A long time ago, I posted about the Enneagram, a personality typing system, on welderbeth’s facebook page with a teaser that I would blog about my type. Well, I never did and I haven’t blogged in six weeks. I guess having an interview and starting a job in the span of about three days will do that to you.
Nevermind. Nevermind! You forgive me, right? I hope you haven’t passed out from holding your breath in suspense. Here you go: I am a type One in the Enneagram. The book that I was reading to figure this out labeled Type Ones as “Perfectionists”. I was laughingly telling Alex and The Kid over dinner about how ridiculous it was to think that I was a perfectionist and they both stopped chewing and just stared at me with food falling out of their mouths.
Ahem, okay. So maybe I have some perfectionist qualities
(To confirm, I also tested out my theory that I wasn’t a perfectionist with co-workers and they shot me down real quick.)
You certainly wouldn’t think that I am a perfectionist by looking at me. On any given day, my hair and clothes more closely resemble pajamas than things that people actually wear outside. Someone mentioned yesterday that my dress and purse were the same shade of green (which isn’t a compliment necessarily, just an observation) but it took me aback because people NEVER comment on my clothing. “Oh, I like your yoga pants” isn’t something that people normally say anyway. My make-up game however is flawless all the time…because I never wear make-up. In fact, the only make-up we have in the entire house is an old tube of bright red lipstick that we used for Awkward Family Photos one year and we’ve used that more for mirror-writing than for actual lips.
Or take my laissez-faire approach to home improvement. For example, the light over our kitchen sink died and we had to scrub dishes in the dark which is the worst. We happened to buy the replacement light right before Alex went on vacation. Although I was really excited about having a light again, when I opened the box, my spirit fell. The instructions were detailed and lengthy. You had to get out an actual drill and, heaven forbid, actually measure things. It was very precise.
Until I realized that this particular light was exceptionally lightweight and so I pulled out my secret weapon.
A hot glue gun.
Yep, I hot glued that sucker to the underside of our cabinet instead of using screws like a normal person. Works like a charm. You might wonder if the humidity from the sink has loosened the hot glue over time, but it’s been a year and a half and that sucker hasn’t budged.
So why don’t you stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Bob Vila?
Once I started reading more about the One types in the Enneagram, I realized that they’re more accurately characterized as people who have a very loud inner critic. This made a little more sense to me. I’ve always thought that I was more Type A than self-critical. I am a control freak. I know how things should be done because I have already figured out the best way. As you can imagine, this sometimes makes me a really fun person to work with. Also, I’m a huge fan of order and structure and routine. It helps calm me.
Since I’ve been mulling over this idea that I have a loud inner critic, I’ve decided there’s some merit to it. I’ve never called it that. I’ve always called it people pleasing or a need for control, but it all stems from this inner dialogue that I have with myself that says I’m not good enough. I could be better if I would just…xyz. It’s not that this criticism is always front and center. It’s just kind of quietly consistent, a nagging sensation that my work is never done. My inner critic is less a screaming man and more of an annoying little girl that nags me. Let’s call her Dolores.
As an example of Dolores’ function in my life, the Baby had surgery this summer and, in preparation for what could possibly have been a lengthy hospital stay, I cleaned my car and house and then threatened The Kid and Alex to keep things clean or I was gonna lose it.
Hospital stays make me feel completely powerless. I always feel like our parenting is being scrutinized by nurses and doctors (which probably isn’t the case but Dolores tells me they are). I think having a wicked clean car or a squeaky clean house are ways for me to shut that inner critic up a little bit.
“Well, my life may be going down the toilet, but at least I have a clean car, DOLORES.”
The Enneagram books make a point to say that Ones might not always be super neat and tidy people. If you come to my house, it might be clean, but my pantry sure isn’t organized and our closet is always a disaster. We don’t use coasters. One’s inner critic might pick and choose what needs to be perfect. The perfectionism might be turned outwards towards all of the things that need to be fixed in our broken world.
This, I can identify with and, quite frankly, it’s exhausting. I’ve always looked out for injustices and, more importantly, felt a tremendous burden to “fix” them. My inner Dolores has found her calling in being fixated on racial injustice in the US. I can’t look away, I can’t stop thinking about it, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s nothing that I can really do to make a dent in it.
I’m not saying this to brag. It’s not as if I block walk in my spare time to argue with racists in my neighborhood. This fixation is likely not healthy. Volunteering with Faith in Texas helps me move some of my anxiety into productive action, but even then, I’ve learned that community organizing is slow, arduous work and it often feels like we take two steps forward and one step back (which makes Dolores SCREAAAAM).
Recently, it’s been so overwhelming that the only thing that really seems to calm Dolores’ nagging in my head is drowning her out by Netflix-binging on Friends. Whenever I’m forced to sit with my thoughts, they inevitably go to how terrible things are (and have been) for marginalized groups and how I could be doing more to fix it.
In trying to do more, I recently engaged an acquaintance from high school on social media because he posted some questionable things about the NFL protests. I engaged with this person in particular because I consider them to be a good, thoughtful person who cares about others and is willing to have a discussion about racial injustice in the US.
We dialogued for two weeks- back and forth sharing data and counterpoints. I thought to myself, “Okay, maybe I can get him to see how his views aren’t compassionate or empathetic. Maybe he will see how he is prioritizing his feelings about football over the hurt of the Black community.” I was really relying on his empathy to kick in.
