Inner Critics and the enneagram

I speak a lot about inner critics—the demons in our head that hold us back from greatness. They are protective mechanisms that may have served us once upon a time but now hold us back.

I recently learned about an inner critic framework that helps to articulate the common types of saboteurs—the disabling thought patterns that trip us up. Reading through his content, I found that the types of saboteurs discussed by Shirzad Chamine map directly onto the nine types of the enneagram (discussed in my previous blog).

Looking at the saboteur assessment helped me to see how the enneagram can deepen an assessment of my own limiting beliefs. Below, I map the enneagram types to Chamine’s descriptions in the saboteur assessment.

Enneagram TypeEnneagram descriptionSaboteur
One: ReformerIdealistic, rational, moralistic, principledStickler/Judge-  rigid and absolute; highly critical of self and of others; perfectionist
Two: HelperCaring, connected, people-pleasing, generousPleaser–  strong need to be liked; doesn’t express needs directly; martyrdom
Three: AchieverSuccess-oriented, drivenHyper Achiever—workaholic; avoids feelings through performance; worthiness is only possible through accomplishment
Four: IndividualistExpressive, withdrawn, sensitiveVictim– misunderstood, isolated, envious, dramatic
Five: InvestigatorCerebral, data driven, isolated, perceptiveHyper Rational-frustrated by emotion, skeptical and cynical; feels misunderstood
Six: LoyalistCommitted, security-focused, responsible, anxiousHyper-Vigilant- anxious, expecting danger, suspicious
Seven: EnthusiastSpontaneous, fun loving, distractibleRestless—easily distracted, stays busy, seeks to escape pain
Eight: ChallengerLeader, confident, confrontationalController—willful, confrontational, surprised that others are hurt by conflict; angry and intimidating
Nine: PeacemakerConflict resistant, self-effacing, easy goingAvoider– resists conflict and discomfort, downplays own needs and deflects, passive aggressiveness; superficiality due to avoiding

Looking at the chart, consider what common patterns emerge for you that stop you from being vulnerable, from feeling all of the emotions, and from facing fear instead of avoiding it. Ready to tackle those fears? A coach can guide your way.

Love each other by learning about each other

With Valentine’s Day coming soon, relationship and personality frameworks are a great opportunity to learn more about all of your loved ones.

I have always been fascinated by frameworks that explain why we are similar and different to others. Both Meyers Briggs and Enneagram are frameworks—a way to communicate a lot of information in a simpler package. A framework is as good as it resonates key concepts well. Any framework emphasizes some things and ignores others. Comparing the two assessments,  the Meyer’s Briggs is more about your innate tendencies whereas Enneagram tends to come from your upbringing—early childhood experiences that caused wounds.

The Meyer’s Briggs assessment is be the most commonly used. The framework focuses on four cognitive aspects of a person—energy, information, decisions, and organization.

Yet I found that I like the Enneagram even more for understanding how we related to one another. I believe that the Enneagram can be a tool for building empathy toward others.

Reading about the nine types helped me to understand why friends and family make the choices they do, and how they see the world differently than me. Embracing this multiplicity of perspectives helps to embrace that our ways of seeing differ and the meaning we gain from experiences varies greatly.

These types of frameworks can help in all types of relationships. In business settings, they can help to dissolve conflict between team members and also help to maximize the strengths of others. In friendships, they can help to heal wounds due to ignorance or different ways of seeing. In parenting, they can help us to build up our kids and to help them navigate through their blind spots.

In romantic relationships, often one pairs with someone with a different set of strengths An entire industry of products and memes exist showing the ways that love can be expressed by enneagram type.

I’m an ENFJ—extroverted, intuitive/big picture, feeling, judging. With the enneagram, I find myself fitting with types 1 and 8–the reformer and the leader. y partner is an Enneagram 9, ISTJ. His patience and peacemaking calm my energy. His attention to details helps me to turn my big ideas into actions that can actually make a difference. I stretch him into more experiences than he might choose alone. 32 years and counting, we complete each other.

