12 May Clarity through Enneagram Wisdom
Psychology without spirituality is arid and ultimately meaningless, while spirituality without grounding in psychological work leads to vanity and illusions. ~ Russ Hudson and Don Riso, The Wisdom of the Enneagram
Before becoming a professor of psychology and religion (1993), I had explored many forms of spirituality expressed in my religious tradition of origin (Catholicism). When I finished my formal studies I began looking into Eastern traditions.
Almost two decades before becoming a licensed couples and family therapist, I was exposed to the psychological-spiritual wisdom tradition called Enneagram.
“The Enneagram of Personality Types” is a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions. This tool came to the United States in the 1970s by way of Oscar Ichazo (1931-2020) a Bolivian-born priest and Claudio Naranjo (1932-2019) a Chilean-born psychiatrist. Naranjo trained American scholars like psychologists Beatrice Chestnut, Don Riso, and Russ Hudson among others. Many psychologists and spiritual teachers and even human resources departments have used Enneagram coaching to stoke authenticity, expose core motivations and strengths, and ultimately resolve interpersonal conflicts.
Learning about Enneagram from books and workshops has not been enough for me, I’ve gained so much more by working with well-respected teachers like Russ Hudson, Tom Condon, and Richard Rohr but my very favorite teacher is Dr. Beatrice Chestnut. Through years of study, teaching, and working with clients, I’ve come to prefer this powerful system for creative clarity.
The Enneagram (pronounced “any-uh-gram”) figure is a circle inscribed by nine points. In Greek, ennea means “nine” and gramma means “message”. Each of the nine points portrays a distinctive personality style that has its own way of viewing, construing, and responding to people and events. Each style has both adaptive or resourceful and non-adaptive or non-resourceful cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies for self-maintenance and enhancement, interpersonal relating, and for problem-solving.
Using Enneagram as a diagnostic tool enables us to look at our “lenses” instead of just looking through them. The Enneagram works like a psychological/spiritual lens check that helps us sort out the encouraging and discouraging voices in our heads.
It helps us grasp our inner motivations and drives unique to our personality style. Strategies for change can be used from there.
My favorite Enneagram personality questionnaire can be found on my Personality Quiz page HERE. When you take the quiz and share your findings with me, you’ll begin to identify your particular style when you’re growing or shrinking in courage. Together, we’ll get to learn how to witness this in ourselves and choose conscious actions that support real change and growth.
This can be the beginning of learning about your particular EnneaStyle and how it affects all your relationships, including the one you have with yourself. With my consulting, we’ll tease out patterns that help you identify what makes you thrive and what gets in the way.
Tom Condon, one of my favorite teachers of Enneagram, considers Enneagram personality styles to be like nationalities. He writes,
While we are all unique individuals, we belong to a larger group of which we are individual examples. If you have friends from other cultures, you know that on one level you are very aware of the differences between their culture and yours. The fact may contribute much to your relationship. On other levels, you and your friends connect affectionately in a way that bypasses how your cultures make you different.
We all know that no culture or nationality is superior to any other, but communicating skillfully with each other takes some training in sensitivity, learning about ourselves and others, and curiosity about how to find skillful ways of relating to our differences. But, just like cultural identity, we are all human and therefore have more things in common at our core.
Believe it or not, more people than not are disinterested in looking past their own cultural biases. Most resist examining what’s beneath the mask of our cozy identity? We think we are who and how we present ourselves to be.
One of the Enneagram teachers I’ve yet to meet in person, Richard Rohr, says, “We, in America, especially, are addicted to our cultural identity and can’t seem to see our righteous attachment. We wear these blinders to our demise.”
Until we begin to identify our primary style of seeing, we won’t grow and change. We won’t break out of our cocoon of comfort. Logically, if we don’t know we are asleep, we won’t taste the satisfaction of waking up to the truth of our being.
More often than not, though, we won’t begin this excavation of our authentic selves — beneath the mask of our EnneaStyle — until the second half of life.
Why do we wait so long to wake up? Because suffering from a major loss usually happens later in life, after we are over 35. For example, we might lose a parent, a job, a life partner, a home, a relative, or something else we’ve thought we needed to feel happy and safe in the world. As I said above, we most often lean into our EnneaStyle when we feel vulnerable. The more vulnerable, the more likely we will hide behind our EnneaStyle, our particular strategy for feeling safe.
Like an actor, our identity or EnneaStyle had a beginning. This performance rose up at our earliest loss in childhood. This story of loss and our coping method to prevent emotional overwhelm is formed even before we had the capacity to think critically (i.e., before age two or three). At some point in our family system, we solved our emotional fragility with one of these nine unconscious styles and our particular style, like our eye color, won’t change drastically but our unique style can grow and change. We just need to learn methods that keep us clear.
Enneagram studies allow us to see our blinders. They help us catch ourselves in the act of relying on our defensive strategies just in time to import other methods. We don’t just see it and then STOP IT. That assumes we can turn off our fears with thoughts we throw at them.
What helps you work through what hinders and what supports your progress?
I’ve found transformation isn’t possible through any one formula even if it leads to great insights; I need support for greater confidence and creativity.