The Courage to Keep Going

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” —Nelson Mandela

As a Six on the enneagram, I am one of those people who imagines the worst case scenario. Sometimes I drive myself and my family crazy providing information about what could happen if we are not careful. The pandemic has especially brought out this aspect of my personality armed with masks, hand sanitizer, and the newest information about the covid variants. While there is nothing wrong with being prepared and informed, sometimes I take it to another level of obsessing and catastriphizing what will happen if I wind up in the hospital struggling to breath. Covid has indeed proven to be a worst case scenario for so many families around the world. Even those who have done their best to protect themselves and their families from getting sick, have become victims. However, if I am not careful I can feel like I am living in the worst case scenario before it ever happens, so I have learned to do my best to protect myself, stay informed and resist the urge to click on the fifth Covid article in an hour.

I have been reading Ian Crohn’s newest book on the enneagram The Story of You: An Enneagram Journey of Becoming Your True Self. This book has been a helpful reminder of the courage it requires to keep on going in a world that sometimes feels like an overwhelmingly scary place, especially to a person who is a Six.

A Six on the Enneagram is the most common personality type. We are the loyal, reliable, troubleshooting personality who at our best work courageously to protect others from harm. However, since we gravitate towards what can go wrong sometimes we get easily stuck there and find the most security in staying just where we are. Sometimes the devil we know feels less intimidating than the devil we don’t.

Almost two decades ago, when I had little awareness of what my strengths or my weaknesses were, I did what many loyal sixes do, and followed a leader, who I believed would protect me. On the outside, to the members of his congregation, he was a strong, stable, smart, and a sympathetic pastor. He taught with authority and made good applications to our daily lives. After listening to a sermon from him, the things that had been confusing me started to make sense.

Because sixes are hard wired to value safety above everything else, we don’t function well in chaos or disorder. I feel most comfortable with an organized space and with a well planned schedule. Surprises can throw my whole day off and make it difficult for me to get back on task. Growing up in an abusive home as a six, I found control the only way I could, by monitoring others behavior and managing my own to fit their needs. If I stayed out of the way, in my room, I was less likely to get yelled at. When I watched a movie or read in my room, I could escape my circumstances while I was engrossed in someone else’s story. Therefore, I consumed a whole lot of books and movies. But even when I did my best to avoid conflict, sometimes there was nothing I could do to not be screamed at for doing something wrong, like choosing too bright of a lipstick or too short of pants, or not wiping off the stove or bathroom counter or heaven forbid spilling the tea. It was an especially big problem when I had a boyfriend who cheated on me. When I was upset, it wasn’t acceptable to my parents. I wasn’t supposed to act out. I was supposed to pay attention to their emotions and make sure I didn’t upset them. I learned quickly when my father put a gun on the coffee table and threatened to shoot my boyfriend if he came to visit again, that it was best not to ask my parents for help. So I learned to be safe by being self-reliant.

No matter how committed we are to giving our best effort at maintaining control in our lives, life happens and we figure out we are not in control. We look for answers anywhere we can find them. We seek to put the broken pieces of our lives back together somehow. The pastor had a way of making the broken pieces fit into something that made sense. Asking him for help felt like the most rational thing to do.

Self-reliance really does make the most sense when we go through our lives walking through the minefields of other’s explosive emotions. We control whatever we can. While we can do a pretty good job at times controlling what others see on the outside about us, we have little control of our own needs making their way to the surface and causing us to act out in ways that can feel outside of our control. This is where shame, guilt and powerlessness come in. When we’ve done all we can to change ourselves, and it isn’t working, then we are left to feel scared, alone and uncertain about everything. We gravitate back towards the familiar, because familiar is the only thing that has any resemblance to safety.

My former pastor resembled the father who raised me in ways my conscience mind was unable to recieve. Years of therapy taught me about trauma bonds and narcissistic manipulation. He had become the devil I knew and was too afraid to leave. Until my needs resurfaced again, and I finally found the courage to ask someone else for help.

It was only when I found the courage to let others in, that I was able to see the way out of the toxic relationship that was consuming my life. I thank God for the counselor who told me that my life wasn’t supposed to be the way it had been my whole life. There was a new way, a better way, but for someone like me it would take a tremendous step outside into the unknown where things didn’t feel safe or familiar.

Sadly, taking the most terrifying step of my life did not bring me the results that I had longed for. It revealed a congregation of people who had drunk the same Kool-Aid as I had, and even though they were disappointed by the pastor’s behavior, it was easier to believe that we had both just “fallen into sin.”

The courage to keep going when things fall apart, and no matter how hard we try to put the pieces back together again, nothing seems to fit together and make sense anymore, can at times feel like an impossible task especially for an enneagram six like me. But I want to encourage you, especially if you are a six on the enneagram, there is a way forward. It just looks different from how we learned to believe it should. This quote front Ian Crohn’s book opened up my mind to new possibilities for hope.

Singer-songwriter Jill Phillips summed this up perfectly when she returned to Typology for a solo interview.6 “Any terrible thing that’s happened to me, I didn’t see coming,” she said, while the terrible things she catastrophized about possibly happening didn’t. What she has learned from that over the course of many years is to have faith. “Something happened and I didn’t see it coming, and yet God was faithful, and I got through despite my weakness and my fear. The accumulation of those experiences has made me a very different person.”

Just as Jill Phillips is learning, I am learning that no matter how much I try to protect myself from harm by imaging worse case scenarios, I am still unprepared for the things that happen that I do not expect. Because so often what I work so hard to protect myself from doesn’t happen. This results in so much wasted energy. And when we are tired it causes us to be even more vulnerable to harm. Which leaves me asking the question, what can a six do to keep ourselves safe?

Leslie Jordan, another six interviewed by Ian Crohn, describes how as a six she is learning to keep going.

Then she began to rally, thinking about how much power and authority she had long given to her worst-case scenarios. She began questioning the way she tended to look to her husband or the church or other people to give her reassurance. In hindsight, there was a gift in all the terrible things that happened that year: she realized that through it all, the faithful authority she needed was God. She also realized her own strength, that she was capable of surviving one of her own worst-case scenarios. “I didn’t lose my faith and I didn’t lose myself in the process,” she said in wonder. The worst had happened, and she proved strong enough.

A counselor I worked with for several years told me after I shared with her my church experience, “You are a lot stronger than you think you are.” Initially, I didn’t know how to receive her words, but they are starting to make more sense now. I recognize today that I survived and my faith survived despite the worst happening that I wasn’t at all prepared for. Not to minimize at all any of our experiences of pain. Of course we should do everything we can to educate and prevent abuse from happening. It is a church’s responsibility to do all within it’s power to keep it’s members safe. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He is our role model. My point is only that we have survived more than we ever thought we could, and we can survive what is ahead even when most of the time we don’t know what it is.

Sometimes the broken pieces will never fit together and make sense, no matter how many sermons we hear that attempt to make them. The reality is we did survive and we can continue to survive best when we give our energy towards taking care of ourselves today and trusting in the One Who will be with us no matter what happens tomorrow. I also want to add that even when we struggle to trust Him, He is still there and will continue to be.

One final quote from Ian Crohn’s book:

Most Sixes eventually recognize that they must develop wellness plans and coping strategies if they’re ever going to enjoy their lives. They realize the impact their mixed messages have on others and work to resist them as well as to communicate what they’re feeling when triggered. Once they commit to doing the work and discarding the story that once felt like their only lifeline, Sixes often bloom into life with a distinct beauty that rivals any other type.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

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