I was intrigued by overhearing a common phrase last week. Overheard several times was the phrase, “I don’t want to do that.” It’s a common enough phrase (anyone who has ever had a three or four year old around the house has heard a variation of that uttered hundreds of times). What intrigued me was that while the content was the same, the context and source related to where and who uttered that phrase made a world of difference. It was a good example of the importance of focusing on process and not content.
When a four-year-old utters “I don’t want to do that,” it often is willful petulance. When an adult, whose birth order is that of youngest sibling, utters a hardheaded, resistant, “I don’t want to do that,” it may be an example of someone caught up in unthinking reactivity and reverting back to their birth order repertoire. This adult will refuse to do something “just because” regardless of whether or not they logically understand that they should.
Finally, uttering “I don’t want to do that” may be an expression of self-definition that flows out of one’s capacity to self-differentiation. When an Enneagram 2 (“The Helper”) can say to another in a non-reactive way, “I don’t want to do that” it’s usually a pretty healthy sign. Helpers tend to lack the capacity to say “No” to requests, even those that inappropriate, invasive, or inconvenient. Or, when an Enneagram 1 (“The Perfectionist”) or the over-responsible first born can get past a crushing sense of obligation and say, “I don’t want to do that” in a non-reactive way it’s probably a sign of growth.
Date posted: Tuesday, October 28th, 2008 10:26 am | Under category: bowen family systems theory, children, personal growth
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