The 9 Levels of Health

Finding a Counter-Narrative to Terrorism in the Age of ISIS

Fran Townsend .  Image from

Fran Townsend.  Image from

A couple days ago, I watched an interview with Fran Townsend, the former Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor to President George W. Bush.  She's incredibly smart and has some good insights on the war on terror.  Well worth watching- it's an hour long. 

The one thing that struck me is that halfway through, she acknowledged that the US had a poor counternarrative to ISIS' recruitment tactics.  She says the first response that the US has to get right is to deny them the battlespace to do their recruiting- the internet, and the second response is to fill that space with the counternarrative.  But, she says,

It's a frustration.  No administration has been particularly good at the counternarrative.  ... I think as a government, we are never going to be good at this.  Not because we don't want to be, but we ought to have mechanisms by which we can fund it and not control the content, for those who will create the counternarrative.... But the state department has been not very effective and not very good.  And that's not a criticism of this administration- none of us are very good at it....

I thought that was a bold admission.  I do see the Enneagram as being a perfect counternarrative for those who seek truth in the weeds of egoic distortion, but it would be a weird, weird partner with the US government.  Does anyone have any idea how that would look? 

I mean, the Enneagram provides a breathtakingly accurate map of the nine different personality types.  Each map provides a lateral topography for how each type looks when they ascend to enlightenment (non-reactivity), to being the most reactive and unhealthy at the bottom of the emotional intelligence scale, where they're a danger to themselves and others.  That's Don Riso's work with the Nine Levels of Health.  So important for understanding radicalization.  Those who have been radicalized have simply walked past the Red Flag fear of the bottom of the sixth level of health (we're descending down into very poor emotional health here) and are dwelling in upside-down land where they are healthy, but inhabiting the danger zone, looking at us as if we're unhealthy.  They're looking at all our warts in Levels 4-6 and saying "we need to fix this with the egoic truth of Levels 7-9".  Although that's the point; unfortunately our ego is this phantasmic mirage that doesn't get real no matter how close we get to it.  The metaphor I heard from Sandra Maitri is that it's just the projection of a movie onto a screen- if you put your hand up, you can see the movie being projected onto your hand, but it's not like it's a real thing that you're holding.  That's what we need to be made aware of at all levels.

But can you do "outreach" with the Enneagram?  Do you have to let the Enneagram find who it needs to find, or do we just live by example?  Do you promote it through google search somehow?  How do people think the Enneagram can play a role in those toying with the idea of descending into levels 7-9?

Little Type Four Kids at Level 6

Some teachers I know are working with a couple of dramatic and melancholic Type Four kids whose need to be different and special have both blown up in the last few months.  From what I can tell about their Riso-Hudson levels of health, they're both at Level 6, flirting with Level 7.  The Red Flag fear at Level 6 is "I am ruining my life, I am wasting

The Confederate Flag and Psychological Red Flags: How to Avoid Becoming a Mass Murderer

... although the vast majority of us don’t make it all the way to the bottom of the ladder like Dylann did, if we have his personality type, we’re going to experience similar inner red flag moments, only at a higher level.

Last week, I blogged about Rachel Dolezal, urging her to take a step from her heart to her body, and just notice what physical sensations came up at the thought of her white biological heritage- perhaps rage at her parents, frustration at not feeling understood by society, disdain for her whiteness, any kind of jealousy.  When she thinks about who she is as a white woman as opposed to a black woman, I asked her to notice the sensations in her body without judging them- a tensing up of the muscles, heat in the throat, a change in breathing.  I thought she might be an Enneatype 4 in the Enneagram personality typing system.  This type confounds suffering with authenticity, and therefore value, so I looked at the psychic structure of a Creative/Romantic personality type who had gone too far.

With that, I decided to start a weekly series about people in the news to give readers an insight into the psychology behind whoever's currently being highlighted in social media.

Roof being taken into custody.   Image from NBC news. 

Roof being taken into custody.  Image from NBC news. 

This week, I'm looking at Dylann Roof, the 21-year old gunman who shot nine members of the African Methodist Episcopalian Church on June 17.  It seems pretty clear that he will receive the maximum penalty (either life in prison or the death penalty, depending on if he's tried at the State level for murder or Federal for a hate crime.  According to a New York Times article from June 26, it will probably be a Federal trial.) (Source). 

Red flags for a Type One:

Shockpoint at level 3: That my principles are not having enough effect (others are indifferent/ unresponsive)

Red flag at level 6: That my standards are questionable or actually mistaken.
— The Wisdom of the Enneagram

It's important to understand the psychology of those who have completely made a break from society because, although the vast majority of us don't make it all the way to the bottom of the ladder like Dylann did, if we have his personality type, we're going to experience similar inner red flag moments, only at a higher level. 

Our response to those red flags can determine where we go on the ladder of emotional intelligence.  We can either react to the fear (thus descend further), or notice the fear and bring awareness to it (allowing us to ascend).

