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Tom Condon – The Dynamic Enneagram and Relationships

Interview by Eleonora Gilbert

Eleonora:  Hello, and welcome to Conscious TV. My name is Eleonora Gilbert, and today my guest is Tom Condon. Hi Tom.

Tom:  Hi.

Eleonora:  Tom has worked with the Enneagram since the 1980s, and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP – Neurolinguistic Programming – since 1977.  He uses these three tools to bring about change.  And in a moment I will ask you how you do that.  You are the author of a couple of books, as well as fifty CDs and DVDs.  You have taught over 800 workshops worldwide – that’s amazing – and you’re the director of The Changeworks, and you’re based in Oregon.

The two books we’re going to talk about – well, we’re going to talk about one particular book– which is The Dynamic Enneagram: How to Work with Your Personality Style to Truly Grow and Change.  It’s only available at the moment as an e-book, as a serial, but it will be available in the summer.  It’s just about two-thirds ready.  Also you have written: How to See Enneagram Styles in the Movies.  That was your very first book.

What we’re going to be talking about today is relationships, including how the Enneagram and the other two tools that you’re using could be supportive of how to be more authentic in relationships.  So before we start, could you just give me a little synopsis of what the Enneagram is and what Ericksonian hypnosis is, and NLP, and how you work with these three. 

Tom:  Well, the Enneagram is a system of nine personality styles, kind of arranged in a circle. And it presents nine central personality styles that people have – that the unconscious mind seems to favor in human beings.  And then, within that, there are interconnections and subtler, finer distinctions that matter quite a bit, especially in relationships, as we’ll probably talk about. But it is basically a very deceptively deep system that shows you your central preoccupations and beliefs and unconscious assumptions about the nature of reality, who you are within that vision of reality, your sort of subjective worldview, its contours, and its urgencies.  And also it talks about what motivates people, how people are motivated differently from within different Enneagram styles.

I’ve worked with the Enneagram for a long time, but I’ve also worked with NLP and Ericksonian hypnosis, some Gestalt therapy, and imagery.  My principal interest when I first came across the Enneagram was in applying various methods to it to help people grow and change from within the purview of their Enneagram styles.  The Enneagram especially will show you your talents and your resources and your capacities and potentials, and then it’ll also show you the good news and bad news: it’ll also show you the low side of your style and how you go wrong with confidence – and ways that you get sort of stuck in repetitive patterns that seem to have some meaning to you, or once had some adaptive purpose in the past – and that now are just behaviours or assumptions or patterns that get in the way, and block things like having a more complete life – but also block intimacy, for instance, get in the way of relationships.  So these other disciplines besides the Enneagram are all kind of technique-oriented, all method-oriented; and then the Enneagram is a superb diagnostic system.  And it seemed to me they needed to be married, so to speak.

Eleonora:  Right. And I think you’re unique in actually using these particular three tools.

Tom:  So far, at least in the little universe of the Enneagram.

Eleonora:  In your book, you talk a lot about, or you mention for sure, the parental points as being influential in how we relate to one another.

Tom:  Well, you have a central Enneagram style, and then you have connections to generally four other Enneagram styles, in the way that the system is formulated.  The Enneagram is easy to learn but difficult to master, and it takes a while.  But you can apprehend it pretty quickly and get the basic idea, and even maybe get to your central Enneagram style pretty fast.  And then, if it interests you, and you have some motivation, and some ongoing curiosity about it, then you can add in these other subtler distinctions.  And they make a world of difference as well.  And one of the distinctions that I like to emphasize, and kind of encourage people to have identified, is the Enneagram styles of their parents – because once you identify your central style and some of these other connections, you also have the Enneagram styles of your mother, your father, or whoever was your basic caregiver through time.  Those are operating too.  Those are in your behaviour and in your reactions sometimes, sort of like sides to your character.

Eleonora:  Yes.  I had not come across this particular distinction before reading your book.  And one of the things that I was definitely aware of is the fact that we can come from the perspective of having two superegos sitting on our shoulders, in addition to our own superegos (the two superegos of our parents).  So to identify them even clearer, as the types of your parents, I found that particularly useful.

Tom:  Well, it’s something people know in real life.  You know, when they grow up and have their own children, and they start talking to their own children in the way one of their parents talked to them, and maybe they vowed they would never talk to their own children that way, but it pops out.  We introject our parents.

