I’m an Enneagram Six.
Self-help reading junkies like me probably know what that means. If not, the Enneagram categorizes people into 9 different personality types explaining the distinctive ways we humans are wired to conceptualize the world and manage our emotions. It’s a tool for self-understanding, relational growth and spiritual transformation.
I’m not just kinda Six, I’m textbook Six. It’s like somebody snuck inside my head, analyzed my inner world and then wrote about me.
An Enneagram Six lives with ongoing notions of concern, always on the alert to establish stability, safety and security for themselves and the people they love through threat forecasting and worst case scenario contingency planning. The looping internal monologue of a Six goes something like this. I want to take care of those I love so they’ll know they’re loved and secure and safe so I am going to go through every unsafe scenario I can imagine and if I can think these through, if I can contingency plan out of them, then I’m actually going to make them OK and I’ll make myself OK, in fact, I’ll make the world OK. (Chris Heuertz, Sleeping At Last Podcast episode 15)
Sixes are often unaware of how overactively their minds are working 24/7 and an unhealthy Six can get stuck on the hamster wheel of fear. But at their best, Sixes are loyal guardians and valiant protectors.
Let’s get personal. This is what it’s like to be me.
As I write, I’m sitting in Chicago Midway airport waiting to board my flight to Dallas. I’m travelling the departure leg with my hubs, which means we’re both on the same airplane and if it crashes, our kids will be orphans. Maybe that’s not the first thought you have when you board a plane with your husband but it is mine.
So, last week, I sorted through our fire safe box to put our important documents in order in case we die. I googled sample wills in the state of Michigan and spent hours crafting an updated document to replace the outdated information on my previous instructions for our girls. Then, I drove to the bank to get it notarized, only to find out they don’t do that anymore, so I texted some friends a weird request for their witness signatures on my hand crafted will and got the job done by 9:30 pm last night.
Then, I talked to the grown-up kid who’ll be responsible for our minor, expounding on all the details in my document just to be sure there won’t be any confusion about my intentions, just in case.
I texted the one in Chicago and told her I love her because it’s possible that I won’t get another chance.
When they were littler, I used to write each of the girls letters every time I travelled just to be sure they’d have proof of my love in case I didn’t come back, as if decades of devotion and service, somehow, hasn’t communicated my heart.
And when I packed for this trip, or any trip, I’m always the one with the biggest suitcase. The longest packing list. The most frustrating pile of must-haves to ever be packed into and on top of an 8 passenger van. Just ask my husband.
Here’s the thing, how can I go somewhere unprepared for every possible contingency?
Warm weather? Cold weather? The forecast can change you know.
Medicines for headaches and back aches and tummy aches because who knows which kid will complain about what. And we might need the Neosporin and band-aids too because accidents are exactly that. You can’t predict that you won’t have them and you’ll want to be prepared if you do.
Then there’s my mental prayer list for air travel
and car travel
and even train travel.
Some of my requests are transferrable between modes of transportation but there are also unique potential dangers associated with each. So for air travel I ask God to oversee the TSA employees and give them success in identifying any terrorists boarding the plane.
God, Help the pilots not to be sick or hung over or distracted or inexperienced.
Bring any mechanical problems to light before this plane flies and give the mechanics the skill to fix them.
Help the air traffic controllers to be alert and accurate in their instructions for take off and landing.
Discernment, God. That’s what I’m asking for all the human decisions involved in this flight.
And those Canada geese, keep them away from flying into the propellers.
Intervene with the weather and help us to find airspace that’s not turbulent…
For a road trip, thank God there’s accuweather.com. I can and do check and recheck the hourly forecast at every major city along our route just to be prepared. Then I pray and ask God to keep everybody in their lane.
To prevent us from colliding with drivers under the influence or distracted.
That I can stay awake behind the wheel.
For roads to be free of dangerous debris or collisions with deer.
To protect us from slipping off the highway when there’s a wintry mix….
