Self Discovery Through the Enneagram: The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
Have you ever looked at someone you loved, in the middle of a crisis and thought, “If you just realized that what you are experiencing is different from what other people are experiencing, it would change everything…”
Yeah. Me too.
Here’s the problem. I’m really good at reaching for that speck in someone else’s eye while neglecting the plank in my own. Maybe you are too.
I’m good at seeing everyone else’s shortcomings…their “areas for growth.” I can look at a situation and see the alternate perspective relatively easily, as long as I am not directly involved. I can be a good friend, an advocate, a support person and a great listener. But, put me in the middle of the conflict and somehow I transform. I’m no longer mediator extraordinaire, justice-seeker, and a friend. Suddenly I am IN, and when I am in, I am ON. I have two speeds- stop or go. There is no in between.
Lately, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection. I have come to realize that people around me don’t always experience me in the same way that I experience myself. I’ve been hearing that I have too much energy, I’m WAY intense and that I’m “kind of a lot” my entire life. Until recently, I rolled my eyes at this feedback. I thought, “They just can’t handle a strong woman.”
The first time that someone I loved and trusted gently told me that I came across as intimidating, domineering and even insensitive at times, I was floored. I am the most sensitive person I have ever met. I cry at car commercials. I read the most intense books, and I feel things at the very core of my being. My empathy levels are high. When someone I love experiences joy, I am joyful. When they experience loss, I grieve deeply. I mourn fictional characters, for crying out loud! How can it possibly be, that people would find me insensitive?!
Last summer, I attended a conference for work, where I was introduced to the DISC assessment. Before that, I had taken the (free version of) Myers-Briggs and learned a bit about my personality type. The DISC assessment was helpful for me at work because I was able to identify what matters most and least to me at work, helping me delegate tasks that I’m less efficient with. It also sent me exploring the world of personality assessments, and that is where I discovered the Enneagram. The Enneagram assigns you a number, identifying your personality type, 1-9, along with a “wing” number.
When I took the Enneagram assessment- for free, online, at first I was confused. I got multiple high scores. As in, inconclusively high. Here’s what the breakdown looked like:
- 2- 98%
I am the kind of person who needs all of the information. Information is power. Information gives me an element of control. So, I set out to research each of these numbers on the Enneagram to discover which was the best fit for me.
I ruled out the three and four pretty quickly. While elements of these personality types fit (I want to be seen as a success and I can be a bit…theatrical) as a whole, it didn’t all work.
I really thought I was a 2, The Helper. This was my highest score, after all, and I liked the way it sounded. Mother Teresa was a 2. I liked being compared to Mother Teresa. Twos are caregivers who put their own needs on hold, meeting everyone else’s needs. They make others feel safe and comfortable. They need to feel needed.
All of this hit home. I almost claimed the two and called it…but something wasn’t sitting right. You see, “Two” felt more like who I WANTED to be, and not who I actually am. The sweet, thoughtful, selfless two didn’t seem consistent with the person my friend described as “insensitive, domineering, and intimidating.” In my quest for due diligence, I kept researching.
I went to the next-highest score. The eight is known as “The Challenger,” and as I read about this personality type, I cried. It felt as if someone was looking directly into my soul. “Eights lust after intensity-they are high intensity dynamos who want to be wherever the action and energy are, and if they can’t find any, they’ll cook it up. Eights have more energy than any other number on the Enneagram. They are fiery, zestful, earthy, full throttle people who drink life down to the dregs and then slam their glasses down and order a second round for everyone else at the bar.” (The Road Back to You, 44)
Wow. I went on to read that Eights can be compared to Martin Luther King Jr. when healthy, or Joseph Stalin, if unhealthy. These are people who care deeply about justice and are passionate and intense- so much so that it can come across as intimidating or be overwhelming for people who aren’t eights. Many eights experienced powerlessness in some form as children, which shaped a deep desire for justice and advocacy in them. They value truth and information, because information is power, and the one (and only) thing that eights fear is being controlled. Withholding information or truth is a form of control, and it destroys trust in eights. Because of this, they are frank, no nonsense people who do not shy away from conflict. In fact, conflict can create intimacy for an eight, because it leads to the discovery of truth and information. They fiercely protect their small circle of people with all of that intensity and ferocity.
In health, eights use all of this pent up intense energy and desire for justice, channeling it for people. In doing so, they become more like healthy twos. This explains why I had tested high as a two- because when I am healthy, this is how I behave, and I want to see myself as healthy.
In stress, eights retreat into their minds and become observers and analyzers. They can forget to take care of themselves, and take on negative characteristics of a five. That explains why I tested so high as a five.