Eleonora:  Yeah, yeah, we do. 

Tom:  We have that inside of us.  And so, that means as well that we introject their Enneagram style.  And maybe those Enneagram styles overlap with our central style – or maybe some of these other connections I was talking about – which tends to then strengthen and intensify the experience of that style.  Or maybe there’s no connection – at least in terms of the way the Enneagram formulates things.  The other thing about it is, within each Enneagram style, there’s a tendency to over-identify with certain aspects of your personality and under-identify with others.  One is like an ego ideal, like one style, style number Eight, emphasizes being strong, and so they’re in tension to their own weakness, in tension to their own vulnerability, or a kind of level of their experience where they’re a little bit lost and don’t know what to do.  And so they overcompensate.  

And when you carry your parents with you, or when you figure out the Enneagram styles of one of your parents, how you relate to that in yourself may be shaded by how you relate to it in your parents, in the actual person.  For example, my style would be counter-phobic Six.  And my father was an Eight.  And we didn’t get along when I was young.  We fought a lot.  Now, during that period of time, I denied that I was anything like him.  And, of course, looking back on it, the stronger I denied it, the more I was like him.  And that’s ‘cause it was a shadow for me, and I was trying to create a boundary.  You know, it’s something young people go through anyway and teenagers go through, where you’re trying to separate and kind of establish your own self-definitions somehow.  But at the same time, I had somewhere inside of myself an Eight streak.  And gradually I realized this.  Gradually – it took me a while to manage it, and to learn to kind of accept it and stop reacting out of the low side of it and start finding my way to the high side of it.  But this also parallels how sometimes you can have a conflict with a parent, and then as you both get older and grow and change, you kind of get together.  You sort of forgive each other, or you become friends after all, or something like that – which is in fact what happened with my father. 

Eleonora:  Yeah, I was going to ask you if you actually had improved your relationship with him, or whether you also needed something from him to change, in order to be able to meet.  

Tom:  I think, for myself, I just accepted that he wasn’t going to change.  And that was all right.  There was a way to maneuver with that.  But what was even more salient was dealing with my own Eightness.

Eleonora:  Right.  Yes.

Tom:  And that became an advantage.  You know, the high side of Eight has got a lot of resources and capacities, and it’s especially helpful for a Six.  It’s got a kind of honesty, a kind of motive force, and a decisiveness, things like that, that cut against the neurotic tendencies of the Six style.  

Eleonora:  In your book, you also mention how families have an ego, and an ego style, which you’ll either meet, or go against.  Can you say a little bit more about that?

Tom:  Well, it’s hard to talk about without sounding over-generalized.  And people will talk, for example, about different countries having different Enneagram styles.  You can say that certainly in a broad-strokes sort of way.  And also you can recognize it: you can recognize France as having Enneagram style Four running through it.  But it’s more precise to say that cultures have Enneagram styles influencing them and shading them.  It’s not always definitive which one it is.  But they’re there.  And also, if you go over to, say, a business context, a lot of businesses will have Enneagram styles running through the assumption of the business, and the culture of the business.  Usually it’s the Enneagram style based on the founder, or founders of the business. 

Eleonora:  Right.  

Tom:  And then if you apply that to a family, it’s sort of the same idea.  You know, a family has a kind of culture, a mini-culture within it.  And there can be assumptions within the family, and group beliefs, about what’s a good way to be, and what’s a bad way to function.  And those will, upon reflection, turn out to… you can kind of see an Enneagram style running through it.  If you have, let’s say, a family of high achievers, a sort of Three-ish family, and there’s no room for failure within it, then everybody’s living in tension to that, in some way or other, or living in reaction to it anyway.  And maybe the family is unbalanced that way, and so it needs a failure.  So one child comes along, one of the siblings is a screw-up, and everybody else is kind of in polarity to that.  It can be that kind of thing.  And then also it can be useful understanding your family through the Enneagram: you can start to look at – and this applies to one-to-one relationships too, and friendships – start to look at where you meet.  Like I said, everybody’s got a central Enneagram style, and then there are these secondary connections that are like sides to your character.  And sometimes you find in families that somewhere within the secondary connections, everybody’s meeting within a particular Enneagram style.  That sometimes is quite instructive and informative too.  You start to catch yourself in the act; you start to take everyone’s behaviour less personally; you start to recognize oh, there’s a name for this, this is a pattern, or oh look, the family is sinking into depression again – you know, everybody is meeting in Four, and it happens every year when the weather’s bad, or something like that.  

