Hello. Perhaps you’ve landed on this page because you’ve done an Online Enneagram Personality Test which has given you a One as your main personality type, and now you’re scratching your head wondering what this means in terms of your self-development or therapy journey.
Are personality types no more than just a description of different traits – like a star sign? Or can a deeper understanding of our personality structure, or “self”, and the way it works at a psychological level, help us to play the game of life with a little bit more grace, and less suffering?
[Read more about Personality-Focused Psychotherapy]
One way to think about the Self is that it might work as a kind of Lens or “Operating System” through which our psyche (?) mind (?) “life force” (?) or “soul” (?) flows. Whenever we express a thought, or belief, or opinion about our lives and our struggles, it is usually the Self (an “I”) that is doing the talking for us:
I feel sad about…
I feel satisfied with life when…
I don’t understand why s/he said that…
I find this [thought/feeling/situation] painful to think about or deal with.
Of course we don’t normally think about these utterances as a “Self” talking through us, because it (we) are always just sort of here in the conscious experience of “I”, of Self, with its particular filter on the world always present. Like fish, we swim in the “waters” of Self, but are usually completely oblivious to what “water” actually is.
Therapy is perhaps an opportunity for us to look at, and work through the content of our experience, the different ways we might have filled the gaps above to describe what is going on in our lives, but also to pay a slightly different kind of attention to how our struggles are often being shaped or contained in a certain ways for us through this “Self”, or Ego, or “I”. Not in the negative sense of having a “big ego”, but simply in terms of this psychological “I”. Which is to say: our personality style, character, Ego, Self.
This is not our whole Being or Consciousness. We can also step back (as we often do, especially in therapy) and look at the Self from a more detached, less conflicted perspective. Maybe from the perspective of someone who cares for us, but also knows us really well. This perspective might also become one we develop in our relationship with that person (“me” or another therapist) who would like to accompany you and assist you with your journey into understanding, healing, and developing your Self.
Most of the time though, we experience our Selves either from either the perspective of an Inner Critic who tells us how we’re failing at Life (or how Life is failing us), or from the Driver’s Seat of our Core Self.
Whoever that Core Driving Self is (pick a number!) whoever is driving the bus –driving us to do the things we do, or make the choices we make– it clearly has a special way of operating. Others can often see, for better or worse, how we tend to operate, as we can also see their Selves at work in how they talk, think, and behave. In therapy, we can try to get to know this Core Self a bit better (as well as those of the people we’re in relationship with), and hopefully find out what we’re all about.
As you read about your One “Self” below, a portrait that reveals both the light and shade of “you”, try not to judge your Self, or feel bad about how this Self comes across when laid out in this somewhat reductive, psychological way.
If reading through this portrait makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, ashamed, or exposed, that is a good sign, it really is.
This is certainly how I felt when I first read about my own personality style. “Am I really like that!?! Oh dear. Well, OK, for good or bad, that does seem to be how “I” roll… [sigh]”
This kind of response might perhaps indicate that we are gaining new insights, or at least a bit more humility about our Selves, especially when embarking on the kind of therapeutic search that you’re engaging with for your Self right now by reading and reflecting on this.
With insight, we can hopefully learn how to handle our Self/Selves a bit better in terms of how we deals with those generic but often unpleasant realities of life: physical and emotional pain, uncertainty, as well as the various forms of constant work, both inner and outer that we seek to fulfil. The Self is always the interface through which we learn how to do this, trying as best we can to put into practice the lessons we’ve learned.
If you find when reading about the One “Self” described below, that it doesn’t feel like the kind of “I” you identify with, please have a quick look again at my Overview of The Nine Personality Types.
Your Core Self will make itself known to you there, as when you catch sight of yourself in the reflection of a shop-window or a mirror. Each of us holds aspects of every personality type within us (we all come from the same species,) but at a psychological level, our Core Self is usually present through our entire life journey, and shapes how we see the world, inwardly and out.
Human happiness and satisfaction seems to be strongly connected to getting the best out of our core Selves (i.e. our particular personality style, as well as following our unique threads), alongside learning how to manage with the not-so-great, and at times even “crappy” stuff that comes with each “I” or person-ality.
1. SNAPSHOT OF A ONE: HOW MANY OF THESE TRAITS DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH?
If most or all of the following characteristics apply to you, you may have a predominantly Type One personality style:
- I have an inner-critic or “coach” that operates most of the time. This inner voice (or sense) continually monitors what I do and provides ongoing feedback about how well I did or how I missed the mark and could have done better.
- I am sensitive to criticism. While I welcome honest feedback (because I place a high value on constant attention to improvement), I feel sensitive to criticism from the outside because I am already my own harshest critic.
- I naturally think in terms of “good and bad” and “right and wrong.” I try hard to be “good” and place a high value on doing the right thing. I often can’t help seeing things in black and white, though I may have learned through time and experience to see more shades of grey.
