When I first embarked on my self-discovery journey, I was overwhelmed with the plethora of new information and new tools. It was challenging to piece together a framework for the process. It felt like sorting through the contents of an Ikea box, a thousand parts, a complex instruction book and too many or too few nuts and bolts. It is one of the reasons that I love blogging. It is my hope that my personal stories and my experiences with various tools will be meaningful to others as they build their own framework.
I do believe in the importance of self-discovery work. We are constantly evolving each and every day and that is what makes personal growth work so dynamic. We accept this so naturally as we watch a young child reach their milestones – first step, first word, first lost tooth, first grade — all the way through to adulthood. We marvel and encourage this metamorphosis each step of the way, helping them to discover who they are, what they are passionate about, how they approach life. It seems that once we reach adulthood and especially as we hit our mid-life, we forget that we are still evolving. The changes are not so noticeably evident, but they are every bit as relevant.
The deeper I get into my own personal exploration, the more I am able to look back on the history of my own life and find something valuable that I missed in those moments. I ask myself a lot of really big questions when I take this walk down memory lane. Why did you accept that? What did you really want? What was holding you back? Where did you find that courage?
The answers to these questions come from the woman that I am today, with the hindsight and wisdom of being on the other side of that history. The revisit gives me a better viewpoint to fully appreciate where others are in their adult stages of life’s metamorphosis. I am a firm believer that when we do this personal growth work, we set a good example for others. We have what it takes to break generational patterns that are not serving us well. We can flourish when we shed what is no longer needed. It starts with awareness, acceptance and embracing positive change.
It is a bit ironic that it takes us hitting a wall or rock bottom to realize the importance of personal growth work. It is super hard to try to find some solid ground for a starting point, when we are physically and emotionally drained. Yet just maybe that is where we need to be to allow for some deeper awareness to tap us on the shoulder and say “What is the real problem?”
I often share in these posts how invaluable I find the enneagram to be. However, I only discovered it a few years into the self-awareness work I’d cobbled together on my own. It dovetailed with the concept of looking for reactive behavioral patterns that weaved its way through mindfulness, meditation and neuroscience. For me, it was like having an imaging tool — like an X-ray or MRI — for emotional behavioral patterns specific to my enneagram type. I remembering thinking that I could have really benefited from these cliff notes on day 1 of my fragmented personal growth journey.
One of the key components of the enneagram that makes it such an invaluable and on-going tool is that it shows us fully our unique strengths and weaknesses — and the spectrum on which we all operate, day to day and sometimes even moment to moment. It is the spectrum from healthy to unhealthy that I find most intriguing. Again, I correlate it to the tools we use to gauge our physical health. The bathroom scale, the heart monitor, our wearable activity devices all help us to stay the course. The behavioral spectrum of the enneagram does the same for us.
So we actually get the synopsis of our specific behavioral patterns — and we get the tangible reminders of things to be on the lookout for should we find ourselves off-track. The enneagram is a dynamic tool that we can rely on throughout our own personal evolution.
I have found the discussion of our reactive behavioral patterns weaving its way into so many books, podcasts, articles and conversations regardless of the subject matter. It reminds me how relevant it is for us to be aware of how we are showing up — for ourselves, for others. Are we still clinging to those old reactive behavioral patterns that don’t fit who we are today?
One recommendation that I’ve discovered really works when it comes to identifying patterns we may not be able to see for ourselves is asking a family member or friend to help us. I hit the jackpot when it came to my personal growth buddy for several reasons. My lifelong friend Judy and I were both on a personal growth quest at the same time, we had a lot of shared outcomes though our experiences were different and we were both enneagram type 2’s. Best of all, we built a foundation of trust that enabled us to tackle really painful stuff. We celebrate each other’s progress. And we keep doing the work, always marveling at how much there is to discover.
