My Sister Rachel (Part 5): Challenges

I’ve never written a series this long before, but I’m planning to wrap this series up in a 6th post to come soon. If you missed any of the other posts and you’d like to read them, just do a search at the top for “My Sister Rachel” and they should all pop up.

I’m going to try to keep it real in this post, and today’s topic is “challenging times.” Coincidentally this is also the longest post in the series, so bear with me if you attempt to read through it. I’m sure it’s no surprise that there were times with Rachel that were really difficult and stressful. Honestly, there were many times that just really sucked. I don’t say that to blame my sister or my family for how things were, it is just a true statement due to the circumstances we found ourselves in.

Rachel had limited abilities to communicate with us how she was feeling or what she was thinking, and I’m sure much of the time she felt frustrated that we didn’t understand her. She probably felt frustrated when things didn’t seem “right” to her and none of the rest of us were doing anything to fix it. She wasn’t aware of all the social rules that most of us follow (like giving others personal space, or knowing to stay quiet during a movie so as not to bother anyone) and so inevitably she would commit many social taboos that would draw attention, very often negative attention.

Anger

I was probably only in Kindergarten or elementary school, but by that time I had already learned to associate Rachel with negative feelings and outcomes. Without even realizing it at the time, I strategically began to avoid being around her or interacting with her. I had learned that I needed to keep myself and my things away from Rachel if I wanted them to be out of harm’s way. As I said in an earlier post, we really didn’t play together much anyway (due to being on different developmental levels), and so we each kind of did our own thing and had our own interests. We had our own rooms and our own toys, and my toys and belongings were very different from Rachel’s (again, due to our differences in abilities). I’m not sure if that was the reason Rachel seemed so intrigued with my room and my things, but there were many times that she would take something of mine, and essentially destroy it. Sometimes she might find a tag on one of my stuffed animals and rip it off (tearing a hole in it) or she’d crumple up a drawing I was really proud of. I don’t think it was done intentionally against me, but it made me so upset. (I’m sure older siblings have experienced similar situations where a younger brother or sister broke something of theirs.)

One time in particular when Rachel broke something of mine stands out to me. Earlier we had gone to a science museum, and I had gotten a wooden stegosaurus skeleton that you could put together piece by piece, kind of like a 3D puzzle. (It was so cool!) I had assembled it and had it on display in my room. I think the door to my room was open and I was in another part of the house, but I remember hearing a crash and running back to my room to find Rachel standing there and the stegosaurus smashed to pieces on the floor. I’m not sure why this event, out of all the times Rachel broke something of mine, sticks out in my memory, but I remember being devastated. That event might have been the catalyst to cause us to put a lock on my door.

I mentioned that I had learned to keep not only my things, but myself, away from Rachel in order to avoid harm. Another not-so-fun thing about Rachel was that around this same time (Kindergarten or elementary school) Rachel started having violent tendencies. If she got mad, her way to express it was through hurting herself or someone else. And if you were the person nearby, you might find yourself hurt. Rachel was always bigger and stronger than I was, despite us being the exact same age, so fighting back wasn’t a great strategy for me. I learned instead that I was much faster than her, so I could outrun her if she was trying to attack me. There were still plenty of times though when she would get me by surprise, and being the good girl I was, I knew I shouldn’t try to hurt her back. That was SO frustrating to me – it never felt like justice was served. (Probably was the start of a lot of repressed anger for me to be honest.)

On one occasion, however, I did retaliate back at Rachel, and I didn’t hold anything back. We were older, maybe junior high age, and Rachel had hit me or hurt me somehow. I remember being so mad, and I decided I was going to hit her as hard as I could. And I did. I slapped her on her back so hard that it left a hand print, and I remember Rachel started to cry. (Sorry Mom, I don’t think I ever told you that before!) Of course then I felt terrible, but it was a mixture of feelings – I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but at the same time it felt like I was standing up for myself. (I’m sure there could have been a better way to do that…)

Fear

Besides being fearful for my physical wellbeing sometimes (her violent outbursts did get better over time), I began to have a lot of fear about what other people would think – whether or not they were judging me or my family for how my sister behaved.

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Rude or Kind, Words Matter

Earlier today I had a person speak very rudely to me at work – it was much more jarring than I expected it to be – by that I mean I was surprised by how much their words alone could hurt me. I walked away from that interaction extremely angry, wanting justice for the wrongs that I felt had been done to me.

I’m not the type of person who is particularly graceful at handling moments like these. I wish I could think faster on my feet and come up with the perfect response. But no, I’m that person who replays the event over and over in their head, crafting what would have been an ideal response in varying scenarios. I wish I didn’t get so flustered by my emotions. I tend to feel emotions hard and fast, and all I could think to say at the moment it was happening were things that I knew I shouldn’t. So instead, I didn’t say a lot, I just fumed inside.

As I reflected on the event, I remembered that Jesus went through countless encounters of people being rude to him, hating him, and obviously going so far as to eventually crucify him. How many times did Jesus desire “justice” for himself? How many times did emotions like anger overwhelm him? How many times could he have said, “Do you know who you’re talking to? God in the flesh!” Jesus could have used his power and status to put others in their place if he wanted to.

But he didn’t. He made himself lower. He prayed for his enemies. He forgave. He loved.

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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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