I am new to the whole plant family thing. Particularly plants that aren’t succulents. So it wasn’t until the warmth came to San Francisco this month that I realized something most humans have always known throughout Earth’s history: summer is the time for new growth. My rubber plant is bursting with neon red new leaves, the fiddle leaf has a host of lime green baby leaves, and the “Swiss cheese” plant’s leaves are finally splitting to show the signature gaps.
So what about us? Do we have new summer growth — change that is bursting forth after gestating just beneath the surface during the cold months? The sun is out, there is more opportunity to be outdoors and explore. And what kind of internal exploration of new terrains can the summer also invite us into?
I already know what terrain the summer is inviting me to spelunk: my masterful avoidance skills.
I wouldn’t have noticed it so clearly if not for two things: 1.) I recently experienced an extreme example of my tendency to avoid by focusing on others and 2.) I am currently reading Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone — a story of a therapist, her clients, and her work with her own therapist. She states “Avoidance is a simple way of coping by not having to cope.” In her case, focusing her sessions with her therapist on figuring out what was wrong with her ex-boyfriend was her way of avoiding the real healing work she wanted to do. Like a great narrator, she teases the reader with the real problem slowly being revealed, as she peels away each layer of avoidance.
Reading her story of misdirection and avoidance touched on a nerve for me. That inner voice saying “this is you too.”
I did the same thing years ago when I was in an unhealthy relationship. Each week I would walk into my therapist’s office and have a new story about this guy that I’d want to explore with her. When we finally broke up she looked at me with a smile and said, “Now the real work begins.”
It was so much easier to obsess about him than deal with the childhood wounds and coping mechanisms I was applying to my adult life. I remember going to a therapy session after the grief of the break up wore off, having no idea what to discuss. An emotionally unavailable dude, the lonely sting of being single, obsessing about my friendships — this was the material I knew. But slowly, we worked on the things beneath the surface, the things beyond the others in my life — the things I was being invited to let go of and the discoveries about the things that were deeply me.
Knowing this, I’m trying to take a gentle curiosity to my avoidance this summer. That my Enneagram 2 avoidance tactic of overly focusing on my relationships isn’t the matter at hand. And I plan to spend some time exploring those matters this summer — with my support system and with myself.
Does this resonate for you? Are you curious about avoidance and what could be beneath it? Before you read on, take a moment to check in with yourself. This could be a season of exploration, and also, the timing might not quite be right. Don’t push yourself beyond what you can handle right now. Or maybe you’ve already worked very hard this year on your growth and you really need some summer fun and celebration! That’s great! Don’t read further. But for those who want to explore avoidance tactics and invitations for reflection based on their enneagram type, read on.
Enneagram Avoidance Tactics and Reflection Questions
Don’t know your Enneagram type? Then head over to the Enneagram Institute and read through the 9 type descriptions to see which resonates for you (for some, it may be the one that makes you flinch).
Before you dive into the type messages below, as you practice self-observation and reflection, remember to be gentle. Awareness is the first step towards doing it differently, not an excuse to beat yourself up. If the below doesn’t resonate, don’t worry. Not all avoidance tactics are Enneagram related. Think of these as prompts for reflection, rather than hard fact.
1: Do you tend to avoid by focusing on the mission or justice work at hand or getting enraged by a wrongdoing? Can you get in touch with your true feelings in this moment and feel them without judgment?
2: Are you focusing on your relationships (either by helping or feeling your help is unappreciated) more than your own needs? Can you take some time alone to become aware of your needs and address them directly without feeling selfish?
3: Are you spending your summer drowning in work or trying to blend into a new environment? Can you get in touch with your authentic self by taking a break and resting in solitude without worrying about how you are perceived?
4: Is it easier for you to substitute a pain that is closer to the surface for one that you would rather avoid? Sometimes directly focusing on the pain won’t reveal the unknown pain, would you be willing to engage with a productive and meaningful creative project as a different vantage point to access yourself?
5: Your mind is a magical landscape you like to retreat to — sometimes that is necessary for you to process and create, other times it’s an escape hatch from the present moment. Perhaps you will discover the thing you’re avoiding there, or it may be something the external world can help you discover. Would you be willing to tune into your body and your trusted relationships to see what bubbles up?
6: Going along with the status quo or doubting your abilities to make a right call can be a way you avoid making necessary changes and decisions. Can you get in touch with what you desire and your capacity for making sound decisions without worry that the worst will happen?
7: Engaging solely in the realm of positivity and possibility means that you are avoiding some of the less enjoyable, yet necessary, realities of life. What are some of the harsh truths you may need to face in order to feel freedom and bring you into an even more enjoyable next chapter of life?
8: Avoiding harm through maintaining sovereignty over your domain can be an exhausting and lonely experience. How can you carry a little less weight of the world on your shoulders and connect with the reality that many people are on your team and would love to help?
9: It can be easier to go with the flow or check out of a situation than to do the scary work of engaging with what you really want. It can sometimes be hard to attune to yourself with others around, can you make some space in your calendar and home this week to see what you discover when no one is around?
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb — For all the reasons I detailed in the opening reflection, this is a great read.
Tara Isabella Burton's “The Gospel According to Fleabag” is a perfect reflection on avoidance tendencies and wanting more than what is at the surface.
May this summer uncover whatever next step each of us could take — whether that be active personal growth work or a time of rest and celebration!
Want to work with me one on one? I am taking more spiritual direction clients! Learn more about my practice by visiting my website.
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