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Enneagram Fixations, Grief and The roller-coaster

Updated: Jun 28, 2023



In the aftermath of a tragedy or event that shakes us to our core, we often say we experience a “roller-coaster of emotions.” But perhaps that doesn't mean what we've always assumed it to me. Sure...ups and downs but let's have some fun and throw a little science in the story. But first, some Enneagram!


The Enneagram uncovered so much about what goes on behind the scenes when I began learning about my type — fears, motivations and a whole list of aspects of the way I process my thinking. But one of the most valuable treasures I uncovered in this self-excavation was in understanding why I responded to a particular tragic event the way I did and why, after the ups and downs, I, eventually, had to stop, be still, face grief and process it.


Each type, each person, processes grief differently but we all have an unconscious way of responding, not only to grief, but life itself, that the enneagram calls our ‘fixation’. Just like we all have emotional patters, we have thought patterns or ‘cognitive fixations’ that we have utilized throughout our lives. These are habits of the mind that we do without thinking. Thus, they are habitual. They can be constructive or destructive depending on the circumstance but becoming aware breaks the unconscious habit and gives us the opportunity to chose how we process and respond.


Ginger Lapid-Bogda of The Enneagram In Business, states the fixation for the type 7 is "planning; the mental process by which the mind goes into “hyper gear,” moving in rapid succession from one thing to another."


Understanding the basic fear of the Enneagram 7 which is being deprived and trapped in {emotional} pain, it makes perfect sense that the subconscious copes and reacts by planning because planning takes us away from the present and into the future where pain, sadness and grief don't exist!


Speaking of roller-coasters, as a kid, and truthfully, even into midlife, I loved the thrill of a roller-coaster ride. The loop the loops, the corkscrews, and as a teenager in the 1970’s, I got to experience an inversion which is where the track turns riders upside-down and then returns them to an upright position. But my favorite part of the ride was the slow creep up to the “first hill” which is always the highest point of the track. It is this part of the ride where I heard the click, click, clicking sound made by the metal chain that pulls the cars up the hill as it struggles against the force of gravity. Something about that sound was as anxiety-inducing as the climb itself. Yet, we anticipate and even welcome the fear because we know it’s the precursor to the plunge and that adrenaline rush.


Looking out over the edge of the seat and seeing the entire park from every direction, the people who look like scurrying ants, feeling the heart pounding anticipation of the sudden drop is beyond exhilarating. It's why we ride!

But let’s look at what really happens on a roller-coaster. Roller-coaster trains have no engine or power source of their own. Instead, they rely on a supply of potential energy that is converted to kinetic energy.


Gravity + Inertia = The Thrill of the Hill!


The underlying principle of all roller-coasters is the law of conservation of energy, which describes how energy can neither be lost nor created; energy is only transferred from one form to another. At the top of the first hill, a car's energy is almost entirely gravitational potential energy. This is the maximum energy that the car will ever have during the ride (teachengineering.org). But it is still potential, meaning it hasn’t been converted to kinetic energy which, very simply put, is energy in motion. When the cars are released from the chain and begin coasting down the hill, potential energy transforms into kinetic energy until they reach the bottom of the hill. As the cars ascend the next hill, some kinetic energy is transformed back into potential energy.


In roller-coaster language kinetic energy is when all the speed is felt. So to recap, cars on the roller-coaster move fastest at the bottoms of the hills and slowest at the highest point.


I LOVE SCIENCE!!


This gave me a different perspective on the phrase “roller-coaster of emotions.” We talk about the highs and lows of life, the ups and downs, but I have to be honest and confess that it’s always seemed like the highs equated to the best parts, the ones where we experience the thrills, where all the good energy is felt. Conversely, I assumed the lows are where we bottom out and have no energy. But science always reveals the truth.


In spite of the fact that I loved the climb up to that first hill on the roller-coaster, anticipating the sudden plunge and the speed that accompanied it, in the very long days that followed the personal tragedy I experienced, it seemed all I could do to pull myself from one moment to the next. I worked hard to resist the forces of gravity that threatened to pull me down until suddenly, it seemed, all the potential energy created from resistance had been converted to kinetic energy. I had a sudden burst of energy and was in motion!


I felt like I had to get busy and fill my mind with ideas and projects that required action, anything to keep me from being still with the reality. I developed a kind of frenetic energy, moving fast but not really accomplishing much, filling my days with uncontrolled activity. My fixation of planning, as a way of escape, took over.


But we cannot continue to try and outrun, out positively spin, or re-frame a situation by finding a silver lining that just isn't there, for the rest of our lives. At some point, just as the force of forward momentum slowly depreciates throughout the roller-coaster ride, as the brakes begin to be applied causing the car to decelerate and, eventually, come to a full stop, our body will demand the same.


What goes up, comes down and soon the ride was over. I had to exit the platform where the straps that held me in would release their hold and set me free to walk on solid ground. I walked away, neither up nor down, finding my direction, healing one step at a time.




*For more information on the Enneagram contact me at Denee@TheUnfoldingEnneagram.com


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