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Discussion Starter #21
Evolution hardwires us for survival. Pain is usually a signal that immediate survival is threatened, so we're wired with fear to avoid it. And we're wired to seek love and belonging, because for early humans, separation from the group was much deadlier.

When the needs of Nines conflict with others, they perceive that they have two basic choices to meet their needs: 1) choose to not comply, which is terrifying, or 2) choose to comply, which is enraging.

As a child, having conflicting needs with my parent was met by immediate physical pain (which conflicted with the instinct for safety) or a complete withdrawal of love (which conflicted with the instinct for belonging to the group). The nervous system evolved to keep us alive, so it's hardwired to prioritize feeling safe above all else. It rewired my nervous system (consider spending a few hours reading about trauma if you haven't already) and conditioned me to associate having needs with my basic needs going unfulfilled, which caused my nervous system to respond as though my survival were in immediate danger. In other words, in order to feel safe I had to choose to give up my control.

And because meeting basic needs is driven by instincts programmed into the nervous system, this process is not going on in the conscious mind. Someone can't consciously stop something that they're not conscious is happening.

Until we encounter models to explain this to us (trauma, Enneagram, etc.) and learn the language to communicate the concepts, we may not know it's going on. Once we do, it still takes time, developing the new-found understanding, and deliberate practice just to identify the process because it's running in the background. That's why you encounter a lot of entry-level advice to just observe without judgment.

Unhealthy Nines feel like they are constantly walking around vulnerable to the threat of having autonomy stripped from them at any moment, because they often don't even realize they have the option of not giving it up in the first place. It can feel like they have as much control over their life as a slave does. If that was your experience of the world, how would that make you feel? Would anger be somewhere in that mix of emotions?

As a child, I had no way to understand this, no language to address it, and no help in deconstructing it. So I have a lifetime of shutting down my needs, especially when they conflict with those of others. It makes me angry at my needs, angry at myself for having needs, angry at others for having needs that conflict with mine because it triggers my automatic response of shutting down my own, and angry that I have no voice. As a child, anger more than any other emotion was met with immediate and harsh physical and emotional pain. Pain triggers survival responses of the nervous system. Having needs means my survival is at stake, so I give up my needs. Giving up my needs makes me angry, and having anger triggers a survival response because my body knows what follows anger. So I stuff the anger down, which makes me more angry...this happens over and over and over again without you noticing until you have an understanding of it, and by that time that pattern of seeing having needs as a choice between fear and anger is burned into deep grooves in our neural pathways. Forming new grooves and making them the default can take months or years, even with the help of a mental health professional. And it certainly won't happen as though they're able to just flip a switch and shut off the coping mechanisms that helped them survive whatever messages and threats they received at a time when they didn't have the understanding or tools to respond in a mature and appropriate way.

So while you may have all the reason in the world to be frustrated that a Nine can't fix what's obvious to you, it's a bit like being frustrated at a fish not being able to describe water. Unfortunately none of us get to clearly see the behind-the-scenes processes that have historically served us well in staying alive, at least not out of the gate. We can't control what we don't realize needs controlling. Until we are presented with a model for understanding what's happening (such as the Enneagram), taking the time to build that understanding, learning how to work with it, building a deliberate and active practice to identify and address what we would otherwise be unaware is happening, and getting support and direction when we need it, change will likely not happen.

I would caution you to be very, very careful in addressing this, because it sounds like you might be considering pushing the issue because you believe they should change (you very well might not be, I can't tell for sure, I just get the feeling you might). An unhealthy or unaware Nine may not be in a place to understand the damage they're doing. Even if they are, they may not be in a place where they can be receptive to the information (our personalities are constructs for us to make sense of our survival mechanisms, and our personalities are identity-level stuff; the nervous system is rather lousy when it comes to distinguishing between threats to our physical self and threats to our conceptual sense of self—consider spending a few hours learning about ego defenses if you haven't already). If you try forcing it on them before they're ready to face it, it can make them interpret it as a threat, and that could shut down any openness to discussion they might have had.

And more than that, trying to force change on someone when they have not made that choice for themselves is a violation of their autonomy. As a Nine, I can tell you there are few transgressions as great as having autonomy taken from me. Please tread carefully and respectfully, and try to have compassion—you know how vulnerable your Type needs make you feel, understand that Nines feel that same vulnerability, just in a different way.
wow, thanks so much for that response. That is very insightful information.. the human mind is such a complex machine. I will likely read that several times to unpack and absorb it all but I just wanted to say thank you for the time you took to post it. It’s very helpful in my desire to understand.
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