Lately, I have been reflecting on an indirect benefit of my study of the Enneagram. There is a more systemic quality to my thinking. Also, studying the Enneagram is training me to think less in terms of absolutes.
One of the reasons for that is that learning the Enneagram helps us to see the cognitive biases that lead each of the nine types to perpetuate specific polarities.
To be clear, polarities describe competing forces. Exploration on the one side, and narrowing options on the other, is a polarity. Creativity and passivity is another. Often, these polarities are in evidence both in and around us. We live in the creative tension between them and tend either to be enlivened by that tension or suffer (another polarity).
When fixated, the nine types exist within the confines of their default polarities. When we know what those are, we can seek to integrate them if we want to.
The nine types also represent extremes of certain polarities. Take for instance the absoluteness of seeking peace (Type Nine), and the absoluteness of seeking truth (Type Four). Both perspectives are true, and incomplete. They add to eachother. This is true around the Enneagram.
Integrating polarities is an inner process that has outer consequences – quite radical ones. We don’t lose the ability to take a needed position for or against something. Simply, we have a growing capacity to hold the tension of opposing ideas without taking a defensive position.
“Me and not me” – Jerry Wagner’s teachings
I cannot write a post about integrating polarities and the Enneagram without referring to the work of Enneagram Jerry Wagner, who mapped the “me and not me” of each type. These ego-ideals and avoidances comprise two-thirds of each Ennea type’s defense system (the final third being a specific defense mechanism).
The task here is to bring the “not me’s” inside of us. This means we’ll stop projecting them outside.
|Ego ideal||Me||Not Me|
|The Good person||Good, upright, moral||Bad, licentious, immoral|
|The Loving |
|Helpful, needed, indispensible||Selfish, needy, useless|
|The Effective person||Professional, organized, productive||Amateur, disorganised, idle|
|The Original person||Romantic, intuitive, symbolic||Utilitarian, obtuse, concrete|
|The Wise person||Wise, observant, quiet||Foolish, inattentive, loud|
|The Loyal person||Cautious, security seeking, careful||Reckless, adventuresome, careless|
|The Joyful person||Cheerful, optimistic, enthusiastic||Gloomy, pessimistic, flat|
|The Powerful person||Strong, independent, blunt||Weak, dependent, indirect|
|The Peaceful person||Content, laid-back, comfortable||Upset, ambitious, edgy|
Because life is cruel, the more polarised we are internally, the more we find ourselves surrounded by people embodying the “not me’s”. Try this on for size. I have found it to be accurate.
Take a Type Four who is fixed by the polarities of their default attentional style. They might find themselves surrounded by those they experience as crude and obtuse. Until Fours get back in touch with their own ordinariness (the “not me”), they’ll remain distracted by longings to be seen and understood – ordinariness being the passport to both those things.
Jerry suggests that we find an overarching construct that embraces and enfolds both polarities. The following names, from his book, Nine Lenses on the World: the Enneagram Perspective, are examples of such constructs.
Reading them, can you see how the name integrates the type’s polarities?
|One – Gliding precision|
|Two – Wounded healers|
|Three – Effective layperson|
|Four – Elegant simplicity|
|Five – Wise fool|
|Six – Devil’s advocate|
|Seven – Grounded vitality|
|Eight – Fair lovers|
|Nine – Peaceful warrior|
Using the internal lines of the Enneagram to integrate polarities
The Enneagram helpfully assists us further with the task of integrating our polarities. The clues are in the connection points*.
Continuing with our previous example, Type Fours are supported in integrating their polarities through accessing some Type One and Two perspectives.
Ones are reality-oriented, sensitive to details, exact and focused, complementing a Four’s intuitive approach. Twos are approachable, practical and empathetic, which is also complementary to a Four, who tends to withdraw. Each of these qualities enables a Four to focus their energy, take action and offer simple love, bringing about the very connectedness they are seeking.
What study or training do you do for integrating polarities? Please comment below.
Integral life offers a great Training in Integrating Polarities by Beena Sharma. I highly recommend it to you.
*Learn more about using the internal lines of the Enneagram on my online course.