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Why Nines Appreciate

November 19, 2018   General Enneagram   

Enneatype Nine describes the amiable, agreeable person who seems comfortable with the flow of life, yet can resent feeling marginalized within it. Nines are said to have adopted a desperate strategy: suppressing their own desires and interests in order to avoid causing trouble, trying to keep everyone getting along smoothly, so they needn’t fear being abandoned themselves. Their pursuit of peace and comfort has been described as a spacing out from life’s challenges, involving sloth, stubbornness, narcotization, obsession, and passive-aggression. Who would want to be characterized in such a way? It can’t serve anyone well to view personality types in such negative, judgmental terms, and Nines often have particular difficulty with that. Labeling people with deadly sins or psychiatric diagnoses actually strikes me as more a symptom of our underlying problem than a solution. If we could just feel better about ourselves in a deep and meaningful way, that would seem more likely to inspire beneficial interactions with others. Indeed I think such an aspiration already lies at the core of type patterns, and needs only to be recognized and pursued in a more conscious and authentic way.

Fear of conflict or abandonment doesn’t seem to be the key to understanding type Nine anyway: anger plays a more central role than fear in the patterns of the body triad, and Nines actually say they worry just as much about being dependent upon or controlled by others. They’re often unsure whether to prefer companionship or solitude. So I think we need to be appropriately skeptical of traditional explanations of the Enneatypes, and of how they’re constructed: analyzing what seems wrong with a Nine’s approach to life and how they could behave more appropriately or virtuously instead isn’t necessarily the best approach. Perhaps Nines are uncomfortable with conflict simply because it means someone will lose, having their concerns undervalued or overruled, and they hate how that feels themselves. Their warmth and openness might be not a sign of desperate need for connection, but the approach to others that feels profoundly good and right to them.

We won’t fully understand type patterns, how they arise and what continues to drive them, until further subconscious material has been brought into awareness. If we bear in mind that humans aren’t purely rational and refocus on feelings about being appreciated by others rather than a need for acceptance, and on relationship rather than individual survival, we may arrive at a more complete picture of the Nine pattern. Feelings shape our perceptions and drive our behavior, even (perhaps especially) when we’re unaware of them. Relationship is crucial because human beings aren’t isolated individuals struggling to survive, but highly social by nature and deeply interconnected, especially in early childhood when personality forms. Bad feelings about relationship can persist for a lifetime, and unlike fear and other more familiar emotions, they don’t motivate us to seek what’s good for us; in fact, they discourage us from doing so.

The Relational Problem: Feeling Appreciated

One way in which we can come to feel bad about ourselves in relationship is not feeling warmly appreciated, not sensing that others are actually glad we’re here. This is a central painful memory of a Nine’s childhood, and so persistent that it remains a recurrent theme for them as adults. Dependent and vulnerable for a long time, young children internalize bad feelings that arise in moments of relational difficulty, coming to feel that they themselves are somehow bad. This becomes a problem in its own right, changing the entire experience of life: reducing inner awareness, diminishing openness to exploring the world, diverting energy into compulsive patterns, and lowering expectations – especially of relationship.

Not feeling appreciated leaves you feeling angry and oddly lost, wondering whether you really have meaningful relationships at all, or are just obliged to go through the motions for others’ sake. People who don’t seem glad you’re here must simply feel stuck with you somehow. You don’t so much fear abandonment as feel so unimportant that if you were to be inadvertently left behind, it could be some time before anyone noticed. This is deeply unsettling. Nines may appear calm but tend to have several trains of thought going at once, which can make it hard to focus. Self-doubt reflexively rejects whatever might at first feel right to them, leading to confusion even in simple matters like directions or spelling. While others around them are quicker to decide or seem more certain, Nines need time to sort out what feels right to them, and can feel rushed into accepting someone else’s proposal. Feeling a frustrated need to live their own life, they’re continually torn between seeking relationship, where everything seems to revolve around what others want, and needing their own space.