Eleonora:  That can be quite helpful, actually, to be able to identify that.  

Tom:  Yeah, it’s quite helpful.  It’s quite helpful.  Like I say, it’s not something that you arrive at overnight.

Eleonora:  No, of course.

Tom:  You have to be kind of interested in this and have some sort of motivation for it, some sort of need or see some use for it.  It’s possible to encounter the Enneagram and underestimate it.  Or it’s possible to hear about it from somebody who’s enthusiastic, but doesn’t know what they’re talking about and think that it’s a bland silly thing or another set of stereotypes or something.  But actually it’s way deep.

Eleonora:  Yeah.  The more I read about your book, the more I thought gosh, there are so many aspects to be taken into account.  On the one hand, I felt wow, there is so much to know, it’s not just about your type, but you need to take into consideration all of the types.  And so the feeling was, oh my goodness, this is a lot.  But at the same time, I also really appreciated the various distinctions that you created – because I was then able to see, in my own life, in my own family… oh, I see that.  Anyway, both [overwhelm and clarity] were there.

Tom:  So it depends on the kind of use you have for it, and motivation. I often recommend that if people are studying the Enneagram, and really want to get into it, over time, treat it like a hobby.  Treat it like something that you allow yourself to enjoy, and you come back to from time to time – or something happens in real life and you look it up in an Enneagram book and see how the two correspond – and to just add in some of the distinctions that we’re talking about, over time, rather than trying to drink the entire ocean. 

Eleonora:  Yeah. That’s right. I think I came across the Enneagram about fifteen years ago, and as I said, it was very useful to see what kind of type – even though it took me quite a while, several years, to actually get into my actual type.

Tom:  And that’s a process too.

Eleonora:  It is definitely a process. And for some people it seems easier than for others.

Tom:  Right.

Eleonora:  For me, it wasn’t particularly easy.  I went all over the placenot quite all over the place, but certainly I went through two other types in addition to my own. But the thing that I found really, really, really an eye-opener were the subtypes.  Can you tell us a little bit about the subtypes?

Tom:  People describe the subtypes differently.  In fact, they also call it something else.  In some Enneagram books, they’ll call them instinctual subtypes, or the instincts.  I can only give you my version of it, and mine is sort of shaded by the use that I find with the material.  Basically, what it’s describing are preoccupations, sort of self-preoccupations, that you can have within your central Enneagram style – and how these are then expressed, and how these influence and shade your expression of your style, for example.  And what they mean by subtypes is that… they say there are three categories of subtypes, and people generally tend to favor one or two, over-favor maybe one in particular and under-favor a third one.  They deal with three different realms of life: one of them has to do with self-preservation and it means that on some level, a person will - no matter what their Enneagram style - be especially preoccupied with the material details of life: making money, food, survival, having a house, paying the bills, the details of life that preserve life and keep it going.  

And there’s a high side and a low side to each of these, in their broad aspects.  The high side of being a self-preservation subtype would be that you really take care of business, you really keep things running in your life, and live a healthy life, and maybe make money or are prosperous in whatever way you define that, and continually attend to and have a part of your consciousness sort of preoccupied with maintaining the material side of life.  What’s true with all Enneagram styles is that there’s a tendency, when you get caught in the pattern of them, to over-use your strength, to get into a defensive mode; and then the low side of an Enneagram style comes out.  And it’s the same with subtypes too.  On the low side of self-preservation, somebody could be so focused on self-preservation that it’s to their detriment in some way.  In other words, making money and having a house and having food is all that you care about. And in doing that, then it’s like you’re sacrificing your life in order to have your life. You know, it’s like there’s no art, there’s no love, there’s no spirituality, there’s no broader context – there’s just survival.  

Eleonora:  I have a little example you just reminded me of: a friend of mine who has three freezers – not just one…

Tom:  Right.  Right.

Eleonora:  Three freezers.  So clearly she’s a self-preservation subtype.

Tom:  You can think of survivalism that way too, you know, on the low side of it.  Also, there can be a sort of paradoxical thing within this where somebody is so preoccupied with self-preservation that they maybe accumulate a lot of money and a lot of material security, and then they go bankrupt.  Something like that, where they go in a kind of cycle.  So it’s just an over-emphasis.

