into my own words, hence the dearth of blog posts.
I decided to google why neuroscience is so hard, and while it's in part because only long-time meditators and intellectual heavyweights- of which I am neither- really comprehend neurophenomenlology enough to verbalize the subtle and complex processes in a way that laypeople can understand, there are few other reasons.
First of all, there is still so much even neurobiologists don't know about the brain, and parts we don't understand the function of. There are 100 billion neurons- or nerve cells- and endless combinations they can connect with each other. The connections between the neurons, called synapses- are shaped by both genes and life experience, but we don't know to what extent genes shape connections, and experience shapes connections.
Moreover, neuroscience requires both objectivity and subjectivity. If we're going to understand the phenomena of consciousness, on the one hand, we need scientifically valid observations of the brain; on the other, first person subjective accounts of peoples' internal experiences. Because both the brain and the mind come together to form consciousness, scientists need to get creative and develop tests that measure and scientifically quantify mental phenomena.
There is a complicated interplay between the brain and the mind: the mind and its attendant concepts and meanings is rooted in the activity of the brain, and the brain- due to its plasticity- is constructed itself by the mind. As a result, the brain is turning its social circuits that normally attunes to others, inside out and is interacting with itself. However, we know from the famous double-slit experiment (on the interference pattern of electrons being shot through a double-slit apparatus) that the mere act of observing electrons changes their behavior; just the same, mindfulness research has demonstrated a similar conclusion- that the mere act of becoming aware of your own awareness alters the form and function of your brain. Your awareness is goes back on itself in a re-entry loop where the emergent process takes on a life of its own, improving memory, focus, and empathy.
Some philosophers would say our consciousness is simply reducible to the chemical and electrical firings of our neurons, while others prefer to hold out for the discovery of the "self node" tucked away somewhere in the folds of our gyri like a pearl in an oyster shell that can answer for each and every one of our thoughts and decisions.
To make things even more difficult, up until a few years ago, neither the field of psychology or neurobiology had a working, agreed-upon definition of the mind.
Dr. Siegel, whom I mention a lot, only because I'm reading his book right now (The Mindful Brain), recounts how he has gone around the world speaking to mental health practictioners, and at every event, asked for a show of hands of who had ever had a lecture at any time in their training that defined what the mind was. His finding- out of the 100,000 mental health professionals that he's taught- was that less than 2% had. While it's true that philosophers and psychologists have been trying to answer that question since the ancient Greeks at least, what's cool is that we're actually at a unique time in history where we know enough to cobble a rough definition together. Here is Siegel's own working definition:
The mind can be defined as an embodied process that regulates the flow of energy and information. Regulation is at the heart of mental life, and helping others with this regulatory balance is central to understanding how the mind can change. The brain has self-regulatory circuits that may directly contribute to enhancing how the mind regulates the flow of its two elements, energy and information.
But there are other concepts that are still undefined. Think about it. Can you define consciousness? Neither can psychologists. What about self, or identity?
The next challenge is that the brain consists of more than just the pinky-brown organ in the head. As the control centre of the entire central nervous system, the brain's nerves are routed through the spine and spread all the way to the soles of the feet. The fact that this complex system works in concert to keep our bodies in homeostasis is nothing less than jaw-dropping. As one scientist wrote, "If given the choice between having to pilot a plane without knowing anything about how to work any of the controls, and sitting at the dashboard of my central nervous system, coordinating the millions of outgoing and incoming processes happening every second, I'd choose the pilot job in a heartbeat."
Finally, because my purpose in studying the brain is to understand how brain form and function relates to different personality types, and that research is still in its infancy, there is little that can be said with objective certainty, although Dario Nardi (among others) have been doing some interesting research at UCLA, mapping the brain patterns of Carl Jung's legendary MBTI types, and is now starting to work with Enneagram types. I'm sure more research funding will be forthcoming the more it becomes clear how brain research is important to our collective health, but in the meantime, we rely on anecdotal observations. For example, during an informal study of brain activity and Enneagram types, Dr. Daniel Siegel noted in an interview with Russ Hudson and Jessica Dibb that Type Two's (one of the Enneagram's three image types) "have a lot of mirror neurons". There is no book yet out there detailing what these observations could mean, but hopefully someone bright will pen the first one soon.
Touch is an important part, not only of emotional development, but brain development. Studies on rats [source] found a correlation between being licked or groomed by the mother and learning and memory, as well as willingness to explore their environment. When it comes to humans, Insitutionalized babies who were held an extra 20 minutes per day for ten weeks scored higher on a developmental assessment rubrick [source] than those who are not. On the other hand,
... We do know that babies left to "cry it out" are flooded with "stress hormones" (cortisol, adrenaline, ACTH) which destabilize their immune systems, so we know that it is bad for them biologically, at the very least. We also know that when the brain is flooded with stress hormones, we are forming panic memories. Those memories don't vanish just because the child is preverbal; researchers now suspect that such memories are instrumental in later anxiety and mood issues for some people [Source].
A 2013 study conducted at Stanford University showed that children with childhood anxiety showed larger amygdalae in fMRIs, as well as more connections to other parts of the brain, evidently an indication of the amount of time they spend stressed compared to other children [Source].
Babies are great imitators and can pick up on their mother's depression by showing more depressed symptoms themselves [Source] and [Source]. Stress also negatively affects language learning; a 2008 study from Rutgers University found that babies with larger amydalae had more problems with language ability [Source].