Get that stress outta your body

We may think that we are “over” something happens to us. But our bodies might never get the message. Our brains and our bodies don’t always talk to one another. To be free of a difficult event, we might need to midwife that stressor out of ourselves.

In our brains, the actual stressor is separate from the stress. The cognitive brain thinks that if a stressful situation is complete, the moment is over. But Emily & Amelia Nagoski demonstrate that the stress response does not know to stop the emotions of fear, grief, and shame.

Brain scans are teaching us that emotions are chemical reactions that affect every organ of the body. While we tend to think of ourselves as highly rational, this neuroscience research show us all to be highly emotional, with the cognitive brain not having any ability to “control” these emotions.

Stuck emotions in our bodies show up as health issues including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and infection. They lead us to numb ourselves through harmful behaviors such as overeating and substance abuse. And they work their way into our relationships when we blame others for the unsettled emotions stuck inside ourselves.

Friends, we’ve gotta get that nasty stuff out of our bodies. The scientific phrase for this process is “attending to the stress response itself.” Viewing these triggers as a gift or recognition of the work that needs to be done. It is only by moving through the dark parts of ourselves that we can feel free enough to be the fullest version of oneself.

Getting rid of the stress response involves intentionally releasing trapped energy in your body. All processes for doing so involve tapping into your body:

-Spend five minutes taking slow, deep breaths. Even better, try a version of yogic breathing.

Laugh or cry heartily until you feel a release.

-Drum with the intention of pulling heavy vibrations into lighter vibrations. You can just use your thighs and your hands to shift your energy, as Jim Donovan teaches.

Seek out a loved one to hug. Tightly. For at least thirty seconds.

Get a massage or other body work. Use a foam roller to massage yourself–notice where you have tightness, sore spots and lean into them.

Trauma is the deepest version of bodies embedding stress responses. When it feels like the inner critic cannot let go and the emotions feel much bigger than an immediate situation at hand, it might signal that an underlying trauma. If paralysis, fear, sadness feels bigger than one can handle, it is an opportunity to work with a helping professional to move through these experiences toward a path of healing.The memories of the trauma will never disappear, but they can become a part of one’s history and rather than taking hostage of the present.

Mentors Support Your Path

Professional mentors  can help to reduce isolation and increase connectedness. Through a process of mutual respect and advice, a mentor relationship provides strong ways to build community in a profession. Effective mentors speak clearly and openly about power dynamics. They can talk explicitly about bias and advise on paving the way with critical research agendas critical scholarship that focus marginalized and vulnerable populations.

It is important to form your own chosen team of support for your professional goals. No single person can fill all of the roles that a person needs. Seek out people who seem like a great fit for your personal needs.  Mentors can provide information and introductions to colleagues. They can provide information on the unspoken rules of the academy. They might speak openly regarding political guidance and social capital. Some provide opportunities; others provide a space for confidential conversations.  Mentors can take on various personalities—what I categorize as confidants, political insiders, connecters, sponsors, and hired.

Types of Mentors

ConfidantOffers confidential space for asking messy questions
Political InsiderExplains the politics and unspoken rules of an institution  
ConnecterBrings people together  
SponsorProvides formal and informal opportunities for career advancement
HiredGuarantees time and energy focused on your professional needs

Confidants allow space for asking questions. They are comfortable with emotion and a lack of clarity. They do not judge struggle but instead provide a source of support. A senior professor who also held administrative responsibilities was my “safe place to land” as an assistant professor. An older woman with a background as a guidance counselor, I could shut the door and be messy while processing a difficult conversation with a colleague. She was my advocate and I trusted my ability to share my worries and mistakes with her. 

Political insiders understand the dynamics between colleagues and help to explain the unwritten codes of an institution. Savvy, experienced colleagues, these individuals know how processes and politics truly work. I met regularly with a seniorfemale faculty member of color to understand the politics of my program, including who did not get along with whom. I shared my tenure dossier with her as well since she previously had served on the college promotion and tenure committee, and she gave me pointed advice about how to improve my work. She even advised me, “If you are going to have another kid, have it as quickly as possible. You don’t want a new baby in your fourth or fifth year.”  All of her advice was heartfelt, sincere and golden. I trusted her implicitly.

