The Cost of Being a Peacemaker

By: Bryan Nixon, MA, LPC

I am a 9 on the Enneagram*, otherwise known as the Peacemaker. Sounds great, right? Who doesn’t love a peacemaker? Sometimes it is really great. I have a strong ability to de-escalate intense situations. I can often listen to other people arguing and quickly find the one piece of information that is being misunderstood, translate it back to them so that they both understand and the conflict dissolves. Being a peacemaker has often served me well in my life.

The dilemma is that there is a high cost to being a peacemaker. The cost often means that I sacrifice, both consciously and unconsciously, my own needs, desires, and preferences in order to make sure that everyone around me is ok. I’m really good at it. It is my autopilot mode. The problem with this is that in addition to sacrificing my needs, desires and preferences, a measure of emotional numbness is also required in order to sustain this way of being. I have to suppress my anger, swallow my frustrations and wrestle my resentments into submission until they all go silent. What this essentially means is that I can, with haste and precision, create peace for those around me while simultaneously experiencing a peace-less and intense battle in my own heart and mind.

For me, self-love is often a conscious choice to allow others to be upset or disappointed with me without trying to fix it for them. In other words, choosing to not always be a peacemaker. Even as I type this I have a deep awareness of you, the reader. A little twinge of fear on top of my stomach that you might not like what I write, or worse, you might disagree with something I’ve written. That little twinge, if not intentionally and mindfully engaged, can quickly become a paralyzing swirl of confusion and brain fog that can shut me down and put me back into autopilot.

I have noticed three necessary things that are required for me to consciously choose to live this way and stay engaged in life rather than going numb. First, I have to choose to believe that my needs, desires and preferences matter in equal measure to those of the other people in my world. Second, in believing that my needs, desires and preferences matter equally, I must take the risk of using my voice to ask for what I need even when those needs might create tension or conflict with others. Third, I must trust that I have what it takes to navigate that conflict with a balance of both strength and tenderness.

I did not come to these conclusions quickly or easily. They are the fruit of my own ongoing spiritual, emotional and mental journey. If you struggle with any of these three areas above, I would strongly recommend the following:

  1. Seek out a counselor who will not simply help you overcome behavioral struggles, but will help you explore the depths of your style of relating to others and to your world.
  2. Take a mindfulness course. An 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class is a great start for learning to tune in to and observe what is going on physically, mentally and emotionally. It is enormously helpful for snapping out of autopilot!
  3. Get your hands on a copy of The Wisdom of the Enneagram and learn more about your specific personality type and how to overcome its limitations.

As Aerosmith so brilliantly said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Many blessings to you as you engage your own journey of spiritual, emotional and mental transformation!

*Note: The Enneagram is a personality typing system rooted in ancient wisdom traditions. It is a brilliant tool for helping you to take a deeper look at why you show up in the world the way that you do.  It helps you see where your personality is helpful to you and where it is not helpful.  With this awareness you are able to choose to show up differently when your autopilot setting is not serving you well.