Most of you who read this have no idea what the Enneagram is.
In an April 2 op-ed, “Donald Trump and The Enneagram” I evaluated Trump during the first three months of his presidency. You can decide for yourself if this ancient instrument which delineates nine distinct and different personality types has reasonable predictive value based on what has transpired since the beginning of April. I indicated Trump was an obvious type eight. What I did not explore was how a dysfunctional eight such as our president might actually change if he desired. I am writing this to offer a few thoughts for the president should he have the slightest interest in a behavioral change that could help him and his presidency. Further, some who read this will identify with these traits in yourself or someone you love and might find my recommendations personally relevant.
I am a newcomer to this ancient instrument of wisdom, but here are recommendations from Ian Cron, author of the “Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery.” Many eights are extraordinary people who have had a beneficial effect on the world. To quote Cron, “Healthy 8s are great friends, exceptional leaders and champions of those who cannot fight on their own behalf. When they learn to use power in the right measure, at the right time, they are capable of collaborating and valuing the collaboration of others. They understand vulnerability and are able to embrace it.”
A good example of this is Martin Luther King.
In contrast, an unhealthy eight is preoccupied with the idea that he is going to be betrayed. Suspicious, he resorts to revenge when he feels wronged. He believes he can make his own rules and expects others to follow them. Unhealthy eights believe the world is a place where people are objects to be used, and where contributions from others have little or no value. Sound familiar?
So how is an unhealthy eight like Trump ever going to become a healthy eight like King, assuming he has any desire to change? The answer Cron and his co-author, Suzanne Stabile, put forth will surprise many of you, but not those already familiar with the Enneagram.
Here are a few of their suggestions:
Work on spirituality: Cron and Stabile point out that when eights are spiritually on beam and self-aware, they are magnanimous, inspiring, and tolerant toward others who are weaker. Certainly that should appeal to many of Trump’s Republican colleagues such as Vice President Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
Honor vulnerability: Trump’s supporters would not find it easy or comfortable to identify with vulnerability in the president or in themselves. However, there are a large number of other Americans like myself who would like to respect our president and would find him far more worthy if he did not maintain his facade of invulnerability. St. Paul, who was transformed himself, is often quoted as saying, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” I wish Trump’s advisers who profess a spiritual core could consider this fundamental truth and perhaps even persuade the president to think about it.
Coming out from beyond the mask of bluster and toughness, and risking vulnerability is very difficult for an Enneagram eight. It takes far more courage than being angry, confrontational and cruel, which may be difficult for many people, but is very easy for an eight.
Embrace humility: Humility is a trait well worth developing, particularly for an unhealthy eight.
If eights have any desire to change they must have the humility to listen to others who will tell them when they are going overboard and exhibiting extreme behavior. They need to learn to listen more and talk or “tweet” less. Or, to quote the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus who said more than 2,000 years ago, “That is why we were born with two ears and one mouth.”
It is essential that they broaden their definition of strength and courage to include humility. They need to have the humility to consider the possibility that in some situations they may have been wrong. They need to admit to mistakes and learn from them. They need to be able to apologize instead of constantly justifying their behavior. They need to be able to make such humbling but human statements as “I made a mistake, I was wrong, or I might have done that better.” Eights need to recognize humility is not humiliation.
Trump has likened himself to President Abraham Lincoln, but the fundamental difference is that Lincoln was spiritual, vulnerable and humble. Humility and vulnerability do not come easily to any leader, least of all a president, but the 16th president was different. Lincoln was a masterful leader because he was able to master his own ego first.
Perhaps Trump’s homework might start with reflecting on the message of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” where she describes how Lincoln, by putting his “ego” aside, turned rivals into allies, and was able to deal with extraordinary challenges by repeatedly focusing not on himself but on the greater good of the nation.
Dr. John S. Tamerin lives and practices psychiatry in Greenwich. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Cornell/Weill School of Medicine. Ethan Weibman is Dr. Tamerin’s research assistant and is a software developer.