Lion. Dragon. Shark.It stands for:
“Don’t dull your roar. Don’t extinguish your flame. Fight for your fierce.”
Now I’m aware that this tattoo that happens to be my 8th tattoo overall also has some serious Enneagram 8 energy to it, for any of you Enneagram fans out there. These images are connected to strength & to ferocity; for me, they’re also connected to creatures who are sometimes feared or misunderstood for being who they naturally are.
There are a lot of assumptions about 8s. Not all 8s are the same, but some assumptions that are true for a lot of 8s and are true for me is that I’m direct, independent, not afraid of conflict, like to be in charge, don’t like to feel like someone else is controlling me, worry about being betrayed or blindsided, have a hard time relaxing for long periods of time, etc. However some things that people assume about 8s that aren’t true for me is that I’m not hyper-competitive or always angry. I absolutely still get anxious and afraid. I am actually very tender-hearted and a very deep feeler. I cry A LOT. And I don’t definitely always enjoy conflict; I don’t like to debate just to debate. I just am willing to say the hard things that need to be said, because it’s authentic. It’s what’s real and pretending things are fine when they’re not is a waste of time. I’m internally compelled to move into honest, authentic spaces. I feel physically uncomfortable and at war with myself if I’m pretending things are fine when they aren’t. It can be really lonely to be that person. To feel injustice deep in your bones, to not be able to let things go, to sometimes be the only one who is willing to speak up and say something, even if you know so many other people feel the same way.
Now, I am FAR from perfect. I have made MANY mistakes when it comes to having hard conversations and still mess it up. Learning to not react, but to respond. To take my time before walking in with all my frustration and energy that I feel is justified, but feels overwhelming to people and puts them on the defensive. Learning tact and wisdom on when to have those hard conversations, how to phrase things with intentionality and compassion, trying not to assume the motives of the other person, etc. have all been things I’ve been learning and will keep learning.
At the end of the day though, I know that my personality holds a lot of power and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. I know I have the capacity to steamroll people, to be bossy and controlling, to let my anger run the show. I know I have the capability of dominating others or hurting the hearts of people around me because I’m not thinking about what comes out my mouth before I say it, of speaking first before I listen. I know I can get cynical and jaded and can spend a lot of time complaining. I know that and those will always be things I have to keep working on.
My passion and my strength are not a liability; they are an asset. Bringing less than my whole self to the table isn’t something I want to do, because it’s betraying myself. As I have left my 20s and walk into my 30s, it was a commitment to myself moving forward that I wouldn’t dedicate large parts of my heart to churches or jobs or relationships that view my strengths as a liability instead of as an asset. I won’t spend large amounts of time in spaces or with people who ask me to water myself down or that only certain strengths of mine are acceptable. With people who want me to dull my roar, who want me to extinguish my flame, tone down my ferocity, because it makes them uncomfortable. I can keep all of those things and still communicate love. I can be a high-intensity person and have my life exude empathy and compassion for the hurting.
For myself and others like me, we are turned into the pain happening around us and we won’t go back to ignoring it. Not just in our own stories, but in others we know, and even in masses of strangers we’ve never met. We are seeing the narrative of the stories that people want to sweep under the rug. I may not be able to convince everyone to put down their broom and stop sweeping, but I can absolutely pick up those rugs and throw them outside. No more pretending that pain isn’t there, that it’s not real.
This week, I co-hosted part 2 of a summer webinar series called “Assets, Not Liabilities: Re-Defining The Conversation Between Ex-vangelicals and Pastors.” It’s been such a cool experience to be able to have this conversation with a co-worker of mine, him representing pastors and ministry leaders, while I represent ex-vangelicals and people who feel disillusioned with the evangelical Christian faith they grew up with. Often people who have gone through faith deconstruction are treated like they are dangerous, something to be avoided, a liability. During this series, I have voiced that our deconstruction actually is an asset, something that has changed me and us for the better. That I don’t want to have to stay silent about my story, about my pain, in order to fit into spaces that I used to fit into. I won’t settle for that. I want true belonging where me and my whole story and all my gifts are welcome. I understand that who I am, the things I say, the stories I hold (mine and others who have trusted me with theirs) make lots of people uncomfortable. I can’t change that for them. I can only seek to live more authentically.
So this tattoo is a reminder to myself to not settle for less, to let the glory of who I am show up in all its goodness. To remember that to be able to speak truth to power is a strength. To remember that my roar, my flame, my ferocity have the power to change the status quo and to protect those who have been hurt. That I can seek wisdom in how pursue those things, but I don’t have to change who I am. I get to be fully me; I get to be fully free.
I am becoming more and more of myself, and I hope that’s a journey we are all on. You don’t have to be an Enneagram 8 or be a big personality to be free. You just need to be you, even the parts of you that are actually a gift even if others in your life have tried to minimize them. We need you, ALL of you, to show up to the table. You can do things that I cannot, and vice versa. We need each other and I hope we are all just helping each other be more of who we were always meant to be, the healthiest, wisest, fullest, most integrated versions of ourselves.
Nicole Clifton is a life-coach with Restoration Counseling. She has her Masters in Psychology and a decade’s worth of coaching and mentoring experience. While she is not a licensed therapist and cannot treat anyone for mental health conditions like vaginismus, do EMDR, etc. she is available to walk with people through challenging relationships, processing harm from purity culture, faith deconstruction, etc. You can find out more at https://www.restorationcounselingnoco.com/nicole-cliftonor email her at firstname.lastname@example.org talk about individual, virtual sessions.
Nicole is also a writer, speaker, and leadership development specialist. If you’re interested in partnering with Nicole on topics like this blog, head to www.nicoleclifton.comto learn more. You can also follow her on her public social media pages: Nicole Clifton – AlwaysNYourCorner on Facebook or nicoleclifton_inyourcorner on Instagram.