- I notice errors and want to correct them. I easily spot typos and spelling errors and crooked pictures and other such misalignments and feel driven to fix them.
- I follow the rules all or most of the time. I believe rules support the well-ordered functioning of social and work life and therefore should be respected.
- I live my life with a lot of “shoulds” and “musts” in mind. This provides me with a clear set of principles and ideals to guide my choices and actions (and helps me to avoid making mistakes).
- I place a high value on being ethical, honest, and reliable. Integrity is very important to me, and I strive to always do my best in everything I do. I may secretly judge others who do not aspire to the same level of quality or good behaviour, even though I may also judge myself for judging them.
- I overcontrol my emotions and impulses. Perhaps out of a desire to be responsible and appropriate, I control myself a lot. I strive to engage in “good” behaviour and (perhaps unconsciously) fear spontaneously unleashing my emotions and impulses would lead me to engage in bad behaviour.
- I can sometimes appear opinionated or self-righteous. When I feel strongly about something, I tend to express myself in ways that others may view as inflexible or dogmatic, but I can’t help thinking that I am just telling the truth or voicing what I know is right.
- Work has to come before play. It feels hard to relax and allow myself to have fun if I haven’t fulfilled all my duties and responsibilities.
- I believe in self-improvement. I consider it important to always try to do my best and make things (and potentially myself) more perfect.
- I often believe there is one right way to do something, which is my way. I enjoy the challenge of finding the best way to do something. Once I find the right way, I want to do it my way, since it is the best way, and I may become irritated if others don’t agree.
- It feels amazing when it’s perfect. I feel the loveliest sense of peace and well-being inside—more viscerally than emotionally—on those rare occasions when something I do or see feels absolutely perfect.
2. WHY AM I LIKE THIS? THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF A ONE
Here is a kind of “Origin Story” (or Trauma Story for how the psyche of a One was formed):
“Once upon a time, there was a person named One: “me”. You could say that I came into this world as a spontaneous and curious child, ready to appreciate the inherent perfection of life. Completely serene and accepting, I felt free to experience joy and fun in everything I did. I took things lightly and flowed flexibly with life, with myself, and with everyone around me.
But early in life, I may have had a painful experience of feeling criticised. When this happened, I felt pressured to conform to others’ standards of good behaviour. So I unconsciously tried to cope with the pain of feeling judged and punished by proactively monitoring and criticising myself before others even had the chance to. You might say that I internalised the standards others applied to me and then tried to be “good” and do the right thing all the time. I began to feel that I had to be almost perfect to be seen as worthy, and that I had to work hard to control myself in order to be “good.”
In his quest to be good, I developed an ability to notice and correct my own errors, to see how everything I did could be more perfect, and to determine what needed to be improved in the world around me. I worked really hard to uphold the highest standards of good behaviour and may have even judged people harshly who didn’t follow the rules. I became excellent at making things excellent— including myself. I began to evaluate everything I saw in terms of how bad or wrong it was—most of all (unfortunately) myself.
Over time, I became very good at being virtuous and avoiding mistakes. I found the best ways to do things and adhered to all the rules of good behaviour all the time. In fact, I criticised myself whenever something turned out imperfectly (which was often, if not all the time) and tried to do better the next time. But in the process of getting better and being better, I kind of lost touch with many aspects of myself. I may have stopped feeling or doing anything that might have even the smallest chance of being considered wrong. I lost most my awareness of my instinctual impulses, my feelings, my creativity, my spontaneity. I even began to lose touch with my own inner sense of what feels right for me, especially if it might be judged as wrong. You could say that I lost touch with my own inner intuition or instincts.
By imposing strict limits on myself, I guess I learned to avoid anything that could possibly be wrong, including my own deepest rhythms, wishes, and dreams. I began to get very angry when others didn’t follow the rules, but, instead of expressing my anger, I hid my feelings and, like my Type Nine friend/colleague/family member, tried to be nice. I prioritised being ethical, reliable, and responsible in everything I did. I also felt compelled to control everything I possibly could to make sure that I got things right every time. And I might have even punished myself when I didn’t. My survival strategy you could say wouldn’t let me do anything else. And in fact I felt irritated about that too—but I generally couldn’t let anyone know that I felt irritated.
What I didn’t realise was that everyone around me did know I was angry because, when I enforced what was right, I often stomped around or might have even banged my fists on the table or talked in a sarcastic tone of voice. It became part of the way I operated when in survival mode. I didn’t necessarily like being like this either—in fact, it was very hard on me—but I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t acknowledge my anger, because being angry is not “good”. Sometimes I felt tired and sad as a result—almost letting myself feel, for feelings do come out in the end But what could I do?
