Improving Relationships with Others through the Enneagram

This will be my final post about the Enneagram, rounding out a short three-part series. In my first post, I described how the Enneagram helped me understand myself better and fostered self-growth, after I figured out and accepted that I was a Type One. My second post shared how the Enneagram helped me appreciate my spouse more and navigate conflicts better in my marriage. 

This post will talk about how the Enneagram can improve your relationships with everyone else: coworkers, friends, family… anyone. 

After learning what another person’s Enneagram type is, I can begin to understand why they would think and act the way that they do (which is crucial if they think and act differently than me!) It’s easy to judge the actions of other people when they don’t line up with what we think we would do in a situation. We often assume the worst about others: they are simply being inconsiderate, they haven’t thought it through, they’re living in ignorance…

Instead of immediately judging others for doing things differently (I’m looking at you fellow Ones!) we can ask ourselves questions like:

What would motivate a person to do that or act like that?

Why is a particular issue so important to them?

What internal struggles could this person be facing at this moment that might be influencing their actions?

Motivation is a huge component of fully understanding the Enneagram. Two different types on the Enneagram could perform an identical action for very different reasons. This is why you aren’t supposed to identify another person’s type for them – only they will truly know their own motivation for doing or not doing something.

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Surgeries, Knee-Scooters, and a Case of the Flu

*This is one of those posts where I started writing it a few weeks ago, and I finished it today… sorry in advance for the possibly confusing timeline*

As I write this, my son is playing in his room right now, having no-so-quiet “quiet time.” He’s having a tea party with his stuffed animals, pretending to be their mother – I don’t want to forget these sweet times and memories.

It’s a Sunday afternoon, it’s been an interesting weekend that started out with my husband getting sick and potentially having the flu – so, most of our weekend has involved just staying at home.

At the initial time of writing this, I was almost 3 weeks post-surgery – I had surgery on my foot to reconstruct my fallen arch – it included 4 incisions (3 on my foot, one on my calf) and 2 bone grafts. I am not allowed to put weight on my foot for about 5-6 weeks after surgery, so needless to say it’s been a bit harder for me to do my typical activities.

Yesterday when my husband told me he was sick – initially my stomach dropped. He has been my rock while I’ve been recovering from surgery – he’s taken our son to and from daycare every day, he’s dropped me off at work (my first week back was last week), he’s done all the driving/errands… I quickly recovered from the shock and told myself that my time of rest and recovery was over – it really was a noticeable shift in my mind. I had been comparing my husband to my knight in shining armor the last few weeks, and now I was picking up my sword and shield, donning my own armor, for my family that needed me.

I had never actually gotten in and out of our car by myself yet post-surgery. My knee scooter presents a challenge, in that it’s hard for me to get it in and out of the car without help (especially when I can’t use one of my legs!) But, in the current desperate times, I decided it was time to figure it out. I did a test run – if I balanced my bad leg on the driver’s seat with the side door open, I could fold up my scooter and get it in the car without falling over. Success! I’ll admit, I was pretty proud of myself for my abilities and my level of self-sufficiency.

One of the many humbling lessons I’m learning from having surgery, is that just because you can do something by yourself, doesn’t mean you should, or that you can’t ask for help.

So, I did what any person (well, any over-achieving person struggling with pride) would do: I asked for help by not asking for help. I sent a message to a group of people from church and asked for prayers. I’m not implying that prayers were not appreciated or helpful – but secretly, what I really hoped was that someone would read between the lines of my request and say, “what can I do for you?”

And because I have some lovely and caring (and insightful) people in my life, that’s exactly what happened. And even then, it was still hard to voice what I needed. There’s vulnerability in asking – there’s a chance people will say no, and that it will hurt. Do people really want to spend their time and energy helping me? Am I worth it?

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The Strength of Empathy

To give some context for the title – my job requires all employees to take the StrengthsFinder quiz to determine your 5 top strengths (out of 34 total strengths). Empathy is in my top 5.   