And then the next subtype that the model describes is what they call intimate subtype.  They sometimes call it sexual subtype.  I’m not crazy about the word sexual because it’s sort of misleading.  At least in my experience, what the intimate subtype describes are people who specialize in one-to-one relationships.  And in one-to-one relationships, they have a capacity for multilevel connections – with their close friends, for instance, or with a partner or a mate.  And within that capacity, there’s an ability to, I’ll say, recognize the singularity of that other individual and be so closely connected to them sometimes that, you know, you could be out around the rings of Saturn, floating in space, and you wouldn’t know it because you’re just involved intensely and connected intensely. 

Eleonora:  [laughing] I’m smiling ‘cause I recognize so much of this happening.

Tom:  So yes, yes.  So that’s another sort of knack – and also another style of attention and also of motivation.  Somebody who is motivated for material security in self-preservation terms might not be motivated by the same thing that an intimate subtype is motivated by.  And on the low side of the intimate subtype then, it can mean that you put too much emphasis on relationships, you freight them up with expectations, or dependency, or you know, what the other person does matters too much.  Or the search for love, the quest for love, can be kind of…

Eleonora:  All-consuming.

Tom:  Well, consuming, and then it never quite ‘happening’.  You want it so badly you prevent it from happening.  That kind of thing.

And then the third distinction they make in subtypes is where there’s someone who’s predominantly a social subtype.  What that means is, when you close your eyes, when an intimate subtype closes their eyes they might see one person, or have a conversation with one person in their mind.  When somebody with a social-subtype orientation does that, there’s a group, and they are intentioned towards a group, conceiving of themselves in relation to a group, preoccupied with social causes in some ways – a feeling on the high side of life, that your personal welfare is connected to group welfare.  It’s sort of like the Buddhist saying about no one can be enlightened until everyone is enlightened.  And the identification with the group is quite strong and voluntary.  It’s like I’m a social person, I’m a social entity and I exist within this broader context, and the welfare of the broader context is important to me.  If somebody is more caught in the low side of that kind of orientation, then they’re prone to have conflicts between personal freedom and community – individuation versus what the group wants.  What my true standards, who I really am in my heart of hearts, versus how I am perceived in a group context, according to some values and norms that are external to me.  And so you can get lost then: I mean on the low side you could join a cult or something like that, where you’re caught up in a group context that takes you away from yourself, but is comforting on some level, or matches your expectations of who you are and what the world expects of you.  Also you could go back and forth about the group: you could be a partial joiner and partially pull back from it; you could exist on the fringes of the group, on the edge of the group and kind of enjoy the group energy. The group could see you a certain way, and then you could over-identify with how they see you.  

Eleonora:  Right. 

Tom:  Things like that. 

Eleonora:  That doesn’t sound very freeing. 

Tom:  Each one of these has a high side and low side, basically.  

Eleonora:  Yeah.  Would you say that these particular subtypes are actually learnt, or is it something that somehow we come into the world with, just like our own type?  Or is it a preference that somehow we come into the world and then nature and nurture do their work?  So I was just wondering if the subtypes are a learnt thing or…

Tom:  Personally, I don’t think you’re born with an Enneagram style.  

Eleonora:  Okay.

Tom:  It’s just my opinion, but I think that nature and nurture aren’t really separate.  They need each other.  You’re born, certainly, with a temperament and a predisposition, and it probably predisposes you to several Enneagram styles, but not all of them.  Something like that. 

Eleonora:  I see.

Tom:  And then, based on what happens to you, you may at some point unconsciously form an adoptive style.  In terms of the subtypes, I find those a lot easier to track back into someone’s experience of their personal biography.  Quite a bit easier.  And it’s helpful for people to understand, because part of what you’re putting your finger on is… what are defensive stances that I took on early in life?  What are preoccupations I developed based on the pressures around me, or based on what kept happening to me, that I unconsciously then thought, well, I better keep paying attention to this?  It’s especially important; this is where my salvation is, in some way; this is where my defensive safety is, in some way.  

Eleonora:  Or the strategies that I may have developed... to make life more comfortable.

