Suzanne Dion Enneagram Teacher, Author, Coach
Suzanne Dion

Why David Daniels’ 5As Really Matter

I get this question a lot: “So now what do I do? Now that I know my Enneagram type, what do I do with it?” And importantly, “I am still doing the same things I don’t want to be doing, even though I’m studying the Enneagram, what do I do next?” Well, isn’t that a fine couple of questions and a powerful self-observation.

David was paying attention. Fielding these questions time and time again, coupled with his own personal development challenges and a penchant for practicality, he knew there was more to it. Despite the fact that David’s career as an M.D. was steeped in academia, he had a sense within him that cognition wasn’t all there was to it. Additionally, his years as a private-practice psychiatrist, working often with couples, informed his reliance on practical applications that most often included ‘homework’ as one of the keys to his therapeutic success.

Studying Enneagram types and coming to our own doesn’t automatically lead to personal change, let alone transformation. But it’s a great place to begin, as cognitive study of this great system is a first step toward personal growth. Starting with “the intellect” by way of “study” is solid and beneficial. The type-by-type learning in order to “understand” how we’re wired and how our personality structure has formed sets us up with a good foundation for all the learning that is primed to follow. “A good foundation for learning what, exactly?” You may be asking? The deeper work that just might be of life-changing, life-enhancing value, that is. To answer your question.

Some of what Enneagram study includes is an identification of certain characteristic traits, aptitudes and seemingly inherent talents that organize patterned ways of perceiving and thinking, feeling, and behaving. It also includes and understanding of how we come imbued with a particular focus of attention and have definitive ways of prioritizing values. We get to learn about something called “self-awareness” — what it is, why it’s a game-changer, and how to cultivate it. We get to learn that there are different personalities and what that has meant to not only our own survival, but to the collective survival of our species. Add to that Freudian defense mechanisms, ‘getting triggered’ and our type’s ‘kind of reactivity’, and the mammalian aversive emotional systems — like anger, the distress of grief, and fear, each of which shows independently or simultaneously when we are threatened or challenged or injured — and we’re on our way. Sounds heavy duty! I know! It is. But so is human life. So there you go! And well, at the very least, making some sense of ourselves — why we do what do and act the way we act — as we trudge along in this life we’ve been given sort of helps! Like, a lot. 😉

And then, if we stick with it, if we stick to learning more and more about this system, ourselves, and how it all works, we get to go further. We can learn about different triadic groupings called Centers of Intelligence, Hornevians, Harmonics, and Object Relations aka Harmony Triads. And yes, understanding each of those triads is extraordinarily clarifying, incisive, and useful. They deepen our understanding of the system’s rich complexities and that of our own make-up. They help us understand why we react the way we do, how we protect our hearts from getting hurt, and how we do our best to soothe emotional upset and prevent overwhelm. They show us how certain Enneagram types are like other types and how they are different from other types too. It all makes a ton of sense once we commit to the process and study it all over time. While mastery of the system is years in the making, the benefits of taking it on show up really quickly —and it’s interesting stuff, right from the start, I promise.

So back to why learning all of this sets up “a good foundation.” Because learning about personality, the different types based on different temperaments, typical defense mechanisms and defensiveness, essential qualities and adaptive behaviors allows us to confidently “call it and name it.” And, “calling it and naming it” leads to consistently recognizing it. And from recognizing it, we can interact with it. From interacting with it, we can allow it. Once we allow it, we can accept it. Once we accept it, we can begin to work with it. Ha Ha Ha!! And from here, we can consciously, if we so desire, heal it to change it — even, transform it. Yes. We can change “it,” first, by de-shaming it. Include it by owning it. Transform it by integrating it. What a hardy sequence of spiritually inclined psycho-babble, right? Yes. But those are the steps and they make all the difference in the world!

But seriously, what is the “it” I am referring to in all this? What is “the it” I am calling and naming that kicks off this personal-growth psychobabble avalanche? “Those things.” Remember where we started at the top of this blog? Those things you are still doing that you don’t want to be doing, that you thought learning the Enneagram would help you stop doing. And why would you want to stop doing something that you are doing? Because most likely, there are “things” that you are doing that might be harming you, or your loved ones, or your dreams and goals in life — and you know it.

