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Enneagram development: doing an opposite

Most often, when we think of changing, we think, “I must do the opposite of what I normally do.” Not only is this thinking putting us in a position of a huge stretch, doing the exact opposite of what we currently do (or think or feel) may not get us what we want. In addition, this notion – doing the opposite – can actually limit our options, choices, and possibilities.

First, here are some ideas about opposites. The opposite of something may be an extreme version, just as extreme as what we are currently doing. This may get us somewhere else, but not necessarily where we want to go. Take the example of the shower. When the shower water is too hot, most people turn the cold nob and guess what? The shower then becomes way too cold. Then we turn the handle back to hot, and the shower becomes too hot once again.

Opposites limit the thinking and possibility range, and here are some examples: What is the opposite of North? Most people say South as the one and only choice. But what about West, East, Northeast, Southeast, and more? Now we have many more possibilities to choose from.

Here are some examples about development by moving to an opposite, not the opposite, for our growth and transformation.

Ones usually work, in different ways, on not being so perfectionistic (about self, others, systems) at some point in their development. The opposite of having such high standards would be to work on eliminating these standards and accepting everything. This might be nice but is not realistic. And what would the world be like with no standards by which to hold ourselves or others accountable? This opposite doesn’t really work very well. But what about these opposites: (1) selecting five standards that are really essential to you, then relaxing the rest, or (2) relaxing all the standards by progressive increments of 5%, or (3) holding standards at a high level in certain arenas of your life and cutting them by 50% in other arenas? And there are many more possibilities!

Twos usually work to be more attuned to self-care and less focused on others. This is really a good idea, but the opposite, to focus on self rather than others, is not such a good thing. For one, most Twos have a hidden or not-so-hidden hedonistic side, which can act as a self-care surrogate. This can be self-care gone awry. And going to the opposite – focus on self and not others – is so extreme that most Twos won’t be able to do this anyway. But how about these possible opposites that are not the exact opposite of self-care: (1) every time you do anything for anyone else, do something for yourself, too, or (2) each time you feel inclined to do something for another, teach them how to do it themselves (but ask first if they want to learn how to do this) and then do something nice for yourself as a reward, or (3) each time you do something for another without being asked to do it, wait and ask someone to do something for you. And there are many more possibilities!

Threes usually need to work on being rather than doing, but this is usually so foreign to them they don’t know what being means or they try to do being. Doing being is the opposite of being. But here are some things Threes can do (opposites that are not the exact opposite) to get into being: (1) interview five people different from themselves about what being means to them and what they experience when they are in a state of being, or (2) walk slowly and just pay attention to their breath and pattern of breathing, at first for three minutes, then increasing the time by one minute, or (3) don’t worry about what being is; just do something they enjoy so much that they lose themselves and don’t experience any efforting at all. And there are many more possibilities!

Fours usually work on not feeling good about themselves or feeling deficient in some way. They then think they need to suddenly start feeling good about themselves or start feeling superior rather than deficient. Both of these approaches are exactly too much cold water after too much hot. Here some other opposites – not exact opposites – that might work better: (1) do something service oriented in your community so your focus is on other people and less of self, or (2) breathe into your chest area in soft, rhythmic breaths to create equilibrium; in other words, use the body rather than the mind or heart to deal with this, or (3) simply do something terribly silly and not at all serious to shift the energy you are circulating internally. And there are many more possibilities!

Fives need development that helps them to become more completely engaged, to share more of themselves, and to be more fully present. Of course, the thought of this is very scary to Fives, plus, how do they do it? The exact opposite would involve being completely aware of their own feelings at almost all times, being fully in their bodies at most moments, and knowing what they are thinking at the same time. This is near impossible for anyone, much less a Five who have even less experience with it. But here are some other opposites, which Fives can do really well: (1) breathe into their bodies by engaging in a daily breath practice, or (2) try to share incremental information about themselves or their feelings with an increasing number of people – two on the first day, three people on the second day, four people on the third day, and so forth, or (3) go on a feeling search to locate where in their bodies they experience different feelings. And there are many more possibilities!

Sixes usually recognize that they can benefit from development, but where to start? Trusting their own authority instead of looking to outside authorities, but then also doubting authorities, just as they might doubt themselves? Is their development about doubt, but then this applies more to self-preserving Sixes because social subtype Sixes rely on rules to ease their doubt and one-to-one Sixes may not feel at all doubtful in a obvious way? Sixes go from hot to cold, a thing and its exact opposite, very easily and quickly so it is highly desirable to choose from an opposite, not the opposite. Here are some ideas: (1) take a nap after taking a nice warm bath or shower and some relaxing tea to give your mind a mini-break; this is an inward opposite, or (2) take a walk without any particular destination and think of nothing so there are no worries, no doubts, no thoughts, only just following your inner instincts about where to go with each step, or (3) use your breath and follow your breathing, suggesting to yourself that you can trust your breath because it continues, no matter what. And there are many more possibilities!

Sevens usually recognize that their developmental need is to focus for increasingly extended periods of time on just one thing at a time. This is an unusual form of torture for Sevens – to stay focused on one thing. And, staying focused on one thing is the exact opposite of the Seven’s tendency to juggle as many things at once as possible. What about choosing an opposite? Here are some ideas: (1) focus on three things only for 10 minutes, or (2) focus on two new things at the same time, but only two, and stay as focused on each of them as possible; this is divided, not split attention, or (3) focus on everything for 10 minutes, then focus on one thing for 10 minutes, then focus on everything for 10 minutes, then just one thing for 10 minutes. And there are many more possibilities!

Eights need to focus on allowing themselves to be more vulnerable and not always so big, bold and brave. But how do you swing from hiding vulnerability to exposing it? This is like moving from cold to hot in one second. There are, however, alternatives that are opposites but not exact opposites. Here are some examples: (1) breathe into your heart gently and softly for five minutes three times per day to open up your feeling responses, or (2) breathe into and through your whole body and practice this so it becomes very natural to you; this increases your receptivity, or (3) practice asking – not demanding or expecting – someone to support you. And there are many more possibilities!

Nines need to get in touch with their central sense of being and self, and this includes their desires, feelings, and preferences. This also includes acknowledging and expressing their anger. From their normal cool to hot is quite extreme, so how do Nines go about this without doing the exact opposite of what is familiar and comfortable for them? Here are some ideas: (1) invite someone to lunch or dinner and suggest where to go rather than asking them where they want to go, or (2) telling someone they care about how deeply their affection and care is; remember that sharing of deep feelings doesn’t just have to be about anger, or (3) purposely separating themselves from someone or something they want to merge with or blend with, even if this separation is only for a few minutes, thus helping them choose a separate sense of self. And there are many more possibilities!

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