Nines can begin to forget the possibility of meaningful choice, the need even to envision alternatives, and keep finding that they’ve fallen into just going with the flow without recalling quite how, allowing things to happen and hoping for the best. They don’t want to “be a burden” to others because they dislike feeling like unwanted baggage, and so are easily irritated with anyone who does complain or make trouble to get what they want. Chronic resentment can make them feel tired and resistant to any demands they feel on their time and energy, even things they actually wanted to do once they’re on a list or schedule. Nines tend to withdraw from unpleasantness, keeping a low profile and seeking comfort in familiar platitudes, and whenever this fails they get even more upset about being upset. But retreating into a harmonious inner world makes it harder for others to enjoy connecting with them, as they yearn for. That missing feeling is a recurrent discomfort that periodically ambushes Nines who want to feel appreciated and included. In fact the more appreciative another person may seem, the more awkward or uncomfortable the situation can feel. It’s still hard for Nines to really feel appreciated even when they now are and know it should feel good, and that dissonance can make the whole idea of being appreciated feel strangely unsettling, perhaps even undesirable.

Exercise: To get a sense of this effect, try spending some time deliberately thinking “People aren’t really glad I’m here, and wouldn’t notice if I left.” Most people are likely to recognize having felt this way occasionally, and Nines will have an entire life story about it. It may help to remember specific instances from childhood, and really wallow in them. Notice how this feels in your body (especially the upper torso), how you carry yourself, and what it’s like to interact with others while this is going on. Does it seem likely that your being here will matter to them? Do you really want to find out? Once you’ve had enough of all that, try the opposite attitude for a while instead: “People are glad I’m here” – you can even add “and they’ll miss me when I leave.” You can imagine a good parent long ago saying “I’m glad you’re here”, or even say this to yourself today. The good feeling associated with these words may be much less familiar and take a while to find at first, but once you begin to feel it, explore what it’s like in your body, and how it affects even a casual encounter with someone else. With the right intention it’s possible to make this shift from bad to good experience of relationship, at least for a short time. Regularly cultivating this positive feeling is a longer-term project that many people will find worthwhile, especially Nines.

The Idealization: Becoming the Appreciator

Feeling bad about ourselves is painful enough in adulthood. For young children, such a conflict with their own natural vitality must be unbearable, so I suspect they intuitively try to find some way to be good again, as the Enneatype patterns demonstrate: focusing on an aspect of goodness and identifying themselves with it. This idealization becomes the core of the personality, allowing a child to continue to develop a positive sense of self. Perhaps Nines were particularly sensitive to not feeling appreciated and welcomed, or this was the most problematic experience for them at some critical time. In any case, Nines try to feel good about themselves again by striving to embody this very quality of openness and warmth: becoming someone who appreciates other people. They know the importance of this from their own experience. Appreciate others as you would have them appreciate you: this is a moral commitment, not a strategy for getting appreciated yourself. The Golden Rule seems to come naturally to young children, in nine specific ways. This is why our type pattern involves such a feeling of rightness, and we remain so attached to it.

Unfortunately, adopting such a nice idealization is an abandonment of the genuine self as somehow bad. Being a good appreciator allows Nines to feel good about themselves again much of the time, although it can never really make up for not feeling appreciated. They feel such joy and excitement in other people’s company that they can begin to miss them even before they leave. At its best, a Nine’s appreciation is a profound way of connecting with someone they feel close to, and helping them feel welcome and included. But pursued automatically as the type idealization, appreciation can become a sort of compulsion instead and can easily be overdone, when Nines aren’t actually connecting with others spontaneously and authentically. They can become so focused on the positive that they no longer acknowledge real problems, or so absorbed with taking in a good impression of someone that they lose awareness of themselves. (Helen Palmer has called this behavior “merging”.) People who sense the difference may feel uncomfortable and wonder what’s going on, perhaps beginning to suspect that a Nine is insincere or has some ulterior motive. In return, Nines can feel rejected when others don’t respond with appropriate pleasure. The world can seem cold and unwelcoming.