Tom:  To make life more comfortable, or just maybe live in that family where there’s all that pressure to succeed, or some other family where there’re other pressures.  Or maybe you were singled out for a certain kind of treatment.  Whatever keeps happening to you, you know, when you’re young, is what you then start to do to yourself.  So, in this case, it would be sort of getting preoccupied, sometimes unconsciously, preoccupied with one of these three subtypes.  And then, like I say, there’re really 27 of them – that’s nine Enneagram styles and three subtypes for each one.  And they come out really differently, in different styles, and they shade the expression of the style.  Sort of like people in England from the south versus the north, that kind of thing. 

Eleonora:  Right.  So, in relationships, is there a way that perhaps the stacking order might work better with your partner, or with your family, or in a work situation?

Tom:  Well, one of the questions that comes up with the Enneagram is, you know, I’m a Four.  What would be the best type for me to marry?  And the answer is: a healthy type, and one that loves you. Part of what that means is the Enneagram can really describe what the interactions will be if you’re a Four and somebody else is a Seven or an Eight.  It can describe beautifully, and with great insight and depth, what it’ll be like when it goes well, and what it’ll be like when it goes wrong. And it’s pretty much the same with the subtypes.  It’s more like you can really use it for insight into whatever’s going on.  But there’s not really exactly a recommendation. 

Eleonora:  No, I wasn’t thinking about recommendations.  I was thinking more in terms of creating distinctions to recognize where my subtype is, perhaps, in opposition to my partner’s, my husband’s, my friend’s subtype – so that instead of going against the other subtype, I might actually have an understanding: oh, I see, it’s very important to you to have such and such and such... if you’re a self-preservationist.  My self-preservation is at the bottom of the stack.

Tom:  Right.

Eleonora:  It would absolutely mean nothing, but that’s where the conflict arises: for some person it’s important, for the other person it’s absolutely meaningless.  

Tom:  Well, what’s interesting is that the subtype, in the context of the Enneagram – a lot of times, subtypes are more salient in close relationships, and more meaningful and influential than differences in core Enneagram styles.  It can really matter.  

Eleonora:  Can you say a little bit more about that?

Tom:  Well, if somebody is, for example, very preoccupied with self-preservation, and somebody else is very preoccupied with the intimate one-to-one connections, if they don’t find a bridge, then those two things will be the things they argue about over and over again. 

Eleonora:  Right.

Tom:  That’ll be – you know, if you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you notice there’s a certain repetition to some of the things… you wrangle about.  And the subtypes explains it beautifully.

Eleonora:  Well, I certainly saw my, sticky points when I was married – being a one-to-one being married to somebody who’s mostly self-pres… definitely there were areas where we just couldn’t meet at all.  And it was just painful, really.  And then when you realize, oh my goodness, is that all it was?  You know, simply the recognition that you had this particular kind of preference, and if I come back towards you, there’s no problem anymore.

Tom:  Yeah, you find you’re operating out of different values, even though you don’t think you are.  And sometimes there’re ways to bridge that.  Or sometimes there’re ways to bring that out, in yourself or in the other person.  Or, you know, it depends on what else is in the relationship and how much you want to stay together, and things like that.  The other thing to note about subtypes is that they’re sometimes contextual.  Sometimes you’ll go through phases in your life where you are occupying one subtype or reacting out of one subtype, much more strongly than you might in general, or in a long-term sort of way, or maybe that you already have been reacting from.  Most people’s experience of the subtypes is that they’re sort of characterological.  But somebody could be very self-preservation-oriented and then fall in love.  And until the chemicals wear off, they’ll be reacting much more out of their intimate subtype.  Or somebody else could go into a social context of some kind – join the Army or something.  Suddenly they’re in a group of people where, if they’d been a shy computer hacker before, well, the social instinct part of it, the social reaction’s going to come out – and be expressed in a way that the Enneagram accounts for rather nicely, I find. 

Eleonora:  So, would you say that, once we become more aware, we somehow shift or change in our subtypes as well, or create perhaps more of a balance?

Tom:  Well, people will look for that sometimes, but a lot of it depends on the individual and what they’re going through and what they need, and what they want, what they’re motivated to have for themselves.  One way to look at it sometimes is, I’m really strong in intimate subtype and I’m kind of weak in self-preservation; maybe I ought to educate myself.  Generally speaking, working with subtypes like the Enneagram – or, if you broaden it to living a life where you grow and change and evolve – they’re getting over illusions, you know, and going past limitations and going past blocks and stuck points.  And then, on the other hand, there’s also taking responsibility for gaps in your education.  And so learning about whatever you’re missing sometimes becomes a helpful thing, if it’s quite conscious and deliberate. 

