I’m always grateful for those flashes of insight that help me understand a familiar issue in a new way. Sometimes re-framing the problem makes the solution—or at least the next step—so much clearer.
That happened to me recently: I came across one paragraph in a new-to-me book that articulated something I’d been struggling with for years, but had never been able to put my finger.
The book was The Essential Enneagram. I’ve known for years that I’m a 9: even though I’ve never completely identified with much of the description, it fits me better than any of the other types do.
According to the enneagram, each of the 9 types has a core struggle: avarice, or envy, or lust, or, in my case as a 9, sloth. I’ve never much identified with this description. I may be many things, but lazy I’m not.
I’ve read a lot of enneagram books, and wasn’t really expecting to discover much in the way of new information in this one. But then I stumbled upon this paragraph, and realized I’d been buying into one of the common myths about my type. It said, “People often think of Nines as lazy, slow, unproductive, and lacking in leadership and effectiveness. In fact, Nines’ inertia is simply toward themselves as they put their attention and energy into others’ opinions and agendas.” [Emphasis added, because yikes—that nails it.]
This immediately made so much sense to me. I’m a hard worker, but I am way too relaxed (er, lazy) in minding my own limits and boundaries. It’s too easy for me to get pulled in every direction by everyone else’s wants, wishes, and priorities. My inclination as a 9 is to keep the peace (which is why this type is often called the “peacemaker” or “mediator”) but at too high a price.
While it’s good to be adaptable, nines go way beyond this. Their temptation is to blend in. Their inclination is to “melt” into others in a way that’s completely unhealthy, setting their own wants, wishes, and priorities aside in favor of someone else’s.
This was not a fun realization. As Richard Rohr is fond of saying, the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.
But because I can recognize these things about myself, I can actually do something about it. That’s where the self-care part comes in.
The book has a great self-test, and descriptions of the types, and it also recommends practices—as in, literal practice exercises—for each type. We’re all inclined to go off the rails in a certain way. Because my inclination is to be lazy about my boundaries, my instructions are to ask myself: “How have all the people and things around me been pulling at and competing for my attention? How indecisive have I been? In what ways have I gone along with others’ agendas and plans? In what ways have I been sidetracked into focusing on secondary priorities or inessentials?”
Self-care looks different in different seasons. I wrote about my then-current practices almost a year ago, and while some of the same themes are there, I didn’t need the same things back then. You can see hints of minding my boundaries, but I wasn’t able to articulate that need the way I am now, like this:
Self-care right now looks like asking myself what I want.
Self-care right now looks like waiting before acting. (Or more commonly, reacting.)
Self-care right now looks like thoughtfully evaluating my own priorities.
Self-care right now looks like respecting my own self and my own boundaries.
For most of you, this probably looks like craziness: these things come easy to you. While I’m asking myself about my boundaries, you may be asking yourself how loud your inner critic has been this week. Or how often you’ve been feeling disappointed lately about what’s missing in your life. Or if you’ve been escaping the potentially painful stuff by turning your attention to the new and interesting?
These self-care steps aren’t exactly easy, not for any of us. But I’d rather know what to do for myself—even if it’s hard—than not know. Even if it makes me miserable for a little bit.
I’d love to hear in comments if you resonate with any of this, and what you find that YOU need for self-care in this season.
P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.