Finding Supportive Relationships and Healthy Boundaries Is Key
Each Enneagram type has its own superego message and the message of the 9 is “I’m OK, if you’re OK”. In this post I reflect on how this particular message can make group gatherings difficult for 9s, how this messaging almost caused me to make myself small (again) and how I got past it this time.
I don’t know about you but I’m acutely aware of how everyone is doing at a dinner/lunch/birthday party/bookclub. I will notice if someone is a bit off, experiencing difficult emotions or if there’s a tension between people in the room. Once I’ve seen the ‘not okayness’, I struggle to move past it. It’s like I can’t settle and enjoy myself unless everybody is completely happy and fully committed to the event. This inability to completely enjoy myself is exacerbated if I’m hosting the event. And the most potent event to host has to be a birthday party, where you’re the centre of focus rather than quietly hosting in the background.
As I mentioned in my last post, it was my 40th recently. How to celebrate my birthday had been on my mind for some time and the solution wasn’t obvious. My thinking went like this: How about a big do, get my loved ones all in one place and feel the love? I longed for this. I’d had a taste of it at our wedding 15 years ago and I’d realised then how special it felt. One shares the limelight at a wedding though and now I was having to consider lime-lighting solo. Eek.
As a general rule, I’m not a fan of big parties and I think it’s because the more people at a party, the higher the probability of somebody not being OK. As I pictured the party in my mind I could feel my mindset alternating quite rapidly between my warm, fun-loving side bringing others together and the weight of responsibility for other people’s needs. Would everyone be OK? Would they have fun? Would people that didn’t know anyone else be OK? Would the different groups of friends mix or stay separate? I wanted some idealistic, utopian party where everybody loved each other… And if I couldn’t have my idealistic, utopian party then maybe I wouldn’t have a party at all….
As I visualized my preference, having everyone all together at one event, I visualized speaking vulnerably. I wanted to share how I’d put down roots in South Africa in the last 13 years and how grateful I was for the support and friendship. I’ve never lived in one house, one city or one workplace for so long. I wanted to share how much people had welcomed me here, and how generous and accommodating my family in the UK had been in letting me go. As I imagined myself speaking vulnerably I immediately wanted to start cherry-picking people so only the absolutely supportive would be there. Any necessary invite who would balk at my display of vulnerability was removed in my mind (and there were a couple of people who might). If you’re uncomfortable with displays of vulnerability, you’re off the list.
You see the pattern here. Any potential for ‘not okayness’ and I’m threatening to not have that person or not have a party at all. Self-sabotage right there. And there was a time when that self-sabotage played out: I was offered a big 21st party but I declined, much to my mum’s disappointment. I was depressed at the time and additionally, I couldn’t bear the idea of my divorced parents and their sides of the family being together and the potential for conflict. The thought of people coming to a party and not being 100% happy (quite likely, considering the difficult inter and intra-family relations) or people not having the best time ever, meant I’d rather not have a party at all. In hindsight, I wonder how much I added to my depression by withdrawing and minimizing myself and not having that party. I avoided potential conflict spectacularly well…but I simultaneously didn’t allow any love or good wishes in either.
So almost 20 years later and my 40th birthday was approaching. The pressure was on to make the call but South Africa was in lockdown and my UK family were tightly locked down too. There was no way they could come.
The solution came when I received an invite to an online Secret Sunrise party. Secret Sunrise is a growing global community aimed at uniting people through dance. It’s a silent disco with amazing music through headphones. They’re generally first thing in the morning and you find out the location shortly before, hence secret sunrise. I’ve been to a couple in person and they’re amazing. Now with lockdown they’d moved them online. I tried the online version out. The connection with others was still amazing. In an email, they acknowledged that so many gatherings had been canceled so they were doing online parties for people…..
Image from secretsunrise.com/london/
The idea resonated. An hour long. People could tune in from their locked-down houses. Nobody was actually in the same room so there was no possibility of conflict. I organized it, invited people, and started generating some energy for it. I surprised myself. I can really generate enthusiasm when I try.
Now, Secret Sunrise is alternative. They include meditation and even a bit of breathwork. Totally my vibe these days. Not so much everyone in my life though. I was a bit worried. Again, if it wasn’t everyone’s vibe, they’d be uncomfortable for a bit. Could I handle that?
What pulled me through was the crowd of people I survived my integral coaching course with last year. Courage and vulnerability and dancing was part of the program. I knew my core friends and this coaching crowd would get it and go all in. Even if others in my life didn’t get it, there’d be a critical mass of people who did. That was all I needed — enough people who’d got my back.
In the end, I had a mass of people at my party. From gallery view I could see people dressed up, disco lights, heels. It was a blast. We danced to great tunes, we chatted, we connected. Did the meditation and short breathwork freak a few people out? Yep for sure. But it didn’t railroad the event or me. I got lovely feedback that people had felt connected in lockdown, had fun, dressed up. I connected with family and friends from all over the world, the country, and from several aspects of my life. And there was a satisfaction and happiness within me that my big birthday had been marked. A very different feeling from the withdrawal and depression around my 21st.
So what was the difference between my 21st and 40th? Two things: support and boundaries. The book Boundaries highlights how when starting to practice boundaries, you must have good support in place. I have developed much deeper relationships in the last 20 years. Knowing that my core friends and fellow coaches love me as I am and were supporting me gave me the courage to separate myself from the okayness of others. I realised that other people’s okayness is actually their responsibility, not mine. Sarah Knight in F*ck No points out that if someone doesn’t want to come to your party then it’s their responsibility to decline, and decline timeously. People are responsible for their own moods and their own needs. And if someone doesn’t like your speech, well hey ho.
So, dear 9s, our ‘I’m OK if you’re OK’ superego messaging is bullshit and it is our spiritual work to get past it. This messaging is a surefire path towards disconnection and at its worst, even depression too. When we hide because of this messaging, we get in the way of the connection and harmony we crave. We also stop those in our life who are OK from loving us and showing up for us.
And as for people who aren’t OK at social events: I’m now seeing that if we can practice healthy boundaries and hold their discomfort separate from our own inner state, then we can choose to be compassionate for them instead. And that’s a much more comfortable place to be.
I share my own insights with you in the hope that you might see how 9ness sneaks into your life in ways you hadn’t considered before. Please do share any insights you have — I would love to hear from you.