Over the past few weeks I’ve been delving deeper into the Enneagram and what it means to be a 7. The process has been challenging, but also life affirming.
When it comes to 7s, we don’t like pain. We don’t like unpleasant emotions, and we do whatever we can to avoid them. Most of the time by distracting ourselves. As Ian Morgan Cron puts it, “a compulsive need to devour positive experiences, stimulating ideas and fine material things in order to fend off suffering , hurtful memories and a feeling of chronic deprivation.”
So, uh, yeah… that’s me.
The trouble being a life of pain avoidance is a life of perpetual, self-inflicted darkness. I’d rather move on to something else or think about the future than deal with the pain that’s right here, right now.
Retreat. Deal with it later. Maybe.
In a way, it’s my own little monster under the bed. Do you remember yours? The idea that something waited just over the side terrified me as a child. I still remember a day I dared to look and found a red, tribal mask staring back at me. I don’t know if something was really there or if I stared at a monster of my own making, but it’s the only time I remember truly being frozen in fear.
But in order to live, I believe we must learn to look. While it scared me terribly, I had found the face of my monster. And considering the present discourse, I find the face of my monster fitting. A mask, just like the ones I’ve created to protect myself. The masks that make up my false self. I created them to protect me, but maybe they are the true monster. So I steel myself, and look over the edge of the bed.
Because the first step is awareness. By awareness I don’t mean just knowing something is out there. We all have that sense of danger that tells us something lingers in the shadows. I mean finding the face of our monsters. Until I know the face of my monster, I can’t recognize it. Until I know the mask it wears, I can’t engage it.
It’s here that the battle begins. Firstly, a battle with self. When the monster shows its face, I have a choice to make. Retreat or engage. The greater battle begins on those occasions when I choose to engage. I choose to face my monster, look it in the eyes and try to see what lies beyond it. To see the source of my pain and fears. One may again ask the question, why?
By getting to the source of my pain and fears, I can hold it, handle it, look at it from different angles and come to understand it. And maybe in knowing it, it becomes a little less scary. I can then examine my responses. I don’t always freeze in the face of my monsters. Sometimes I run. Sometimes I fight. Often at the expense of people around me. Until I see, I strike out blindly. Once I begin learning to see, I can make better choices. Not saying I always will, but I can. And that’s not only better for me, but also for the people I care about.
In all, I think the gift of facing down my monsters can be summed up in a single word.
Freedom from fear. Freedom from the protective habits that hurt myself and others. And freedom to become more of me, the real me.