When I was going through some serious therapy about 10 years ago, I noticed something that alarmed me. At random times — maybe driving down the road — I would suddenly feel flashes of extreme anger which left me shaking and confused.
When this happened, I never seemed to have anything specific to feel angry about. It just felt as though something had slightly opened a lid on something which was normally locked up tightly.
This anger scared me, because I had never felt anything like it. For my entire life, I have rarely allowed myself to feel anger of any kind. I’ve always had my feelings completely under control. Even when something was going on that would elicit rage from others, I was always under control and focused on a rational reaction. Under pressure, I was a lot like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.
The feelings which were washing over me randomly at the time — and which I still feel every now and then — made me seem to be feeling just the tiniest bit of the anger I had been repressing for my entire life. I had never even known it was there.
Although I understand more about it now than I did when it started — and I even wrote about my hidden anger not long ago — I’m still discovering more about the patterns which led to that. This weekend has been another of those times of discovery for me — and it came from an unexpected direction.
About six months ago, I started a confusing re-examination of my personality and identity. I had thought I knew who I was, but I suddenly discovered a way to view what I thought I understood as a subset of something which I hadn’t noticed before.
It wasn’t that I was wrong about what I had seen in myself. It was simply that I suddenly started understanding that what I had thought was the real me was only a part of myself. Another part — something which had been dominant up until I was about 30 years old — was still there. I didn’t realize that I had a lot of work to do in order to integrate two entirely different parts of myself. (Here’s what I wrote at the time when I tried to explain a part of it.)
The process I started about six months ago led me to reinterpret my personality on the Enneagram typing system. I had been certain that I was a Type 4, but I came to understand that my natural personality is a Type 1.
It turns out that a Type 1 can appear to be a Type 4 at certain unhealthy times and the Type 1 can also develop some of the Type 4’s positive traits as he grows in positive ways. I had experienced both sides of that, but I had concluded I was a Type 4. I didn’t realize it, but there was something deeper waiting for me to learn.
On Saturday, I listened to a chapter in an audiobook about the Enneagram that opened my eyes to a lot of how anger — repressed anger, not experienced anger — has affected my life. What’s interesting is that I’m not sure I could have allowed myself to see some of the truth I needed to see if my father had still been alive. So maybe it was finally the right time to learn what has been in front of me for years.
(If you have any interest in the subject, here’s an audio copy of the chapter which has taken me on this journey today.)
Beatrice Chestnut is considered one of the most influential Enneagram teachers today. I have her book, “The Complete Enneagram,” and I also have the audio version. I had read part of it, but I’d never finished it. I happened to hear her being interviewed on a podcast Friday, so that prompted me to pull out the book Saturday to listen to what she wrote about the Type 1.
She says that a Type 1 has always repressed anger because these people were terrified of making errors as children. They were afraid of their own environment and their parent figures, so they compensated by becoming “perfect” — and striving for perfection at all times. They repressed anger and repressed all negative emotions.
She says that these sorts of children were obsessed with self-control and with being flawless in behavior in order to escape the punishment which they were afraid of. As the result of this fear they learned as children, they devoted their minds to always doing the right thing in all circumstances.
When I was younger, I assumed that everyone had a harsh inner voice telling them what was wrong with them and directing them about how to become perfect. Even today — when I intellectually know this isn’t the case — I still want to assume that others are driven at their core by the ultimate desire to do whatever is the right thing.
It’s impossible for me to imagine not feeling that way. Chestnut’s explanations about the Type 1 made that all finally make sense. (There are three sub-types of each basic type, and I am the “self-preservation” variant of Type 1 that she discusses in the book.)
It’s hard for me to imagine that I could have come this far in life and still be learning such basic things about myself. Maybe you’re the same way.
As I learn more about myself, I feel a desperate need to share this with everybody I know. I especially have a strong desire to share it with whoever might eventually love me and want to marry me, whenever I find her. I need someone to understand what made me the ways I am — for both good and bad — and this is another building block of that understanding I want to offer.
I’m not sure anyone can successfully be my partner — in romance or business or deep friendship — without understanding these sorts of things. So there’s a part of me which feels evangelical about sharing. I want to take copies of all I’ve learned — some of which applies to me and some of which will apply to others in my life — and beg those people to learn, too.
For instance, I’m going to have my real estate broker’s license by November. (I currently have a salesperson license and you can’t get a broker’s license until you’ve had the salesperson license for two years.) The plan at the company where I work is for me to be promoted to become the “broker of record” for our company at that time. That’s a big deal and it will put me in the position of managing the salespeople.
I’ve known the owner of our company for something like 30 years, so he knows me pretty well. He knows he can trust me. But I need him to understand more about what I do — and what I think and feel — in order to understand why I will manage in some of the ways that I will. So I feel like taking this chapter to him and saying, “Sit down; we’re going to listen to this together.”
Those who quit learning and growing are doomed to keep making the same mistakes in their lives. I believe pretty passionately that the only way people can along with each other — and even live with themselves in a healthy way — is to keep growing.
I understand now that I was an efficient and rational machine in the early parts of my career. That’s why I did so well with some of the things I did. I was driven and I didn’t let my feelings get in the way, mostly because I didn’t always feel them.
But then when I was about 30, I discovered this hidden side of myself. I started exploring my emotions — in fits and starts, bits and pieces — and I became convinced that’s who I really was. The truth is more complicated. I was — and am — both of those people.
I’m just striving to integrate parts of myself which seem radically different from one another.
I understand now that I was terrified to feel anger as a child. If I had ever allowed myself to express the anger (or fear) which I felt about my father, he would have crushed me. My only defense mechanism was to repress my negative emotions and focus exclusively on always being correct and perfect.
That defense mechanism let me survive my father, but it left me very emotionally unbalanced. I’m still feeling the effects of that today.
Now I just have to finish integrating these two seemingly opposite parts of myself. That will lead to a more healthy place, but I have no idea what might lie beyond that.
There’s always something else to learn about ourselves. We always have more growing to do.