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Running with Knives (Part 2): the Self-Preservation Instinct

We each have a self-preservation instinct, to preserve our body, its life and effective function. This instinct, therefore, focuses us on physical safety, well-being, material security and comfort. Anxiety or stress may combine with this instinct to drive us to conserve or hoard energy and resources in response to demands from the environment or other people.

“Enneagram 27 Subtypes” | Integrative9.com

My therapist and I are both big fans of the Enneagram.

It’s pretty clear that I’m an Enneagram 1, but each Enneagram type also has a dominant subtype, or instinct. My therapist asked me which subtype I thought I was (the choices being self-preservation, one-on-one, or social), and I said I thought maybe I was a dominant social type. She smiled politely while shaking her head, and said to me, “self-preservation.”

We laughed together and I immediately knew she was right.

So much of my struggle with anxiety comes from the unknown, and being worried about being unprepared. I’m a worst-case scenario thinker, I expect the worst to happen so that if it does, I will be ready. Hence, why I always carry a knife in my pocket when I go out for a jog.

This is part two of a series on trauma, explaining how an event that happened 17 years ago still affects me today. (You can read part 1 here, where I share my story of almost getting abducted while walking my dog at night.)

In this post, I’d like to focus on the aftereffects of that traumatic event, how it changed me, and how I’m trying to strike a healthy balance between being overly fearful and feeling safe.

After watching my attempted kidnapper drive away that night, I went back inside and probably went into a bit of shock. I felt numb. My parents called the police and I remember a policeman asking me to describe the man. It felt so arbitrary, I knew they weren’t going to catch him based off of my generic description of his estimated height, weight, and hair color. I was so mad at myself for not memorizing the license plate number of his car.

The next day I went to school as normal and I don’t really remember thinking much more about it, except that my mom made sure I agreed I was never again going to walk our dog alone at night.

I do remember making a rule for myself that from that day on, I would never be out alone at dark – whether it was walking a dog, going to the store, checking the mailbox, or going for a run… and I followed that rule religiously from then on.

Of course there were times when I couldn’t quite avoid it entirely. Sometimes I’d be leaving from a friend’s apartment after dinner, or from working the night shift at the library, and I’d have to walk back out a ways to my car in the parking lot at night, by myself. I would always have my car keys in hand, ready to use them as a weapon. My old car had a key where you pushed a button and they key popped out of the side, like a mini switchblade – I figured it might be good enough to do some damage if I needed to poke an attacker in the eye.

I am usually always aware of my surroundings. Is there someone walking behind me? Is it a man? Which way would I run if he started chasing me? Does it look like I could outrun him?

I began to view most men as potential threats – if I was at home alone and the doorbell rang and it was a man, I wouldn’t always answer it. I’d let my dog bark and bark and bark until the guy left. If I did answer it, I was keenly aware of where the man was standing, and if I felt like I sensed any danger from him.

If I was getting into an elevator, and realized it was going to be me and a man alone inside, I would either wait for the next one, or have a very stressful 10-second ride to my floor as I hoped I did not get attacked.

It’s hard to say whether my prepare-for-the-worst, self-preservation personality was caused by my traumatic event, or if I naturally had those tendencies in me anyway. My guess is that it’s a bit of both, but that my traumatic experience intensified those tendencies, especially when it came to my physical safety.

It’s only been very recently that I’ve been working on finding the balance between recognizing the dangers out in the world, and being able to live in the world without fear. I do think it is important to be on guard against potential threats, but I don’t think it needs to be something that causes anxiety all the time.

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Being Married to a Peacemaker (Enneagram Type 9)

Enneagram Type Nines are some of the best people, the salt of the earth, so to speak. Nines are called “Peacemakers” and are described as easy-going and self-effacing. Nines strive to avoid conflicts with others, and many times this shows up as not having a strong opinion about things, but going along with what others think – never rocking the boat.

My husband Dean is a type Nine – a no-questions-about-it kind of Nine. As I look back to when we first met, I think this is part of what immediately drew me to him. I could tell he was a genuinely good person – he was so sincere and kind. He was (and still is) a great listener, he’s great at validating points of view that are not his own and seeing issues from all different sides. (It’s probably no surprise that he ended up a licensed marriage and family therapist!)

If you read my earlier Enneagram post, you’ll know that I am a Type One – the “Perfectionist” (also known as “Reformer” in some circles.) As you can imagine, my husband and I are very different when it comes to our personalities. Being in a marriage that’s a One/Nine combination comes with many challenges, but also plenty of opportunities.

The Enneagram Institute does a great job at describing relationships between all the different types. As I read the One/Nine relationship description, I felt like it genuinely could have been written about Dean and I.

Opportunities

Some of the great opportunities between a One/Nine relationship are described as follows:

Nines tend to take a bit of the rough edge off of the criticality and seriousness of Ones, while Ones give clarity and direction to Nines. Further, Ones feel that they have a mission in life, and they are able to inspire Nines to become aware of their own purpose and to want to follow it.

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Anger² – Being an Enneagram Type 1

How did I know I was an Enneagram type One? A single word: anger.

Many people after initially meeting me will tell me that I seem like such a laid-back, easy-going person – that they couldn’t imagine what I would look like angry. What they don’t know is that anger is second nature to me, it’s frequently raging under the surface while on the outside I’m trying to appear calm and collected.

I guess that’s pretty textbook for type Ones. Here’s an excerpt about Ones from The Enneagram Institute:
“In the effort to stay true to their principles, Ones resist being affected by their instinctual drives, consciously not giving in to them or expressing them too freely. The result is a personality type that has problems with repression, resistance, and aggression. They are usually seen by others as highly self- controlled, even rigid, although this is not how Ones experience themselves.”

When I learned that type Ones are in the “Anger triad” and that they also have their “passion/drive” as anger, I thought to myself, “that’s double anger… must be me.”

So how does this anger manifest itself for me? If I’m honest, many times it comes out as anger or annoyance with other people. A lot of Ones have an “inner critic” that they can’t get out of their head, and it’s constantly telling them that they could have done better. It’s easy to see why Ones are labeled the “Perfectionist.” My inner critic is there, but it is more outwardly focused. I notice when things are out of place in my environment, when there’s too much clutter for example. I also notice when other people aren’t following the rules – I’m a BIG rule-follower, which I think is also pretty typical for Ones.

I have a hard time when things are not fair – it makes me angry (go figure.) I prefer for most things to be done in a structured and orderly manner, and when things are too chaotic or by-the-seat-of-your-pants, I tend to think they could have been done better with a little more planning and effort. I hold myself to high standards and want others to do the same.

But the reality is most people don’t have the same standards I do… so I end up setting myself up for a lot of disappointment (or anger – are you catching on?… literally everything has the potential to make me angry.)

5 years ago – my husband and I dressed up as Inside Out characters for Halloween – ironically he was “Anger”

It’s a bit embarrassing to say that I struggle so much with anger. I frequently find myself wishing to be a person who can just play it cool, that lets things roll off of them, and is care-free most of the time. (That is pretty much my husband – he’s a Type 9.)

But the Enneagram’s purpose is not to compare yourself to others, or to wish that you were a “better” number. There’s no “better” or “best” number, they all have strengths and weaknesses.

The Enneagram is a helpful tool to discover more about yourself, and then accept what you’ve learned with self-compassion. Accepting yourself doesn’t mean you find excuses to be the worst version of yourself (like for example: “I’m a One so I guess I deserve to be angry all the time!”) With self-awareness and acceptance, you can move forward to growing into the best version of yourself – which is really the heart of why the Enneagram is so valuable.

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