Connecters. Some mentors introduce you to others and build relationships. My former advisor from graduate school had many research assistants and little time to work with them individually. She built a community structure that included an expectation that students would train and support each other—not just current students but former students as well. She hosted a dinner each year at our discipline’s annual meeting. The dinner served as a space to build and to renew ties with the diaspora of academics who shared the experience of working at the same research center at some point in time. This group of professors continues to remain my strongest network of colleagues as I have moved through my professional career—long past the time that our former advisor retired.

Sponsors will suggest your name for important roles and vouch for you. In my first year on the tenure track, a senior professor invited me to write a chapter for the very prestigious yearbook that he was editing—far before I had established a reputation in my field. He also added me to the associate editors of his journal. He told me what business meetings and associations I should attend and then introduced me to the people that he felt I needed to know at these meetings with a strong endorsement.  I ended up on the executive committee of this association and drew upon my connections in this association for many of my outside letters.

Hired. Often mentor support is not enough to meet all of the needs you might have professionally. A career-coaching model can lead to greater persistence and retention of individuals pursuing academic careers. Coaches and academic consultants can come from a variety of paths to provide their services. One noted affiliation for coaches is membership in the International Coaching Federation (icf.org).  Academic coaches and consultants provide a sounding board, feedback, advice on publishing, research, office politics, time management, goal setting, and work life balance, among other issues. Some focus specifically on improving academic writing. Others focus on leadership for when faculty transition to formal administrative work. Others focus more on coaching—focusing on how individuals have a sense of wisdom on the inside that they can draw up on to find guidance during tough decision processes.

vision board image

Visioning what 2021 can be….

If there was every a time for making a vision board, I would suggest that now is it. You have the time. You have the desire for next year to be better than this one. Time to lean in the magic of manifesting what can be.

I’ve run Vision Board workshops all across the country. Each opportunity is a gift of seeing clients light up with possibility. I invite you to engage in this exercise yourself. Perhaps you do it with your family. Or on zoom with good friends. Light a candle. Make a favorite beverage, and drive in to possibility!

I’ll share here the nuggets of what I’ve learned about a successful vision board experience. I draw on two contradictory sources of information–Martha Beck and Jack Canfield. The distinction is how you use the tool. One view is you lean intuitively into putting images on there when you don’t even know what they are, and then keep it in the background–something to explore occasionally to see what is coming up. The second view is to very intentionally and specifically articulate your goals, and then keep that vision front and center in your life so you see it every day. Which path feels right to you? That’s the one to choose!

PART ONE: CREATIVE YOUR VISION BOARD

Create a vision board that represents who you are. Choose words, visions in your head. Write them or sketch them yourself. Or search for them online. Aim for deep resonance. Less is more.

Be as specific as possible. Watch out for what you put on a vision board because you just might get it. The more specific you are, the more you can focus on that vision. The more vague you are, you leave up to the universe to interpret your dreams. And the version of that dream might not actually be what you are hoping for. For example, you could wish for “adventure” and end up having instability in your life that is definitely an adventure but a pathway of adversity rather than excitement.

OR

Use your intuition to find images. Turn magazines upside down and just notice what colors, photos and words you are drawn to find. Or squint your eyes to filter out some of your conscious mind. Keep the brain out of it. Don’t question what you find. Just put it out there and be curious how it makes sense months from now. Focus on your breath and how your body is resonating what what is coming up for you. Martha Beck says:  “Knowing what that thing is will not help you as much as picking it without thought.” Don’t question what you know from an intuitive place. Put down all the messages–the more nonsensical the better

Building Vision Boards at Pendle Hill Conference Center, February 2020

PART TWO: USING YOUR VISION BOARD

FOCUS ON IT: Jack Kanfield says to keep that vision board front and center. Put it by your bedside, or where you brush your teeth. Check in with it daily. Visualize your dreams before you fall asleep each night. Affirm the words and the images. Picture your dreams as if they are already present.

