Enneagram

I am fascinated by new insights into self-concepts, dynamics and relationships. I have always felt that the better I can learn to understand myself, the more consciously I can engage with both myself and with the world around me, so when my Leadership Coach suggested I work with the Enneagram as a useful tool, I jumped at the suggestion.

Reading through the description of my personality type, I am simply amazed by how accurately it describes me. I just paused and went back to read my MBTI type, which I also thought a very good description of me at the time, and shared here. However, I am struck by the stark contrast between these two: one saying I am a people-focused “Giver”, and the other saying I am in “Individualist” who is self-focused. Both feel true – but the second certainly feels like it is more true of me over the entirety of my life, which is what the Enneagram test specifically asks you to focus on in some parts. As a child I was very introverted, self-conscious, withdrawn and self-absorbed, and as I grew into adulthood I very consciously and deliberately cultivated aspects of my personality that started to learn social skills, and slowly developed my empathy, love for more than those closest to me, and my desire to help others.

These reflections then led me back to another previous post, in which I shared what has felt like the most accurate summary I have ever had of me. And here I find a few key concepts which also help me understand the difference between what these two tests tell me, and why they both feel true:

“You are mutable: changeable, adaptable, moving with the times. This means there are often two sides of you, but that doesn’t mean that you’re two-faced. … The focus of your life is learning about you, and a sense of personal freedom is very, very important to you. You are learning about your independence of thought, independence of speech, and finding your identity. … Can you see how those two very different sides don’t really get along too well? One part of you wants to stay in the fluff and fun and busyness, but on the other hand emotionally you can get quite intense, and can get surrounded by other people’s dramas. There is an overwhelm of emotion sometimes. … Your biggest challenge has got to do you with your self worth – not feeling good enough – and not feeling safe. …

Your journey is unfolding. You will realise, “Actually I’m this adventurer; independent voice; I need to be seen, heard and acknowledged; I don’t want to be too limited. I’ve got to be curious, communicative and learning all the time. On the other hand I need to be serving, I need to be useful and emotionally connected to my job. … You have almost a compulsion to express yourself and create. Creativity is really big for you as well as healing through transformation. … Accept the different parts of you.”

So, here are some highlights of my Enneagram personality type that struck a chord with me:

“Personality Type Four: The Individualist

Basic Fear: Of having no identity, no personal significance.

Basic Desire: To find themselves and their significance to create an identity out of their inner experience.

Superego Message: “You are good or okay if you are true to yourself.”

Fours are emotionally complex and highly sensitive. They are emotionally centered and spend much of their lives immersed in their internal mental landscapes, where they feel free to cultivate and analyse their feelings. A desire to manifest this internal world often leads Fours to an interest in the arts. Whether artistic or not, however, most Fours are aesthetically sensitive and concerned with self-expression and self-revelation. Fours tend to be self-revealing and comfortable with emotional expression.

Healthy Fours are honest with themselves: they own all of their feelings and can look at their motives, contradictions, and emotional conflicts without denying or whitewashing them. They may not necessarily like what they discover, but they do not try to rationalize their states; nor do they try to hide them from themselves or others. They are not afraid to see themselves warts and all. Healthy Fours are willing to reveal highly personal and potentially shameful things about themselves because they are determined to understand the truth of their experience – so that they can discover who they are and come to terms with their emotional history. Their familiarity with their own darker nature makes it easier for them to process painful experiences that might overwhelm others.

Given time and sufficient perspective, Fours generally recognize that they are unsure about aspects of their self-image – their personality or ego structure itself. They feel that they lack a clear and stable identity, particularly a social persona that they feel comfortable with.

While it is true that Fours often feel different from others, they do not really want to be alone. They deeply wish to connect with people who understand them and their feelings. The “romantics” of the Enneagram, they long for someone to come into their lives and appreciate the secret self that they have privately nurtured and hidden from the world.

Fours typically have problems with a negative self-image and chronically low self-esteem. In the course of their lives, Fours may try several different identities on for size, basing them on styles, preferences, or qualities they find attractive in others. But underneath the surface, they still feel uncertain about who they really are. The problem is that they base their identity largely on their feelings. When Fours look inward, they see a kaleidoscopic, ever-shifting pattern of emotional reactions. Indeed, Fours accurately perceive a truth about human nature – that it is dynamic and ever changing. Fours grow by learning to see that much of their story is not true – or at least it is not true anymore. The old feelings begin to fall away once they stop telling themselves their old tale: it is irrelevant to who they are right now.

Until they can recognize their patterns and see the unrealistic expectations they put on their intimates, Fours run the risk of alienating others with their emotional demands.

Fours with a Three-Wing

Healthy: People of this subtype combine creativity and ambition, the desire for self-improvement and an eye towards achieving goals, often involving their personal advancement. They are more sociable than people of the other subtype and want to be both successful and distinctive. They feel the need to communicate themselves and their creative efforts to others, and so they care both about finding the right mode of expression and about avoiding anything off-putting or in bad taste. They create with an audience in mind.

The Self-Preservation Instinct in the Four: The Sensualist

Eventually, their desire for emotional intensity begins to interfere with basic life functioning. They often develop a throw-caution-to-the-winds attitude that comes from the excitement of being on a temporary emotional high of some sort. At the other extreme, they tend to be self-indulgent in an attempt to soothe emotional lows. In the unhealthy range, they are attracted to situations the undermine the stability of their lives, even to danger.”

This is just the beginning of my engagement with the Enneagram, and I am feeling inspired and excited about the journey of using this as a tool for self-understanding and personal growth.

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