What if everyone in your life came with an instruction manual–your boss, your colleagues, your partner, your parents? Every time you had a difficulty or a breakdown in communication you could just consult the manual.
When I say, "That doesn't matter" I am testing your commitment to our relationship. I'd like it if you said, "I really want to know."
Or how about,
When I physically and verbally retreat it is because I need time to process what is going on. Don't worry, I will re-engage with you when I'm ready.
Yes, life would be a lot less interesting, and soap operas would most likely cease to exist, but you've got to admit it might come in handy. And not just for others. What if you could read your own instruction manual?
You have a strong tendency to procrastinate, but you are motivated when working with other people. Consider collaborating with others on projects.
You seek excitement as a way to avoid your fear of boredom and confronting unpleasant feelings.
Some degree of self awareness is critical to consciously designing a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. There are many paths toward greater self awareness, and we each gravitate to those paths which resonate with us. It is a good idea to explore several different tools until you find a couple that work for you. Our basic test for a framework or tool is, "Does it work well?"
Three tools we use often in our lives and in our work with people creating the good life are the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics, and Systemic Constellation. Each offers different and complementary insights into what make people tick and, by extension, what is helpful for a healthy, balanced, and satisfying life.
We are enthusiastic about the Enneagram because it offers useful descriptions and theories about human motives, patterns of thinking, and behavior while being relatively accessible. The Enneagram describes 9 basic personality types. In addition, it offers several layers beyond these basic types bringing the total possibilities to somewhere between 54 and 486 depending on how detailed you'd like to get. It addresses various aspects of personality that aren't commonly considered, such as someone's primary motive and strategy.
For instance, someone who is working to earn a sense of security in the world is going to have a different agenda and style than someone whose strategy and purpose is to demand attention. Sometimes we may catch ourselves projecting our own way of being in the world onto others and unconsciously thinking, "This person isn't a doing a good job of being me." The Enneagram helps us to recognize the folly of this thinking and to appreciate the array of personality types that together form a rich ecology of human gifts and challenges. The more aware we can become of our own patterns as well as those of others, the healthier and more flexible we can become in our thoughts and actions. We can learn to earn security when necessary and to demand attention as appropriate. (You're still reading our essay, right?)
Whereas the Enneagram describes different personality types, Spiral Dynamics focuses on people's world views and value systems. Our world view is our picture of how the world works. From this, we derive our assumptions and values about our self, our goals, and how to act. People with different personalities may hold the same world view. Alternatively, people with different world views may have the same personality patterns. For this reason we like to use the Enneagram in conjunction with Spiral Dynamics.
Which of these best summarize the basic assumptions from which you live most of your life?
(Above list adapted from "The Never Ending Spiral", an interview with Dr. Don Beck
by Jessica Roemischer.)
Spiral Dynamics asserts that our primary world view is based on our life conditions. Our world view shifts with changes in our life circumstances. This has implications for how to go about both personal and social change. Like the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics can help us to understand ourselves and others, and to become more adept at navigating differences at the office, at home, and even the Thanksgiving dinner table!
While the Enneagram and Spiral Dynamics are more user–friendly frameworks, Systemic Constellation is a process that requires experience and training to be used effectively. It is based on the observation that our bodies seem to have an unconscious way of knowing information about our families, workplace, or social systems. Systemic Constellation work allows us to tap directly into this knowledge and make visible our felt inner maps of the relationships between elements in the system. This modality can help to heal systems and make them more functional where that possibility exists.
Constellation is definitely not something to try casually at Thanksgiving dinner. It is best used to explore those deeper dynamics that lie beneath our stories about ourselves, our families, and the world. Constellation can help us to go beyond our intellectual understandings and psychological defenses and help us to understand ourselves as we relate to others on a very deep and embodied level.
As with any conceptual framework, the map is not the territory. Enneagram and Spiral Dynamics are means of gaining understanding and insight. What matters ultimately is what you do with that knowledge. Also, no single theory addresses everything well, and a good theory or tool is only "true as far it goes." It takes study and practice to really use a good theory or tool, including understanding its limitations and biases. When we do find a framework that resonates with us, we benefit most when we spend the time and energy to develop a deep familiarity with it. Self understanding is a life-long learning process. It is one of the most rewarding investments we can make in ourselves for what it reveals, as well as for how it uncovers possibilities as we design our lives for well being.
Visit our website to find more resources on the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics, and Systemic Constellation. See if you can identify your Enneagram type. Read through these descriptions and see if you recognize yourself.
Try writing an instruction manual for you. If the situation allows, try this with your partner, a friend, or at work (which is where we did it first.) What is important for others to know about you? What should they do when you are stressed or upset? What behaviors might it be helpful to explain? What can people do to support you? Have fun with it, and see what you learn about yourself.
Here's to life long learning!
Beth & Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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