Trains, praying against derailment is definitely at the front of the line….
And just in case I didn’t think to alert God to every possible undesirable scenario, I always cover all potential oversights with an umbrella policy, requesting that He send his angels to surround us as we travel.
Truth. I’ve just given you a sneek-peak into my inner domain.
When you multiply that kind of hypervigilance exponentially over a lifetime, welcome to my world.
My personal and family issues–medical, relational, vocational, spiritual, marital and parenting- are overwhelming. Unrelenting. Exhausting. At least that’s how it often feels to me.
If mental gymnastics were an Olympic sport, I’d make a great competitor for the gold.
Take parenting, for example. I remember when loving my girls by protecting them from harm translated into baby monitors, car seats, electrical plug covers, gates at the top of the stairs and a complete kitchen reno to remove every trace of lead based paint in our kitchen cupboards.
Later, it morphed into sheltering them from the mean, bullying, bratty, other people’s children and the Christian faith undermining, hedonistic influence of traditional school. Everybody knows that homeschooling is the answer for that. Then, they started choosing friends outside the family and peer pressure came onto the radar screen so we made our home a desirable place to play and hang out because if they’re here, we have a better chance to monitor and supervise their activities, right? So, we chose a home in a convenient location, and the one before that, with a neighborhood pool. We increased the grocery budget for more snacks and extras around the dinner table, added easy care flooring and craiglist furniture for all those popcorn and movie night spills. A large screen TV hasn’t hurt either.
Then, the kids started driving. Well actually, their friends got their licenses first because a bonus birthday equals an extra year of maturing and another 100 hours of behind the wheel practice with dad too. Surely that statistically minimizes the risk of a life altering accident or at least delays the possibility. Cars with airbags and all wheel-drive moved up on the priority list too, as did the need for a carefully crafted conversation with anybody the girls buckled into the passenger seat next to.
Next came dating and there is literally no end to the threat forecasting scenarios a Six can create related to young love and its potential heartbreak. In the past six years, my nightly sleep log averages have diminished by several hours and my prayer muscles flexed to bulging buff.
There’s been shepherding our girls to understand the deep, deep love of Jesus and their need for it.
Educating them all the way through their high school diplomas.
Navigating the minefield of hormonal dramatics, depression and anxiety.
Trauma and its aftermath.
Launching them into college and career.
Moving them into their first apartment.
Waving goodbye at the airport as they board a plane to travel and live in places that require a passport.
And now, one of them is planning a wedding. Getting married. And even though I totally love the one God’s adding to the family, the learning curve on parenting through this transition has been steep. Real steep.
Problem is, the way I’m wired to show love can also create relational barriers with the ones who mean the most to me. While projecting worse case scenarios and contingency plans to avoid undesirable consequences all happens in my contained gray space, the pre-emptive choices, the decisive resulting actions, even the subconscious but visibly apparent facial expressions I wear, can end up feeling like control rather than love. And my radar isn’t limited to tangible threats, it’s highly attuned to interpersonal communication triggers too. Expressions, tones, gestures, word choices, I’m hyper-analyzing them all for relational risk and potential breakdown. That kind of relational intensity can feel overwhelming to the people on the receiving end.
All my life it’s been like this. I just can’t turn it off.
Before you write me off as a candidate for the local psychiatric hospital, you should know that Enneagram research identifies Sixes as the most common of all types. There are a lot of us out there in society, somewhere on the continuum of growth between unhealthy and healthy. And thankfully, by God’s grace, I am moving along that path like a turtle, slowly, steadily inching closer toward greater wholeness with each passing year.
As with each of the other types, being a 6 isn’t a liability. It’s an asset.
