Maybe not “conflict:” or, further Enneagram thoughts.

Conflict has been on my mind a lot recently, and not just because the world seems to be so full of constant knives-out energy (although that doesn’t help.) The very idea of conflict is central to my Enneagram type: 9s are among the more conflict-averse types, and my own conflict aversion was a huge wake-up call when I started learning about the Enneagram.

But lately, I’ve heard from a lot of people who are close to me that they don’t see me as particularly conflict-averse, or prone to merging with others to the point of disappearance, or unwilling to state an opinion, which are all ways that I have described myself. This might mean a few things:

First, I might be falling into the confirmation bias trap that lurks in all models, and certainly in the Enneagram. Especially when people talk about the Enneagram in a way that focuses on behavior rather than motivation, it can become simplistic to the point of pure falsehood. If you believe the memes, 9s are always buried under a blanket watching TV and tipping over into a fugue state when someone requires them to make a decision. So I may well be ascribing habits to myself that aren’t really as consistent as all that, falling into the gravitational pull of the stereotypes.

(I don’t think that’s the reason that I come across as less conflict-averse than I profess, though. I suspect the others:)

Second, I might have a more developed 8 wing than I realize. Like many 9s, I identify with nearly every type, often thinking I am all of them–except 8. Reading about 8s is, for me, like reading about aliens. That’s not me, at least, I can say defiantly. But don’t I have lots of rage, often internalized? Uh, yeah. And like to poke at people’s lazy thinking? Yes. And don’t I deeply resent being controlled (even if I am more prone to react passive-aggressively than proper aggressively?) Totally. But I’m only recently seeing these traits, because I think ordinarily I suppress noticing them. They don’t fit with the shallow version of myself I historically tried to inhabit: the unobtrusive, kind, peaceful, dreaming sort. (Some other time I might tell the story of intentionally throwing the Myers-Briggs test to empirically be as wood-nymph-like as possible.)

Third, and most important, at the end of the day the fear is not so much of conflict itself, but of disconnection. Conflict is a quick ticket to disconnection in a weak relationship, so avoiding it can be a shorthand for avoiding disconnection. I still get a little stomach ache thinking about the driver with whom I exchanged fingers a few weeks ago: I was walking; she nearly ran me over then flipped me off; I lost it at her quite impotently then fretted for a full day about how someone who doesn’t know me at all could have such malice toward me, and whether she’s out there thinking I’m the asshole, as though it really matters.

The thing is, instinctively, I’d rather hang on to the hollow shell of a relationship than risk losing it. So that’s when the hiding, the aversion to difficulty, is helpful.

But in a strong relationship where connection is plentiful, where I feel secure that conflict won’t lead to disconnection, I can let myself show more. I can be a bit of a pain. I can needle people into refining their opinions. I can feel, and show, my frustration. This allows me to work through it, get past it, rather than simmering internally. The phoniness drops. And it’s simplistic to call all of this “conflict,” and to say that I hate it, because it’s a part of the big complex tapestry that any relationship is.

All that to say, your girl is still trying to get comfortable with the idea that not everyone has to like me, especially if it comes at the cost of having been myself. And this is the kind of stuff that the almighty models can do well, at their best: show us the ways we might be hiding from the truth about why we do the things we do. This is when we have a chance to change those things, if they’re not working out for us.

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