Eventually I became completely deadened to any real sense of my self. I “fell asleep” you might say to my own inherent goodness—a goodness that clearly reveals itself to me and others in my good intentions and my genuine desire to be a good person. But I can only keep following the rules and working hard to meet the highest standards in everything I do, even if at times it almost kills me to do so. I sometimes think that I have also completely lost awareness of my deeper human need for fun and relaxation, as well as my basic human wish (don’t tell anyone!) to be “bad” once in a while.”
Early in life, many of us Ones experience pressure to be good or responsible or to do things the “right way” according to an outside authority, followed by criticism when we aren’t “good enough” or don’t do it “right.” In response, we unconsciously adopt a coping strategy that internalises that external critical voice, and then monitor and criticise ourselves to enforce good behaviour. People with our personality style are people who genuinely tried (and still do try) to be “good” boys and girls, who mostly follow the rules, who want things to be done really, really well, if not perfectly, and who always make an effort to “do the right thing.”
We generally adapt to our environment by making sure that we are working hard to do things “the right way,” being good (in a moral sense), and often trying to be perfect (to reduce the possibility of further criticism). In this way we can preemptively defuse potential critics on the outside by proactively criticising ourselves on the inside. By “beating others to the punch” when it comes to finding fault in our own behaviour, we can then relax a little, because we genuinely believe that our proactive self-control will protect us from the (potentially painful) surprise attack of criticism from others, or of things going wrong.
On a really good day, we get to experience the deep sensation of well-being when something we do really does meet our high standards of quality or perfection. Though it often eludes us, we understandably continue to seek this deep sense of inner satisfaction by constantly striving to be “perfect.” When that high target can’t be reached, we at least need to know we did our best and tried as hard as possible. Because of this relentless focus on perfection, it is often hard for us to appreciate the good that we actually are able to do, to understand that few things are ever perfect, and see our considerable efforts as “good enough.”
3. CORE MOTIVATIONS OF A TYPE ONE PARTICIPANT: WHAT “DRIVES” A ONE?
The strategy of monitoring ourselves to be responsible, do the “right” thing, and improve things focuses our attention on determining what the right thing is and how we can do that right thing. Ones naturally envision the “perfect” and notice how what is happening measures up to our ideal of quality (or not). Thus, our attention typically goes to detecting errors and correcting them, knowing the rules and following guidelines of proper behaviour, and avoiding bad behaviour and mistakes. Us ones focus a lot of attention on judging how well or poorly we are doing whatever we do, as well as whether the people around us are doing the right things, and how those things could be refined or improved.
At work, but also often in our personal lives too, we Type Ones are very results-oriented, rational, and logical. We focus on working hard to do a good job and making sure others are doing their part. We may be concerned with how others are falling short and holding people accountable to make sure they are following the proper guidelines and doing the work they are responsible for.
We often also focus attention on the details and processes that structure work, or our lives in general, so that all the little things get done well and according to the right procedures. We generally appreciate rules and structure because rules and structure provide information about how things work, and how work should be done, as well as how people are held accountable. As leaders we have a great talent for seeing what structures are needed and knowing how to provide structure to help things go more smoothly. Nelson Mandela had a One personality style, as did Queen Elizabeth II, Thoreau, and even Plato.
4. ONES AT WORK & IN RELATIONSHIPS
Generally, individuals with a Type One style want very much to make the world a better place and often dedicate ourselves to social causes or movements. We can often be like “moral white knights,” unselfishly working to improve life in different ways, often getting involved in efforts like curing diseases, protecting the environment, or educating the poor. We notice what’s wrong in the world and feel driven to fix it—both as a natural consequence of automatically seeing the flaws in how things are and because we usually feel responsible for (and satisfied by) doing good.
We believe in the social compact: thinking that if everyone would just follow the rules of civilised society, everything would run smoothly. When we perceive that others are not doing the right thing—not doing their jobs the way they should, or failing to follow the rules or proper procedures—we can often be critical and even punitive. This is because for Ones, if I am not doing what I am supposed to, it goes without saying (for me) that I am doing something “wrong”. And if I am doing something wrong, I should admit it or be called out and censured so I can reform my bad behaviour. However, when people admit to their failings, I can often be very forgiving, believing that people who are willing to admit their mistakes deserve compassion. Unfortunately, I can go less easy on myself though.
My clear inner sense of right and wrong, and good and bad, may mean that I often see things in terms of absolute, black and white categories. I generally tend to think something is good or bad, right or wrong—and try my best to be good. While many of us Ones can learn over time to see shades of grey and forgive people’s moral failings, we do often tend to focus on whether someone has integrity and may judge people who are more “morally flexible” as failing in some way.