Every number has a wing- this is the number on either side of it- in this case 7 or 9, whichever has the highest score. For me, that was a 7. This means that I take on some characteristics of a 7 as well, explaining that high score. Sevens are constantly avoiding pain by living life to the fullest. They re-frame negatives and turn them into positives. They’re impulsive, adventurous spin doctors. I’ve got a bit of this in me.
So, what I experience as passion, others experience as intimidation. What I experience as connecting, others experience as divisive. What I experience as stimulating, others experience as exhausting. When other people are experiencing a negative, I turn it around and make it something to celebrate. I tell the truth, and sometimes that is too much for people, because they don’t view information the same way that I do.
Suddenly, the scales fell off of my eyes and so many experiences in my past made sense. My friend’s statements made sense. All of the things I thought I had communicated, but had come across all wrong fell into place.
When we learn about ourselves, there is power. When we share ourselves, there is even more.
Grace Upon Grace
Forgiveness is a complex beast. Scripture tells us that we should forgive one another 70×7 times, which I think is just a euphemism for over and over and over again. We should do this for one another, as well as for ourselves.
It’s hard to forgive when we are only interpreting each other’s actions through our own lens.
For a Six, like my husband, my blunt, honest, straight shooting, give-you-the complete and total-unabashed truth is not as loving as it is for me. To me, telling him the truth is loving. I’m giving him all of the information, which gives him power and control. Withholding control from him is the most unloving thing I could do, from my perspective.
So, if he asks, “Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you’d never married me?” and I say “Yes. Of course.” and then move on with my life, that FEELS loving to me. I told him the truth, and gave him the information he requested.
BUT, to him, a fear-based, safety-seeking six, I have now sent him spiraling. “Is she thinking that now? Who does she wish she’d married? Clearly our marriage is over. Has she already gotten a lawyer? I’m going to be paying so much child support. I’m going to be poor. I’m never going to see my kids. Oh, I will FIGHT her for the kids! She won’t take my kids from me…”
I know, that may be a bit excessive, but you get the point. For him, safety, security and assurance mean love. For me, truth, information sharing and never being controlled mean love. Knowing and understanding this about one another helps us love each other well.
So now, instead of saying, “Yes, of course” and leaving it there for him to dwell on, I can say, “Sure. I’ve thought about it. But ultimately, I’m really happy with where I ended up, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
When he goes down what I call “crazy town road,” I can stop calling it crazy town road. This is NOT crazy, it is who he is. When I recognize him, instead of being quick to be offended (How in all that is good and holy, did you conclude that I am taking your children away from my, “yes, of course?!” What kind of person do you think I am?!) I can, instead, extend grace. I can see the love, commitment, and attachment to me that exists within his response. A response I previously believed was crazy. Likewise, he can see that I am being loving when I tell him the truth, because he knows that my truthfulness is my way of communicating love, even when it isn’t what he wants to hear.
However, the complexity of forgiveness is even more true of ourselves. I am the most guilty of beating myself up and not extending grace to myself. I bet you are too. This is universal. We are much more willing to forgive others than we are to forgive ourselves.
Well over a decade ago, I wronged and hurt someone that I loved. I have carried guilt and shame over this for such a long time. Other people have come and gone in my life, and I have been hurt in significant ways, yet I managed to forgive and move past those offenses. My own wrongdoings over a decade ago still haunt me. They follow me.
The person that I hurt harbors less anger and bitterness toward me over it than I do toward myself. I guarantee it.
Forgiving ourselves is HARD. But knowing ourselves makes it a little easier. As I have learned more and more about myself, I’ve begun to understand my own motives in the decisions that I have made. I don’t want to be controlled. I have a deep need to right wrongs. I am compelled to do what other people say can’t be done. I have to prove that I am strong, and fight back against bullies. Because I never do anything partway, doing these things can monopolize all of me, and if I am not careful, I can get lost in it.
Knowing this about myself, makes it a little easier to give myself grace.
Being Like Jesus
If we are called to be like Jesus, then we are called to extend grace. To one another, but also to ourselves. After all, Jesus didn’t just come to reconcile my husband and God. He came for me too.
What about you? Have you ever taken the time to truly get to know yourself? I don’t mean what you like, what you dislike and where your politics lie, but who you are, really. What motivates you? What energizes you?
Have you taken any of these personality assessments? What has God revealed to you through them? Has it helped you be more grace-filled?
If you’d like more information about the Enneagram, check out “The Road Back to You,” by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. I just devoured it in two days.
Lord, Thank you so much for the gift of self-discovery. Thank you for helping me be more aware of how I impact the people around me. Please continue to open my eyes. Help me walk the line of never letting go of the unique person you created me to be, while remaining cognizant of the needs of those around me. Thank you for grace, and for helping me extend grace to others and to myself. Make me more like you. Amen.