Ennea-LOVE!! Shared wisdom from my longtime love affair with the Enneagram
Note: This blog post initially posted in The Garden of Belonging, an online community for womxn to connect and reclaim a sense of sacred wholeness, hosted by my friend a fellow coach Kim Gray Check her out and join “the garden” if you’re seeking that beautiful, empowering, and affirming space!! (it’s magical and FREE!)
Oh Enneagram, how I love thee! I’ve had a pretty tight relationship with the Enneagram for almost exactly 20 years now (holy cow, that means I’m getting OLD! Gasp! ) I was introduced to it in my first ever round of couples counseling. My future husband at the time / eventual ex-husband and I landed on an enneagram counselor to help us navigate some challenges in our relationship. We were in a tough spot and, after a couple of years of confusion and struggle, the Enneagram provided a context for understanding WHY things were playing out the way they were. It was relieving to understand others through a new lens and validating to understand why certain dynamics were (and had always been) challenging for me in relationships.
In coaching we talk about having “handles”, things to hold onto to help in understanding big (and often messy) human concepts, and the Enneagram was a big life raft-shaped handle for my early 20-something self!
What I also know now is that, although what I was learning at that point felt so big, is that it was actually only the tiniest tip of the enneagram iceberg, as there was SO much depth that I would continue to explore over the following two decades. I’d like to offer you some of the biggest “Enneagram ah-has” that have come from exploring the depths in hopes that it will support YOU in finding your way to the juicy stuff a bit more quickly than I did. Because when we can really tap into the power of this tool for empowerment and understanding, it really is pretty magical.
So here are some of my ah-has. . .
Take the assessment AND don’t put all of your faith in the numbers/ results.
I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the feeling of certainty that comes from an assessment. . . AND I know that we also have LOTS of unconscious bias when it comes to answering assessment questions so it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking our conditioning is our truth. That being said, I recommend taking a quality assessment instead of the many freebies out there (I always recommend the one via The Enneagram Institute) and getting curious about your top THREE in the results rather than just going with the top scorer immediately. Read about each type and allow yourself to notice which one feels most like you. You’ll either feel really seen in an empowering way or triggered in a “how the heck did they know that about me, I thought I kept that hidden” sort of way. . . or both! The possibility that brings up the most emotional response (positive or negative) is a good place to point your curiosity. And trust me, the good-bad news is that you’ll know when you find the type that’s yours.
“We are all of these types and more.”
This is what Russ Hudson, said over and over again in the workshops I attended. When I first got into the Enneagram I LOVED being able to “type people” and put them in tidy little boxes. “You’re SUCH a 9!, and he’s TOTALLY a 4!”, etc. My twenty-something ego that was seeking certainty loved the labelling system, but in my 30s I realized that it really isn’t about putting people in boxes or seeking certainty. The most empowering approach to understanding the enneagram comes from realizing that we truly do have access to ALL of the energetic types within ourselves, we just have one type that we lean into more than the others.
Our primary “type” informs the essence our journey. When we stay curious about the gifts and challenges of our primary type we actually become more able to dance with ALL of the different energies that we carry within – we gain access to MORE range by taking responsibility for our primary type. The enneagram is about wholeness NOT division, whether we are talking about using it to improve and understand relationships outside of us OR cultivating harmonious relationships with the varied aspects of our wholeness within.
It isn’t a personality test, but a spiritual tool used to connect us to our divine essence, and to illuminate blocks to our full Divine expression in the world. It’s a tool meant to empower and expand not define and confine.
One of the things I LOVE about the Enneagram is that it’s a deeply spiritual tool. It’s roots are spiritual and it’s most empowering application has a spiritual flavor. The enneagram points us toward our divine essence, gifts and purpose in the world and thus shows us the heroine’s courageous journey toward truly honoring our essence. And as we know from the work of Joseph Campbell around the hero’s journey as well as every story of heroic expression, honoring our soul’s mission always requires slaying some metaphorical beasts and barriers. When we look at the enneagram as a sacred guide toward our highest expression it opens up a vast path of exploration and healing. It is NOT meant to offer a limiting story that’s already been written for us like so many other personality tests. It isn’t meant to appease our ego by offering false certainty, It IS meant to open us to divine possibility and expression.
Wings are cool, but learning about subtypes is a game-changer!!
Most of my training focused on learning about the 9 types and the corresponding “wings” (the types sequentially next to our type on that can flavor our expression), but in recent years I’ve learned that diving into our subtypes offers HUGE wisdom!! And if you look through the lens of subtypes, there are actually 27 different types on the enneagram! We just went from the basic crayola box of primary colors to the big box with ALL of the fancy shades! Our subtypes really color how our type presents itself in the world, which is why the same primary type can look really different from person to person.
If you’re curious about what your subtype might be, hop over to the Enneagram Institute and take the IVQ (the instinctual variant questionnaire). There are three subtypes: Self-preservation, Social, and Sexual (or sometimes called “one to one”). These subtypes really illuminate HOW we express our type and HOW we cope with stress. For example, I am an enneagram one, which helps me understand my core essence, my shadows, and my divine purpose, but when I learned that my primary subtype is “self-preservation” it helped me understand my coping strategies so much better so that I can honor my needs more effectively. I’m a believer that the more we know, the more choice we have, and subtypes offer a LOT of “knowing!” I really like the work of Beatrice Chestnut when it comes to subtypes, so check out her perspective HERE or look into her books to learn more. And I have some fabulous friends with an amazing podcast called “The Empowered Enneagram” and they LOVE talking about subtypes (plus they’re just a lovely mix of wise + real)
Learning about the Enneagram is partially about understanding the essence and core motivations of others, but it’s most powerful when our learning is most rooted in a courageous commitment to take radical responsibility for OUR conditioning, tendencies and capacity for change.
This tool is only as good as your commitment to taking radical responsibility for YOUR growth, choices, and impact. The truth is, this learning will be hugely empowering at times and cringy and uncomfortable at others, and expansion will come from your commitment to taking responsibility for the WHOLENESS of your being, not just the sparkly parts.
When we take responsibility for our shadow aspects we transmute them into gifts, we heal our lineage, and we gain a sense of powerful resiliency. If you stay curious, stay compassionate, and stay open to the humbling invitations for growth and challenge that the enneagram can bring, it truly can be a life-changing tool. And like every other tool for personal or spiritual growth, the rewards are in direct relationship with our level of commitment.
So take breaks, throw the enneagram book across the room when you feel that your shadows have been “outed”, take deep compassionate breaths, and find your way back to exploring and honoring yourself in perfect timing. There’s no rush, but there IS great possibility on this path.
I hope my hard-earned “ah has” serve and support you on your continued journey of empowered becoming. There are a LOT of tools to find our way back to our most Divine authenticity, and this one just happens to be one of my favorites (which is why I use it with ALL of my clients!)