5. UNDERSTANDING WHY ONES THINK, FEEL, AND BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO?
Because the Type One outlook is based on our need to be good or right or perfect, we also believe that it’s our job to make the world a better place through striving for perfection and engaging in virtuous behaviour. Although we are “body-based” types whose personality is shaped by an important connection to our kinesthetic sense or “gut knowing,” we can often come across as quite “in our heads”. This is because we often automatically apply our own high standards to others and the way they conduct themselves, often thinking in terms of “shoulds” and “musts” and may have some rigidly held ideas about what constitutes good and bad behaviour. Work must come before pleasure, so it is often hard for us to relax before all our work is done.
The One personality is fundamentally shaped by the experience of anger, both as a result of our early, natural response to outside pressure to “be good” and our perception that the rest of the world doesn’t act from that same pressure. But because we think expressing anger (and other emotions) is not a good thing to do, we tend to hold back and overcontrol our angry feelings. In so doing, we might experience an inner conflict with regard to our anger, or other strong emotions. As a result, sometimes these feelings leak out in pressurised forms like irritation, frustration, resentment, or self-righteousness. At other times, our belief in the virtue of “right behaviour” may lead us to express emotions that are the opposite of what we are actually feeling—so if I am really angry with you, I might even come across as excessively polite. In psychological terms, this is called “reaction formation,” a defence mechanism that automatically helps someone avoid feeling one emotion by magically turning it into its opposite. This tendency to repress or overcontrol our feelings also means we may inadvertently avoid good feelings when repressing the “negative” feelings that we fear.
The endless quest to make things right or perfect can lead to work habits that make us Ones effective and successful. However, it can also result in procrastination, as we may put off finishing or turning in work because it’s not perfect enough. We may also engage in passive-aggressive behaviours that reflect the fact that we feel angry inside, but don’t want to acknowledge or express it. We may, when this happens, appear rigid and inflexible, go silent, or withdraw but implicitly communicate a mood of tension, resentment, or irritation. While we may think we are successfully containing and hiding our annoyance, it often shows up in our non-verbal behaviour, as tightness in our face and body or a frustrated tone of voice.
- WHAT I’M REALLY GOOD AT AS A ONE
- Doing the right thing. We almost always focus on doing what’s correct. We generally take the high road. This makes us responsible, reliable, trustworthy, and dependable.
- Being ethical and responsible. We believe everyone should act according to socially agreed upon standards.
- Working hard and being improvement- and detail-oriented. We are motivated by a deep desire to achieve an ideal of perfection in ourselves and everything we do.
- Quality control. It is a baseline assumption and a core value for us that the things we do should be done right. We are very good at providing a roadmap for achieving excellence.
- Creating processes and structures (that support work and productivity). We are good at providing clarity. We are clear thinkers who see when there is a need for structure and we excel at providing it. This quality helps assure that things will be done in the right way, according to clear expectations and precise plans.
- Making significant, well-intentioned efforts. A close friend of mine is a One, and while his wife may have some complaints about some of his behaviours, she often says, with great affection, “No one tries harder than he does.”
However, as for all of us, our greatest strengths can also trip us up at times. If we overuse our strengths (and don’t consciously develop a wider range of skills), these strengths can also turn out to be our Achilles’ heel. Let’s see how this can happen.
- Doing the right thing. We can sometimes become rigid and unyielding about our way being the only right way, and may not see that there may be other ways of doing things that are equally good or better.
- Being ethical and responsible. We can stress ourselves out by working too hard and become resentful of coworkers we perceive as not working hard enough.
- Working hard through being improvement- and detail-oriented. We may think we need to keep the pressure going to improve—that if we aren’t constantly criticising ourselves or others, or the system, everything will fall apart—but our unrelenting criticism can sometimes create a negative work or home environment in which people might feel micromanaged.
- Quality control. We can focus on an ideal of perfection that is not realistic and push for impossible or undesirable standards, which can result in missing deadlines, overstressing ourselves (and others), and pressuring colleagues and loved ones in unreasonable ways.
- Creating processes and structures (that support work and productivity). However helpful those guidelines may be, they may also lead us to prioritise routine over spontaneity and inadvertently stifle innovation, enthusiasm, and creativity.
- Making significant, well-intentioned efforts. While my Type One friend almost always operates from a genuine intention to help others and do the right thing, he can sometimes get pushy, argumentative, impatient, or judgmental when he puts too much pressure on himself to get everything right or enlighten others about our errors and imperfections.
Fortunately, our sincere interest in self-improvement can mean we are open to seeing the downside of some of our personality tendencies. We will often make good use of constructive feedback to correct ourselves, even when the needed course correction means recognizing when the problem is being too focused on what is correct.