When describing their strengths, Nines use words like “approachable” and “open”. They like to think they have a special gift for making others feel comfortable and welcome, and congratulate themselves for doing this so well, because it’s what feeling good about themselves has come to depend upon. Yet a type idealization doesn’t apply to oneself: Nines have difficulty feeling joy in being themselves, just as we all neglect ourselves in exactly the way we consider most important. Because human beings are so complex, type idealizations also tend to generalize broadly: a Nine could joyfully appreciate anything in life, birdsong, a sunrise, even a closet full of things they don’t really need but would never throw away, continually trying to make the world more appreciative and inclusive. But performing this idealization never relieves the bad feeling that drives it.

Exercise: This particular idealization of appreciation won’t resonate for people of other types as it does for Nines who live by it, and may even be a challenge to imagine. If you’re a Nine, you can become more aware of its effect by spending some time consciously thinking “I’m a really good appreciator, better than others”, and if you like you can add “I can make anyone feel welcome and included.” Notice where your attention goes because of this, and what it’s like to interact with others with this motivation. Once you’ve had enough of that, try a simpler, unconditional feeling instead: “I’m a good person.” Again this isn’t just something to say to yourself but a feeling to find in your body; if these words don’t lead you to it you may find others that work better (“I’m not bad”, “I didn’t do anything wrong”, “I deserved to be appreciated”) or a breathing practice that helps. To reverse the core self-abandonment of type, it’s essential to learn to feel yourself and your own goodness directly, not merely imagine or evaluate it. This will be another ongoing practice, perhaps a more challenging one. Once you do have this feeling, notice how you feel in your body and in the world, the quality of your attention, and how this will affect even a casual encounter with someone else. Naturally, appreciating others may still be a useful skill, but it can be used appropriately in a more spontaneous and authentic way when you feel more present.

The Appreciation Triad

Sixty years ago, psychologist Carl Rogers proposed that an effective therapeutic relationship required what he called “unconditional positive regard”: warm acceptance of a client without judgment. In the more intimate context of early childhood, as a spontaneous joyful feeling, I think this is actually the territory of type Nine and the body triad generally. Before worrying about finer qualities of relationship, about love and caring or empathy and understanding, we face a question so basic it can be a challenge even to express, something like Do you feel how wonderful it is that I’m here? This is the starting point for meaningful relationship: enjoyment of someone’s presence, and positive regard for them in return. Children need to feel this quality of appreciation from parents in order to feel wanted and welcome. The body types grow angry when they don’t feel this, just as the heart types feel distress at lack of affection, and the head types fear not being understood and empathized with. The manifestations of appreciation range from respect (the particular Eight preoccupation) to benevolent concern (for Ones); the core issue for the Nine pattern is the simple welcoming and enjoyment of a child’s presence, with all the possibilities it holds.

Appreciation isn’t a matter of judgment, principle, or even affection. It begins with a simple feeling of joy and wonder, openness to another person who is different from you in unexpected ways, and to whatever arises in the moment between you. I’m glad you’re here: words may not fully capture this connection, so just imagine how young children would feel this positive energy in a parent’s gaze and smile – or sometimes, feel its absence. (Parents who missed such feelings in their own childhood may not convey them very well.) The Enneatype patterns don’t merely create awkwardness in relationship; they arise in reaction to early relational difficulty, which they then perpetuate. Feeling bad about ourselves makes it hard to take in what we most want and need, and our lives become shaped by accommodations and compensations for that. And then we can make things worse by judging and blaming ourselves for repeating such a frustrating experience, instead of finding our way back to the simple enjoyment of being alive.

Human beings are so social by nature that other people are our primary environment, especially during so many years of dependent childhood, and our early experience of relationship colors every view we develop of “life” and “the world”, even spirituality. Feeling that we can simply be here, and others will welcome and appreciate us, is so crucial that we would otherwise feel quite lost. This is the peace and comfort that Nines long for and deny themselves, often seeking various substitutes instead. And at the same time, Nines try to appreciate others, because that’s their idea of what a good person does.

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Copyright © 2018, Eric R. Meyer. The first part of Exercise 1 is modeled on one used by Karen DeHart at IEA 2016, the rest on elements of Integrative Body Psychotherapy. More articles in this series

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