OR DON’T FOCUS ON IT. Martha Beck says, don’t push too hard. Let the magic happen behind the scenes. Stop thinking about what you want out of life. Instead of “results-oriented energy” trust that the process is in motion. Keep that vision board in the background. But remain active with your goals. Take steps toward the dreams but also trust that the magic of the universe is also helping you along. Think if it as a set of images that brings you joy rather than dwelling on the outcomes.

rumination REQUIRES RE-CONNECTION

Clients often ask me how to know when it is the inner critic and when it is your own inner truth. This struggle can be especially problematic with academics, whom are trained to over use their brains. An inner critic voice often has some of these properties: mean, harsh, stuck in binaries, judging and demeaning, repetitive, persistent, draws on previous failures, sounds like critical people from your past, creates feelings of anxiety and worry, and/or sounds like perfectionism.

We can know our inner critic is spinning when we can’t stop the thought in our minds. The struggle is to stop the replay “tapes in our heads”—to review difficult moments in our lives over and over, as if doing so will change the outcome, or allow us to say the “right” thing this time.Known as rumination, we can obsess over these struggles and stay stuck in the past. We can never change what happened. Rumination just keeps us feeling miserable. Ongoing rumination raises anxiety, which interferes with problem solution.

Sometimes the warning of inner critics were important for former times of our life but are no longer valid. Perhaps we lived in times of physical or emotional danger. We carry with us alarm bells into newer, safer situations. Thank these alarm bells when you notice them. Acknowledge their purpose in your life and also intentionally notice the skills and the supports that you now have that no longer make them needed.

The most central query when unsure is to ask if that voice and that message is lifting you up and giving you energy, or tearing you down. Our inner nature is never to destroy ourselves. An inner critic voice tends to feel harsh, mean, negative, binary, and focuses on “not enough,”

Another tactic is to tap into our bodies, which possess innate ways of knowing.Tapping into knowledge below our chins can be a great way of discerning what is our deeper truth. The truth within ourselves is much bigger than our minds. In fact, our bodies give us great insights all of the time that we tend to take for granted. Consider how different parts of our bodies help us to know truth. Our hands may be shaking during an important conversation.

We know something is true from a “gut feeling.” Our throat constricts when we feel silenced. These sensations are driven by the stimulation of the vagus nerve. The largest organ in the autonomic nervous system.  that communicates with the threat, lungs, heart, stomach, liver, pancreas,  and gut. Called the “soul nerve” , the vagus nerve informs our consciousness the ways we are just beginning to understand. It also is part of the process that tells the body when to fight, flight or freeze. Much of these signals are out of conscious awareness. Yet, with practice, attending to our gut feelings can help us to discern  messages our body are sending to us, as well as to intentionally calm messages to reduce stress response.

We can step away from rumination by reconnecting below the neck–through drawing our attention back to our bodies and the emotional reactions within them. Tara Brach refers to the process as RAIN—Recognizing the emotion, Allow its Presence. Investigate with curiosity, Nurture with Compassion.  The process acknowledges the feeling but meets it with compassion rather than rejection. If we catch ourselves repeating a thought or problem without resolution, our first step is to notice it. It does not help to berate ourselves for that as well. Instead, we can just notice, “There it is again.”

Our next step is to exit the “negative memory network” in which negativity feeds upon itself and grows. Rumination tends to be triggered by mood. We can recall positive times when we faced similar struggles and ask our support network to help us to remember times when we succeeded.   To pull ourselves away from our tapes, it helps to take in the present moment.

Mel Robbinshttps://melrobbins.com/five-elements-5-second-rule/ suggests a similar pattern of disruption by counting backwards from 5. It has to be backwards, she says, and by 1, we are in the present moment and the tape is cut off. We are conscious and able to make our own choices of what we choose to think in that moment. We can then choose a positive image or concept to replace the negative one.

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