Pastor and spiritual director Juanita Campbell Rasmus shares about her dark night of the soul and how the Enneagram has helped her go beyond the One’s black-and-white, perfectionistic mindset.
From my earliest memories as a child, I have been striving and pushing for all that is right and good. My personal narrative has driven me into the depth of depression, exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, and into a dark night of the soul as St. John of the Cross wrote way back in the 16th century. Some time ago I came to a critical point in my life where all the good things that I had worked for, longed for—you know, happy marriage, great kids, vibrant career, comfortable lifestyle—had sucked the life out of me. I had begun to wonder: can your narrative kill you?
Now I know it can, or at least it could leave you for half dead. My life had imploded. No extramarital affair for this pastor, no inappropriate public behavior, no reckless use of funds personal or otherwise, just an emptiness that made sleeping my life away seem far too appealing. I went to bed one day and woke up in a dark pit, lethargic, empty, and desolate. Medication, therapy, and long days of silence, solitude, and reflection began to offer me hope for recovery.
In the process I found the Enneagram. What an incredible answer to my prayers and my sighs. In the Enneagram I came to see I had been living my life all in the dark, as though I had been born blind. The Enneagram turned on the light for me even in the pit. As an Enneagram One, my drivenness toward perfection, people pleasing, and needing the acceptance and approval of others had come from a very deep place within me rooted in fear. I had never considered myself to be a particularly fearful person until, along with the depression, I began to have panic attacks that were managed only by medication. Later, I would learn new coping mechanisms.
The Enneagram gave me insight and helped me see that my fear was rooted in punishment, in my case, for not being good enough. As a One I was fearful of being labeled, condemned, or judged for not having “what it takes.” So early on I became a “striver.” I was striving, pushing, and ultimately exhausting myself to death. My motto was work harder, do more, stay in the game at all cost.
I had literally spent my life up until then avoiding mistakes or failure, creating rules I believed would keep me disciplined and structured, free from chaos, confusion, and disaster. None of that really worked, but in my mind it appeared to. I had hoped all my rule-following would keep me safe from the wounds of being human. Needless to say, my way did not work. It is the way of the One to want to avoid failure, mistakes, and judgment. Along the way, I suppressed both anger and resentment which slowly brewed on the back burner of my subconsciousness.
My therapist once told me that depression is anger turned inward, and I was blown away by her comment. She said in the long run I would need to learn to live with my anger and it would prove healthier than depression as a coping mechanism. One of the gifts the Enneagram gave me was being able to see I could release my unrealistic expectations of myself as well as the silent unrealistic expectations I had of others. They were, after all, just thoughts I had created as a part of my narrative. Since I authored this saga, I had the power to rewrite the narrative. I had to let go of believing the standards, values, and principles I had set were fact! Shocker—they were simply the reality I had created in my black-and-white world and it was exacting a huge toll on my life and my relationships.
While it was unnerving to begin to see that all I had believed was not absolute truth, it was also quite freeing. You see, I had always been very dualistic in my thinking about life and relationships. All of that is just a nice way of saying that at the core, we Ones can be judgmental and condemning to all that does not line up to our rules of engagement. The growth for me has come as I am learning to be more respectful of the beliefs and values of other people.
I used to live in such a black-and-white world that I often prayed, “God, show me in black and white so I don’t mess this up.” God has graciously used the Enneagram to show me a myriad of truths in colors as intensely beautiful as the rainbow, and I am learning to be open to new ways of seeing and being freed from the restrictions of perfectionism. I am actually learning to live with the tension and the reality of mystery and it has been a great and joy-filled way of coming into the light of life.
About the Author
Juanita Campbell Rasmus is a speaker, writer, spiritual director, and contemplative. She copastors the St. John’s United Methodist Church in downtown Houston with her husband, Rudy. Pastor Juanita has served as a member of the board of directors of Renovaré and she cofounded Bread of Life, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, with Rudy in 1992. Juanita most recently teamed up with Tina Knowles Lawson and Beyoncé to help forty thousand flood victims recover in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. She is the author of Learning to Be and 40 Days on Being a One.