I read an article recently that began: "Everyone wants to be liked and accepted, but many of us spend too much time and energy worrying about what other people think. You might not even realize you're doing it, but these kinds of mental gymnastics ...(make) us feel unworthy..."
If I would have read that article even six months ago, I would have strongly denied that it applied to me. I knew that I worried too much about what people thought of me....but NOT because I was concerned about them liking me!
When I took the Enneagram in early 2014, my highest scoring "type" was Type 3, or Achiever, as some sources label it. In reading the descriptions of this type, there was a lot that seemed to fit with what I had been experiencing in my life. For example, Type 3s are not known as feeling people; they are people of action and achievement. This was true for me. I've been long known as an achiever, as one who can get stuff done. For most of my life, I've shoved my feelings into a box so they didn't get in the way of my performance.
Although I resonated with much of what I read about Type 3, I could not get past the underlying motivation of the type: to feel worthwhile, accepted, and desirable. In Type 3, the Ego needs to hear, "You are good or okay as long as you are successful and others think well of you."
When I read this, all I could think was: "Not true!"
But last month in the midst of some deep reflective exploration and soul searching, I realized that for most of my life, I have indeed been carrying around a core belief that I didn't even know I had: People don't like me or love me for who I am.
And this awareness came about as a result of synchronicity: the right series of events and people at just the right time.
While at a conference in February, I became familiar with The Work of Byron Katie. While researching her website, I found upcoming classes offered by others certified to do The Work and signed up for one. In the class, we were assigned homework buddies and during my very first conversation with my buddy, she shared something about her life that planted a seed in me about my own. I started to see examples of how I've wanted people to like me, and how this desire influenced decisions I made in my childhood, my teenage years, and as an adult.
Because I wanted to be liked, I covered up more and more of my true self, who I wasn't sure if people would like, and built up a false persona that I thought people would like better.
That's the key of my belief - it wasn't that I thought no one liked me or loved me - at all. It was that people didn't like me or love me - for who I am - the REAL, unfiltered me.
With this new awareness, I saw the various ways that this belief has impacted my relationships over the years. Because I didn't think people would like me or love me for me, I hid the real me from almost everyone, including myself. I lost touch with my real self and I acted in ways that were all about trying to get other people to think well of me. Sometimes I created distance from my loved ones by closing off behind a huge wall of self-protection. Other times, I proved my value by staying busy and productive - so much so that I didn't have time for true connection with people. And in some cases, I would actively try to sabotage relationships with the people closest to me by creating stress and chaos where it didn't need to be.
During this reflective work, I heard a voice inside of me say, "hey, this reminds me of Enneagram Type 3!" So I pulled my favorite Enneagram book off the shelf and reread that section with a whole new perspective. And this time, there was no getting around it - Type 3 is my Type.
The Ennegram is one of my personal favorite tools for self-discovery because it's not about the labels. Yes, it assigns labels to each of the types, but with the Enneagram, it's not about attaching your identity to the label; it goes deeper - much, much deeper.
Our type tells us a great deal about "how we view the world, the kinds of choices we are likely to make, the values we hold, what motivates us, how we react to people, how we respond to stress," and more (Riso and Hudson, 1999). We start from where we are, right now, and the Enneagram invites us to deeply explore our identity, initiating "a process of inquiry that can lead us to a more profound truth about ourselves and our place in the world," helping us see the "spiritual heights that we are capable of attaining."
The Enneagram doesn't try to keep us in our box. It shows us how we tend to react to various situations. With the Enneagram, we see how those reactions are different in times of stress when we react in "unhealthy" ways from when we can respond from a "healthier" view. The Enneagram helps us find the way out of our box.
My journey is taking me down the path of stretching outside of my box. For example, I'm learning how to:
This awareness and the positive changes I'm making are having an impact on my own level of happiness. I'm feeling happier much more frequently. I feel less tension and stress throughout my day. I feel like I'm finally starting to come into my own skin....at age 41!
My relationships are also benefiting in big ways. I've stopped carrying grudges against other people because I've realized that at least half - if not more - of the challenges I have had in some of my relationships stemmed from this core belief and the corresponding behavior to sabotage the relationship. I'm starting to pretend less with other people and learning how to speak my truth.
My relationship with myself is also improving. In order to speak my truth, I need to be paying attention to what I really want. I'm getting back to meditating and journaling and working to create white space in my calendar so I have time alone to hear what I want. I'm reflecting on where I'm still hiding out and playing it safe and I'm taking steps to "show up" more fully in my life.
I'm redefining what it means to make a mistake and to fail, and I'm forgiving myself much more quickly when I do. I'm getting better at honoring time for myself and with my family. I'm learning (slowly) to play again.
To me, life is about the quality of the relationships we have with the people in our lives and the quality of the experiences we have: alone and with others.
I'm learning to fully embrace life; to live and love more fully.
"You were put on this Earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it fearlessly." (Steve Maraboli)
We all have fears; it's normal. What matters is that we don't let our fears overcome us and cause us to hide out. We acknowledge that we are afraid and we make the courageous decision to move forward anyway. To me, that's fearlessness!