7. HEALTHY VS. UNHEALTHY ONES
When stressed to the point of going to our “low side,” we Type Ones are less able to manage our habitual reactions and can seem critical, harsh, and judgmental. We may be unaware of our anger and the impact of our angry feelings, and are sometimes rigid and inflexible. Since we are naturally detail-oriented and perfectionistic, when we are under pressure we may worry that other people can’t be trusted to do things right. We may have a hard time collaborating, delegating, and trusting that our others are capable of matching our high standards. And then we can become resentful that we take more responsibility than others for doing whatever is needed in the right way. Meanwhile, our coworkers, friends, and family may experience us as control freaks who want to micromanage every little thing.
Type Ones acting from our lower side of the consciousness spectrum may become self-righteous, insisting that others conform to our view of good behaviour and assuming that everyone “should” be judged (or punished) for their bad or ill-conceived behaviour. In line with this, stressed-out, overly defensive position, we may understandably end up focusing a great deal of attention on whether other people are doing what they should be doing, and can blame others excessively for what we see as wrong or imperfect behaviour.
On the “high side,” when we work on being self-aware and conscious, we can be supportive, admirable, inspiring, funny, and even heroic. Us Ones strive to be virtuous, and we are often deeply good people with the best intentions and little “ego”—we want to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job and don’t care if we get the credit or “look good.” (Though it would be nice if people acknowledged uswhen we are right or do something really well.)
As emotionally intelligent Ones, we are able to temper our seriousness about quality and standards with humour and levity. We dedicate ourselves to the things we do fully and display a strong commitment to hard work and the success of the team or organisation, but we can moderate our need to be right and listen to others deeply. Personal growth work helps us to be in touch with our anger, not judge ourselves for it, but to channel it constructively. When we are more aware of our tendencies and live from the high side of our personality style, we can laugh at ourselves, soothe our inner-critic, and also have compassion for ourselves and others.
8. THE THREE KINDS OF ONES: HOW OUR THREE INSTINCTUAL BIASES SHAPE OUR PERSONALITY STYLE
Type One Subtype Personalities
According to the Enneagram model, we all have three main instinctual drives that help us survive, but in each of us, one style tends to dominate our behaviour. The Type One style is expressed differently depending on whether a person has a dominant bias toward self-preservation, establishing social relationships and how we fit into groups, or one-to-one bonding.
The Self-Preservation (or Self-Focused) One
While the Type One style is often described as “perfectionistic,” we Self-Preservation Ones are the true perfectionist among the three kinds of Ones. Motivated by fear about stability and security, we’re the type of One that frets and worries the most. Us SP Ones are often the most responsible person in our family, even from a young age, and develop a habit of wanting to control everything, usually because we feel like our survival or well-being is at stake. We can be ultra-responsible and super-competent, but also tend to feel anxious about things going right. We may work too hard, pay too much attention to every little detail of everything we do, and try to fix things that don’t need fixing.
While Self-Preservation Ones are the most self-critical of the three Ones, we also tend to be warm, friendly, and kind to others. We hold back our anger the most of the three Ones and may not be very conscious of feeling it at all. However, we tend to be angry underneath, and that anger may leak out as resentment, irritation, or self-righteousness, or be held as tension in our bodies. Us Self-Preservation Ones see ourselves as often being exceedingly imperfect and in need of improvement and are less critical and more forgiving of others’ faults and mistakes.
As leaders or parents, we SP Ones tend to be gentle, benevolent, funny, and appreciative of others’ efforts. When less self-aware, we may want to micromanage everything and wear ourselves down from the inside through our harsh and relentless self-criticism. We may also criticise others excessively and believe that people are intentionally doing things wrong and should therefore be punished (after all, don’t we really know better?). When healthy, us SP Ones lead through modelling a high ideal of hard work and dedication. We tend to be tireless in our efforts to produce the best possible outcomes, do the best job we possibly can on everything we do, and support others in thoughtful ways.
The Social (or Group-Focused) One
In contrast to the Self-Preservation One, who feels very not-perfect and so actively strives to be more perfect, us Social Ones act as if we are perfect already, as if we have studied how to do things the right way and can relax a bit because we may indeed have found the best, or “right-est” way to do the things we do.
Social Ones not only try to learn and do things the right or perfect way, we automatically take on the role of showing others what we have learned. This gives us Social Ones a teacher mentality, and while this can lead the people around us to perceive us as taking a superior position to others (and in some ways we are), this motive usually remains unconscious, as we just want to be seen as good and wouldn’t want to intentionally assert that we are better than other people.
We can often be intellectual types and are usually very knowledgeable. We also hold back our anger, but instead of appearing warm, like the Self-Preservation One, we can sometimes be a bit cool or cold, in line with our more intellectual way of relating. While most Social Ones try not to express anger, we do express a kind of anger in needing to be the “Owner of the Truth” (as in knowing the right or perfect way), and we can explode periodically when triggered.
