Last week at work, we had a presentation on the enneagram, which to me is on a par with astrology, which is to say I think it’s nonsense.
(Pausing here to say that they teach you a staggering amount of stuff in clinical pastoral education. Besides caregiving skills themselves, and all the policies and procedures for the department and the hospital, and the computer system and charting protocol, you learn about: caring for this, that and the other special population (one session apiece on psych patients, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Catholics, etc.), family systems, palliative care (several sessions on this), various spiritual assessment models, interpersonal relations (Karpman Triangle, etc.), your own psychological baggage (Johari Window, etc.), the legacy of your family (including making a genogram), grief, emotions, group dynamics, conflict mediation, how to conduct an interfaith service, transference/countertransference and projection, boundaries, self-care, how to avoid burnout, child development … )
This second unit focuses a lot on self-awareness, family issues, and interpersonal dynamics. The presentation on the enneagram was the second one we’ve had and it was an extremely difficult experience for me. It was presented by one of the staff chaplains, with whom I have (or used to have) a good relationship. We have been told that it’s not for anyone else to tell you what your enneagram number is, but staff members routinely offer opinions about this. In fact, Thursday afternoon, Patricia twice told an anecdote about discussing with the spiritual care director what someone or other’s enneagram number is. “Do you think he’s a three?” “Nah, he doesn’t dress nicely enough.” One of my peers, sounding a little freaked out, asked, “Really? You guys sit around talking about people like that?”
I received what seemed to me an undue amount of attention, perhaps because I do have a relationship with Patricia, or because I happened to be sitting near the front. She had asked us to take a couple of online tests to help determine what our number is. At this point, I’ve taken four or five tests, and have also discussed what I might be with Patricia, and, irritatingly, have ended up with several different possibilities. Am I a one? A nine? It was very nice of my own supervisor, Anita, to suggest this, but this is not what I am. An eight? A five? Annoying.
We did a group exercise that to me was completely incomprehensible, and so I stood apart, with one other student. Patricia noticed this and asked, “Bugwalk, what is going on for you now?”
I said, “This doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“What emotion would you say you’re having?”
“Anger.” If nothing else, CPE teaches you to know how you feel and to announce it posthaste.
“Class, does Bugwalk look angry to you?”
Most everyone in the group looked like they didn’t think so, but a member of my own subgroup said, “Definitely.” On the one hand, I appreciate that he knows me well enough to know this, but something about the way he said it made me suspect he was enjoying my discomfort.
Patricia had said that no one can tell us what number we are and that we get to say what we believe is true for us, but several times in the course of this session, she said to me, with a definite triumphant air, things like, “Aha! The very fact that you asked that question” means such-and-such. It sounded like she was very sure indeed about who I am and also what’s wrong with me.
At some point, she took one of my classmates through a series of questions to help this person pick out her number. After that, she asked me, “Would you be willing to do that same kind of work now in this room?” I thought for one second and said, “No,” but she went ahead anyway, and in the course of that, I lied to her.
Not to excuse this, but to explain it, I was pretty much desperate at that point not to be whatever she thinks I am. She looked confused, which wasn’t satisfying even in the moment, and later that evening, when I pictured how her face looked after I lied to her, I felt sad and ashamed. She got wound up and she ignored my “No”, but she didn’t mean any harm.
Nonetheless, I am reserved, and I felt shamed, humiliated and very intruded upon. By the end of the day, I felt completely alienated from everyone in the room and it even crossed my mind to quit the program, though I recognized that as a major overreaction. It’s amazing that it’s taken me until halfway through the second unit to have that impulse.
The next day I had figured out what in my past accounted for my getting so upset, but I still felt estranged from my colleagues and refused to sit down at the morning meeting. I had a wet raincoat with me and I stood behind Sam with it hanging from my hand. “Do you want me to make a place for you to hang up your coat?” he offered.
“No,” I said.
He got up to do it, anyway, and I said more firmly, “N, O, no,” and we conducted the whole meeting with me standing up. That is, I acted like a 13-year-old. Fortunately, acting like a 13-year-old is totally allowed in CPE, as long as you eventually demonstrate that you understand your behavior, that you can be honest and open about it, and that you are able to experiment with making different choices.
I went to debrief with Anita, who had not been at the enneagram session. She listened very kindly and understood what I said and even teared up a bit on my behalf. She also gently pointed out that my words had perhaps conflicted with my affect. I said I was angry and I said I didn’t want to work with Patricia right then, but I had a pleasant expression on my face, and at moments I used humor to deflect from the intensity of what I was feeling. So that is one lesson for me: If I want people to understand that I’m angry, a smile does not help communicate that.
Later on, Sam paged me to see if I was OK and was horrified to hear how upset I had been—he had not realized that at all. At lunch, he said he had thought the whole thing was in good fun. I do plan to tell Patricia what I experienced. I asked Anita if she would sit in on that discussion, and she said she would.