How Do We Know Ourselves?
April 30, 2013
Whole-Hearted Embrace of an Awakening Life
October 18, 2013

Personality As a Primary Root of Distress

After a coaching session, a client remarked that she had experienced what she called spiritual chiropractic during our work. She said that her body had an internal shift, an energetic release as she recognized and relaxed around a long-held pattern of anticipating the worst outcome in most situations. Another client had an internal shift around the gradual relaxing of a lifelong pattern of keeping emotional pain at bay. A third person described what it felt like to drop into his heart after the release of his longtime sense of certainty and ‘making things right.’ These examples bring to light the softening of repetitious patterns associated with three different Enneagram personality types, and the resulting experience of “inner space” that replaces inner tension.

Each of the nine personality structures have specific habits that operate on automatic, and that for the person dominant in the particular type, feel like “This is the way that life works. This is just who I am.” So, it may come as a shock to learn that the personality structure itself is at the heart of many physical illnesses and emotional, mental and spiritual distress.

The nature of personality patterns is that they hold energy, and thus, tension. In fact, the personality structure itself is a primary cause of tension and stress. It determines how we react to circumstances that the personality considers difficult or in some way threatening. For example, in a conversation where there is conflict, some individuals will automatically shut-down, leave the conversation, feel paralyzed or simply quit engaging. Other individuals may react by dominating the conversation, demanding that their way is the right way, or physically moving toward the other person in a way that can feel intimidating. Still others may try to find a way to please the other, fix the situation or acquiescing. These stress reactions take and use energy and are exhausting over time.

Personality patterns are holons. As holistic experiences, they are expressed through every part of our human experience– mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and all those channels are often activated simultaneously. That’s what makes personality patterns so powerful–every part of our automatic human experience reinforces every other part, and it’s difficult to see that alternatives exist. For example, if you find yourself habitually striving to come out ‘on top’ and be recognized for your excellent performance, your body is going to be in motion most of the time, and have certain physical “holding” patterns; mentally, you may be giving yourself messages to “get with it and not let anyone see you down!”; you will likely feel out of contact with your heart, and spiritually empty. Thus, your sense of reality, which is only a small sliver of the far more expansive truth, is reinforced.

With knowledge of one’s dominant Enneagram worldview, (and with support from a well-prepared practitioner), we can all learn to recognize these patterns in real time, not as who we are, but as a way we’ve learned to cope with the ordinary and not-so-ordinary demands of life. These patterns can be seen as aspects of a protective armor that have developed from early childhood into adulthood. Not only are they how we came to ‘know’ ourselves, but it can feel really dangerous not to rely on them. The more we hold onto these different forms of expression, which are really patterns of tension, the greater the risk to our health.

Through developing the inner witness, supported by the capacity to become grounded, and an attitude of open-mindedness and compassion, the early roots of our personality’s patterns can be revealed and healed, releasing these long-held, unconscious tensions that lead to distress and possible illness. Then, rather than reacting, new ways of responding freshly to situations become more apparent and accessible. We develop another degree of inner freedom from those constraints that have been historically troublesome or are just no longer serving us. Through this release, we gain a more expansive sense of self.

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