As leaders or parents, we can enjoy and take pride in helping others (for example: our children) through modelling good behaviour and the best way to do things. We tend to like researching the perfect way to do something and teaching others how to perform at our best. However, when we are less self-aware, we may become angry or frustrated if people aren’t doing things “the right way,” or ignoring or rejecting our efforts to enlighten them. Others may perceive us more unaware Social Ones as acting superior, viewing us as “know-it-alls” who patronise or argue with others who don’t acknowledge our expertise. When in a healthy frame of mind though, us Social Ones can be humble, thoughtful, responsible, and intelligent. We typically serve as inspiring mentors and supporters who guide others with the best of intentions to do our best work in the best way possible.
The One-to-One (or Relationship-Focused) One
One-to-One Ones focus energy and attention on perfecting other people—we are less critical of ourselves and more critical of others. More reformers than perfectionists, we often zealously try to improve society and the people around us, from our community to our colleagues to our significant others.
We are also the most openly angry of the Type Ones, although our anger can often be expressed as passion or zeal or energetic support of a cause. Us Relationship-Focused Ones can be more demanding of others than the other types of Ones—we may insist on our needs being met, as if we are entitled to special treatment because we are aligned with a higher moral calling or position. We can also be good at lobbying or evangelising for the things we believe in.
As leaders or parents, we bring lots of energy to a cause or professional effort, or to managing our children’s lives. We can work tirelessly to enact reforms or create change or engage in a campaign we think will improve others or the social environment. When less self-aware, we can be somewhat entitled, heavy-handed, and harsh. While claiming the moral high ground, we can also sometimes blame others for what’s wrong, while (unconsciously) absolving ourselves of fault and ignoring our own mistakes. Sometimes we may actually focus so much on what others need to do to reform their behaviour that we may engage in bad behaviour on the sly—as a way to get our needs met while releasing ourselves from the burden of our own excessive (internal) moral pressure.
When healthy, however, we can energise others with our strong beliefs, endless zeal, and moral ambitions. Like Gandhi, we can quite literally change the world through our vision, our principles, and our efforts. We can push an agenda and empower others in the strongest possible way behind a cause we believe in or to meet a societal need.
9. HOW ONES MIGHT STRUGGLE IN WORK AND IN RELATIONSHIPS: STRESS-POINTS AND TRIGGERS
Type Ones sometime feel like working with, and being in relationship with others is hard because:
- Other people might not do things as well as I want them to. They may not share my high standards. It can be hard to trust others to do the job the right way.
- Sometimes I assume somebody else won’t do the job the right way, so it’s easier to do it myself. This can lead to me working harder (and longer hours) than others, and then feeling resentful.
- Others may not like structure or respect the rules and routines and processes as much as I do. When this happens, others may engage in what I see as “bad behaviour,” which can lead to me judging them.
- It’s hard not to judge my colleagues, or family members, when I can see so clearly that everything would be better for all of us if we all followed the rules and strived harder.
- Sometimes when I try to help others by giving them constructive feedback, they perceive it as criticism. My intention is only to help, but my input sometimes gets experienced as harsh and judgmental.
- I tend to believe we should approach problems in a logical, rational way, and that it’s unproductive to share my feelings. But this can sometimes lead to my intentions being misunderstood.
Type One Personalities Can Become Triggered…
- When people break the rules.
- When people litter or don’t clean up after themselves.
- When people violate what I view as courteous behaviour, such as arriving late to meetings (consistently) or turning work in after the deadline, or not saying please, thank you, or sorry.
- When people behave in a way that is inconsiderate of others.
- When people don’t follow established processes and procedures.
- When people make excuses instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes.
- When mistakes are not corrected and therefore get repeated over and over again
- When people act unethically or irresponsibly
- When people don’t park right between the lines—when they behave in ways that have a negative impact on others and don’t realise what they are doing and correct their behaviour
- When people don’t acknowledge my competence or capacities
Others can sometimes find it difficult to work with or be in relationship with us Ones for these reasons:
- I can sometimes seem to be upset or angry, even when I’m not saying anything.
- When I do get angry or upset, I can at times be self-righteous and unbending.
- I can sometimes withdraw and stop communicating— giving others the silent treatment.
- I can get tense and seem stressed when discussing a point of disagreement.
- I might criticise or judge other people, their work, or behaviour.
- I might struggle to allow for the possibility that others may at times be more right than I am.
- I might insist that something gets done my way and give the impression that I am not open to multiple or better options.
- I might not trust others to do as good a job as I think would be the case if left to me.
- I can sometimes be super-rigid and inflexible when it comes to following rules and adhering to proper procedures.
- I can take the moral high ground in debates and so give the impression that I am always right.
10. SELF-MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES THAT ONES MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON IN THERAPY
- Needing to be right. It might be vital for us to really question if it’s always so important to be right. It may help to remember this question: “Is it more important for me to be right or to be happy?” This can begin with us noticing when we choose being right over being happy.
