Republican presidential contender Sen.Ted Cruz of Texas has officially tossed his hat into the ring in the race for the 2016 election, and there is nothing subtle about his style. Ted Cruz comes across as extremely direct and honest, bold and aggressive, fighting for what he sees as right. The stand he takes on virtually any issue can fairly be called uncompromising.
Cruz announced his candidacy in a speech at Liberty University. Speaking with great oratorical skill and without notes or a teleprompter, with words he knows will whip up the farthest right wing of the Republican Party, Cruz asked his listeners to “imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.”
The key words here are “every word of”. Other political opponents of Obama have mentioned aspects of Obamacare that they would like to see changed in order to improve it, e.g., repealing the tax on medical equipment manufacturers. Ted Cruz’s position is quite different. He is not interested in compromising to improve Obamacare; he is interested in destroying the entire project, because his world view is that government creates dependency when it provides services to the public. For Cruz there simply is no honor in budging from this principle.
What underlies this rigidity and lack of compromise with others is what a psychotherapist might point to as critical to understanding the man’s character. To understand a person’s character, it is helpful to look for the person’s underlying motivations. A person’s motivations in great part are a result of what went well and what went badly in the person’s childhood.
So what might the underlying motivations of Ted Cruz be? What clues are in his disdain for compromising with others? How did he come to believe that his is the only voice that should be heard and followed? How might the world of psychology shed some light?
Psychotherapists and others have found it useful to establish a number of ways of understanding personality differences. One such system is known as the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a tool widely used by psychotherapists, psychologists, clergy, personal coaches, and human resource personnel to understand the motivations and behaviors of people. Helen Palmer ( The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the People Around You, 1988) is credited with having popularized learning about the Enneagram in the early 1990s.
The Enneagram purports that nine different strategies for coping with life seemed to have survived for human beings down through evolution. The nine types are not evenly distributed throughout the population, but each is recognizable in any person’s collection of friends and family members and co-workers. To understand Ted Cruz, it is helpful to know about Asserters, who are also called Eights in the Enneagram, being the eighth of the nine types.
David Daniels, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School and a leading developer of the Enneagram, describes the Eight as a person who came to believe as a small child that “it is a hard and unjust world in which the powerful take advantage of others’ innocence.” (Daniels, The Essential Enneagram 2009, p. 50)
Eights grow up in families like that of Ted Cruz, in which there is some sort of chaos or trauma that causes the child to feel as if his parents have abdicated their parental duties; the child comes to believe unconsciously that he needs to provide leadership for the family. This unfair reversal can leave the child with simmering resentment for having felt cheated out of important aspects of a normal childhood.
Cruz’s parents had a tempestuous and scary relationship in his most formative years because of his father’s alcoholism. Being a small child in an alcoholic home is truly a hard and unjust situation; the child’s unconscious experience is that the powerful parents are taking advantage of the child by forcing the child to take on a sense of responsibility for the family’s well being and perhaps even its survival because of their failure to provide consistent, predictable, and loving parenting.
Eights consciously and unconsciously remember how awful it felt to be unprotected at a tender age, and as adults feel a strong sense of duty to protect those who are helpless or taken advantage of. Their tenderness for the weak is matched by the fierceness of their behavior. Rene Baron, co-author of the book The Enneagram Made Easy, points out that Eights are motivated by the need to be self-reliant and strong, and to avoid feeling weak or dependent (Baron and Wagele, 1994).
At each of the nine points on the Enneagram, each representing one of the different personality types possible, there is a continuum of psychological health. At one end would be the most unhealthy; at the other end, the most healthy. People who are well adjusted in life generally tend to operate from the healthy end of the continuum. People whose difficulties were severe and/or who have not had psychotherapy to deal with their issues tend to operate from the unhealthy end of the continuum.
A healthy Eight, according to Baron, will come across as “direct, authoritative, loyal, energetic, earthy, protective, and self-confident” (Baron and Wagele, 1994, p. 107) – qualities that traditionally are admired in politicians. Healthy Eights are “loyal, caring, positive, playful, truthful, straightforward, committed, generous, and supportive”(Baron and Wagele, 1994, p 109).
Eights who are not that psychologically healthy will have a very different and difficult way of being in the world: “controlling, rebellious, insensitive, domineering, self-centered, skeptical, and aggressive.” (Baron and Wagele, 1994, p. 107) In their relationships with others, unhealthy Eights are “demanding, arrogant, combative, possessive, uncompromising, and quick to find fault.”(Baron and Wagele, 1994, p. 109.
While there is always a degree of risk of error in trying to determine another person’s Enneagram type, it is also true that some public figures can reasonably be seen as classic types. The evidence backs the suggestion that Ted Cruz is an unhealthy Eight. He is held in contempt by many of his Senate colleagues of both parties, because he has no use for 200-year old traditions of decorum and deference.
Cruz sees no value in cooperating with his fellow Senators unless they share his rigid views. Shutting down the government attracts what Cruz wants: the support of other angry and resentful people. Diplomacy does not register as a positive value. There is no point in listening to what the opposition has to say, because Cruz is convinced that he is the only one who is right. His exaggerated need to avoid feeling dependent is reflected in his ideas about government. He believes that government services cause people to become foolishly dependent and not self-reliant; therefore government needs to be minimized.
Perhaps the 2016 presidential election will be a referendum on the American people: Do the angry, resentful, uncompromising American voters out-number the American voters who want their leaders to be psychologically healthy and able to work together for the common good.
Baron, R. and Wagele, E. (1994). The Enneagram Made Easy:Discover the Nine Types of People. New YorK: HarperCollins
Cruz, T. (March 23, 2015) speech at Liberty University in Lynchberg, VA
Daniels, D. and Price, V. (2000). The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide. New York: HarperCollins
Palmer, H. (1988). The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco