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What if the “curse” of anxiety is actually a powerful function of creativity?

I’ve always been a die-hard fan of the Myers-Briggs, so I avoided the Enneagram craze early on. If 16 is hardly enough molds in which to cast the myriad of humanity, how could 9 suffice? But when a friend confidently asserted that I was a type Six, I did some investigating. At first, I was thrown off by its label, “the Loyalist,” and felt that the basic description didn’t really fit. But when I began reading the forums, I discovered that it was far more complex than that.

Though one of the most common types, the Six is the most complicated to describe since there are so many different variations. The basic compulsion of the Six is to establish safety and security—whether that be through people, ideas, or systems. This need arises, essentially, from the deep sense that you do not have the sufficient resources needed within yourself to make the right decisions by yourself, so you seek some kind of certainty outside yourself.

Fear, it seems, is the inner demon and driving force of the Six, and they will either respond to their fear in phobic ways (withdrawal) or counter-phobic ways (defiance). This “phobic center” of a Six leads them to constantly seek out “something or someone stable enough in which to place some trust” But what is the deeper root of this anxious fear?

“Anxiety is then, not fear of any one thing, but of the very condition of being conscious and of having to make choices… It is this more fundamental emotion which most directly characterizes the core emotional state of type Six, not any of the more immediate fears, which often enough are simply placeholders in the consciousness of the type Six personality.” (link)

This means that a Six’s inner fear stems from a conscious awareness of the freedom to make their own choices. But what I find fascinating is that this sense of autonomy—which is, by definition, “the freedom from external control or influence; independence”—is universal to the entire human race. To choose is to be free, and to be free is to be human.

What is unique to the type Six, however, is that we are internally confronted with this existential anxiety more centrally and consistently than any of the other types. In other words, the other enneatypes have some sort of coping mechanism to downplay the bright red “OMG I’M HUMAN!!!” banner that continually pops up on the mind-screen of a Six.

This autonomy in decision-making is scary because it means that we have the ability to make or break our own lives by taking even the tiniest of steps. What if we’re standing right next to a 50-foot cliff?!?! To be human is to be vulnerable—and every Six feels the meaningful weight of their fragile humanity.

A Sixes’ level of maturity is then determined by the extent to which he or she overcomes or succumbs to this core fear. An extremely unhealthy Six would look like a paranoid shut-in who avoids the sun because there’s a small chance that he might shrivel up and die—while a healthy Six is overwhelmed by the very real possibility that she could, quite feasibly and single-handedly, change the world someday.

Thus, Sixes are naturally prone to self-doubt as they make a myriad of daily choices while battling the ever-present awareness of never-ending possibilities. But wait, there’s more! This core human anxiety is not just centered on a fear making our own choices. A Christian philosopher by the name of Soren Kierkegaard defines it in a much more nuanced light. As someone who suffered from the actual disorder for most of his life, Soren describes anxiety as the “dizziness of freedom”—and a sign of high creativity.

“Because it is possible to create—creating one’s self, willing to be one’s self, as well as creating in all the innumerable daily activities (and these are two phases of the same process)—one has anxiety. One would have no anxiety if there were no possibility whatsoever.” (link)

Thus the natural anxiety in every creative work flows from an innate awareness of unlimited possibilities. But what is creativity? Making something out of nothing. To create is to give birth—to breathe life into non-life that was once formless and empty. In other words, creativity represents the process of bringing life out of death.

Creativity is stifled by two things: 1) the pressure of perfection—which stems from a fear of failure, and 2) the greater need to sustain oneself. Both of these fears are based on the natural human survival instinct—which is the single greatest obstacle to creativity. Think about it. Who is going to lay down in a field and dream up ideas for new sculptures when they are worried about where their next meal is coming from?

When we are in survival mode, our body is in a constant state of fight-or-flight—wavering between two choices: to defeat death or to avoid it. This binary existence of a survival mentality is the exact opposite of a creative life filled with unlimited possibilities.

Are our lives driven by a desperate attempt to survive at all costs or are we daily participating in the creation of new life?  The former prioritizes the safety of self, the latter requires a willingness to accept and expose our vulnerable humanity. In fact, every decision we make, big or small, demands a creative risk or an act of self-preservation. Thus, in order to free our creativity from captivity, we must overcome our subconscious fear of death. And that, my friends, is where the real journey begins.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24