Resources and Additional Information
Neff, Kelly, 2014. 4 Steps to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You. mindbodygreen.com
Riso, Don and Hudson, Russ, 1999. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types.
Side comment about the Enneagram: we all have aspects of each of the nine Enneagram personality types in our lives. We tend to rely on one or two of them the most especially in times of stress. With the Enneagram, you are encouraged to validate your results and not let the assessment tell you your type. You read about it and then determine which type is most true for you. Learn more about the Enneagram at enneagraminstitute.com
Learn more about The Work of Byron Katie at thework.com
Who am I? This question has been circulating in my mind for most of my life. I used to search for this answer outside of myself – from other people, books, and personality assessments and quizzes.
One of my favorite such assessments was the Clifton StrengthsFinder. When I read the descriptions of my top five talent themes, it was like they had written them for and about only me! For the most part, these described my behaviors very well. People who knew me best weren’t all that surprised by them either. I was known as the girl who would get stuff done – I always had a very full checklist of everything that I needed to do and no matter how busy I was, I checked multiple things off my list every day (Achiever). When I made a commitment, people knew that I’d deliver – no matter how much work needed to be done or how long it would take (Responsibility). I was highly organized and was very proud of my ability to find just the right way to present information (Arranger). I had a special skill for starting with something that was “good” and making it even better (Maximizer). And I dove into new situations and learning opportunities with gusto (Learner).
These labels became so integrated into my being; that I could no longer see who I was beyond the labels. Except of course for all the other labels that I used to describe myself, such as: Perfectionist. Workaholic. Wife. Mom. Career-loving woman.
But recently, I’ve been exploring questions such as: How true are all of these labels, anyway? Am I really an Achiever in the way that Gallup, Clifton, or evening Buckingham have described it? Or is there more to it than that? Is there something deeper?
I’ve learned that the reason it was so easy for me to latch onto these labels is because I needed something to attach my value to. If I wasn’t an achiever, if I didn’t over-promise and work myself to exhaustion to deliver on a commitment, then how would I show my value?
In my HR Consulting days, I used to pride myself on (and I was recognized for) my ability to quickly build rapport and relationships with my business clients. I did this by listening to what they needed (or wanted), and then by “getting to work” on delivering that, or more. Without this, without the delivery of something specific, something tangible, then where would my value come from? How would I create trust? How would I build relationships?
As the question of who I am has been finding its way into and stirring up my heart, I am now searching for the truth of who I am inside, rather than outside, myself.
Now I know that my value comes not from what I do, but from who I am.
Now I see that I provide value to my clients not by what I do for them or what I deliver to them, but for who I am when I am with them. When I’m fully present with them, I listen with a compassionate heart, I ask better questions, and I help them see what they can’t see.
Now I know that I add value to my family not by how clean I keep our house or how much laundry I do or how many errands we accomplish over any given weekend. My value comes when I detach from work and other obligations and spend quality time with them, and when I allow myself to let go and have fun. I offer value when I let the achiever and perfectionist fall away and I simply focus on being patient and loving and kind.
For the rest of you out there who love personality assessments as much as I have loved them over the years, please know that I am not disrespecting them. They have their time and place and when used effectively, can provide helpful information for our professional growth and development.
In fact, there are two assessments in particular that I’ve used within the last two years that are helping me go beyond a “type” and below the label. Even with these assessments, I know now that the information I’m receiving from them is only part of the story. Now I use them as one tool in my overall journey and view them as one mechanism for self-discovery. I use them as a way to explore more deeply some of my core ways of being that impact not only how I am at work, but how I am in relationship with other people.
Aside from these assessments, I am tuning into my heart. I’m noticing when I feel passion. I am allowing my feelings and emotions to move and guide me. I am slowly starting to see the ways that add value by simply being, rather than by always doing.
One of the tools that has been instrumental to this higher level of awareness has been the Enneagram. Yes, this assessment has “types” and descriptions and provides you with examples of what you might do when you are “in” your type. But this tool in particular does not try to keep you in a box; rather, it helps you find your way out of the box. When you use this tool as a springboard for deeper reflection, as I’ve been doing over this past year, you start to see how your core beliefs impact not only the relationships you have with others, but also the relationship you have with yourself. At least, that’s been my experience with it. (And in my next blog post, I’ll share more about my experience with this tool and the ways I’ve used it, in conjunction with other tools, for a deeper level of self-discovery and a higher level of self-awareness than I’ve ever experienced before.)
This post isn’t just about personality assessments or the pros and cons of using them. Because whether it’s an assessment or feedback you receive from someone or any other source of information that resides outside yourself, all of this external information needs to be taken into consideration with what you know to be absolutely true about yourself. Don’t let this external information, alone, define you. You are more than the type, you are more than the label. Don’t allow it to shape and mold you into something you’re not.
“When (I am) present, there is something in (me) that feels compassionate and strong, patient and wise, indomitable and of great value. This something is who (I) actually (am). It is the “I” beyond name, without personality – (my) true nature.” (Adapted from Wisdom of the Enneagram, page 37)
What is YOUR true nature?