Sixes by design are some of the most generous, self sacrificing, life givers in society. Enneagram experts say,
“Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible and trustworthy. They are excellent troubleshooters and the threat forecasters of humanity. They know what’s going to go wrong before it goes wrong. Yes, sometimes they can overreact and think themselves into some pretty angsty corners but if they’re grounded and have grown in self-trust, they’re usually right and you better listen to them. (Chris Heuertz, The Sleeping At Last podcast episode 15)”
And as I replay in my mind the ways my vigilance has served, contributed and protected my people, I can acknowledge it as a gift too.
My intentionality has created life giving family rhythms and traditions.
My scrupulous preplanning saves money and time and hassle.
My attention to detail helps avoid overlooking something important.
And my intuitive hypersensitivity has, at times, protected the ones I love from evil and danger.
My commitment to honest communication when relationships have small fissures can avert devastating long term relational consequences.
I ask helpful and introspective questions because I’ve already thought about a person’s backstory and the layers behind their words.
I’m a safe person for people to share their secrets with because I value the risk of trust.
I contribute a voice and perspective that balances impulsivity and its undesirable consequences.
I serve faithfully because I realize that life is a marathon and looking ahead to the end motivates me to persevere.
I live gratefully because I’m so hyper-aware of all the things that could go wrong that I have a deep appreciation for everything that goes right instead and gratitude is contagious.
And more that anything else, I pray. And not just crazy-person prayers, deep, groaning, faithful prayers because I know feel the weight of how desperately we all need Jesus as the ultimate protector.
My inner world isn’t entirely all doom and gloom. There’s a multifacetedness to each of our essences. A complimentary, secondary type that Enneagram calls a wing. Mine’s the Seven. Sevens are enthusiastic, playful and always looking for the next adventure. And that’s me too. My Seven wing serves as a balance to my Sixness and gives me tangible opportunities to express my courage. I’m leaning into it more deeply the faster my clock ticks. Last week, aging took another bite out of me. My newest official diagnosis is Osteopenia and my Six-self already threat forecasts a future broken hip. Thing is, I’m not hunkering down to try to protect myself from that possibility. Rather, I’m planning another hiking adventure with my newly financially independent daughter, who just happens to be a nurse, in case I do break my hip. We’re travelling together to the red rocks of Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon in January.
And Lord knows, I need a vacation.
Here’s the thing. What a six really longs to hear from somebody in their life is,
“It must be so difficult to have those scary thoughts buzzing around in your head all the time.”
“I imagine you feel exhausted.”
“I really appreciate that you love me so much you’ve got my back in ways I wouldn’t even imagine I might need.”
But that’s not generally how this gig works.
Today, I disciplined myself to write a list. A comprehensive list of all my fears related to something important in my life. Pages and pages of fears each intervowen with threat forecasting everything from petty inconveniences to life altering consequences.
The weight of that list is crushing me except that I hear my Father say,
“I made you and I didn’t make any mistakes in the process.
There’s so much good you contribute to people’s lives by being protective. I love that about you.
You’ve also experienced a heck of a lot of relational pain because you got stuck on the hamster wheel.
I know you are completely exhausted!
Give that list to me and come lie down in my lap.”
“I’ll try,” I say, “but it’s so hard to give it up. Somehow, I’m even afraid to give up my fears.”
“I know,” Daddy responds.
“It’s OK. Just do the best you can.”
And in this moment, I am. Doing the best I can to separate myself from my list, to climb into the embrace of my Father’s strong, tender lap. Casting all my anxieties on Him because He cares for me.
My Scottish friend came to visit us one summer and didn’t bring his camera. I asked why and he said he’d decided to Savor the Moment. That’s what I’m trying to do, right now, as best as a Six can.
My Christmas tree lights are twinkling, the candles are lit and the Future of Forestry sings melodically, “Let Us Find Our Rest In Thee.” And that’s what I really need this Advent season.
In case you want to learn more about The Enneagram, here are my favorite resources.
Sleeping At Last Enneagram Series Podcasts with Ryan O’Neal and Chris Heuertz:
Episodes 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18
The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile