The Arrows and the Levels
Q: "I was talking with some Enneagram friends recently, and they were saying that they disagreed with your idea that we only go to the "high end" of the type in our Direction of Integration, and that we only go to the "low end" of the type in our Direction of Disintegration. I told them that this was not your view, and that you had a more complete theory. I know that you taught about this at the Part I Training, but I could still use some clarification. How can I explain this to my friends?"
First of all, you are correct. We do not teach that the types only go to the healthy (or "high side") of their Direction of Integration, nor do we teach that we only go to the unhealthy (or "low side") of our Direction of Disintegration. We have not taught anything even remotely like that for many years. But this question has been raised repeatedly, so we want to say a thing or two that might simplify our views on the Directions.
With regard to the Direction of Disintegration, we feel that, under increased stress, a person goes to the type in his or her Direction of Disintegration at roughly the same Level as his or her basic type. We have explained this in the Revised Edition of Personality Types, and have included descriptions of what happens with the move to the Direction of Disintegration for each type Level by Level. Seen in this way, the move in the Direction of Disintegration is neither "up" or "down," but lateral. Thus it is neither to the "high side" nor to the "low side" unless the person is already at the "high side" or "low side" of their own type.
We see the Direction of Disintegration as a way of relieving stress by acting out behaviors that are not native to our type. It functions as a "safety valve" so that potentially overwhelming pressures and anxieties within the psyche can be let out. We feel that the Direction of Disintegration is not "bad," and can even be adaptive. It helps to slow the descent to a lower Level of our own type—a much more serious problem. In a certain sense, it is like a hasty lateral pass by a football quarterback who is being rushed by the defensive line: better to take a risk than to be sacked for sure and lose yardage. But in the case of our personalities, this move is usually unconscious and compulsive, and seldom resolves our problems. In certain circumstances, it can even make them worse. Also, by our definition, the move in the Direction of Disintegration (to the "stress point") comes into play at Level 4 or lower. In other words, "acting out" due to stress, occurs in the average to unhealthy ranges of our type.
By contrast, the Direction of Integration describes the process of consciously integrating new aspects of our Being that begins to come into play in the healthy Levels of our type, although we can first detect it around Level 4. The Direction of Integration represents a conscious movement toward wholeness. (For this reason, Level 4 is critical in that it marks a choice point—a stage at which we are more receptive to transformative energies. At Level 5 and lower, it is harder for us to respond to these energies: our personality is more dense and defended.)
We do not develop in the Direction of Integration by imitating the personality traits of that type. That is, a Six will not integrate by trying to imitate a Nine. That would just be the personality up to some new tricks. However, as we work on the issues of our own type with awareness, and the defenses of our personality begin to loosen, the Direction of Integration indicates healthy qualities that will begin to manifest in our attitudes and behaviors. For instance, When a Six starts to explore the roots of his fears and anxieties, he naturally will begin to open to the serenity and openness of a healthy Nine. As an Eight lets down her guard and allows herself to experience her vulnerability, she will naturally begin to feel her empathy and affection for others like a healthy Two. Unfortunately, this issue has led to quite a lot of confusion and misinterpretation in Enneagram circles.
That being said, we also see that people go to the average range of the type in their Direction of Integration, but usually in very specific circumstances. We call this phenomenon the Security Point, because we are most likely to engage the behaviors of the average range of the type in our Direction of Integration in situations in which we are very secure. We try out our security point behavior on people with whom we feel confident we can "get away with it." It is far more common, however, for a person in the average Levels of their type to move in their Direction of Disintegration. For example, a One in the average range would be more likely to go to average Four, feeling lonely, misunderstood, and alienated than to go to average Seven, becoming more effusive, scattered, and restless. Nonetheless, a One might "let off steam" with close friends and intimates in a Seven-ish way, clowning around and pursuing pleasurable, distracting activities—but not with strangers. The One would need to feel very secure in her situation to risk engaging the Seven side of her nature. The security point, however, is not the same as integrating. It is another form of acting out.
Lastly, we sometimes engage the healthy Levels of our Direction of Disintegration, but these are usually extremely short-lived until we have done substantial work on ourselves. We call this movement the Missing Piece because the healthiest Levels of the type in our Direction of Disintegration represent what our personality most needs for its completion, but is not able to integrate from a place of ego fixation. In other words, we have to be healthy and high-functioning before we can stabilize the qualities of the Missing Piece in our psyche, because they contradict fundamental beliefs of our basic type. For instance, Fives may have glimpses of Level 1 or 2 of the Seven, but can seldom maintain this perspective of joyful gratitude for existence. It is too ego-alien to the Five's basic worldview. Similarly, a Four needs to work on himself a long time before he can see himself and others as manifestations of pure love—the position of the healthy Two.
So to summarize, our type's movement in either direction is usual lateral—that is, at the same Level as our basic type—rather than up or down. Our personalities have access to the entire range of the types in both directions, although the ways and circumstances in which these different qualities will manifest is specific.
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