Ones and Relationships

Ones grew up believing that it’s not okay to make mistakes. Imagine with me what it might be like to be a one by remembering your driver’s test. Do you remember taking the in-car exam as a teenager? I remember there was so much hanging in the balance—adolescent freedom, completing a monumental right of passage, obtaining autonomy and the ability to hang out with friends. I remember the proctor looking over my shoulder and counting all of my mistakes. I still remember the two mistakes I made when I took that test decades ago. I forgot to use my turn signal in the DMV parking lot, and I forgot to check my mirror before entering a turning lane. I remember feeling like it wasn’t okay to make mistakes with so much hanging in the balance. That is what it is like for ones all of the time. When you fear that a mistake will make you corrupt, evil or defective, everything is hanging in the balance. For ones it’s as if every mistake happens in that sweaty, nervy driver’s seat.

Once you place yourself in a one’s shoes, you can better understand why ones just want to hear they are good. If you love a one, then look for ways to tell them just that—“You are good.” Notice their accomplishments, and value them for their attention to detail, but invite them to reflect on what details are worth perfecting.

Help them when they are angry with themselves about some perceived failure by wondering aloud with them about the complexity of assessing the effectiveness of a task. Don’t deny their mistake. Instead, invite them to explore the many shades of grey when assessing their performance. Ones tend to be black and white about right and wrong. They assess their performance based on a single metric that hasn’t been reevaluated. Help them reevaluate their criteria for good and bad, and help them hold the complex tension that allows a single performance to be simultaneously good and bad. A one might say, “That was a bad paint job.” Ask them what went wrong and what constitutes a mistake. If you stick with that question long enough, you will likely discover that one aspect of their performance did not meet their standard, and now the whole project is defective. Help them simultaneously recognize the best and worst aspects of a single act and invite them to reevaluate things in unconventional and creative ways.

Ones appreciate good manners and good behavior. They will appreciate it if you are on time and if you keep things clean, but remember that those might be areas of growth for the one. Be careful not to get caught in a one’s perfectionism, which can lead to a life reduced to merely managing unreasonable and unproductive standards. Instead of focusing on how you can meet their standards all of the time, help ones reevaluate their standards. Remember their desire for perfection comes from a deep-seated fear that they are defective or will be corrupted. Anytime you are acting out of fear, you will compulsively execute your strategy. In the case of ones, this means they try to perfect anything and everything instead of the things that really matter. Help them discern what might be worth reforming and what might qualify as “good enough.”

You might need to tell a one that you appreciate praise from them because ones habitually point out what is wrong. Conversely, make sure you offer praise often to a one. This will offer some reprieve from their constantly being berated by their internal critic. You can and at times must confront a one about their behavior, but be careful about how you point out a one’s mistake. Begin not by pointing out their mistake, but by inviting them to reflect on their behavior. Often, they already know where they have missed the mark, and they will bring it up themselves, saving you the awkward task of bringing it to their attention.

Ones need you to admit your own mistakes in the relationship. Remember they want fairness and equality. They are aware of their own mistakes, and they would want you to name your mistakes as well.

Offhanded remarks can easily hurt a one because the remark might land in a sensitive place, worn down by a one’s relentless inner critic. Be careful not to unwittingly add your voice to the cacophony of criticism. Offer frequent encouragement instead.

Ones pretend that they are not angry because anger is wrong. If you tell a one that they are angry, they will reject the thought because they are ashamed of their anger. Try to make your relationship a safe place where anger isn’t judged. Some Enneagram teachers say that anger is the sin of the one. It is more correct to say that the sin is resentment-- stale, unresolved, bitter anger. The problem isn't anger; it's the inability to process anger.

Ones use reaction control as a key defense mechanism. They control their reaction by not responding angrily. Instead, they rename anger as frustration or disappointment, and they distance themselves from their anger by simultaneously denying it, yet just justifying it. This sounds like, “I am not angry, but if I was this would be the reason.” This strategy can lead them to transfer their anger onto something else, meaning you might find yourself fighting with a one about something other than what they are truly angry about. If at all possible, remember this and invite them to reflect on the real source of their frustration in the heat of an argument.

Encourage ones to get away and take a vacation; this helps the one take a break from their negative internal voices and their shoulds, oughts and musts. Help them rest at home as well. Ones push themselves so hard because they are trying to accomplish enough to make themselves good. When you encourage a one to rest you, are telling them in a subtle but powerful way that before they did anything right or anything wrong they were already good.