The Enneagram is super-popular nowadays. Even my church is doing a class on how to “know your number.” (I’m a 6, in case you were curious.) I think the reason people are drawn to the Enneagram is we long to understand ourselves. Life can be super confusing. Sometimes it’s tough to understand our own behaviors and reactions. A tool like the Enneagram can help us understand who we are and why we do what we do.
I Can’t Do That; I’m a 6
There’s a danger, however, with these systems of categorization. It can be used as an explanation or excuse for why we behave in a certain way. For example, the 6, my number, struggles with fear and is motivated by security. If I’m faced with a big risk in my life, I might say, “Oh, I could never do that. I’m a 6.” The understanding and categorization can hold us back and keep us stuck.
Transcend Your Personality
There is a deeper way to use the Enneagram to help foster our personal and spiritual growth. In short, don’t just use the Enneagram to explain your personality; use the Enneagram to transcend your personality.
What is Personality?
Here’s what I mean: Our personality encompasses our habitual ways of engaging with the world. For example, are you introverted or extraverted? Do you get extremely bothered by daily hassles, or are you calm, cool, and collected? Do you like everything neat and orderly, or do you go with the flow? And so on.
There is a genetic or biological component to our personality. For example, you might notice some similarities between your personality and the personality of your biological parents. But our personality also develops over time as we engage with our environment in order to get our needs met. We try out and develop various strategies, and over time these habits get locked in and become our personality.
Everyone develops a personality or way of being. It’s not a bad thing. The problem is that our personality can become rigid. One way of engaging the world doesn’t work for all contexts and situations. But we tend to apply the same strategies and habits we learned growing up, over and over again, whether they are effective or not. It’s as if we have one tool in our tool belt, which is our personality. The problem is we use the hammer of our personality for everything, but not everything in life is a nail.
What is Your Tool of Choice?
This is where the Enneagram can be helpful. It can show us what our “tool of choice” is. This can be incredibly enlightening, especially for individuals who may not have thought about these patterns before. But the next step is critical. We don’t understand our personality so we can explain away our behavior. We develop a deep understanding of our personality so we can catch ourselves when we are operating on autopilot, and perhaps make a course correction if it is in our best interests. In other words, we can be more flexible, expand our tool belt, and engage the world differently in a way that is more effective.
There are strengths and limitations to each personality type. One way of engaging the world is not better or worse than another. The key is to not get locked into one way of being. The world needs the fullness of who you are, not just one particular facet that best met your needs in childhood.