When the Lights Go Out
When individuals drop to Level 7 and below, they are fully leaving the track of reality, in fact, you could say they are off the rails, having lost contact with objective reality. Here they act out the distorted versions of their innate gifts and become destructive to themselves and others. Desperate to the core, they are ‘driven’ by the type-specific defensiveness of their personality type, hoping beyond hope that this will somehow head them in the right direction. It doesn’t. They have entered the realm of mental illness and once here, need the support and guidance of others to find their way back. Unable to comprehend what is real and true, they will continue their slide down into ever-deepening mental illness, despair and hopelessness unless support arrives. (The Eight becomes abusively aggressive, the Three, deceitfully self-promoting and destructive of other’s dreams, the Two, more manipulate and dishonest in service of love, the One, vitriolic and hateful in service of integrity, the Seven, insatiably self-centered and hedonistically driven in the name of joy and freedom.)
Level 7: The Level of Violation—Deepening addiction
At Level 7, individuals are mired in active addiction and often enter recovery through the vehicle of a treatment center, jail, or an intervention that alerts them to the reality of their life, and the need for emergency assistance. All the types at this level are in a state of full-blown addiction, be it to a substance, an activity, or the particular type-specific trance they are taken by. Feeling they have been violated and abused by life, they feel fully justified in being abusive and violent to others. In response to their intense suffering and fear, they attack self or others for relief. Aggressiveness at L6 turns into harming self and others physically, emotionally, and verbally at Level 7. Mental illness begins at Level 7 and deepens at Level 8 and 9.
At Level 7 and below, the individual, caught in cross-hairs of addiction, has glimpses of the horror he or she is sitting in, but often cannot hold and digest these impressions, nor has the power and clarity to move in a direction of true support. In the face of actions that harm others, their ability to see what they have done, to absorb the real consequences of their actions, is at zero. As in, “No one is home.” And yet, if one has taken a foray to Level 7, one might remember that in spite of being checked out, one can still formulate stories, rationalizations and denials that appear sane to oneself. Everyone else observing can see these distortions like huge monoliths, but the individual caught at Level 7, in the face of death or utter destruction, does not. At Level 8 mental illness deepens and we see compulsion and delusion gripping the individual. At Level 9 pathological destruction occurs in one form or another, be it towards self or others.
Understanding the Movement Up and Down the Levels
Everyone has a center of gravity located in one of the Levels of Development. That is, each of us has a customary level of awareness and sensitivity, or center of gravity that we live at, where we feel like we are being ‘our self’. During the course of the day, our awareness (but not our center of gravity) moves up and down from this central position based on what is occurring within us. Let’s say one’s ‘awareness’ or ‘presence’ or level of health (remember, the Levels measure our degree of our ‘presence” or ‘awareness’), is located at Level 4. Here, our personality patterns are stable and we’re not creating much mischief for ourselves or others. We have a comfortable social role that we utilize to navigate reality. Our negative, unconscious manifestations are operating in a manageable fashion. We can comfortably navigate life and get along with the people in our lives. Then we go to a workshop or retreat and become relaxed and undefended. Suddenly, we experience a clarity of mind that we really like. Everything seems more evident and understandable. We experience deeper and more heartfelt connections with others around us. We notice how much better, awake, alive and clear we feel. Our awareness (but not our center of gravity) has moved up to the higher levels (perhaps Level 2 or 3) during the retreat, and we feel good, as ease, self-confident, trusting ourselves and our impressions, and comfortable in our own skin. We feel grounded and have the strong sense of knowing who we are and what we are about. In this relaxed, more present state, we may have deep insights into actions we took that harmed others. We sense and see the effect we’ve had on others in our life, and perhaps realize how we’ve been checked out and missing what is sacred and precious in those we love. We prepare to make heartfelt amends to them.
We notice when we return home that things that typically irritated us or set us off, don’t seem to activate us. We’re nicer to our loved ones, and it comes naturally. Where we were feeling frustrated and filled with judgment towards a loved one, we now feel open, compassion-ate and less disturbed. Our ability to understand and feel empathy for them is enhanced and we like this! It seems that we can be with whatever arises in a healthy and constructive way, and we are not taken be taken by our habitual and often not useful reactions. We have more freedom to be with whatever we encounter, to stay open and receptive, to see options more easily. But we also notice that in a very short period of time, perhaps a week or so after we’ve returned from the workshop, that we’ve lost the positive traces of the workshop inside us, and we’re back to our normal experience of reality (Level 4). Our openness and well-being constricts. We had the good grace of experiencing Level 2 or 3, and now are back at the center of gravity point, Level 4. We might even experience this return to our ‘home’ level as “I feel like myself again.” You find yourself relaxing into a familiar, but less alive state of being.
Then, life being life, we have an upsetting conflict with someone we love and we get angry and defended, and become brittle and restricted inside. Life does not feel good and it seems that all our emotional buttons are easily ignited. We overreact, take things personally, and react to control others and our environment in the type-specific manner of our Enneagram type. In the moment we can’t access what usually makes us feel happy, or at least, normal. In essence, we’ve dropped down to Level 5 or 6. When we’re out of the conflict and our tension releases, we return again to Level 4, our default setting.