Years ago, David Daniels, M.D., co-founder with Helen Palmer of the Narrative Enneagram (TNE) training school, developed something they called, “The 5As of the Universal Growth Process” with his TNE colleague Terry Saracino. Together they had been teaching the Enneagram all over the country, all over the world, for that matter. Week-long courses on all nine types were incredibly rich and insightful. People could learn, by type, how they tend to think, feel, and react to things. How their type would behave under stress and how they would otherwise behave on a good day. It was pioneering teaching and people loved it. However, people weren’t really “evolving” as much as they had hoped, especially when it came to relaxing the automatic patterns of type and critically, soothing one’s compulsions, defendedness and reactivity, when triggered.

Viktor Frankl’s so-famous quote was David’s impetus:

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So, David thought, how to get people into “that space”? Into that space that contains our conscious choice and our freedom? It sounds lovely, he thought, but it’s not easy. If it were easy, we’d all be doing it automatically because it is such a desirable, proactive state of being.

Why isn’t it easy? Well, raw willpower aside, it’s tough because squeezing ourselves into that space requires a battle with our survival-driven, stress-response system. Try interrupting that for the fun of it! Getting triggered is what sets off our aversive emotional system, which means, we suddenly find ourselves in a body that’s filling with cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, for starters. Try halting all of that survival-juicy chemistry just cause we “want to,” or harder yet, because someone else wants us to! Fat chance!

David and Terry realized that while intellectual study of these systems was, yes, the great foundational start, it wasn’t enough. They needed a method, a practice, an actual “process” that could help us stay present and stabilized while erupting. “In that space” requires a battle with our own defense system, that which is full of uncomfortable biochemistry. Therein lies the challenge, and therein lies the quest for a solution.

David and Terry’s 5As were developed for this very intervention. The 5As are an actual practice-able method. The 5As are five sequential, self-anchoring, “each starts with an ‘A'” steps designed to disrupt uprising emotional reactivity, system overwhelm, and the poor outcomes that often follow. The 5As gift us a self-soothing process that begins with the “presence” we have trained ourselves to sustain, thanks to self-awareness cultivation. The 5As’ steps done in sequence leads to an all-cylinders cognitive-emotional-somatic state of well-being, on the spot. The five anchoring steps are:







The 5As are defined in detail in David’s and my book on Amazon, as well as is shared in part on David Daniels website. While all of the detailed cognitive study of the Enneagram system allows us to shamelessly recognize ourselves, understand our patterns, come to own our gifts and confess our liabilities — call it and name it, the 5As gives us the methodical structure we need to deal with ourselves somatically and put our learning into practice — and into our daily lives.

To have something tangible to lean into when we find ourselves escalating again, running our “habitual” type-driven script, getting triggered and falling down that same damn rabbit hole is so powerful. I don’t know about you, but I knew “something” about my damn rabbit hole. I almost always fell into it. Sometimes I just willfully dove in. Before I started down this path of learning (thanks to the Enneagram and the community of so-caring masters I was so fortunate to learn from), I had little to no resources let alone know-how to do anything but.

We start with the intellectual study as it helps us face this work. As we cultivate awareness, the intellectual learning helps us face what we find. All those personality type details and triads and defenses understandings, they do one very important thing: They de-shame what we become aware of. They give us permission to look, recognize, name and allow — and feel. That’s big.

And David’s 5As do the next most important thing: They give us a way to hold ourselves, soothe ourselves, and safely intervene the cascading biochemical reactivity that prevents us from experiencing “that space.” They give us a way to be with and interact with what we’ve become aware of. With the 5As, we can’t get lost in the shame of what’s underneath our getting triggered, and we can no longer self-punish once we’ve become aware of ourselves, of our foibles and struggles.

The 5As are the method to interrupting the madness. They are the way to soothe what’s previously felt unsoothable, unbearable, and justifiable. They are the tooled up, practical steps to getting us into that itty-bitty nanosecond of a space — from where our freedom and conscious choice resides.

That’s why they really, really matter.

Thank you, David.