Thursday, June 10, 2010

What’s Your Type?: Personality system helps couples understand each other

In any long-term relationship, most couples can remember disagreeing about something seemingly insignificant. Maybe one of them was having a bad day. Perhaps it was the result of miscommunication. But oftentimes a minor spat can spiral into a major conflict without deeper exploration.

For Vicki Reitenauer, it happened in the kitchen. She and her wife, Carol Gabrielli, share an interest in cooking, but they don’t always adhere to the same standards.

“I’ll chop the peppers, and then she’ll come back and re-chop them at the size that she wants,” Reitenauer recalls. Before long, she’d find herself feeling: “Wow, you’re betraying me on some fundamental level. You’re abandoning me.”

The couple, who met at college in 1985 and have been together since 1997, eventually figured out what was causing such an extreme reaction. They accomplished this by studying the Enneagram, a personality system that details nine universal perspectives on seeing the world. For example, “The Protector” tends to be a bossy person who confronts injustice, while “The Mediator” would rather avoid drama. “The Performer” enjoys the spotlight, while “The Observer” prefers privacy. In essence, each personality type has a specific “lens” through which it filters the world, and the Enneagram aims to bring everything into focus.

Gabrielli discovered that her Enneagram type is “The Perfectionist.” This means that she consistently fixates on errors, which can lead to anger and resentment. “I think things through with great rigor,” Gabrielli says before jokingly busting into an exaggerated German accent: “It’s about discipline and consequence!”

Reitenauer, meanwhile, identifies as “The Romantic,” an idealistic type who frequently notices what’s missing. “I believe in feeling things deeply. I’m drawn to the highest highs and the lowest lows.”

By learning more about their distinct points of view, the couple were able to develop a keen awareness that not everyone perceives those chopped veggies in the same way. As a result, they stopped taking everything so personally.

“Because of who Carol is, there is this sense of doing everything in the right way,” Reitenauer says. “But that intersects with my deep shame around being exposed for being wrong. That would be a driver for conflict in our relationship.”

The goal, she explains, is for people to express affection in a way that will resonate with their partner.

“The Enneagram has helped me to recognize how Carol shows love to me,” Reitenauer says. “Sometimes in a couple, either person can be acting in ways that they believe are loving and which are expressions of love. But the other person can’t see it, because it’s not what that person typically has recognized as love.”

Israel Sostrin and Susan Schmitt have also experienced how the Enneagram can help couples understand each other better. As the busy parents of an infant daughter, they have a strong desire to connect during their limited free time—albeit with different approaches.

Sostrin’s personality type is “The Giver,” so he instinctually places the needs of others ahead of his own and can suffer from “a lack of awareness of myself and my basic needs.” He prefers to connect on an emotional level.

Schmitt, however, finds connection intellectually. As “The Epicure,” she can easily get lost in thought. Schmitt describes the optimistic mindset of people who share her personality type: “If something’s not working out, we move on. We tend to have a lot of great ideas but not necessarily always follow through.”

Schmitt says the Enneagram is a powerful method to help get to the heart of the matter “more quickly and gracefully. It gave us a tool to look inside so we don’t have to blame the other person. It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the nature of who we are.”

According to Sostrin, the Enneagram gave him an eye-opening awareness of his “blind spots.” He adds that frustration subsided once he accepted that he and his wife have inherently distinct outlooks: “You wouldn’t expect a raccoon to act like a giraffe.”

Couples will have the opportunity to learn more about the Enneagram at an upcoming workshop. Cathy Hitchcock, who has 25 years of experience as a psychotherapist, will be facilitating the session along with mentor and spiritual counselor Dale Rhodes. Both are certified professional trainers of the Enneagram.

“So much about where growth happens is just awareness. People can spend a really long time in therapy to develop awareness that can come quite quickly with the Enneagram,” Hitchcock says. “To me, the Enneagram is a system of self-understanding and understanding others in your life. It seems like automatically what comes with that is compassion—compassion for each other and compassion for ourselves.”

Gabrielli agrees. These days, she can more readily sense when her perfectionism is getting the best of her.

“I value any tool that helps me see how I’m wired,” she says. “Once one practices the Enneagram more and more, he or she can not only see the train coming, but hear the whistle of it and get off the track, so that you’re not just standing there and getting run over by the moment.”