Each of us knows what it’s like to be clearer and more aware on a given day, or to be foggy, irritated and confused, and that during the course of the day we see that we go through a wide range of responsiveness, from being awake and clear, to upset and reactive, depending on what is occurring around us. Real spiritual transformation is about moving our center of gravity up to the higher levels, to the clearer and more present states of awareness, so that a deeper and more expanded state of awakeness is stabilized within us. For example, as we work on our spiritual transformation in recovery we notice over time that we are a lot calmer on a daily basis than when we first arrived in recovery. This represents a qualitative movement to a higher level of awareness or presence. We’ve moved our center of gravity up, perhaps from Level 7 to Level 5. Although we can swing back to Level 6 or 7 temporarily, we don’t live there. And on good days we may experience Level 4 or Level 3. Let’s take a look at how addiction and relapse operate in reference to the Levels of Development.
Addiction Recovery and the Levels of Development
When individuals arrive in addiction recovery their center of gravity is often located at Level 6 or 7. Locked in a narrow type-specific personality prison, their range of choices for meeting their needs are small, repetitious and rarely satisfying (which increases their fear and despair). Their substance of choice has been the vehicle that has given them fleeting moments of joy, pleasure, and happiness, but by the time addiction is in full bloom, the positive benefits of their substance use have vanished. Now they use substances to feel numb and less anxious, which in turn, causes more unhappiness, anxiety, and despair. The worst of their personality type is fully in control. Stuck at Level 7, their heart has shut down (numbed and hardened) which blinds them to what really nurtures and expands their heart, and destroys their capacity to sense the hearts of others. Heart-dead, they take actions that injure those they love while being utterly unable to see how they have hurt them. With my heart shut off, I can’t sense that my inattention to my children is devastating them. I can’t ‘feel’ how my angry words cut through my partner’s heart. I can’t feel the true heartbreak of my disconnection with those I love. I can’t feel the true heartbreak of the destruction I’m causing myself. I think I’m whistling past death as death tightens its grip around my soul.
My mind, capable of perceiving reality with curiosity and intelligence, constricts to the ever-hardened certainty that my view on reality is the “correct” and “only” view. I perceive life out of the fear-filled, deluded window of Level 6 and 7. I become more certain of my delusions, saying, “I don’t have a drinking or drugging problem; you’re the one with the problems!”—which is maddening and heart-breaking for loved ones. I’m possessed by a consuming selfishness regarding what I want, need or deserve (Level 6 and 7 manifestations = me, me, me!) while inundated with bone-cracking, low self-esteem that I am either crushed by, or transform into a stance of crazy superiority. It’s as if I’m returned to a raw state of early childhood and am solely concerned with my singular needs. In reality, I’ve shut down and can’t sense the needs or feelings of others nor my own.
Lost in the deluded states of Level 6 and 7 it appears to others that I don’t care about my family, my children, my jobs, or my health. Truth is I am overwhelmed (which translates to a heart, mind and soul that are closed and frozen like a fist) and unable to comprehend the truth of my situation. I have one goal: to end or numb my suffering. If I am fortunate and get sober, you will witness the terrible, heart-breaking remorse I feel for the abandonment of all whom I love. As reality comes on-line (my objective experience of what has happened in my life), I will drop to my knees in horror, shame and heart-breaking sorrow. I truly could not see what I was creating.
At Level 6 and 7 the individual has fallen down the rabbit-hole of psychological awareness and can barely perceive any facet of reality with clarity or precision. This is the horrid nature of addiction. The further one falls down the Levels of Health, the more likely that some kind of devastation will have to intercede to stop the descent, and to hopefully inspire or guide them to get help. Often people do get into recovery via the loss of everything they care about. But it is by no means the only way.
Addicted individuals (or substance abusing individuals) are not easy to help. They are defensive, reactive, and blame others for their suffering (The nature of being at Level 6 & 7). As individuals who have attempted to get loved ones into addiction treatment will attest, the addicted individual is often tenaciously resistant to their attempts to help them. And for good reason— they are unable to embrace and ‘see,’ ’sense,’ or ‘feel’ what is real—that their life is in serious danger and they are destroying everything they care about. However, if they get clean and sober and are living in an environment of support and compassion, they will start to relax their defensiveness and get glimpses of reality. By not acting out their impulses to shame, blame, judge or hurt another or themselves, and by staying sober and clean and following a path of 12-Step Recovery (or another spiritual path), they will begin the process of truly seeing and healing their suffering. And with continued inner work, they will begin to make the ascent to the higher levels of health. This is where the gift of the Enneagram intervenes. As they understand the psychological terrain of their type, and what is required to ascend the Levels of Health indicated by their type, they begin to take the type-specific corrective actions that support this growth. In addition, they will develop the awareness and skill to disidentify with the magnetic habits of their personality type, which brings further clarity and growth.
Michael Naylor, M.Ed, CCPC, LADC, CCS, is a faculty member of the Enneagram Institute, a Certified Professional Coach, an Authorized Riso-Hudson Enneagram Teacher, and IEA accredited teacher, and a Licensed Addictions Therapist. He teaches in the U.S.A and coaches internationally.