Have you heard of the Enneagram (pronounced ANY a gram)? It’s a personality typing system that helps us attain self-knowledge, draw strengths from our positive traits, and improve our relationships by understanding the motivations of ourselves and others. Our Enneagram number is formed in childhood, and is influenced by our coping strategies and defense mechanisms, along with our innate qualities. Interestingly, the word, personality, originates from the word, persona, which is the Greek word for mask. As children, we instinctively place our personality mask over the parts of our real self to protect us from perceived harm.
The Enneagram consists of nine personality types and each of us adopts one of these, but with an infinite number of expressions. Think of picking out green paint chips at the hardware store. There are hundreds of variations of green. This is similar to how the nine Enneagram types work. Many of us can be the same number on the Enneagram, but are still very different people.
This book, The Road Back to You, is considered to be a primer on the Enneagram. One of the authors, Ian Morgan Cron, a pastor, uses a good deal of humor and humility in the short introduction, to describe how he came upon it and how much it helped him in his life. The co-author, Suzanne Stabile, is internationally recognized as an Enneagram master teacher. Together, they briefly write about the history and explain the origin of the Enneagram name and its illustration, while assuring us that it is not a source of divination or anything condemned by the Bible. The illustration is simply a nine pointed geometric figure that illustrates the nine different, but interconnected, personality types. The name is from the Greek words nine (ennea) and drawing or figure (gram). Although it has ancient Christian roots, it has been modernized by Christian scholars and psychologists and has become known among clergy and laypeople as a helpful aid to Christian spiritual formation.
Here are the brief summaries of the nine types, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, as described by the authors:
Type One-the Perfectionist: Ethical, dedicated, and reliable, motivated by a desire to live right, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.
Type Two-The Helper: Warm, caring, and giving, motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.
Type Three-The Performer: Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.
Type Four-The Romantic: Creative, sensitive, and moody, motivated by a need to be understood, experience their oversized feelings and avoid being ordinary.
Type Five-The Investigator: Analytical, detached, and private, motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy, and avoid relying on others.
Type Six-The Loyalist: Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case-scenarios thinkers motivated by fear and the need for security.
Type Seven-The Enthusiast: Fun, spontaneous, and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.
Type Eight-The Challenger: Commanding, intense, and confrontational, motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.
Type Nine-The Peacemaker: Pleasant, laid-back and accommodating, motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others, and avoid conflict.
Each personality chapter starts with several “I” statements designed to give you clues, but the authors warn that “your number is not determined by what you do, as much as why you do it.” It’s so important to read carefully about the underlying motivation and think back to how you were as a young adult (20 or so). It also helps to ask close friends and family which type they think sounds the most like you. Do you think you know which number you and your family members are, based on the above descriptions? That may not be the case. For me, as a nine, the “I” statements were right on target, and the chapter described situations that I’ve actually seen myself in. It was as if the authors had personally dropped in on my life. It worked the same for my husband. On the other hand, my daughter didn’t relate as strongly, so it took her more time and the help of a close friend to determine her number.
Each chapter gives helpful advice on personal and job relationships, how you can incorporate your strengths, becoming aware of your weaknesses, how your childhood likely influenced you, and how you can recognize some of these traits in your young grandchildren and help point them in the right direction. At the end of each chapter is a spiritual transformation section offering a few suggestions to guide you away from your adverse tendencies, all the while remembering that you are lovingly created to be the child of God. The chapters briefly touch on your secondary type, called your wing, and the numbers that influence you when you're feeling stressed or secure. (These account for the arrows in the illustration).
I’ll admit that I bought this book almost a year ago, and was only mildly interested, having heard about the Enneagram from friends and family members. I recently decided to learn more about it because I wanted to have a better understanding of the differences and similarities between myself, and my husband and children. What I ended up learning was a whole lot about my personality and how I can improve my relationships by recognizing my own motivations and fears. It was a lesson in humility that I needed to learn, and I am so grateful for the self-knowledge I’ve gained. The authors point out that most people don’t question the lens through which they see the world, and aren’t aware of how things that helped them survive as kids are now holding them back as adults. (This has nothing to do with whether our parents were “good” or not, but rather how we perceived our life struggles and insecurities.)
I will always have The Road Back to You on a shelf nearby. I have recently bought copies for friends and family. It is humorous, and a short and easy read. (This is particularly helpful for nines like me, who are easily distracted and tend to not always finish what we start.) Reading about my husband’s Enneagram number gave me so much understanding about him and it was incredibly eye-opening. That alone, made the cost of the book well worth it.
The Road Back to You will give you tremendous insight and wisdom. However, the authors warn that you must put the knowledge to good use. Do not use what you learn about yourself to say “this is just who I am.” Instead, use it to become your best selves by the grace of God.
I feel confident that you will also find some treasured wisdom in this book. Know thyself is good advice.
All the Best,
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