Noticing our Confinement: Cat Parenting and the Enneagram
Our cat Izzy is NOT an indoor cat. When we first took Izzy and her brother Alex Valentino in three years ago, they had been living as outdoor cats for at least a year. We hoped to transition them to being fully indoors….Izzy had other plans. And eventually, we ceded to her vision for life after enduring many months of persistent begging and complaining about her confinement.
Recently, Alex died really unexpectedly and we were so devastated. Alex was super sociable, sweet, easily scared, and really really fluffy. He was known to our neighbours as Tip Up because he had a habit of rolling onto his back and inviting a chin scratch as soon as you approached him. He was a sucker for tummy rubs.
As we grieved Alex, we were also trying to figure out what to do about Izzy. There was a possibility that Alex had died from exposure to rat poison so until we got the results from an autopsy, we decided to keep Izzy inside all the time.
Let me repeat: Izzy is NOT an indoor cat.
One day of her confinement, she spent about 8 hours of that day loudly complaining, crying, petitioning, to be let outside. There was nothing pleasant about Izzy’s confinement for anyone in the household. Thankfully, rat poison was not the cause of Alex’s death and we decided to return to Izzy’s usual state of roaming freely between our indoor and outdoor spaces. This experience with Izzy got me thinking about the idea of protection. I’m sure any parents (whether of human babies or fur babies) can identify with those choices we make for the protection of our vulnerable charges even when they conflict with the desires of the one we are seeking to protect. I have no doubt that Izzy did not feel protected. She felt imprisoned. Like many protective acts, walls, fences in the world, it really depends on perspective. What one person sees as an act of protection, for another, it is an act of confinement. We can find this dynamic within ourselves as well.
The Enneagram describes our personality as a collection of coping strategies – defense mechanisms that develop in order to keep us safe. Especially when we are children, at our most vulnerable, we need to learn how to protect ourselves in the world. We begin to create a tough outer layer to defend the tender parts of our truest selves. And so Ones begin to perfect themselves, Twos start to shower others with care and kindness, Threes get busy, and so on. Each one of us believing that these strategies will keep us safe; will bring us love. What I have found to be so beautiful about working with the Enneagram is that this development process isn’t seen as something that has gone wrong, or that these protective layers are to be judged in any way. As someone deeply formed and rooted in the Western Christian tradition (and with a strong dose of One perspective), there is a way in which I am always looking for what is wrong with me. Even though my Anabaptist tradition doesn’t teach original sin or the doctrine of human depravity, I think anyone raised in North American Christianity picks up implicit ideas about the fundamental ‘wrongness’ of humanity. It has been incredibly liberating to be introduced to the Enneagram’s perspective on human development where there is nothing inherently wrong. The ways that we have tried to protect ourselves, the structures of our Enneagram type, are seen as necessary, natural, and good.
There is beauty, love, and power at work in the formation of our personalities. I can now see the grace of God present in what, on tough days, I might describe as my worst qualities. And. Just as our choice to confine Izzy was rooted in love, it was still confining! Even as our personality formation is essential and marked by grace, these same traits and structures that have protected us can also begin to chafe. They begin to feel confining. Like Izzy, I have found myself at the closed windows of my being loudly protesting my confinement. And this is where meaningful work with the Enneagram really begins. One of the purposes of learning about your Enneagram type is to begin to see these various coping strategies clearly, to notice when they become activated, and to develop the freedom to let these habitual patterns go. I find my home at point Nine on the Enneagram. One of my primary coping strategies has been to numb out – I dissociate from physical sensation and retreat into my mind where I create an alternate reality where everything is peaceful and nothing can bother me. For many years this was a necessary habit to keep me safe. But of course as I have moved into adulthood, I began to realize how this numbness also was its own prison. As I have started to become more conscious of my protective strategies, I have been able to leave behind some of my earlier patterns but I am noticing that this move to numbing still shows up in a more subtle form. Now, I can notice within minutes (usually with some help from my partner) that I am stuck. My confinement is much clearer, much more quickly. I want to be able to communicate with freedom with my loved ones but there are still moments when my system goes on lock down and I struggle to find my way out. We ended Izzy’s confinement – with some anxiety and lots of breath work! We can’t remove all risks and dangers to her as she prowls outside – and ultimately, we’re all happier this way. We do have some tools to try and keep her safe: a bright collar and bell, neighbours who also keep an eye out for her, and an early ‘bedtime’ to avoid encounters with nearby foxes. The Enneagram has provided these tools for my own process – helping me to become acquainted with my prison, and practices to help me feel supported as I risk venturing outside of my protective walls. I’d be curious to know where you have noticed feeling confined by your habitual patterns. How is Love inviting you to notice where what once protected, now imprisons?