In one of his messages, he off-handedly lamented over that Google employee who was fired for writing a 10-page-memo about how the gender gap in tech companies isn’t from systemic inequality issues or sexism- it’s from biological differences between men and women. My high school acquaintance, who I thought had been dialoging with me as equals, said that guy was being persecuted for just rationally pointing out the difference between men and women (as if this poor Google employee was just stating a fact and got fired for it).
It shocked me.
Of course, I experience macro-level sexism- I think about my safety all the time and think, “Could I get raped right here?” at least twice a day, I was way too excited about Hidden Figures as a movie with strong, smart female roles (because those happen so little that we have to eagerly anticipate them), I feel the lack of female representation in almost all positions of power in our society, I’ve felt the sexism that seems to be inherent in most churches.
But, I have been privileged enough to mostly avoid micro-level sexism directed specifically at me. There was that one time a truck driver who wasn’t paying attention ran me off the highway. When we were waiting for police and a tow truck to show up, he told me a story from his Vietnam years about how a female soldier had woken up in the middle of the night and started shooting her gun around the tent (?) and his conclusion was that if I wasn’t a woman, then I wouldn’t have “panicked” at the giant semi truck veering towards me and this wouldn’t have happened because men, obviously, can calmly handle being sandwiched between a semi and a median. I mean, those guys in Fast and Furious can, right? I don’t even think I responded to him- I just walked away.
There just aren’t many men that work in non-profit/education and so I’ve just never been stuck in a place where sexism was an issue. I will be honest and say that this acquaintance’s statement (that he considered factual) about the reason for the lack of women in the math and science fields stung me. It was dehumanizing. It came from someone that I kind of trusted and it hurt probably more than it should have. When I told him how that statement made me feel, he gave me the facebook messenger equivalent of a shoulder shrug. He doesn’t care. It’s what he believes- doesn’t matter if it makes others feel less than.
That’s when I knew that I had been wearing my rose-colored glasses in thinking that I could ever convince him to consider how his beliefs might hurt people of color.
When that happened, I had a little breakdown. Of course, it stung me for a second but I pretty quickly moved on to fixate on the fact that lots of people experience dehumanizing things like this every day. Kids of color learn early, by age 3 or 4, that some people won’t be safe for them and those people might be teachers, bus drivers, baby-sitters, pastors. A teacher in Dallas told her Hispanic high school students that she could call ICE (immigration) on them and have them deported. I follow pages like “No Forks for Asians”, which document micro-aggressions (or just aggression) against Asians in the US. Philando Castile, who was murdered by a police officer, had been stopped by police 49 times in 13 years.
I was hurt by a relatively small thing that an acquaintance said (and I don’t even really care what he thinks because I will literally never have to interact with him if I don’t want to) and I got overwhelmed by thinking about how lots of people have to consistently deal with dehumanization from loved ones, bosses, state officials like police officers or politicians, doctors, co-workers, the media. It’s horrible and Dolores, my inner critic, kicked into overdrive and I felt an overwhelming sense that these horrible things are happening everyday everywhere and there’s really no way to fix it.
I still don’t know if fixing it is impossible. I have my days where I feel quite despondent about it and I recognize that I’m so privileged to just get to have feelings about it instead of experiencing it every day.
I’m in the middle of a faith deconstruction (which is a post for another day) and I’ve been trying to figure out how my strong feelings about justice fit in with the gospel. Of course, the Bible is full of justice-talk but I’ve always heard about the resurrection as more of an individual thing (Jesus did that for you so that you can be forgiven and you can go to heaven) and, quite frankly, that doesn’t make me feel better about the dumpster fire of a world that we live in and what we can do about it. After all, many “Christians” who believe in that individualistic gospel are contributing to the dumpster fire.
A friend recommended a Richard Rohr book called “Eager to Love” that’s about the theology of Saint Francis. The same day that I had my nihilistic, “this is never going to get better” meltdown, I ended up reading a chapter about how Saint Francis willingly entered into the suffering of others. He didn’t turn away or deny it or blame the victims for their suffering. He leaned into it, took it on as his own. Francis did this because he saw Jesus’s death on the cross as solidarity with the suffering of the world.
When we try to live in solidarity with the pain of the world – and do not spend our lives running from necessary suffering- we will encounter various forms of “crucifixion.” Many say pain is physical discomfort, but suffering comes from our resistance, denial, and sense of injustice or wrongness about that pain. I know that is very true for me. This is the core meaning of suffering on one level or another, and we all learn it the hard way. Pain is the rent we pay for being human, it seems, but suffering is usually optional. The cross was Jesus’s voluntary acceptance of undeserved suffering as an act of total solidarity with all the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.
This comforts me, somehow. Jesus didn’t solve the suffering of the world (even with his death), but he did see it, point it out, speak to it, sit with suffering people, and enter into it. I feel like solidarity is something that I can do. I can lean in, not look away, listen, watch, respond, learn, educate, amplify, bring to light, fight for justice, lay my feelings/comfort/money/life down, and my end goal can be solidarity, not the ginormous task of making the world the way perfect.
I can do solidarity. I won’t always do it perfectly, but I can admit mistakes, learn from them, and move on. I can do solidarity without feeling like I have to fix the world.
Why don’t you stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Dolores?