Although there is very little information about Dylann's inner life to go on at this point-- he didn't have many friends, nor did he open up much to those few he did call friends-- it appears from various reports that he might be an Enneagram Type One.  I'm going by his online manifesto, witness accounts of what he said while gunning down the victims, and descriptions from his friends and family.*

This episode of High Maintenance is a great character study of an Enneatype One.  Scott gives himself a highly disciplined daily regimen of sleep, nutrition, and exercise to achieve a higher state of being.  His stringency leads him away from relationships and ultimately reality.

Enneagram type Ones are called the Perfectionists or the Reformers of the Enneagram.  Benjamin Franklin embodied the Type One objective to attain moral perfection by devising an experiment where he worked on one virtue a week, slowly incorporating more virtues until he was completely free from selfishness, greed, and laziness at the end of the experiment.  This is not to say that all Type Ones consciously go through a list of virtues like Franklin did, only that self-perfecting or perfecting others and society is utmost in their minds. 

Riso and Hudson call them "crusaders, advocates, critics"; they embrace 'causes' and point out how things 'ought' to be". 

They keenly feel the struggle between good and evil, the flesh and the spirit, the ideal and the real.  For Ones, the battle lines are sharply drawn between the chaotic, irrational side of their natures and the clarity of their convictions, between the dark, libidinous impulses and their self-control, between their metaphysical aspirations and their human needs- between their heads and their hearts. (Riso and Hudson, 1996).

As they descend down the ladder of emotional intelligence, they "become impersonal, rigid, emotionally constricted." 

"...given their fundamental premise, they are locked in conflicts between opposing forces that cannot be reconciled either in themselves or in the universe. 

According to his step-mother who did most of the child-rearing, Dylann was a sweet child as a four-year old, and very attached to her, as opposed to his father who was verbally and emotionally abusive.  Predictably, as he grew up, he became more cold and drawn into his inner world so that by the time he was an adult, she worried because he spent most of his time in his room in front of his computer, while her coaxing him to get a job went ignored.  On February 22, 2015, he registered his website under his name and posted pictures of himself looking directly into the camera, posing with his .45 caliber Glock, holding a Confederate flag in the other hand. 

On the outside, Ones can appear sweet, dutiful, and hard-working; whereas on the inside they are being flogged by an overactive superego that orders them to keep their impulses, emotional responses, and desires in check.  In response to their superego's strident demands, they are continually striving to attain a state of perfection they have in their minds as the universal transcendant standard that only they seem to see.  The intense pressure their superego puts on them to achieve this state of perfection often leaks out into their relationships with others, making their friends, family, and colleagues feel judged, diminished or hassled for not being good enough. 

In Dylann's case, he had an aversion to African-Americans because, he said, they were "stupid", "violent", and "very slick".  He felt white neighborhoods were being taken over by Blacks, and typical of a One's bitterness at "cowards" for leaving them with all the work, he called out those he thought were "running away" to the suburbs instead of standing up and fighting for their neighborhoods.  Ones are frequently exasperated that they are the only ones who see the work that needs to be done and complain bitterly that they're the only ones qualified enough to bring it up to standard. 

Who is fighting for these White people forced by economic circumstances to live among negroes? No one, but someone has to.

White supremacy illustrates an impulse for cleanliness from "impurity". Cleanliness was indeed an issue for Dylann, as family members said he developped OCD in his teenage years.

Although the Enneagram Institute provides two examples of Type One comedians (Jerry Seinfeld and Tina Fey), and the type generally tries to mask these "negative" feelings of disapproval of their surroundings with ones they deem more positive, it's not hard to notice the severity with which they approach life.  There is an intense inner drive to transcend the mortal appetites and emotional weaknesses. A witness to the attack reported on what Roof said during the shooting.

... A survivor of the mass killing had told her Roof said he “had to” keep shooting, as another churchgoer attempted to talk him out of firing his weapon while he reloaded.

“He just said, ‘I have to do it,’” she said. “‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go,’” she said.  [Source]

Compelled to bring their inner and outer lives into order, they pride themselves on being able to bring a high level of control to their emotional life.  Emotions, in their mind, cloud judgement and weaken resolve to do what is right in a stressful situation.  We see Dylann say more than a couple times, "I have to do this."  In his manifesto, we see the exasperation frequently exhibited by Ones for having to correct the world's "wrongs" by themselves:

“I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight... We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Dylann later admitted that he almost didn't go through with the killings because the Bible study members were so nice to him- a way out that a low-functioning One would see as a trap.  The irony for a One is that by adhering to rationality as their standard at the cost of their emotional lives, they end up making very irrational decisions that isolate them further and further from society.  

