Do you actively work towards achieving your goals or do you wait for “opportunity” to present itself? Can you get what you want and need without offending other people or do you defer to the wishes of others in order to “keep the peace?” Are your relationships mutually satisfying or one-sided sources of frustration? Do you often feel misunderstood or left out?
Believe it or not, all of these questions and their answers are based on the tendencies of people’s different personality types as expressed and explained by the Enneagram.
Fortunately, understanding the Enneagram cannot only help you better understand yourself but also better understand and interact with others.
What Is the Enneagram?
Briefly speaking, the Enneagram is a numerical system symbolized by a circle with nine points connected in a distinctive pattern of intersecting lines.
While the Enneagram has been around for centuries, it is only in the last hundred years or so that it has been applied to understanding different personality types.
Each of the nine points on the circle represents a different personality type and we all seem to have been born a particular type.
But, it’s not just the characteristics of our specific personality points on the circle that define our selves and our relationships. We’re also heavily influenced by the points on the circle immediately adjacent to our own… hence the pattern of intersecting lines.
Thus, you can think of the Enneagram as offering nine paths to better understanding both your self and others.
The Enneagram can also be said to represent a dynamic map that reveals the different ways we organize our experiences, find meaning in our lives, and the underlying motivations for why we think and behave the way we do.
Being creatures of habit, we tend to develop automatic pilots that have one particular way of looking at things. This is especially true when we’re under any sort of stress.
It is when we’re most stressed that we seek comfort by returning to what is familiar. This means that, when we’re stressed, we often return unquestioningly to compulsive patterns of thinking, believing and behaving which inevitably do not serve us.
What makes the Enneagram a system is the predictable pattern of movement that occurs when we feel threatened. In my words, we go into our Type Trance. In other words we find ourselves believing a “false core belief” which is embedded in our personality. Each type has its own version. Once we start believing the false is true it leads us to big negative emotions which then result in some sort of strategy we employ to cope with the negative feelings. This movement is circular, is often happening in our psyche, and does nothing to help us cope in healthy ways. Unfortunately, we typically accept these patterns of thinking and believing as the “truth” and then project that truth upon others figuring if it’s true for us it’s true for everyone.
However, as the Enneagram exemplifies, there are many paths to truth.
The challenge is to realize when you are in a Trance and learn to “de-trance,” which is where I come in. What does all of this mean for you?
How the Enneagram Can Help You Achieve Your Goals
As a practicing psychotherapist, I’ve found two systems of knowledge that seem to help virtually anyone interested in relating better with themselves and others while simultaneously working towards achieving their own goals.
One of those “systems” is psychotherapy. The other is the system of understanding personality types known as the Enneagram. And I use both of them every day in my work helping others.
Ironically, these two approaches to helping people achieve the relationships and lives they desire come from very different perspectives.
Psychotherapy has Western roots, while the Enneagram hails from the East. The Enneagram is a system that suggests how people will behave and respond to life based on their specific personality type, whereas psychotherapy tends to avoid having any expectations about how clients will think or react.
Yet, despite these and other inherent differences (or, perhaps because of them), I have found many of my clients accomplish more when I incorporate the Enneagram into the counseling and psychotherapy work we do together.
Understanding the Enneagram can help validate the reasons why you seem to face the same difficulties in your relationships and your life over and over again, as well as let you know you’re not alone. Chances are, others who share your same personality type are also repeatedly struggling with similar issues and it can help simply to know you’re not alone.
And, once you understand that there are nine equally valid personality types and perspectives on life, you can start to free yourself from the frustration of expecting others to share your point of view.
Lastly, the Enneagram not only provides a model for understanding our underlying patterns of thinking, believing, and behaving, but also provides a means of practically applying these patterns to conscious inquiry in order to better make changes and effectively achieve our goals.
In short, the Enneagram provides a pathway to growth and healing that is based on the simple concept of observing and coaching yourself.
As a psychotherapist, I appreciate the Enneagram’s usefulness in helping clients see through their behavior patterns and appreciate their defensive strategies – even those that are no longer serving their best interests – in a compassionate light.
The Enneagram also provides a gentle, respectful, and comprehensive guide to exploring what may at first feel overwhelming or unbearable.
And it helps my clients realize that there are reliable ways to transform the suffering that’s created by their personality defenses, which can make the process of creating change seem possible and even exciting.
By studying the Enneagram, you can better understand your own motives and begin to recognize that your personality pattern (Trance) is not who you really are, which in turn can help you strengthen your ability to be more objective about your self and learn to observe your defenses rather than simply and unconsciously acting them out.
Of course, one more difference between the Enneagram and psychotherapy is that you don’t need to work with a therapist to start exploring the Enneagram.
There are numerous Enneagram self-tests available online and a copious amount of information is available to help you better understand your personality type, as well as those of others. A word of caution, however. It’s always best to let anyone who’s interested in learning about their personality figure out what their type is on their own.
That being said, it can be rare for people to gauge their personality type accurately with just one test. And, while the Enneagram is a relatively simple and straightforward system, this doesn’t mean that it’s not a comprehensive one.
Like most things in life, getting the most from the Enneagram will take work. And it can be extremely helpful to work with an objective third party – such as a psychotherapist who specializes in using the Enneagram – in order to take full advantage of the self-understanding, healing and growth opportunities the Enneagram offers.
But, regardless of whether or not you choose to work with a professional or go it alone, once you have correctly determined your Enneagram number the insights that ensue from your observation and efforts can lead to profound healing and transformation.
While we’re all unique individuals, each of us also exhibits similar behaviors and says similar things. But these words and actions don’t mean the same things to each and every one of us. Our underlying motivations, perceptions, understandings, and beliefs are very different and often depend a great deal on the tendencies of our particular personalities.
By gaining insight and understanding about what underlies our own and others’ words and deeds, we have a much better chance of understanding and interacting positively with others and ourselves while making sure our own needs and goals are achieved.
And therein lies the power of the Enneagram to help you create the relationships and life you desire!
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