Welcome Change

Its not unusual to get a knowing chuckle from a friend or family member when I announce that I have officially retired from chief problem solver. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to solve problems. I still readily show up when someone needs my help. But now I am more of a ‘guide” helping others empower themselves to find their own solutions. I credit the Enneagram for helping me to discover a rewarding new path for my natural inclination to be a “helper”.

The Enneagram provided a good blueprint for me to better understand my approach to life, and most importantly, my motivations. As a Type 2, often referred to as the Helper, I was motivated to gain acceptance and love by “helping others”. In other words I believed that I had to “earn” love, trust and acceptance.

Looking back over the years, I can most definitely see this pattern play out over and over again. Sometimes it worked. Most times it didn’t. Diving deeper into understanding myself, I freed myself from falling into the trap of “helping too much.”

I’d been blindly operating on the principle that If those I cared about were happy, then I would be happy. Yet it was my over-involvement when problems cropped up that got in the way of others discovering for themselves what that really looked like. And it often left me feeling like a failure in my biggest hopes of making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Classic “unhealthy” Type 2 paradox.

Beatrice Chestnut, a renowned authority on the Enneagram and also a Type 2, helped me gain a deep perspective on the pitfalls of the “unhealthy” patterns that my Enneagram type can easily migrate to and why. She also came up with a new moniker for “helper” that shines a light on the best part of healthy Enneagram 2’s. She calls us the “befriender.” I liked the sound of that — the “befriender” and it become a good framework for this shift I was seeking to achieve.

I had overcome my fair share of adversities in life and always hoped to be a shining light of inspiration for others. I wanted to be a good friend, a good role model. While I was resilient, positive and always willing to help, I had a big blind spot. There was one critical missing piece to my personal puzzle — the person I need to trust, love and accept the most was — myself.

Brene Brown’s ten guideposts in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, became an invaluable aid to accepting myself fully — embracing my imperfections and becoming rooted in an unshakable belief of my own worthiness. My challenging childhood set me up for simply accepting “being less than” and “unworthy” for a very long time. Brene’s book unlocked the fallacy of this messaging and set me in a new direction.

As I took both Beatrice’s wisdom and Brene’s research to heart, I had an eye opening moment. It dawned on me that in the past when I was jumping headfirst into solving other’s problems, I actually had a very vested interest in the outcome for my own reasons. Let me share a few examples:

I was so uncomfortable in conflict situations that I’d rush to calm everyone down. Instead of letting them blow off steam and get the problem out in the open, I was focused on me achieving peace and a calm environment where I would feel safe.

I’d often feel guilt when something was left undone though it wasn’t mine to do. I’d get right to work and undertake tasks on my own without even asking if help was wanted or needed. It was me that was feeling uncomfortable about unfinished business.

I would often agree to do things that I really did not want to do, or outwardly agree with others just to keep the peace. While others were often happy with that approach, my own internal peace and values were often in conflict.

The Enneagram enabled me to understand the underlying reasons for unconsciously choosing these options. There is no doubt that many were rooted in coping mechanisms related to my childhood experiences. Being the oldest child, I grew up too fast in a volatile environment, always striving to protect my younger brothers by being one step ahead of the impending and inevitable trouble created by our parents.

I became a compliant, responsible, harmonizing peacekeeper, entrusted to care for those who couldn’t defend themselves and diligent enough to cover for irresponsible adults. A perfect recipe for a helper with no boundaries who was comfortable in co-dependent relationships and skilled at people pleasing.

Here’s the rub with this ineffective “comfort zone” I had acquired. It was not serving me well at all in my adult life and it certainly was not beneficial to those I loved and genuinely wanted to help. Once I was enlightened about my problematic “comfort zone of unconscious responses” I definitely started paying attention to them with greater awareness.

Looking at the examples I shared above, I gained a lot of clarity about how my coping mechanisms landed on others:

When I would swoosh in to calm tempers and diffuse a tense situation, I’d actually be derailing getting the real issue out in the open. Some could feel that I didn’t value them because I shut down the opportunity for them to share their perspective. Some could feel a sense of superiority because they escaped accountability. My intervention was not productive and often not welcome.