Eleonora:  Yeah.  Let’s see.  I’ve made a few notes here.  Yes, cultural influences.  I’m beginning to see more and more how much these play into our lives.  So I was just wondering if you wanted to say something about it. 

Tom:  Well, like I said before, there are Enneagrammatic strains and influences running through different cultures, I would say.  It’s not something I try to define too tightly, because you get into cliché and stereotype country pretty fast.  I do actually make an analogy between Enneagram styles and nationalities.

Eleonora:  Yeah, I liked that, because I thought it was very graphic and very descriptive.  

Tom:  Sort of like saying an Enneagram style is your psychological nationality, and, when you encounter people, or know people, not within your Enneagram style, it’s not unlike the difference in nationalities – because an Enneagram style is deeply unconscious.  It influences and shades a lot of your perceptions, and at the same time it’s ultimately not the only thing you are.  It’s ultimately not who you are – you know, in your heart of hearts, somehow.  And yet, it could be very meaningful.  And it’s also not something that you grow out of, or evolve out of. What it is, is something that you can wear more and more lightly, if you’re, say, an expatriate, for instance.  And I think that’s a parallel with the Enneagram as well.  As people grow and change, the low side of their style, the kind of rigidity and repetitiveness of the pattern… it’s defensive, and if you work on it, you sort of drain the defenses of their intensity, you still have an inclination to think a certain way and not another way, of course.  But you wear it much more lightly, and the more lightly you wear it, the more open you are to the world around you and also the more available the talents and the high-side capacities and typical resources that go with your style – those are available to you much more. 

Eleonora:  And what comes to mind also is more openness of the heart.  Like we’ve been talking about describing the model and we haven’t really spoken about the heart; the falling in love, the love and appreciation that we have for friends and coworkers.  I imagine, in terms of my own experience, the more I wear my type lightly, the more open I become… you know, as these defenses that my particular type, my style, provides…

Tom:  You know, we also have fewer shadows too.  Which is to say, there’re fewer instances where you react negatively to somebody else in an automatic button-pushing sort of way – ah, that person pushes my buttons.  One of the things – I go to Enneagram conferences, and I’ve been to a number of them in America – and one of the things you sometimes hear as you’re walking through a crowd is somebody talking about the styles that they like and dislike.  “Everybody loves Sevens. But I don’t like Twos, you know, I always want to keep them at arm’s length, and they’re coming up to my elbow”.  That kind of thing.  And the person is talking about different Enneagram styles in a way I actually kind of term ‘educated bigotry’… because you’re taking a part and judging it and mistaking it for the whole. 

Eleonora:  Yes. 

Tom:  But also, when a person talks that way, what they’re really saying is, “I have those styles in myself, somehow, latently perhaps. And I like my own Sevenness and I don’t like my own Twoness, and I haven’t made peace with it and I haven’t integrated it”.  And so they’re talking about their own shadows – both white shadows and dark shadows.

Eleonora:  Yes.  And that’s a danger that certainly I found when I first learnt about the Enneagram, that there was a tendency to pigeonhole people, instead of actually creating more freedom and more liberation around one’s own façade and that of others, and perhaps have more compassion and more acceptance.  There was really narrowing people down and labeling, so quickly… and dismissing so quickly, which I then felt…

Tom:  Well, if you label it and then dismiss it… There’s a cartoon I saw years ago which showed a man in hell. And he was shoveling coal into a wheelbarrow, and the flames of hell were in the background.  And he was whistling, whistling a happy tune while he was shoveling coal to fuel the fires of hell.  And a couple of devils are standing there with their pitchforks, and one says to the other, “You know, we’re just not reaching this guy”.  If you use the Enneagram to label, and then to dismiss, or to decide who you like and who you dislike, it’s just not reaching…

Eleonora:  It’s not what the system was designed to do, really.

Tom:  No.  And furthermore, that can be tied to desire for control, desire for a way of pushing away the implications of what it might be telling you…

Eleonora:  Yes. Yes.

Tom:  ...’cause this is not for sissies... the good news and bad news part of it.  You know, when you identify your central style sometimes, it can be a shock.  And there’s a gruesome aspect to it, as well as the good news.  