- Seeing things in terms of black and white. Many Ones know intellectually reality is more about shades of grey. But in practice, and in the heat of the moment, sometimes we forget this. It can be good to keep this in mind in order to help us reduce our rigidity and impatience.
- Being overly critical of myself or others. This involves noticing when the inner or outer critic is out of control. It can be painful to watch people punishing themselves when they are trying so hard and doing so well. When we can consciously ease up on ourselves and show ourselves compassion, we can free up a lot of energy for good-enough work and pleasure.
- Working too hard to make things perfect. The reality is, most things are imperfect, and “good enough” is often exactly that. It can be liberating for us to learn through experience that we don’t have to drive ourselves (and others) crazy chasing impossible standards when we don’t really have to.
- Rigidity around rules and processes. We often tend to think that everyone knows the rules and sees them the same way we do. It helps us Ones if we remember that people really don’t see rules and procedures the same way as we do, and so aren’t misbehaving when they don’t follow them—they just have a different perspective and are likely focusing on something else.
- Righteous anger and resentment. This involves allowing ourselves to feel, understand, and work with our anger more. Anger doesn’t go away just because I don’t acknowledge it—and unacknowledged anger has an impact. It helps us Ones to learn to befriend our anger as a sign that something important is getting triggered that needs our attention.
11. LIFE-TRAPS THAT ONES MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON IN IN THERAPY
Becoming conscious and aware of our “blind spots” can help all of us to be less defensive, more open to feedback from others, and more peaceful and content through being more fully aware of all that we think, feel, and do.
The kinds of “blind spots” that Ones often don’t see in themselves, but may be picked up by our loved ones or colleagues are things like:
- The presence and impact of anger. Us Ones often think, “I’m not angry” at the same time we are talking with a clenched jaw, or tightening every muscle in our body, or using a tone of voice that drips with annoyance. By noticing how we defend against feeling our anger, we can learn to be more open to understanding it and consciously channel it in productive ways that don’t undermine our effectiveness or our happiness.
- Overdoing criticism and the impact it has on others. Becoming aware of and moderating our inner critic helps us to be less sensitive to criticism from other people and to recognize and adjust how much we focus on the negative (what we see as needing improvement) while avoiding taking in what’s positive. When we offer criticism to others, we usually intend only to help and support them through our feedback, we sometimes fail to realise how much anger we are also transmitting, or that we sometimes hurt and undermine the very people we aim to help.
- The downside of self-criticism. Ones often believe we need to be tough on ourselves to make sure we engage in good behaviour and avoid mistakes or blame. However, we may not see how much damage our self-criticism does to our own self-confidence. Instead of “keeping ourselves in line,” we may be undermining our sense of our own inherent goodness.
- The repression of feelings and impulses. People with a One style often claim they don’t experience a lot of emotion—we tend to be practical and pragmatic and sensible. However, the degree to which we stifle our naturally occurring emotions and impulses may prevent us from drawing important information from what we feel and want.
- Rigidity and “one-right-way” thinking. Ones may not notice that other people perceive our insistence on adhering to certain “right ways” of doing things as rigid. It is important for us to remember that different people view rules and procedures differently, that there can be more than one “right” way to complete a task, and that being open to adapting to others can create more positive and fruitful working relationships.
- The need for relaxation, pleasure, play, fun. The habit of not acknowledging the value of rest and relaxation can be very dangerous for us. Our drive to be good and prove our worth through hard work can lead to working too hard and putting too much pressure on ourselves.
12. WHERE TO START WHEN FOCUSING ON MY “ONE-STUFF”: STRENGTHS TO LEVERAGE & ENQUIRY QUESTIONS TO START PONDERING
It may help me to…
- Try noticing when I am being way too hard on myself. Noticing when the costs outweigh the benefits of self-criticism.
- Try to own my anger. Notice if my anger rises but if I judge it or push it down or rationalise why I shouldn’t be angry. Notice what happens to my angry feelings if I try to suppress them or talk myself out of them.
- Notice if I rationalise my anger as “virtuous anger.” Under what conditions do I get self-righteous or hold onto my angry feelings because I feel or think myself to be right?
- Observe how I react in the face of positive feedback. Is it hard to take in? How do I handle compliments?
- Notice how I deal with things not being perfect. How do I put pressure on myself and others to do everything right all the time—even when it’s clear that achieving perfection is impossible?
- Notice what gets in the way of me delegating. Do I trust others to meet my high standards? Can I allow for things to be done in a way that doesn’t perfectly match up to my ideals?
- Think about how I relate to rules, processes and structure? Can I break the rules? What happens when other people break the rules or operate outside established procedures? How do I react? Can I lighten up?
Strengths to Leverage
Here are some strengths that we as Ones already possess that can help us leverage and manage these suffering aspects of our personality style:
- My dedication to working hard to do good in the world. Sometimes we might be seen as the quintessential “do-gooder.” While we have a tendency to be self-critical, we also feel motivated and confident when we can consciously own the positive effects of the good we do in the world and the good people we are.
