The Virtue of Type Seven: Sobriety
Part 1 of 9 in the Enneagram virtues series.
Note: This is the first in a new series of reflections on the “virtues” of the Enneagram of Personality. They aren’t exhaustive, but I hope they’re helpful in using the Enneagram for real life. I’m also experimenting with format in this newly launched newsletter. If you’d like to share any thoughts on Enneathing You Need, you can always send feedback to me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!
I really like “sobriety” as a virtue for the type 7. I really dislike the cultural connotations we have around sobriety, though. First, we have to do some unpacking.
I was also hesitant to do a second Enneathing You Need on the type 7. But if we remember that in the Enneagram of Personality we all have each of the types within us, then I think learning about the best of the types—any type—can help lead us “home” to our true selves. For some of us, the connection to type 7, though always present, will be even more readily accessible: if you have a 7 wing (6s and 8s), if you’re an idealist type (1s, 4s, and 7s), or if you go to 7 in times of “integration” or “disintegration” (1s and 5s).
The nine virtues of each type, unlike the passions/fixations, are things we can all resonate with because they are a universal language of liberation from the egoic ways and humanity’s worst into our best. They are relevant to everyone.
What do we mean by ‘virtues’?
In my workshops, I know that I’ll always have to do some translating and qualifying when telling people that the upbeat, joyful, wonder-full type 7 is called to a life of “Sobriety.” I try to explain a new view of Sobriety before the 7s can exit the door...
Classically understood, a virtue is the “golden mean” between two equally unhealthy extremes.
For the virtue of Courage, for example, the two extremes are cowardice on the one hand and foolhardiness on the other. The former is unhealthy because one becomes paralyzed by fear; the latter is unhealthy because one fails to grasp the risk for self-harm. Courage is a healthy balance between the two, even a holy balance. All of the virtues are like this.
In learning about the virtues, in emulating the virtues, we all seek to live into this place of balance where we are centered on a firm foundation but also with the flexibility to adjust ourselves to discern the fulcrum of virtue in any situation in which we find ourselves. Courage doesn’t look the same in every situation, after all.
The virtue of Sobriety
So what about Sobriety?
For the type 7, the two unhealthy extremes that provide Sobriety its middle balancing point are intoxication and abstinence.
Intoxication is a bit easier to understand as a vice. It’s got “toxic” right in the word, so how can we argue it’s healthy? Intoxication tells us that something unhealthy is being consumed, which often has the effect of making addiction more and more likely. And addiction is always about one thing: escapism.
Abstinence is a bit trickier. After all, isn’t abstinence a good thing—even a Christian virtue? And when it comes to addiction, aren’t abstinence and sobriety the same thing?
Actually “no” and “no.” Abstinence as a choice is fine. Abstinence as a necessity is a vice. Abstinence, to abstain from something, is completely neutral. We all “abstain” from a number of unhealthy and undesirable life options, which is all to the good. But when abstinence is a necessity because you can’t trust yourself, then that’s a vice. Alcoholics choose abstinence because they have a history of abusing alcohol. That’s fine, but it’s a concession. Christian leaders who live by the Billy Graham rule are choosing a kind of abstinence from women’s presence. For the alcoholic and for the Christian leader who is a sex addict, abstinence is a wise choice. But who truly has the virtue of self-control: the person who can have one or two drinks at a party and stop or the person who avoids drinks altogether because they don’t know where it will end? Is the mature Christian leader the one who can be alone in the presence of women without viewing them sexually or the one who avoids all women for fear of what he might allow himself to do?
This is why Sobriety is the “golden mean” between two extremes, which are both, in their own way, a complete lack of self-control. Sobriety is saying “yes” to a proper use of something and “no” to abusing something. True Sobriety is being able to enjoy something without abusing it. True Sobriety knows how to say “enough” with a contented smile on its face.
What if Sobriety means ‘Freedom’?
But Sobriety still has a connotation to me (and I’m guessing the 7s reading this) of being a good choice, but not really an attractive one. It sounds like “acting responsibly”—very adult and difficult to argue with, but hardly something you can get excited about.
We can begin to imagine a future that is full, attractive, fulfilling when we realize that for the Enneagram, Sobriety is connected to Freedom.
For the 7, life is a quest for freedom. But ask any 7, and you’ll find the freedom they search for, the freedom they often think they find, doesn’t last. It’s impermanent and, often, even imperfect in the moment. It’s not enough.
In our culture today, we understand freedom to be primarily the freedom to choose. Freedom-as-choice becomes a quest for reducing restrictions. For the 7, a world with all possibilities open to them is a utopia, a land of infinite horizons always beckoning, always promising more if you’ll keep moving forward. But like a mirage, the nearer our 7 energy goes toward the horizon, the farther away the goal recedes. We keep thinking we see a life-giving spring in the distance, only to find it has moved on us.
Shawn Achor is a researcher in the field of positive psychology. He studies happiness. He’s found that while most of us think that achieving success is a precursor for happiness, the opposite is true: people who are happy then can become successful. People spend their whole lives chasing success so they can finally achieve their real goal of happiness. Sadly for them—and fortunately for them—happiness can never be found in the future, out there, because we only ever have access to the now.
This new hypothesis flipping the contemporary wisdom on its head holds the key for the type 7. Freedom for a 7 isn’t limitless choice and infinite options.
There is a freedom beyond freedom, a freedom hidden in God that does not require striving or forward movement or the addition of just one more thing. The freedom beyond freedom is the freedom from the addiction for more, freedom to taste the satisfaction of enjoying the present moment just the way it is—no more, but also no less. There is enjoyment, fulfillment, and freedom in life, but it lies here, in the sacrament of the present moment. It does not lie in an idealized future that never quite lives up to what we hope.
Cynthia Bourgeault says that the 7’s true fear isn’t pain; many 7s are quite good at going into dark places within themselves and others. Instead, she says the 7’s true aversion is the cessation of movement. What 7s have to wake up to is that when we settle for freedom-as-choice, we are buying into the lie that we need forward motion, even if it’s not actually productive. Our striving is predicated on the lie that our constant movement will release us. We would rather settle for the ability to pace in circles in a cage than have to sit still on a beach, unbounded by walls.
True freedom for the 7, true Sobriety, is the freedom to savor and to be satisfied. When satisfaction is always over the horizon, it never comes. When you can find satisfaction in the present moment, every moment and every place becomes a gateway to being deeply, richly delighted and satisfied.
Those who are 7s truly do have access to appreciate this freedom-to-savor more than the rest of us. But it’s not because they have a special “savoring” super power. It’s because when you have spent your life in a cage, the freedom of the open air is all the sweeter.
Also in This Series
The Virtue of Type One: Serenity
The Virtue of Type Three: Veracity
The Virtue of Type Eight: Innocence
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
Cynthia Bourgeault’s take on the Enneagram 7
Samuel Ogles is a writer, speaker, spiritual director, and Enneagram teacher living in the western suburbs of Chicago. He co-hosts the Ask a Spiritual Director podcast, and he loves communicating, spirituality, and empowering others with deeper insights and a vision for change. Learn more at SamuelOgles.com.