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Grief, Distress, And Enneagram Type

Written by: Dr. Charryse Johnson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


How do you respond through seasons of grief and distress? overwhelm? or doubt?

At any given moment we are either entering, experiencing, or exiting some level of conflict. In these moments, our brain has an innate desire to protect and defend through escape. However, pushing through is an illusionary concept and short-term avoidance creates long term consequences.

Life is unpredictable and despite our best efforts, it can be filled with an incessant amount of uncertainty. Navigating grief and distress can push the limits of our positivity and require us to develop new ways of monitoring our well-being.

Grief is an emotion and an experience that exists along a wide continuum of variance. It can feel elusive yet persistent. It can quietly yet forcefully exist beneath the surface, and it can coexist with moments that bring you joy.

On March 14, 2022, my Aunt Lillie, the matriarch of our family passed away. This loss felt like an unexpected wave of grief when I had just found a moment to catch my breath. During times of personal distress, I have learned to acknowledge my need for stillness, for contemplation, and to direct my pain into purpose.

So, I invite you to lean in and join me at the intersection between grief and leadership. To recognize grief can seem like a villain, but also serve as a companion.

Express it.

Acknowledge it.

Tune in to what it’s trying to make known.

The Enneagram is an archetypal tool that helps with self-awareness and self-knowledge. It provides a framework centered on our core motivation and patterns of behaviors when walking through healthy integration versus stress.

Using the enneagram framework, let’s examine the general ways each character type may respond to grief and distress:

Type 1 temperaments generally find safety in structure and desire direction on the “right” way to grieve. This places them at risk for continuing with their routines instead of processing their emotions.

Type 2 temperaments will typically want to move forward while maintaining the approval and support of those around them. This places them at risk for helping others in grief and then later becoming a martyr when they are emotionally overwhelmed.

Type 3 temperaments need goals and fear they will fail at grieving properly. This sense of fear may cause them to disengage from their emotions and overcompensate by taking charge in areas that induce feelings of success.

Type 4 temperaments will often seek what’s missing and look for ways to fully express and explore their emotions. When the stress of grief surges, they can become withdrawn and comforted by sitting with the depth of their emotions.

Type 5 temperaments want to avoid being emotionally overwhelmed and grief can increase their desire to withdraw. They will often retreat from others and have difficulty accepting support.

Type 6 temperaments seek reassurance and certainty amidst grief and distress. This places them at risk for over productivity and staying busy to help mitigate feelings of grief and loss.

Type 7 temperaments typically value options and freedom, but in times of stress, they may become rigid and perfectionistic. During times of grief, they can become assertive and centered on themselves instead of acknowledging how they truly feel.

Type 8 temperaments feel grounded when they have a sense of control of themselves or the circumstances in their lives. Grief can place them at risk of coming off as cynical or detached as they try to regain a sense of power.

Type 9 temperaments often struggle to make decisions. They need time to consider what’s happening and how to manage their need to avoid conflict and take care of those they love. In times of distress, they may appear anxious, unsure, and overcommitted.

If you want to know your enneagram type, there are several free online tests. It can also be helpful to engage with resources that help you expand and increase your resilience on a micro and macro level.

The books and podcast below offer an array of principles and insight to support your growth in tangible and effective ways.

  • F.O.R.G.E.D.: Six Practices of Great Leaders in Volatile Times (Book) by Douglas Scherer

  • Poised for Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond (Book) by Karima Mariama-Arthur

  • REFLECT the Life You Want (Podcast) Tim Howard

Managing grief and distress is not linear or predictable. It is a personal process that is best engaged through awareness, compassion, and consistent evaluation. We are all grieving something. Therefore, anyone who interacts with the suffering, pain, and crisis of care of others, is at risk. Every day we are entrusted with the stories and lives of those within our sphere of influence. This is an incredible honor and tremendous responsibility. So, we must ask ourselves, “Am I responding from my pain, or acting in accordance to my purpose?”

Consider taking time to reflect on how you respond to grief and distress. Some of your thoughts and actions will be apparent, but also consider the subtle reactions you minimize or hide. Unchecked distress can impair our ability to effectively use and implement our knowledge, skills, and abilities in the areas that matter most.

Here are 5 questions to help guide your reflection:

  • What is the difference between my external response and my internal truth?

  • How are my patterns of response affecting those I love?

  • How is my state of being influencing those I serve?

  • What motivations are currently fueling my actions?

  • How can I respond in ways that are more adaptive? Sustainable? Authentic?

Open yourself to the answers that bring you face to face with vulnerability.

Vulnerability helps ignite the courage we need to intentionally move forward. It is an opportunity to use the process of self-discovery to realign the vision we have ourselves and others.

Find the sensational in the simple…

Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and extend grace.

It can be easier to be angry than to be sad, so remember the eyes are a window into the soul

we are all grieving something.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Dr. Charryse Johnson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Charryse Johnson is an author, speaker, and mental health consultant whose work focuses on the intersection of integrative wellness, neuroscience, and mental health. She is the founder of Jade Integrative Counseling and Wellness an integrative therapy practice where personal values, the search for meaning, and the power of choice are the central focus. Dr.Johnson works with clients and organizations across the nation and has an extensive background and training in education, crisis and trauma, neuroscience, and identity development.



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