Cartoon by Elizabeth Wagele from The Enneagram of Death
• Were you ever afraid to stop talking or doing, doing, doing?
• Have you ever zoned out in front of the TV or on drugs because you didn’t want to feel the feelings you would have felt if you’d let yourself feel them?
• Did you ever worry non-stop about one thing, then another and another—and later realize it would have been much more frightening to turn your thoughts to what was really bothering you?
Excessive doing, talking, worrying, and zoning out are common defenses. We all employ defenses when we’ve just had a shock we can’t handle. Our defense mechanisms allow us to adjust gradually to threatening news or to a death in the family. If we practice them too long, however, they can take over and become a destructive part of our personality. We may become obnoxious to other people, jeopardize our physical health, or not deal with what’s really bothering us.
Jan, an Enneagram Type One, a Perfectionist with a Peace Seeker wing, suffered from stress as many Perfectionists do. Her main defense against her fear of death was to worry excessively about whether she was doing things right. In the following story, she describes how she tackled her fears.
Facing the Fear of Death: The Gift of Dying, Part I
By Jan Conlon
Death and Dying terrified me for most of my life. Not only was I afraid of the possible physical pain, but also the deeper issue that I was afraid of being bad—not good enough to merit a positive afterlife. Since I didn’t know when I was going to die, I felt immense pressure to be perfect, so that at the requisite moment I would be prepared to meet my Maker and be found worthy. The pressure manifested itself through my gut, often causing digestive upsets. I have always held tension throughout my body. Photos from my youth show I held myself rigidly, as if constricting my muscles would control my bad impulses. I feared if I didn’t take the time to sugar coat my truth in politeness, I would not be seen as a good person… I believed if I relaxed my body, I might unleash that rage, lashing out and hurting others in the process.
Even now, my inner dialog goes like this: “That person made me mad! Uh, oh, don't get angry! Hold your feelings in. Stiffen your body. Tighten your shoulders even more. Smile! Be nice! Control yourself! …
My body then constricts even more as my fears of not being good prove to be true. I will lose my connection with my inner wisdom and my inner logic, and feel like I am in a downward spiraling vortex. Often, the only experience powerful enough to shock me out of it and take me to a healthier place is to be in the presence of someone who is dying. When that happens, I find myself in a situation beyond good or bad. In other situations I feel responsible for everything around me, but I cannot control the inevitability of death. I feel I have been jettisoned out of my anxiety and into a place of peace. I have no need to do anything or become anything, but simply to be present.
Read Part II to find out more about how Jan got to a peaceful place Sept. 4.
From The Enneagram of Death—Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying by Elizabeth Wagele, published by the International Enneagram Association.