Doing unfinished tasks could feel like micro-managing to others. Or, give an impression that I viewed myself as more capable and efficient. While that was not all my intention, I can surely see that so clearly now. Not to mention the fact that some people like to have “works in progress” rather than rushing to complete a task.

My lack of boundaries and inability to say no caused a lot of confusion for others. They really did not know just how far they could push me til I’d lose my temper. Neither did I. No wonder others would often tell me I was “too sensitive” when I’d lose it over something minor (because I had stuffed a lot of bigger things for far too long). If I finally found the courage to draw a line in the sand, few people actually believed I’d actually adhere to it.

You could say that the Enneagram gave me a full 360 perspective about the way I was “showing up” in life. It made me aware of how the armor I was using to protect myself from being hurt was really getting in the way of building healthy, flexible relationships. It was also problematic for actively engaging in life in an authentic, whole-hearted way. While I had good intentions, what I also needed were grounded, healthy emotional tools. I found the Enneagram enabled me to get very clear about where I needed to focus my attention to make positive changes.

The Enneagram is often used in individual therapy and couples counseling. And just like Myers-Briggs and DiSC, it is now being used in the workplace and career counseling. It honestly takes a lot of the emotional attachment and defensiveness out of the equation when it comes to our unique personality traits. Understanding how we are naturally hard-wired and how our “motivations” move us through the range of healthy and unhealthy behaviors is a big key to acceptance. We can accept ourselves as we are. And when we can do that, we are more open to accepting others as they are too.

The heartwarming “aha moment” for me was the realization — and the affirmation — that I could “fully embrace my natural born passion of a helper” and be more in alignment with my true nature and life purpose just by moving toward the healthy spectrum of being an Enneagram Type 2. Honestly, I laughed and cried simultaneously when I made this discovery.

So let’s go back to my three examples and take a look at the work I had to do:

I had to learn to get comfortable with confrontation. I could not let it trigger me anymore. Meditation really helped with this one. It took a long time and lots of practice, but I have a mental image of “dropping my anchor” into my core of calm and I ground myself with three deep breaths. The game-changer for me is not being sucked into my own emotional vortex just because there is confrontation. It enables me to truly be “other” focused and to listen attentively to what is being said. I do have to remind myself mentally turn down the volume if there is shouting involved. Oh and the most meaningful change — if it doesn’t involve me, I stay out of it. True confession here — the more I have practiced this in real life situations, the better I have gotten at it. I keep a few gold stars tucked in my pocket for times when I realize just how far I’ve come.

I am an anal organizer and have a hard time sitting still. If there is laundry or dishes to do, I’ll be on it. But just because I run my household that way does not mean that everyone else wants to. I’m also aware that it was my own undoing as a young mother that taught me how to get more organized and prioritize things. So now, when I find myself itching to becoming the cleaning Tasmanian devil in someone else’s space, I pause and take those three deep breaths again. And I do nothing. And oh my gosh it is hard, but only for a few minutes. My discomfort with unfinished tasks has waned. I’m growing to like this new feeling of respecting others space, the way they like to do things and the control they have over their own life. If I sense that they could use a little help, I ask before jumping in. “How can I best help you?” is my new “go-to” question. I have learned that some people thrive in the most creative ways in an environment that might feel out of control to me. I’m learning so much about consequences and accountability since I stopped doing things no one asked me to do.

This brings me to boundaries. If you read my last blog post, Growth Spurts, you will know that I came to a deep understanding of the value of boundaries and how they actually supported me in becoming a better version of myself. Boundaries are a form of self-care for me. Most importantly, they really clarify for others what is acceptable and not acceptable for our relationships. As Brene Brown has stated, “Clear is Kind” — and my boundaries make perfectly clear what my values are. Here’s the surprising twist — personal boundaries actually give me improved agency to be more flexible with others. I credit Dr. Rick Hanson and Nedra Tawwab or teaching me this.

A big gift of the Enneagram was a deeper understanding of all nine types — what motivates each type, their unique attributes and the places they feel less comfortable. Having some basic knowledge of how others show up in life and why, it becomes a lot clearer to see what their hot buttons might be. Truthfully, it takes a lot of unnecessary emotion and drama out of the equation when you have greater awareness of others basic needs. As I shared above, this is a great opening for “acceptance” of our differences and a bridge to finding creative solutions to recurring disagreements and misunderstandings.