The other day, I listened to the most recent Dare to Lead Podcast on the subject of advice giving and how disempowering it can be in work and in our personal lives. I leaned in even closer to this episode. An enneagram type 2 is often called “The Helper” and I’ve been learning all the ways that my lifelong patterns of rescuing, helping and fixing were more about me, where I was most vulnerable, and where I need to focus my attention in order to change.
This podcast revealed that many of us are prone to quickly offer advice — to fix or to rescue –regardless of our enneagram type. And once again I heard Brene talk about how old behavioral patterns will creep into those interactions. It can be something as simple as birth order and being the oldest child who just naturally assumes the “fixer” role — or it can stem from a need to be in control, to be right, or to be compliant.
The salient point of this conversation was that we disempower people and get in the way of their own self-discovery and personal growth when we do this! We aren’t helping at all. And all too often, our advice isn’t that good and we are not even solving the right problem!
It prompted me to reflect on my own couples counseling sessions in recent years that never got traction because we opted for a quick fix or resolved a surface issue and not the bigger, underlying pattern that was hiding the true problem.
This podcast episode is a Master Class on empowering others to identify and solve their own problems. Michael Bungay Stanier introduced the Karpman Drama Triangle to illuminate just how easily we all get “triggered” into a very familiar scenario when things get dysfunctional.
In the Drama Triangle, there are three roles — Rescuer, Victim and Persecutor.
Michael pointed out that we can find ourselves “bouncing around in all three roles — even in a single conversation. When we are in the drama triangle, we are in reactive mode and not showing up as our best .”
He noted that if you ask people which role they tend to be in most often, they self-identify as “rescuers.” The motivations will vary, but the reactive “go to” response is to fix.
The rescue role is not helpful. In that role, rescuers create victims and persecutors — and then the rescuers get frustrated wondering “why can’t they sort this out?” Rescuers are actually driving the dynamic. As Brene observed, this reality is very hard for us to hear, especially if we believe our advice is really good.
Michael shared that the Drama Triangle is part of the human experience and we spend a majority of our lives getting sucked into it. “If you are lucky, you get wiser to it and you spend less time in the drama triangle. Just try to notice it, try to notice when you get sucked into it and see if you can get out of it faster.” Brene reinforced that there is so much reactivity in the drama triangle and the old behavioral patterns come right back up. This is where awareness is key — becoming aware that we are in, recognizing our old, reactive behavioral patterns, and stepping out of it.
The enneagram can help us self-identify our old behavioral patterns. Once we know what we are looking for, it is much easier to spot in when it shows up. Then when we do find ourselves getting sucked into the Drama Triangle, we can recognize it, we can step out of it and we can engage a healthier new dynamic.
Michael refers to this better approach as a coaching or teaching role. It’s a better framework with empowering results:
Refrain from jumping in with advice.
Stay curious…..just a little longer.
Ask thoughtful questions and most importantly, hold space for the other person to actually be able to
think about their answer.
In his book, The Coaching Habit, he offers seven key questions that will really help someone get clear about what they want, what support looks and feels like, and what their own challenges are. The significant shift that happens when we step out of the drama triangle and into the “teaching” role, is that the other person feels heard, valued and empowered to make their own decisions. After an impromptu role play, this is how Brene described that feeling:
“How generous it feels to be on the receiving end of someone asking thought provoking, compelling questions that most of the world doesn’t even care about.”
Isn’t this just how we want others to feel in our interactions with them, especially if they are coming to us with the weight of the world on their shoulders, or to resolve an issue that is really getting in the way of living their lives without drama and anxieties? It’s such a thoughtful framework to use with our children, grandchildren, partners, parents, siblings and friends. Empowering others is the best way to contribute to their own personal metamorphosis.
As Michael so wisely pointed out, “we only get one kick of the can” and the price we pay for not working on the things that genuinely matter to us is wasting precious time. This really lands in my heart because the reality is that we can spend far too much in the drama triangle when we would rather be enjoying each other’s company and squeezing the goodness out of each and every day.