PERSONALITY and ENNEAGRAM
Everyone has personality. Your personality is the filter through which you experience reality. It’s what makes you get on some people’s nerves, and makes some people get on your nerves. The development of personality type has to do with nature (how you are hardwired from birth) as well as nurture (what has happened to you since you were born). Most authorities in the field now believe that type is “hardwired” by the time we are born. How healthy a person is in her type is determined by family as well as community environments.
Personality is defined as an ingrained pattern of thoughts, behaviors and emotional reactions that is unique to you. All people have many things in common. We all need air to breathe and food and water to drink. We all experience joy as well as suffering; birth as well as death; blissful times as well as times filled with great sadness and loss.
How we perceive our lives and these experiences depends on our unique personalities.
One way of understanding your personality (your ego) is through a typing system called the enneagram. The enneagram system gives us profound insights into those personalities.
In the enneagram system, there are nine basic personality types. These types show us imbalances in how we perceive reality. For example, some people dwell on melancholy side of life, while others see the world through rose-colored glasses. Some people are relaxed, and others are more anxious and high strung. Some people live more in their heads and others more in their hearts.
“Enneagram” is a derived from Greek words that simply mean “nine drawing.” Each personality type has a number, from one to nine, and the numbers form a continuum around a circle. People tend to have some traits of one or both of the types next to their primary type. These are called wings. For example, a type two may have a three wing or a one wing or both. All people have characteristics of all the types, but we each have a primary type.
The enneagram is an amazing tool for understanding how we interact with other people. It can also be used to understand who we are in relationship to God – for nurturing our spiritual lives. Traditionally, leading a spiritual life meant living away from community in monasteries, convents, or leading lives of religious service.
The enneagram offers another path, one that is best followed while living fully in the world. It’s a way to see the truth of who we are – and, as Jesus said, the truth will set us free. When we live fully in the world, we see our egos in action – the more we see this action, the more we see the truth. The enneagram gives us a map of the territory. We start to observe just how we act or react in the context of our families, churches, work or communities.
When we can observe and see the truth, we can start to let go of some of these patterns; these habitual thoughts, reactions and behaviors. We learn that we are not our thoughts, we are not our feelings, and we are not our actions. We are beings who have these things but are so much more – we are the faces of God in the world.
If we believe that we are created in the image of God, then in the thinking of the enneagram system, we are really created in nine images of God. And is the personality that separates us from God. In traditional terms, each of us lives out the “fall” as our egos come between us and our creator. Each type experiences separation from God in a different way:
– The strength of the Eight becomes a pattern of bullying and denying human vulnerability;
– The unity and peacefulness of the Nine becomes a stubborn resistance to everyone and everything;
– The wisdom and perfection of the One becomes a critical perfectionism toward oneself and others;
– The unconditional love of the Two becomes quite conditional as payback and praise is expected;
– The inherent human worth of the Three gets replaced with endless doing and a sense that one is only valuable if successful;
– The equanimity and sense of divine origin of the Four turns into being adrift in a sea of emotions and envy;
– The direct knowing of spiritual reality of the Five turns into an obsessive search for knowledge;
– The courage and sense of divine will of the Six becomes a constant quest for security; and
– The joy of the Seven becomes a false happiness based on acquiring more and more knowledge, experiences or things.
As we lose our connection to the divine, we become less free to choose our behavior. Our personalities become ropes that tie us to unhealthy and hurtful behaviors.
This is where spiritual work with the enneagram comes in. The enneagram serves as a map of the territory of our egos. Once we know our type, we can be on the lookout for specific patterns of thoughts and behaviors. We start to realize that we are not our thoughts, and we are not our emotions. We can start to detach a bit.
As we spend time observing and noticing what is really happening with ourselves, we learn to “let go and let God,” and the ropes become looser. This can be scary. It feels like we’re losing ourselves in the process. But it’s really the opposite that happens – as we allow God to free us from those personality patterns, we connect to our deepest selves, and we become more free to be what God intends us to be – God’s faces in the world.