Stress wears down babies' organs as well, for example, when parents expect too much independence of the baby too soon.
Extended stress destroys tissues in mammals, impairing organ function and health (Kumar et al., 2013). Isolation is distressful for rat and mouse babies and has all sorts of ill effects like disorganizing stress response systems and undermining the expression of genes that control anxiety (McEwen, 2003; Meaney, 2001). The effects are much greater for humans. Leaving babies to cry unaided is highly distressful and physically and psychologically toxic [Source].
On the other hand, as Daniel Goleman points out in a study on protective mothers who picked up their six-month old babies and held them every time they cried, versus loving, yet firmer mothers who helped their six-month olds try to understand what was happening and how to overcome their stress, the babies who were helped to make small steps toward emotional mastery were less fearful and more willing to explore than babies who were simply held and comforted. Babies who are soothed and reassured when they fuss are more able to soothe themselves later in life because they've learned that their emotional reactions aren't an emergency- they've learned that their internal reactions to stress are not emergencies, and can be brought under control.
These findings don't minimize the overall wisdom that carrying babies (or "wearing" them) has great overall health benefits for the child because it encourages independence earlier than babies who are more frequently left to ther own devices.
Babies who are carried actually demand less attention than babies who are made to sit by themselves in strollers, seats and playpens, probably because their needs for companionship and stimulation are met at the same time.... We fill our children’s dependency needs so that, filled, they can go on to other things, like exploring the world. We acknowledge that children are children, and need our tending as they grow. Kids who’ve been attachment-parented are age-appropriate in their relationship with their parents, moving from dependency to inter-dependence, and able to form fulfilling intimate relationships as adults. When kids’ attachment needs aren’t filled, those needs eventually get focused on their peer group, often with disastrous results as they get older [Source].
The point of bonding is not that a particular practice is routinely instituted, as if raising healthy children is a matter of going through particular motions. It's not that mothers have to be constantly imitating their child's actions back to them, or they never should put them down; the point is to be present to what they're experiencing, helping babies work through their fussy moments in little increments, and nurturing the connection no matter if mother needs her hands free to work while baby watches, or if they're playing pattycake. Being present in the moment to the baby's needs helps build a foundation of trust and courage for the baby's future development.
As we shall see, children who feel that they have a connection with their parents grow up to be healthier all around. They are less prone to heart disease, alzheimers, and loneliness, and they tend to be more popular than their peers.
I'm writing Rhode and Company's position paper, and I'm going to start sending out portions of it in my blog day-by-day. Here's the first section.
"Like any field of scientific study, personality psychology needs a descriptive model or taxonomy of its subject matter.... A taxonomy would permit researchers to study specified domains of personality characteristics.... Moreover, a generally accepted taxonomy would greatly facilitate the accumulation and communication of empirical findings by offering a standard vocabulary or nomenclature. Most every researcher in the field hopes, at one level of another, to be the one who devises the structure that will transform the present Babel into a community that speaks a common language."
-- John P. Oliver, Insitute of Personality Assessment and Research, University of California
The purpose of this paper is threefold. It provides a general survey of psychology's attempts to categorize people into personality typing systems, and it tracks how psychotherapy has attempted to respond to the various types' needs.
The second is to provide a survey of the major 21st century Enneagram thinkers and how they see the Enneagram as corresponding to the major personality theories in the field.
Finally, this paper makes the case that excellent therapy requires a client's spiritual nature to be taken into account along with their physical, intellectual, and emotional condition. The Enneagram, an elegant fusion of psychology and several ancient wisdom traditions, has the ability to combine quite a few mainstream personality theories, and do so to a degree of accuracy that has heretofore been unattained. It is the fundamental organizing principle of personalities that philosophers and psychoanalysts have been looking for since Hippocrates.
relevance of the enneagram
For almost as long as humans have wondered, "what does it all mean?", there has been advice on how to triumph over our primitive animal passions and transcend our limitations to achieve something great and meaningful. The Buddha taught how to awaken from slumber; Plotinus enjoined us to look within to The One, Christianity implored the dark world to see Christ's light, Sufism advocated for a kind of wisdom that only an idiot would understand.
The message today in our fast-paced society is no different; whereas in ancient times, it was a call to awaken from our trance-like state and develop virtuous qualities, with the advent of psychoanalysis, we had professionals to help us integrate our unconscious with the conscious. Abraham Maslow came along and replaced the therapist with paved the way for America's homegrown spirituality- the Human Potential Movement, where we work to achieve self-actualization. today, our higher self is called forth in private coaching sessions or in jam-packed arenas. Though the vocabulary is different, there is a common instinct that psychologists have noted that makes us pine for a worthier pursuit than our day-to-day survival. Marie-Louise von Franz eloquently noted mankind's thirst for "something more":
Nowadays more and more people, especially those who live in large cities suffer from a terrible emptiness and boredom, as if they are waiting for something that never arrives. Movies and television, spectator sports and political excitements may divert them for a while, but again and again, exhausted and disenchanted, they have to return to the wasteland of their own lives. The only adventure that is still worthwhile for modern man lies in the inner realm of the unconscious psyche.
For most of us, the realities of the post-modern western world mean working harder to stay in the same place as our parents were a generation ago. With such factors affecting us today as the shrinking middle class, the threat of job loss to automation, and consequently longer working days, more pressure on women by our culture to simultaneously break the glass ceiling while also giving their children more one on one time than our mothers did, there is a lot of pressure on us than there was 30 years ago.