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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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When Healthy Eating Becomes Too “Healthy”

(TW for disordered eating)

I wanted to write a follow-up to my post about eating salmon every day for clear skin – I got a lot of “likes” on that post, so it seems like it’s a topic of interest, or at least intrigue, for many.

First of all, you may be wondering: how is my skin doing? Am I still eating salmon every day? 

The answers to those questions are that my skin is doing okay – it’s not perfect, mind you – and I am NOT eating salmon every day anymore. 

I was eating salmon daily for a while, and my skin really did improve (I was also limiting my sugar, gluten, and dairy, as those also seemed to be triggers for acne for me.) But even so, my skin still never fully achieved perfection. 

I have a friend who on Facebook is an advocate for fighting against disordered eating and fatphobia. Her posts have recently challenged me to think about my own relationship to food, and my own dieting habits. I realized that I was slowly getting stricter and stricter with my diet – I was eating salmon daily, but also cutting out multiple other foods. I was looking at food only in terms of “will this make me break out or not?” I began to be afraid to eat many foods, even small amounts of them. At the same time, sometimes I really craved eating some ice cream or a cookie! But I felt stuck in my rigid diet because I knew eating those things would make my skin break out. 

I had to be honest with myself and admit that this was unhealthy, and probably verging on disordered eating. And I’ve got a history of disordered eating (look up the term “orthorexia”), and I didn’t want to get to that place again. I wasn’t afraid of becoming fat or overweight, but I was terrified of having bad skin, of looking less than perfect. Acne-phobic? Imperfect-phobic?

I had also really wanted to clear my skin naturally – not using any sort of pills or topical medications or anything like that. I had hoped that eating the right foods (and not eating the wrong foods) would just balance my body out on its own. But instead, I think I set myself up to try to reach an impossible goal. I realized I was so preoccupied with what I was eating, and so scared of my skin breaking out, that it was affecting my life, and that I needed to make a change. 

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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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