As I have reframed my helping proclivity to that of a “befriender”, I rely more heavily on curiosity, acceptance and non-judgment when interacting with others. The better I get to know myself, the more I want to discover about others. We are all complex human beings with so many stratifications of emotions and experiences accumulated over our lifetimes.

While empathy and compassion come naturally to me, I am keenly aware not to dismiss another’s feelings by reminding them of their blessings. I know I did that in the past and while well-intentioned, it was not helpful. We all feel how we feel. Our feelings are legitimate and neither right nor wrong. We respond differently because we are uniquely different and our life experiences are not the same. We have no idea what another’s history might be and why they are sensitive to things that may never hit our radar screen. I’m learning to listen carefully and talk less. I’m learning to ask questions to gain understanding. I’m also learning to ask questions for which I don’t need the answer, but my friend may want to sit with for a while.

Little did I know when I started my personal growth journey six years ago, I would become better skilled and more effective at the very things I loved so much but that once got me into a lot of trouble and some very dark spaces.

I wish I had learned much earlier in life to look inward first and to remove the obstacles that were no longer needed as I did in fact “come through” an adversity, a setback, a painful loss. I wish I had given myself grace when I was just being vulnerable and healing. I wish I had learned to trust myself and my worthiness. If I had loved myself as I was loving others, I think I would have reached this peaceful, joyful, grateful, grounded space much sooner. The learning and the growing never stops which I find delightful. I feel more in alignment with my gifts and I genuinely feel I am making a meaningful difference in a much healthier way than I ever did.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut

The Enneagram Institute https://www.enneagraminstitute.com Great resource for an introduction to the Enneagram and a free test to determine your type

If you enjoy a daily dose of inspiration, sign up for your Enneagram number’s Daily EnneaThought email. I love getting this daily encouragement to stay on my healthy path in my inbox every day.

Typology Podcasts with Ian Morgan Cron, author of The Road Back to You, An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

https://www.typologypodcast.com

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

Yung Puelbo’s Book Inward and his new one being released in mid-April, Clarity & Connection

Growth Spurts

One of the things I have thoroughly enjoyed over these past six years, is recognizing when I have had a growth spurt. Not the kind that shows up on the number of candles on my birthday cake, or the way a favorite dress fits differently.   It’s the growth spurt that I feel — about who I am and about how I am showing up in my life — for myself and others.  

It has been quite the journey and I could not have done it without some remarkable support from my family and my most trusted long-time friend, Judy. I’ve recently come to the realization that there has indeed been a big transformation in me.  By turning my attention inward and pulling back all the layers that I have carried with me over my lifetime, I have shed old behavioral patterns like unwanted pounds and I do feel lighter, yet more grounded than I have ever been.

I can tell you what that actually feels like in the midst of most any situation now. 

It feels like I am being the person I always longed to be — calm, respectful, helpful and understanding.  I am untethered from old triggers, of feeling overwhelmed by others emotions or actions, of feeling helpless or hopeless.   I am finally really understanding what Brene Brown has been teaching for so long about how my “armor” got in the way of living my most authentic life.

If you haven’t been around me for a long time, you may not be able to discern this subtle but significant shift. It is true that in the past I put up a pretty effective “front”in the midst of crisis or conflict, but the truth was that I was just very skilled — and far too comfortable — with stuffing my emotions or powering through them.  It resulted in me being numb to my own feelings and needs or becoming a powder keg down the road.  

It has been a few years now since I have experienced either one of those former, very familiar uncomfortable outcomes.    What a relief it is to no longer find myself getting “pulled” into a situation and reacting from a place of bottled up old emotions because my “reservoir” was so low. To come away from a present day tense situation and recognize this positive change in myself is both a reward and an affirmation for a doing the “inside job” of self-awareness work. Awareness is the real key to my growth spurts which I will unravel for you now.

A counselor once told me that I was “too patient.”  At the time, I had no clue what she meant.  I thought being patient was a strength of mine.  However I have slowly come to understand what she meant — I accepted a lot of behaviors from others that I should not have.  She was encouraging me to discover and voice my personal boundaries.  I surely wish I had learned this lesson ten or twenty years ago. I did eventually get there though it was at a turtle’s pace.

