The Enthusiast: The Need to Avoid Pain


Welcome to part eight of our series examining the nine types of the Enneagram Personality System.  Today we are discussing type seven, the Enthusiast.  To catch up on previous Enneagram blog posts, follow this link  And to take a free version of the test and find out your type, go here.

Sevens, or enthusiasts, live in search of adventure, excitement, and satisfaction.  They radiate a kind of child-like joy and optimism.  Sevens are playful, relaxed, and have an easy-going charm and sense of humor that make them incredibly likable. They love to plan activities and social events, and are somehow both busy and laid-back.  They have difficulty slowing down and are prone to boredom if they are not sufficiently stimulated by change and newness.  This tendency can sometimes make it difficult for sevens to commit to jobs or relationships, and can also lead them to be creatures of excess in everything they do.  Like nines, who are also avoiders, sevens can be prone to addiction as a way to distract and cope.  At a deep level, they are terrified that if they pause to reflect, then they might feel pain or a gnawing discontent.

Consider for example, Odysseus, the adventurer, revolting against the quietness and lethargy of old age in Tennyson’s beautiful poem, “Ulysses”:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life!
If Odysseus is the seven at a time of unhappy retirement and forced contemplation, then Peter Pan, full of youthful energy and thirst for adventure, is the seven in his prime.  J.M. Barrie introduces Peter Pan famously: “All children, except one, grow up.”  And indeed, this eternal youth is Peter Pan’s most memorable quality.  He is a boy suspended in time, abandoned and taken by fairies to Neverland, where he becomes in time Captain to other children like himself, the Lost Boys.  And it is this early abandonment that colors his every action.  His days are spent looking for adventure around every corner, flying, fighting, and carrying on conversations with stars, mermaids, and pirates.  However, he is also searching for a mother, and it is this deficit that attracts him to Wendy.  He longs for someone to take care of him, although he doesn’t quite realize the wound that is just beneath the surface of his longing.
Indeed, sevens have an uncanny ability to avoid pain, and their method is amazingly simple.  It is almost as if they are able to flip a switch in their minds and say I want to be happy instead of sad.  This quality is evident in Peter’s flying instructions to Wendy and her brothers: “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,” Peter explained, “and they lift you up in the air.” Sevens have difficulty dealing with their own emotions as well as the emotions of others.  When they are forced to acknowledge pain or unease, it can be very unsettling for them, and they cope by distraction, rationalization, or flat out denial, as in this moment when Peter is stunned when Captain Hook “bites” him with his hook:
Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly… No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it. I suppose that was the real difference between him and all the rest.
5f03a6457b3e8861cac93417b15034f6Peter is not able to hold his pain for very long before forgetting it.  Even when he faces the possibility of death in the moments that follow, he says to himself, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” This inability to cope with pain is what makes Peter Pan in the end a somewhat tragic character.  Others around him are able to face growing up, and yet he chooses to remain in a fantasy.  The invitation for sevens is to move through their difficult emotions and not away from them. Accepting that darkness, pain, and fear are parts of life is very difficult for the seven, and because of their resiliency and optimism, many sevens can go quite awhile without ever having to adapt to this hard truth.  Some, like Peter Pan, may choose to remain in a kind of Neverland. However, to live authentically, to accept suffering, and to enter into the pain as well as beauty of self and others, is crucial for the seven to grow in wholeness and usefulness to a world that needs their curiosity, joy, and courage.

To learn more about Adair Swayze, M.A., LAPC, LAMFT and her services, go here.

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