Today was a weird day. I know it was 9/11, and so that made it a bit out of the norm from any other day, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I started the day at work, opening my email, calendars and checking Facebook. Obviously, there were a lot of 9/11 related posts. I started reading one post about a man, Tom Burnett, who was on the one airplane (United Airlines Flight 93) that did not reach its intended target, and instead was crashed into a field where it did not cause harm to anyone outside of the plane. I read the phone transcript between Tom Burnett and his wife – I read the part where he told her, “Don’t worry – we’re going to do something” – the last words he would ever say to his wife.

So this morning as work is just beginning, I’m already getting teary and emotional. I decided I could not read any more posts and got on to my emotionally-neutral work tasks. But all day I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was having a hard time – the feeling weighed on me all day and I felt like I wanted to cry, but I hadn’t had an opportunity (I’m usually a private crier.)

I wondered what the deal was with me – why was I so emotional about something that happened 17 years ago? Why was I so upset about the deaths of people I never knew? All day I kept asking myself what was “wrong” with me – until I got home and talked to Dean about it. He told me there is nothing wrong with having empathy and compassion for people – there is nothing wrong with grieving for people you never knew, no matter how recent or old the tragedy is. Having compassion and empathy is a good thing!

There’s something else that has been weighing on me for the last week or so – the death of Botham Jean – another person that I never met or knew personally. I have been processing what happened to him and didn’t know how to express my thoughts and feelings on the situation. I feel a connection to him because he was a Harding graduate. I watched videos of him leading singing in chapel in the Benson auditorium, and if I had been just a few years younger, I probably would have crossed paths with him at Harding. I probably would have gotten to hear his beautiful singing voice live in chapel. It was hard to hear about a senseless death of a person in their own home. It was hard to think about how his mother must feel – having a son of my own, I hurt for her, although I know it’s nothing compared to the pain she must be going through. I felt pain and sadness, and at the same time felt joy and gratitude that my own son was alive and well.

My heart has also been hurting for people who have lost young children. Some of the people I know personally, and some are related to people I know, but my heart hurts for them the same. I don’t know what that is like – and I can only imagine the hurt and pain (not that I want to imagine it!) I feel helpless to do anything, because what can be done? A card seems so small for someone who has lost a child – but maybe it’s the small things that are the most important…

All that to say, that as I was leaving work at the end of the day, I knew I had hit an emotional-breaking point. I got in the car and immediately just started crying. Crying for the 9/11 deaths, for Botham Jean, for parents who have lost children before they got to meet them. I prayed to God for peace about all of it, but I also thanked him for the ability to have empathy and compassion for others – something that has not always been my strong-suit. I know God is hurting with those people too – he has compassion for all of us.

A week ago, Dean had the opportunity to come to one of my library staff meetings and give a presentation on trauma-informed care. You may have heard of this term, it’s kind of a buzzword these days – but if you haven’t, it’s basically a way of approaching and interacting with people that assumes that they have either gone through (or are currently going through) a traumatic experience. You create safe environments for people that don’t contribute to their pain, and you give a little extra grace to everyone you meet because you acknowledge that you don’t know everyone’s story. (This is my interpretation of trauma-informed care – Dean could give you a better definition.)

In light of so many tragic events going on in so many people’s lives, I don’t think there could be a better time to start thinking about how to implement trauma-informed care. How can I help make life a little easier for people dealing with extremely hard things? How can I show God’s love to those hurting? How can I fill people up instead of tearing them down? Today I was hurting for people that very obviously were dealing with trauma – death and loss of loved ones is certainly a traumatic experience. But I know there are also many people out there who are not so obviously hurting – people who say they’re doing “fine” when inside they are barely hanging on. How do I show extra love to people when I don’t know that they are hurting?

The lesson I’ve learned is: just assume that they are – and love everyone a little bit extra.