Here’s the thing about boundaries that I had to understand. I often showed respect to others even when they didn’t necessarily deserve it, but I rarely respected myself enough to call someone out or to simply say no. I wanted to be sure I was operating from a place of my own integrity so I’d be generous with my respect of others. Somehow I had forgotten that my integrity also served me — as an anchor for self-respect. I had to learn to respect myself enough to pause when I would get that internal nudge and then choose to state my boundary. This is where Brene’s words “clear is kind” really came to life for me. Calmly stating my boundary clearly is the kindest thing I can offer to someone else. There is no mystery or guess work about what is important to me. I free myself to stand firmly in my ground without drama or long explanations. It puts the onus of respecting my boundary back on the other person.

This brings me to anger. Just typing that word can send shivers down my spine. For far too many years, I did not do “anger” well. Like most of us when we are pushed to the limit and anger flares, I’d raise my voice, say things I would quickly regret and be prone to slam a door on my way to anywhere other than where I was. Honestly I have been afraid of anger since I was a child. It seemed that nothing good ever came of it and that was the lesson I took to heart based on a lifetime of personal experiences. Anger might as well have been a lit stick of dynamite in my hands — I was terrified of it and instinctively reacted on that fear rather than what anger was actually trying to tell me.

So I had to change my understanding of anger and my relationship to it. Anger often showed up when I failed to set a boundary. So it served as my warning light to feel the anger and redirect my attention to the real issue — which often was boundaries. Did I make my boundaries clear? Were my boundaries ignored or dismissed? The answers to these questions quelled the anger and gave me footing for a better response.

Anger would also show up when I was overdoing the “helping” I can be prone to do. My exhaustion would be accompanied by my disappointment from the lack of positive results for all my well-intentioned efforts. Anger was telling me I was resentful of working so hard doing things that no one actually asked me to do. It would be the equivalent of showing up with six bags of groceries and two casseroles when a friend needs a plumber for a clogged drain. Yep, that is just how far off base things can get for us consummate “helpers.” Again, understanding that my feelings of anger were actually my own doing became a huge catalyst for meaningful change.

Once I began to understand that anger can be very healthy and that it does have a place in a well-rounded life, I relaxed a bit and even ventured so fas as to invite it in….just for coffee though. My safest place to explore anger these days is on these coffee dates, just the two of us. I find myself saying “tell me more” quite often. Turns out that anger is pretty wise and not nearly as volatile as I once believed. Anger reminds me that I am a woman who values fairness and accountability. Anger makes its case that many a good cause has a been fueled by a healthy dose of outrage. (Consider MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers for starters).

I now have a very deep awareness that I cannot and should not attempt to fix everything that goes wrong in life, especially for others.   Where I once rushed in to clean up a mess, solve a problem or take someone else’s consequence on as my own, I have learned that my most meaningful response is to “hold space”  for others.   Others may need a shoulder to cry on or a safe, soft place to land when they are broken. They do not need or want me to fix things. I respect that now.

The Enneagram has been such a helpful resource for me by shining a big spotlight on how I often “rescue” others in an effort to feel valued and needed. I am learning the distinction between “I need help” and “I am needy”. When someone needs help and they ask for it, I am all in….but in a healthier way now. When someone is needy and just wants someone else to fix the problems they are creating, I am able to recognize it and back away.

The next logical step in this process of self-awareness is an invaluable one — it is simply “letting go”. Yet there is nothing simple about actually doing that. At least not when I was first striving to do it. But with a lot of practice over a few years, I have actually gotten so much better at this.

Early on in my mindfulness journey I learned about “not being attached to the outcome.” While I liked the sound of it in theory, I quickly discovered that I was quite often not only attached to an outcome but I was working pretty hard to get my own desired outcome. While I never considered myself a manipulating or controlling person, I began to see how my comments or actions felt like that to others. Letting go of expectations, letting go of wishful thinking, letting go of control — these are all incredibly hard to part with — and yet, it is so freeing to do so. It is quite simply accepting reality. It is accepting that other people may make choices that might be hard to swallow. Letting go often involves forgiveness, offering grace to others and trusting that they are doing the best they can, and embracing space for reflection and healing.