Because anger has a negative association with Ones, they rarely acknowledge their anger- instead they experience it as energy that compels them to action.  Gandhi was also a type One, but by acknowledging and embracing his anger, he was able to do great work:

I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson: to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into a power which can move the world. (Mohandas K. Gandhi, The Words of Gandhi, quoted in Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson)

The Type One archetype in Homer's Odyssey is represented by the Phaeacians of Scheria, the second last stop on his way home.  The Phaeacians are described as "disciplined and proper, orderly and conventional" to the point of being judgemental and "bloodless do-gooders".   From  The Complete Enneagram  by Beatrice Chestnut.  Image from 

The Type One archetype in Homer's Odyssey is represented by the Phaeacians of Scheria, the second last stop on his way home.  The Phaeacians are described as "disciplined and proper, orderly and conventional" to the point of being judgemental and "bloodless do-gooders".  From The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut.  Image from 

Social media was also critical last week about how the police handled him, a white man, during his arrest, as opposed to how black people have been brought into custody.  Certainly, if you watch the dashcam video of his arrest in Shelby, NC, it has to be one of the gentlest arrests of a mass murderer out there. 

It is possible that having gone all the way for the sake of "perfection", he was finally able to get some relief from his superego, and therefore was in a very calm state at the time of arrest.  On the other hand, and this is probably equally true, but his terrifyingly cold stare into the camera was probably a look into the smugness in a low-functioning One, based on the belief that they alone can see a standard of perfection that the rest of the world is too cowardly to acknowledge, and only he had what it took to do the deed.  He has made no appology to date, which shows just how out of sync he is with reality.

If you feel that you might be a type One, some things to watch out for are a sense of superiority that you have a higher moral code than your peers, and especially "numbing out" when you feel yourself going into correct a colleague's mistakes.  A mindfulness practice will help you stay in  touch with your body when your ego starts aligning with your superego.  You are not your superego- that's an important distinction to make.  My guess is that when Dylann committed those murders, he was very out of touch with his physical sensations.  Recognizing the whole self as worthy and necessary to being a full human being-- the physical, mental, and emotional-- is one of the first steps to healing for Dylann and all the world's Ones.


*Only you can really type yourself, as you alone know what's going on inside your head, so I'm suggesting a Type 1 for Dylann based on what I'm seeing, but I'm opening to changing my view as more information emerges.

The German Co-Pilot: Toward a Vertical Mental Health Metric

I was touched the other day when I read that the man who trained the German pilot who recently deliberately crashed a plane with 150 people on board has received death threats.  How could this man have any way of knowing what his future student was capable of?

Andreas Lubitz, the German co-pilot who crashed a plane into the French Alps.   Photo from The New York Times

Andreas Lubitz, the German co-pilot who crashed a plane into the French Alps.  Photo from The New York Times

I think there's a shift that needs to happen- and has been happening- in these discussions about terrorists and mass murderers that have been shocking us month after month for the last decade or so- school shooters, movie-theatre shooters, marathon bombers, ISIS terrorists, Nigerian terrorists, etc.  Not to think of them as essentially evil as in the dualistic black and white polarity, as falling to the far right on some horizontal spectrum, like an antiquated duality of good people versus bad people. 

To me, it would be more helpful if we thought of humanity as being on a vertical scale of emotional health- like on Don Riso's scale of the nine levels of health- even if it means saying the prevailing culture of an entire country is in the unhealthy levels- like those in civil wars- at least it puts the conversation in an emotional intelligence frame of reference instead of a good versus evil framework.  The former gives us something to work with in the secular sphere.  The latter- with a decidedly religious overtones- recalls witchhunts and holy wars. 

Sometimes after talking briefly about the nine types with someone, they'll say, "Which type is the asshole?  Because I've got a brother-in-law who ...".  The point of the Enneagram is that any type can be an asshole- sure we might have different adjectives- bitchy, needy clingy, heartless.  And at their worst, if we continued to descend down the levels, each type is capable of committing horrendous acts.  It's grace (and there are different ways of interpreting that word) that keeps us in the average levels.  (It's surprising when you hear Don and Russ say that 99% of the world's population is in the average levels.  After a while you get it.  There might be .5% in the healthy levels and .5% in the unhealthy levels- and that's probably an overestimation.)

Talking about personality types is healthy because it helps us all see how every, teeny tiny decision we make in every day lives are a response to one core fear- as Don Riso and Russ Hudson calls them- our red flag fears, and what happens when we repeatedly come up to that red flag fear and make the wrong decision?  We descend down the levels of health. 

On a vertical spectrum that we're all capable of scaling in either direction, we might find we have a greater capacity for compassion for those who have unconsciously flailed their way through the decision-making process and found themselves imprisoned at the very bottom.

For the sake of the sanity of our societies and the future of our planet, we need to frame crime in terms of emotional health on a vertical scale of emotional intelligence.  I think it opens up more possibility for discussion, compassion, and more of a vocabulary around healing.