- My high level of personal integrity. Ones are people others can count on to do the right thing and who often contribute to an enterprise by being the conscience of that organisation, family unit, or partnership.
- My high standards of quality. This can help us realise that we play an important role in advocating for excellence.
- My strong sense of responsibility. Ones will seldom leave early, shirk our duties, or try to get away with doing less than a very good job on something we care about.
- My good intentions and extreme efforts. We can hopefully begin to defend against our inner-critics by remembering that we tend to give our best effort in nearly everything we do.
- I am a clear thinker who often provides clarity and supportive structures. Us Ones are very good at communicating complex ideas in simple language and seeing where structure is needed, and then building it in.
Enquiry Questions to start reflecting on:
- Why do I go overboard in criticising myself or others? What drives that?
- What kinds of things cause me to feel angry? Why do I react the way I do? Are there times when I am angry but I don’t know I’m angry?
- Why do I value structure and processes? How does this benefit me and others?
- Where do my high standards come from? Why they so high?
- Why does work have to come before play? Where does my sense of responsibility come from? Can I relax it?
- Why is it so important for me to be right? Why is it equally important to avoid making mistakes? What happens when I am wrong? Can I accept my fallibility without beating myself up for it?
- What feels challenging when it comes to things like delegating and handing over power to someone else? Why?
- How can I develop more compassion for myself?
Ones can also grow through consciously becoming aware of the self-limiting habits and patterns associated with our personality style and learning to embody the higher aspects or more expansive capacities of the Type One personality:
- Learning to accept and work through angry emotions so that we can find more peace and serenity in our everyday experience.
- Observing how we can limit ourselves by focusing too narrowly on one right way or “the perfect” outcome and practice opening up to many right ways, and the potential for beauty in the imperfect or the unexpected.
- Notice if I am viewing things in a “black and white” way and allow for more shades of grey.
- Observe when the defence mechanism of reaction formation is happening—notice when I act and speak in a way that’s contrary to how I really feel. Then practice getting in touch with the truth of my emotion and finding ways to express it honestly.
- Notice how I can slip into a very serious mood when I am driven to criticise what is happening, and consciously open up to more levity and playfulness. Find ways to use humour more to rise above whatever’s bothering me.
- Recognize what kinds of experiences make me tense and practice relaxing (physically) and finding opportunities for pleasure and fun.
- Notice how I can get rigid around routines, structure, and processes and practice being more spontaneous and creative.
Overall, Type Ones can fulfil our higher potentials by observing and working against our habit of focusing on how we are failing to meet an ideal standard of perfection. We can learn to be more comfortable with the perfection of our imperfections, have more compassion for ourselves, and allow for our sense of lightness and humour to play a larger role in our everyday experience. When we can then lean into our higher capacity for fun and relax the need to “be good”. In this way we can infuse our personal life and our work-life with confidence, creativity, and the deep sense of integrity that is so natural to us, and also acts as our strongest suit.
If I are not a One, but have a relationship with a One, here are some tips for getting on better with the Ones in my life:
- Be clear and precise. Us Ones believe that working together, or being in a relationship with us, requires us to “get things right”, as much as possible, which usually means being clear about goals, processes, and who’s responsible for what and how we will be held accountable in each case.
- If you make a mistake, admit it and take responsibility. This inspires trust and assures us that you will come forward and own and fix whatever you do wrong. As you can see, we don’t like mistakes, but we can forgive people who take responsibility for them.
- Demonstrate that you value quality. Us Ones will feel more comfortable collaborating with you if you are aligned around this central goal.
- Have compassion for our drive for perfection. Understanding our need to get things right and the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect can help us recognise what motivates us to hold ourselves and others to high standards. It may also help us to be more patient with you if/when we get tense or resentful (which we probably will at some point, being human just like you, even if not always admitting to our human frailties and weaknesses).
- Understand our tendency to criticise and empathise with how hard we can be on themselves. If you need to deliver critical feedback to a One, remember how much we want to do quality work, or give you what you need, and that we are already very tough on ourselves internally.
- Emphasise positive feedback (and deliver constructive criticism very gently). Us Ones will feel supported if you can help us really hear it when you want to communicate how well we did something. When offering constructive criticism, it will lessen the blow if you also mention our strengths.
FURTHER RESOURCES FOR ONES & THOSE WHO LOVE THEM:
This is a great, easy-to-follow overview by Russ Hudson of the One personality style, which also offers some practices which Ones (or all of us) might find helpful when struggling with “One-Stuff” in our lives.
In the episode below, I take a deep dive into all things One, trying to give an overview of how the Enneagram Type One Personality might shows up in our lives as a kind of continuum (or ladder) of psychological and spiritual health.