Letting go and not being attached to the outcome did require a lot of practice. Fortunately life never fails to provide ample opportunities for this needed practice. So I dipped my toes into this concept with minor matters, making the best decision I could in that moment with the information I had at hand, and letting go of any preconceived ideas I might have about the outcome. I found out that no matter what transpired, I could handle it. Often times the result was even better than I might have imagined. When it came to relationships and what I was hoping for, I found that letting out a little kite string was all that was really needed. If the relationship was genuinely mutual, our kite would soar. If the relationship was more one-sided, it was bound to hit the ground. Inspirational life quotes that have long resonated with me began to take on a much deeper meaning:

I began my focused personal growth journey by learning about, and embracing, mindfulness. Mindfulness led me to meditation. Meditation reignited my keen interest in neuroscience. Over these past six years, there has been growing overlap of personal growth tools and the teachers who guide us. And all of it is rooted in awareness.

Becoming skilled in awareness is the best practice of all. It provides a broad and fresh perspective to reframe things that literally are right in front of our eyes, but are often obscured by racing thoughts, rumination about the past, magical thinking, and dreaming of greener pastures.

Awareness of all the places where I was triggered by my past.

Awareness of my weariness or resentment growing to a boiling point.

Awareness of own value and strengths and not allowing others comments to diminish them.

Awareness of how others showed their love and respect for me. (hot tip — sometimes we are actually getting the love and respect we want but we fail to realize it because we want it in a certain way)

Awareness to offer myself grace and acknowledging I will always be a work in progress.

These are just a few of the many insights I gained from awareness. The self discovery journey has allowed me to get untangled and unstuck from experiences and emotions that clouded my vision, muffled what I was able to hear, and it opened my heart in ways I would have never thought possible. I found peace. A peace that I carry with me everywhere and one that I trust I can ground myself in when life gets turbulent.

I also found a deeper capacity for being aware of how others are feeling and reacting. Judgment has been replaced with a genuine interest and curiosity about what is beneath all of that. All of us have stratifications of the anxieties and vulnerabilities that we’ve accumulated over the years. I find myself understanding that about others and it serves me well as I hold space for them and listen fully. So often clues are embedded in those deep conversations. I now focus more on the other person. Its so much easier to do this now that I have cleared my own emotional landmines. My mind, my body and my heart isn’t competing for my attention. Instead, I can lean into what I have learned about myself and find greater compassion and encouragement for others.

My dear friend Judy and I have done a lot of this work together over the past few years, acting as confidantes and cheerleaders for each other. We were so fortunate to be able to compare similar life experiences and learned behavioral patterns we developed as coping mechanisms. We also shared a deep love of helping others and offering encouragement to those who are on a similar journey. What we have noticed in our improved energy levels, our discernment, and the people we are attracting into our lives is nothing short of miraculous.

Our family members and our friends have noticed our transformation and freely tell us all the positive attributes they are witnessing. They are experiencing how we show up differently in our own lives and in their lives too. This concrete evidence of the work we have been doing has become a guiding light for others in a much healthier way than our old approaches ever did.

When my daughter tells her friends that I am the most mindful person she knows, that goes straight to my heart. Who knows me better than her after all these years and who sees the consistency and continuity of all my positive changes?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Chopra Meditation Center – Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life (How limitless awareness can help you overcome all obstacles — 21 Day Meditation Program offered for free)

http://www.choprameditationcenter.com

Typology Podcasts with Ian Cron (available for free on YouTube) I’m sharing this episode with renowned Enneagram authority Beatrice Chestnut who is like me, an Enneagram 2.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T-fP4WMHIQ

Yung Pueblo – check out this youthful wisdom influencer on Facebook and Instagram: https://www.facebook.com/yungpueblo

Greater Good Magazine – The Right Way to Get Angry https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_right_way_to_get_angry

I am a longtime collector and affectionate of StoryPeople — and I bought this one over two decades ago. No matter how much I tried to maintain some sense of control over my busy complex life, balancing parenthood, career and marriage, there were more than a few times that I just enjoyed letting go of the “to do”list and the human “doing” and trust fall into a strong wind like a carefree child. I had no idea just how insightful these words would be to me later in life when I learned the liberating feeling of “letting go” of outcomes and expectations.