Eleonora:  Yes. When it comes to conflict – I’m thinking in terms of one-to-one relationships or families – how can knowing the Enneagram help in conflict resolution?

Tom:  Well, you know, it’s saved a lot of marriages, I figure, the Enneagram has.  And where it really does that is in situations where people are basically bonded and have a strong affectionate feeling for one another, but then there’re aspects of each other’s behaviours that drive them crazy.  A lot of times, learning about the other person’s Enneagram style and realizing that that person’s crazy-making behavior is: (a) not personal to you, and (b) somehow attached to their view of the world and a kind of trance that they’re in, and what they then believe is necessary to do in order to manage, and cope with, and live in that view of the world, it helps a lot. It really helps a lot.  

You know, there’s a broad answer to that question, which is that it makes you more compassionate – or can, if you’ll allow it to.  You might have Enneagram styles that you don’t relate to at all, that you don’t have any connection to, that just baffle you.  Say, you’re from France, but you’re damned if you understand people from Malaysia.  [Eleonora laughs]  That kind of thing.  But gradually, as you work with it for a while, it helps quite a bit.  It helps just to at least remind you that there are vastly different worldviews, and that other people are not just doing what they’re doing to get to you.  

Eleonora:  Right. 

Tom:  That’s a good point. It gets harder to answer that question until you consider the individuals involved and what their individual styles are, and also subtypes will influence as well.  But generally speaking, it works pretty well for building bridges. And then also, there are some things to measure, like in a marriage for example: What is your rate of change, versus the other person’s rate of change?  How well do you assimilate new information and get over old limitations?  How motivated are you to do it?  And within the context of a relationship, there is a way in which you sort of rub up against each other a lot – perhaps literally but also figuratively – and, if you’re both attempting to stay connected and go towards one another, you tend to eliminate little things that are in the way.  

And the Enneagram really helps with that, sort of catching yourself in the act, and seeing how you’re maybe putting some barrier in the way, in the present, that used to be a necessary and effective thing, and now it’s just something that gets in the way, to protect you from things that happened in the past.  And, as you do that, there’s also the fact that in the studies of long-term relationships, where the two partners pronounce themselves satisfied, a lot of times they’ll say they focus more on what they can give rather than what they can receive.  And they’re not doing so much bookkeeping: “Okay, what did she give me vs what did I give her?”  That kind of thing.  But there’s more of a kind of generosity and a kind of emphasis on giving, and you get a lot more back. 

Eleonora:  Yes. 

Tom:  And also, they tend to notice, in those studies, that people tend to say that they see the other person in a positive light – almost no matter what.  But they’re realistically aware of the other person’s limitations; it’s like the truth plus ten percent, or something. 

 Eleonora:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Could I ask you, in your relationship – I don’t know if you’ve been married just the once, or more than once – if your understanding of the Enneagram has made you perhaps a better husband, or a better father, or maybe none of the above?

Tom:  I’ve wanted to be a good husband.  And I don’t know.  I would say that it’s all of the things I just said, being able to change places with the other person.  One of the things it helps you do is anticipate what a person’s response will be.  And in doing that, in anticipating, it’s far easier to not only deal with the response, but also not take it personally.  You sort of know where they’re coming from.

Eleonora:  I think this not taking it personally is quite a thing to bear in mind.  

Tom:  Yeah, it’s lovely.  That part of it is really nice.  And then, the more you learn about your own style and your own patterns as well, you take those less personally too.  Sort of like, okay, we’re caught up in a kind of shadow place this afternoon and we’ll work it out.  

Eleonora:  I want to ask you something about… I’ve interviewed a couple of other people about relationships, but coming from the spiritual side of relationships.  So in other words, you know, there are not two personalities that are interacting here, there is something that is beyond the personality.  And yes, we’re not taking the personalities to be one thing and spirituality’s being two separate things – we’re all one, being expressed as each person.  But we’ve been talking about the Enneagram, coming from the perspective of the personality.  In your work, do you also include what is not-the-personality? 

Tom:  I don’t define it very tightly.  And I’m not real comfortable with a lot of the spiritual language, ‘cause it’s...  

Eleonora:  Tell me why not.

Tom:  Because of my training in hypnosis.  

Eleonora:  Say a little about that.  What does that mean? 

