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January 16, 2020

Enneagram Magic: Getting out of the box you're stuck in

Learning the Enneagram was like turning on a light switch.

I fell in love with the Enneagram when I was in graduate school.

Up to that point, I had been trying to understand and fix my problems by trying harder, pushing myself harder, and trying to motivate myself by being really hard on myself.  That may sounds pretty familiar because there are a lot of us who have lived that way.  And if that's true, you probably already guessed what happened next - I reached a point where that stopped working.

Learning the Enneagram was like turning on a light switch.  I was able to see where I was in the endless cycle of going around and around in circles.  It opened a door to escape that unending hamster wheel.  The Enneagram was not the only tool that provided insight for me in that process, but it was one of the most impactful parts of my growth.  It gave me a new framework to understand myself and the world.

What is the Enneagram?

So, what is the Enneagram?  It's a framework of the 9 types of personalities we see in the world.  It's more than just a list of behaviors that people display in certain situations.  The Enneagram deals with the level of our deepest motivations, desires, and needs.  It helps you see clearly both your superpower and your Achilles heel, which are two sides of the same coin.  It helps you recognize the self-image that you have created for yourself - the one that brings you pride and protection, but at some point also begins to feel confining and limiting.

The Enneagram is not meant to put a label on or stereotype anyone.  It is for personal insight and growth.  As Enneagram teacher Ian Cron says, "The Enneagram doesn't put you in a box.  It shows you the box you're in."  And as I shared from my own experience, it shows you the way out of that box - out of the negative patterns.  It provides a level of understanding that makes all that effort you're putting into change effective.  The Enneagram teaches you how to counter the unhealthy tendencies of your personality so you can find a different way to fix the problem.

The Enneagram can also help you understand and connect better with others close to you. When you realize that maybe their underlying motivation and way of seeing the world is different from yours, you can find ways to benefit both parties involved. 

The Enneagram has so many amazing facets and layers of understanding. Here are some examples:

Basic Needs

As you may have gathered from previous posts, I am passionate about understanding your needs and meeting them.  The Enneagram provides another level of insight into our needs.  Once we can recognize our underlying needs, we can make choices about them instead of compulsively trying to meet them without realizing how they are affecting us.The core needs the Enneagram highlights are:

  1. To be right or to be perfect
  2. To help others and be seen as helpful and generous
  3. To be successful (or to win) and recognized as successful (a winner)
  4. To be unique/special and to be understood for who you are
  5. To perceive/understand
  6. To be loyal and do your duty
  7. To be happy
  8. To be strong and protected
  9. To be content/at peace

Underlying Motivations

One of the gifts of the Enneagram is helping you understand your underlying motivations in life.  This is similar to our underlying unmet needs, but with a different twist.  Understanding underlying motivations is helpful for self-understanding and also compassion and understanding for others.  You can more easily meet the needs of yourself and others you're in contact with if you understand where you are both coming from, or at least recognize that the other person is seeing the world through a different lens and working to fulfill a different motivation.  For example, maybe your motivation is to get it right feels at odds with a coworker's motivation, which is to complete the task efficiently and move on.   Or you might see this in situations where one person's motivation is to have a harmonious team while another's motivation is to be as honest and upfront as possible.  If you have this perspective and insight, you can work together to fulfill both your motivations more effectively, or at least have an easier time finding compromise.

Ways of Relating with the World: Thinking, Feeling, Doing

We all think, feel, and act everyday of our lives.  But I would wager that one comes more naturally to you and feels like your sweet spot.  Once you know this, you can have understanding and compassion when someone wants to lean more heavily on a different way.  And you can balance each other out instead of leaving exasperated.

Orientation to Time: Past, Present, Future

Each of us is naturally more oriented to one of these timeframes.  If you are a "Just Do It!" kind of person, you might be in the future oriented triad.  If you are in the past orientation, for example, you may be trying to teach your child using only examples from the past and your child may have already figured out the problem and be ready to move on because they're in a different basic orientation to time. (Caveat: you may have theories about your child's Enneagram number, but only your child can say what number they are for sure, and their personality has only solidified enough by young adulthood to do this.)

Social Style: Aggressive, Dependent, Withdrawing

We each have a different ways we feel most comfortable relating with others.  This is the strategy we use in relating with others to get our needs met.  Some people focus their energy outward to set the tone of their environment and more forcefully demand what they want.  Some focus on being attuned to and responsive to others.  They are often focused on being of service to others.  And some pull back from stressful or taxing environments to evaluate or recharge.

Finding Balance

The Enneagram helps us find balance.  One of the ways it does this is by helping us understand what we need in order to deal effectively with stress and what we need in order to feel secure.  We actually take aspects from other types to help us find this balance.

Unconscious Messages from Childhood

We all have certain beliefs about ourselves that we formed in childhood.  Part of the way we form our personality is by reacting to these beliefs in such a way that we feel better about ourselves.  Here are the core wounding messages for each number and the lost messages that bring healing.

  1. It's not okay to make mistakes > You are good
  2. It's not okay to have your own needs > You are wanted
  3. It's not okay to have your own feelings and identity > You are loved for yourself
  4. It's not okay to be too functional or too happy > You are seen for who you are
  5. It's not okay to be comfortable in the world > Your needs are not a problem
  6. It's not okay to trust yourself > You are safe
  7. It's not okay to depend on anyone for anything > You will be taken care of
  8. It's not okay to be vulnerable or to trust anyone > You will not be betrayed
  9. It's not okay to assert yourself > Your presence matters

(Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram p. 31, 34)

How Do I Figure Out My Type?

There are lots of tests out there to help you figure out your dominant personality type, but I think the best way to learn your type is to read about it and see what fits.  The Honest Enneagram is the place I recommend starting.  You can read a short list of what it feels like to be each number and see which one feels like it fits the best.  Then read the chapter about that number more in depth.  Finding your core messages as listed above can be powerful indicators of which type you are.  The description where you feel most vulnerable is probably the best indication of which type you are dominant in.

Next Steps on Your Enneagram Journey

There are lots of great resources out there about the Enneagram.  On Instagram, check out Enneagram and Coffee with Sarajane Case.  For an Enneagram podcast, try Typology with Ian Morgan Cron or The Art of Growth.  And as I mentioned, my favorite book to start the journey is The Honest Enneagram.  If you have any favorites, I'd love to hear about them.

Because exploring the Enneagram unveils both your greatest strength and your shadow side, it can be a tender place of self-knowledge that leads to growth.  I recommend exploring this with lots of self-compassion and in a community that provides support.  Individual therapy or a supportive group environment might be helpful to you if you choose to journey down the path of Enneagram wisdom.  I will be leading an 8-week Enneagram growth group starting at the beginning of March 2020 in Pensacola, FL.  Now is the time to start booking your initial appointment before the group starts.  I am also available anytime for individual therapy sessions.  It would be a privilege to support you along this journey of healing and growth.