Updated: Jan 28
(The Enneagram is a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of 9 interconnected personality types. Combining traditional wisdom with modern psychology, it is a powerful tool for understanding ourselves and the people in our lives. The system offers in-depth insight to individuals, groups and collectives. Each of the 9 types of the Enneagram has a distinct set of underlying beliefs and motivations that result in 9 different sets of habits of mind and emotion. Understanding these patterns results in deeper self- awareness as well as greater understanding and compassion for others. The Enneagram is taught and used around the globe both for personal development and in professional organizations. Hundreds of companies around the U.S. and more around the globe are finding that this tool leads to higher workplace satisfaction, productivity, conflict resolution and collaboration. The International Enneagram Association has been pivotal in helping establish credibility and community throughout the US and to countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Egypt, France, Sweden to name a few.) No Girls Allowed! That’s what I interpreted it to mean when I read the sign...”Boys Diving Platform.” I’ll get to that story in a minute but first, let’s talk about Stances. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the Enneagram.
Before I ever knew what the Enneagram was or, as I would learn much later in life, that I’m a type 7, it was easy to see that, as a child, I had a certain type of energy. It was evident from the “get-go”, as my mom can attest. All parents observe a certain nature in their child before they even become toddlers. Children learn early how to navigate having their needs and demands met. Often we give language to these energies, not always in a way that encourages the child’s innate being or with understanding of what’s behind the actions. This is precisely why I am so grateful for the language of the Enneagram that helps us have insight and understanding of the fears and motivations we each carry beneath our personalities.
As parents, grandparents, teachers and others with influence, we are often encouraged to not try and assign a particular enneagram type to children and while I agree with that advice, recognizing Stances can be such a gift of compassion to the child. Simply stated, Stances are the ways we interact with others to meet our needs. However, learning to observe how we take in the information of the world, how we process that information, and where we are lacking in our processing isn’t simple. How could it be? We are complex beings and no two humans experience life the same. Information begins flooding our brains before we even emerge from the womb and in fact, science shows that around 40 days in utero, the first electrical brain activity begins to occur. We come into existence pre-wired with encoded bits of information including our instinctual desire for survival. These bits of data help us develop our sense of identity, form our ideas of what ensure love and safety, and create signals to alert our brains of danger.
Yes, we are complex individuals living collectively with other complex individuals but we have in common our instinctual, archaic desire for survival. And so, the definition I stated earlier regarding Stances is both simple and complex...it’s our innate desire to have our needs met which insures our survival.
The Stances are categorized as Assertive, Compliant (sometimes called Dependent) and Withdrawing.
A very quick overview of each stance is as follows (source: Truity.com):
Assertive Types: They move against people focusing on what they themselves need or want and are feeling repressed. As the name implies, these types are bold, assertive and carry a strong energy with their presence. These quick- witted types often feel like others move too slowly for them. They work to push their own agenda forward and get others on board with their big ideas.
Some of their defining positive characteristics include being: • Action-oriented
• Direct • High-energy
• Optimistic • Persuasive
Some of the challenges assertive types might face are:
Taking impulsive action
Struggling to connect to their emotions and the emotions of others
Wanting control and things being done their way
Reframing negative situations or outcomes without taking time to process
Compliant Types: They move towards people with cooperative solutions to get what they need or want and are thinking repressed. These types make sense of the world through relationships. They are emotionally-attuned to what’s happening in the present moment and respond to shortcomings or injustices by taking action. These team-oriented types are concerned with the larger group, wanting to come up with solutions that benefit everyone around them.
Some of their defining positive characteristics include being:
Compassionate towards people and causes
Concerned for the greater good
Some of the challenges compliant types might face are:
Struggling to think independently
Feeling a secret sense of superiority for doing what’s right
Withdrawing: They move away from others to get what they need or want and are doing repressed. These types have rich inner worlds as they detach from others to find fulfillment within. In times of stress, they retreat into their minds and rely on their inner strength and knowledge to guide them to the answers and comfort they’re looking for.
Some of their defining positive characteristics include being: • Self-aware
Some of the challenges withdrawn types might face are:
Struggling with connection outside of themselves
Feeling like their presence is insignificant
Wanting to be seen but not wanting to engage
Ruminating on the past
How does knowing a child’s stance become a tool of compassion? Trying to force a child in the Withdrawing Stance to be more assertive or be anything other than who they are can quickly lead to the child feeling less than or unworthy and almost always, misunderstood. These children are often labeled as ‘shy or moody or too sensitive’ or any one of a list of, sometimes, demeaning descriptors. Our society often seems threatened by this energy and can be especially critical of boys in this stance with phrases like 'man up'. But these children often have such rich inner worlds full of imagination and a depth of emotion that they can feel the need to escape the chaos of the world by withdrawing into the perceived safety of their minds.
Likewise, assuming a child in the Assertive Stance is a ‘trouble maker’ because they aren’t compliant or they’re a little too vocal for many, can lead to labeling him or her as
‘a bully, hyper-active, too competitive or insensitive’. This can often be especially difficult for girls in this stance whose assertiveness gets labeled as being 'a bitch'. These children have a higher energy driving them and can be a challenge at times especially if their caregivers or teachers lead with a different stance. Trying to squelch all of this energy can be confusing and hurtful to a child in this stance. But with compassionate guidance they can become confident contributors or leaders in their communities or other collectives.
A child in the Compliant Stance can easily become known as ‘the good child’ because they tend to follow the rules or because they seem to take care of everyone’s needs above their own. They sometimes get labeled as “the little helper.” While this description doesn’t sound derogatory on the surface it sets this child up to believe they are loved and safe as long as they are compliant and take care of others first. When they feel safe to explore being more assertive or to consider their own needs as important as others’, they can both serve and lead with defined, healthy boundaries and relationships.
All children experience angst about who they are as they develop...that’s a part of growing and being a human in relation to other humans. I truly believe that those of us who have strong influences on children whether we are teachers, parents, grandparents or close relatives, can alleviate unnecessary heartache by becoming familiar with these Stances. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest tools we can learn for supporting and honoring the unique energy of a child.
Now...my story. It started with one simple question. Let me restate that... one question that was anything but simple.
“Mom...why can’t I dive from that platform?”
The sign on the wooden diving platform, that was nailed to a towering bald cypress, overlooking the swimming hole, as we called it, said “Boys Diving Platform.”
In 1970 I was a 12 year old camper at Camp Bandina located in the Texas Hill Country between the towns of Bandera and Medina on the beautiful Medina River. I was a great swimmer and a fearless pre-teen. Fearless is how I like to describe myself but, as is the case with most kids, I had no depth of life experience to measure potential danger. Nevertheless, I didn’t understand why someone had decided where I could or couldn’t go based solely on the fact that I wasn’t a boy. It didn’t seem fair and I wasn’t going to simply comply without a reasonable explanation.
The girl’s diving platform was a joke as far as I was concerned. A few climbing holds nailed to the side of the tree lead to the plank that even the elementary school girls could jump from. The more I looked at that sign that said “Boy’s diving platform”, the madder I got! It might as well have said “No girls allowed” because that’s what it meant.
Let me cut to the chase. My mom said I was right and it wasn’t fair and that I could go up there if I wanted to. I absolutely wanted to. And I did....over and over.
It’s not that my parents didn’t have rules and boundaries when it came to raising a daughter or sons, for that matter. They definitely did and I was prone to challenge them if they didn’t seem fair or reasonable. Sometimes I just outright broke the rules if I was determined to do whatever I set my mind on doing and I learned quickly about choices and consequences which didn’t always curb my enthusiasm. It would be a long time before I learned to look before I leaped or that acting impulsively on my ‘great idea’ wasn’t always a good idea.
My questions and confrontations with authority figures got me in trouble at times but I wasn’t a trouble-maker, as some would say, I just wasn't wired to be compliant without reasonable explanations for things that felt questionable. It was an instinctual energy that helped me know what was safe and what wasn’t. I began to notice that this behavior was rewarded at times and at other times, I was punished for what seemed like the same behavior. I learned that some adults didn’t like to be called out when it seemed obvious to me that their rules didn’t apply to them so when I boldly proclaimed to one such authority figure...”Oh, I get it....do as I say and not as I do!”...that assertiveness (smart-mouth was what I think they called it) was punished. On the other hand, there were times when I was applauded for taking a stand on matters of justice or pointing out double standards or that, indeed, the king was naked!
I was and still am, which comes as no surprise, in the Assertive stance. Learning how to use my natural energy meant learning to respect and work in cooperation with other stances, learning to think before speaking, learning that respect went a lot further in getting things done and that the quiet ones often had the most to say if I'd listen. It was a learning curve for my parents as well as it often meant meetings with those in authority. Sometimes they, rightfully, defended my actions and sometimes...not so much. Bless my parents’ hearts.
As we begin to recognize and respect a child’s energy flow we can compassionately encourage them in the spaces that seem unfamiliar to their nature. Each stance brings its strengths and weakness. Honoring a child’s inherent sense of safety and belonging validates them as a vital, interconnected part of the whole of humanity. Learning to gently and graciously help a child incorporate the energy of all three stances can lead them to a more balanced experience of life and in turn, create a path of healing for generations to come.
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