Tom:  Well, what it means is, that you are trained in hypnosis to talk to people in a way that sounds specific, but is actually really general.  And you’re trained to use a certain kind of language that is abstract, and sort of noun-based. It’s what writers call the passive voice, what editors call the passive voice that they’re trying to cure writers of all the time.  Hypnotists do this on purpose.  So they speak in an abstract way that’s nevertheless structured.  And they’ll speak to – I can speak to a large crowd of people, and speak in this sort of process-oriented way, using this language, and everyone in the room thinks I’m speaking to them [individually].

Eleonora:  Right.

Tom:  And that’s the method.  Unfortunately, then, what also happens… you actually don’t know the meaning of certain words after a while, because they’re sort of open-ended and you’re very aware of people making their own meanings.  And there’s a lot of spiritual literature that is written exactly this way.  When I look at it, I see not only the language of trance, but also the sequences and some of the methods and so on.  I think I’m like somebody who’s been trained as a magician, to do magic tricks, who then sees somebody doing something and who claims it’s paranormal, but I can see the trickery in it.

Eleonora:  I see.

Tom:  I think it’s like that. But anyway, that’s one reason I don’t talk that way, ‘cause I don’t know what the words mean exactly.  And also, I don’t tend to chunk in big abstract terms.  Most of the work that I’ve done, and most of what I pay attention to and emphasize and value, I guess, is experiential.  So I’m more after the experience of it without nailing it down too tightly and without describing it in a way that for me is only abstract. 

Eleonora:  So, if you were to advise people… you said earlier, find somebody that loves you and… what else did you say? 

Tom:  Marry a healthy type and one that loves you. 

Eleonora:  Right.  So, well, that might be possible and it might not be possible.  But anyway, given what society is today, given where marriages are today, where we have far more divorces than we did fifty years ago, what words of advice could you give us? 

Tom:  Don’t listen to me.  [Eleonora laughs]  That’d be first.  And, uh, I don’t know.  We’re talking about types. 

Eleonora:  Yes. 

Tom:  But everybody’s an individual.  And so it’s really hard to generalize.  It depends on what you want.  It depends on what you’re ready for.  It depends on the phase you’re at in your life.  And what would mean the most to you.  But if you meet somebody that you have a strong connection with, and you want to stay together with them, a lot of these things that we’ve talked about can be useful considerations, really useful things to learn about and to apply – and just absorb into your knowledge base, but also use to modify your reactions, for example.  

And the other thing that is really, I think, sort of salient in relationships is how much you work on yourself – because you can get locked into wanting the other person to change, or just reacting to them out of your own torment.  And I’ve certainly done that.  And at the same time, what’s really needed is somehow more self-to-self, rather than self-to-other.  Like you’ve got to come to terms with your own shadows in some way, or put some fears that you have at rest, or be willing to kind of go beyond certain limitations – you know, be willing to be ten percent braver some of the time, with whatever you define and experience as a risk for you.  

Eleonora:  Yes. 

Tom:  And then, there’ll oftentimes be a dynamic in relationships where a couple will take two different polarized positions and then when one of them changes, the roles reverse. And somebody who’s critical, for instance, and following the other person around kind of criticizing their behavior, maybe they work on that and they mellow out. And then the other person starts to become critical because now they’ve got a chance, now there’s room for that, in the vacuum that the other’s change had left.  So there’re dynamics like that, but generally speaking, I think in relationships, you’re working on relating to and reaching out to one another, but you’re also dealing to some degree with your own shadows and your own barriers to being able to reach out to one another.  And that’s good work.  In an odd way, that’s part of being together.  

Eleonora:  Yes.  So we owe it to ourselves and to the other.  

Tom:  Well, I don’t know about ‘owing’ it.  It depends on what you want, you know.  If having a deepening and more interesting connection to somebody is part of your definition of a good life, then it’s worth it.  People change sort of when it costs more to stay the same than it costs to change.  

Eleonora:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

Tom:  Like a cost-benefit analysis, to use a gross materialistic metaphor.  

Eleonora:  Tom, it’s been lovely speaking with you and exploring this.  I’m just going to show your Dynamic Enneagram, which will be available in the summer.  We are in winter 2013, so, summer 2014.  Thank you [Tom] for joining me, and [to audience] thank you very much for watching and we’ll see you again very soon. Thank you, and goodbye.  


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