“Introduction to the Enneagram for Couples” features guidance on identifying the couple’s types, as well as professional videos of experienced students speaking about their personality style and how it affects relationships, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 19 at HealthQuest, 1330 S.E. 39th Ave. in Portland. Admission is $180 a couple, which includes all materials and two books. Register here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Making Peace: Experts help reduce conflict through self-awareness

Like it or not, conflict is an unavoidable daily reality. It comes up on the job, within relationships, at school and in international relations. If not handled properly, it can lead to stress, divorce, alienation or, in extreme cases, war.

But before people can learn how to reduce conflict, according to Stanford psychiatry professor David Daniels, they need to learn how to understand themselves. Daniels is a renowned expert on the Enneagram, an ancient personality system exploring nine types of thinking that influence how folks view the world.

"The brain is literally a pattern machine, and the Enneagram is about nine fundamental styles of adapting to the world to have a satisfying life," Daniels explains. "These are adaptive patterns that go all the way back to early childhood, so we believe in them."

Daniels identifies as a Type Six, also known as "The Loyal Skeptic," which means that he pays particular attention to avoiding potential hazards. This point of view, established at a young age, creates adults who are trustworthy and inquisitive but can also be overly doubtful and fearful.

"Lots of times, it's just my magnification of things," Daniels says. "I can really count on you, but I'm taking some little incident, I'm magnifying it, I'm blowing it up, and then I can get accusatory toward you. That'll take me right into conflict."

The Enneagram makes people more aware of how their personality type deals with embedded beliefs and behaviors that might keep them in repeated circles of conflict. Daniels says you need to notice when you "start to get upset and reactive" and how to "befriend your reactivity."

Daniels, who co-wrote the best-selling book "The Essential Enneagram," is coming to Portland to teach a two-day workshop about how the Enneagram can bring harmony to people's lives. He will be joined by Curt Micka, a former attorney who has worked as a professional mediator for more than 20 years.

Because each Enneagram personality type has a different "lens" through which it views the world, Daniels explains, it's important to acknowledge what biases each party brings to the table. For example, Type Two, also known as "The Giver," notices the needs of others, but Type Seven, also known as "The Epicure," is more self-centered. Meanwhile, Type Three, also known as "The Performer," demands attention, but Type Five, also known as "The Observer," requires privacy.

However, Daniels adds, this doesn't mean that a couple who share the same personality type will necessarily get along. Say, if two people both identify as Type One, also known as "The Perfectionist," they still might disagree about how to raise children, how to be intimate or even how to clean the house.

"It's a mistake to think that all Type Ones are neat freaks, so to speak," Daniels says. "They both can have high internal standards about what's the one right way, but the content of those standards can be hugely different."

According to the Enneagram, some of the more emotional personality types — such as Type Eight, also known as "The Protector," and Type Four, also known as "The Romantic" — tend to attract conflict. Others tend to avoid conflict altogether, which Micka emphasizes is not a sustainable solution.

"Avoiding conflict is a very common strategy for dealing with conflict," he says. "The reality is that it doesn't make the conflict go away. You simply end up burying and suppressing a whole lot of stuff, including emotions, that usually leaks out one way or another."

The workshop will focus on what Daniels calls "The Four A's" that are essential for mastering conflict:

1. Awareness. Get more grounded and receptive.
2. Acceptance. Approach the situation without judgment.
3. Action. Pause for self-inquiry, which can lead to conscious conduct.
4. Adherence. Practice these methods every day.

Daniels says conflict resolution requires people to know the difference between the position-based approach, where each side digs into its trench, and the more efficient interest-based approach, which seeks common solutions, shared interests and mutual prosperity. "When you don't get reactive and you can just be there in the present working with these adversaries, it's hard for them to stay in an adversarial position."

Micka says the workshop will be ideal for therapists, spiritual directors, mediators and attorneys. However, he notes, nonprofessionals will get just as much out of the experience.

"We all encounter conflict on a day-to-day basis," Micka says. "Differences are a part of life, and learning how to deal with them more constructively is valuable for anybody."

"The Enneagram's Gift to Mastering Conflict Constructively and Compassionately" features panels, lectures and small-group exercises from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 6 and 7 in Room 238 at Portland State University's Smith Memorial Student Union, 1825 S.W. Broadway. The registration fee is $150 before Feb. 28 and $175 after. For more information click here.