The Life-Changing Magic of the Enneagram
A year ago I took my first Enneagram class and discovered a new way to see myself and the world. A self-improvement junkie, I learned in this foundational class that I’m a Nine, one of the nine types on the Enneagram “wheel,” and possess many admirable strengths and qualities. A Nine is referred to as “The Peacemaker” or “The Mediator.” Who wouldn’t want to be a Nine?
But hearing the flaws and negatives of being a Nine made me want to crawl under my chair and hide. How appropriate, I learned. We Nine’s do a really good job of hiding, or blending in, according to the Enneagram’s description of our personalities.
As a participant in several classes throughout this past year, I discovered many paradoxes about my type: We’re the mediators who see everyone’s point of view, but we hate conflict of any kind and often deny our own anger. We’re peaceful but passive-aggressive. We’re calm but unwilling to step up and claim what is ours to claim. And because we’re so good at seeing all sides of an issue, we become stuck trying to make decisions amid all those points of view—indecisive, that’s us!
Why learn the Enneagram? Like the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, the Enneagram helps you look at yourself without clutter—the habits and conditioned responses to life as well as our own often-incorrect opinions about ourselves. The Enneagram is a beneficial system for organizing the world so that you can see yourself and those around you more clearly. Just as Kondo says that tidying up makes you more confident, knowing my Enneagram type has made me more confident in who I am as well as who I’m not.
Unlike tidying up, there is nothing magical about the Enneagram itself. The magic comes from immersing yourself in it and embarking on what Enneagram expert Dr. David Daniels calls “an adventure in self-discovery.” My self-discovery Enneagram adventure has helped me tidy up my life in four ways:
1. The Enneagram helps tidy up the window with which you look out onto the world.
You can’t fully understand your type without learning about the other eight. Although everyone is one Enneagram type or another, you are influenced by your “wings,” the two types on either side of your type on the circle. Then there’s the arrow, the type that you go to in stress, and yet another type, your security point, where you go to in security.
You’ll need an understanding of these four types, so you might as well become familiar with all nine types; a range of the nine types likely occurs in your family or in your office. Recently I urged my daughter to take the foundations class so that she could learn more beyond the discussions we’ve had about her type and mine. She said, “It’s all day long about all the types? Nah, I just want to learn more about my own.” Her reaction wasn’t surprising because she’s a One, and One’s like to do things perfectly. I am able to notice my daughter’s tendency so easily because I’ve learned that I lean into my One wing whenever I find myself setting high standards and expecting perfection from myself and others.
2. The Enneagram helps tidy up relationships with others.
As I’ve learned more about the various Enneagram types, I find myself “typing” people in my family or those I come in close contact with. For instance, Sixes are one of the three fear-based types. I’m married to a Six and have learned that a Six desires security and safety (so they don’t have to be afraid).
Knowing that security is a Six’s basic need prevented me from killing my husband after a recent purchase. He bought a spare tire for a car we were about to sell—a spare tire that had never been used in the five years we’ve owned the car, just because the tire salesman said it was the wrong size for our car. So $140 later, my husband felt safe and secure knowing the car had a new—and correct—spare tire.
Before the Enneagram, I would have harbored murderous thoughts while outwardly criticizing him and inwardly resenting him for being so picky and foolish with money. Fortunately, my knowledge of the Enneagram diffused the situation. Instead I said to myself, “Oh, he really needed to buy that tire because he needs safety and security, not because he is stupid and doesn’t care about money.” My peaceful Nine self could accept him rather than berate his ways. I could forgive him more easily because he was simply responding to what his type seeks.
3. The Enneagram can tidy up how you see and relate to your center.
The nine Enneagram types are grouped into three triads, each of which depends on a particular center of intelligence: head, heart or body. My type is body centered, and prior to learning my type, I would have bet money that my life revolves around my head.
After a class about the three centers, I still didn’t understand how I could be body centered. One of my teachers explained that as Nine, I am the most body centered of the three in my triad yet the least aware of my body. He then began moving closer to me until I said, “Stop!” Apparently my body has a little imaginary fence around it that I was unaware of.
The day after I discovered my “fence,” I was enjoying my Zumba class until a woman arrived late and positioned herself next to me. Right next to me. Way too close to me. I began resenting her infringement on my space so much so that I was unable to enjoy the class. Suddenly I got it! She wasn’t the problem—I was! Me and my damn body-centered Nine-ness. Fortunately, my Zumba teacher soon asked everyone to slightly shift positions in the classroom, and I immediately felt more comfortable.
My new body-centered approach to life also appears in parking lots. As I ease my car into a space, the cars next to me seem too close, so I rearrange my car between the lines once or twice. I sometimes even scrunch my shoulders as I squeeze into the spot. Yes, I really do scrunch my shoulders. Duh—that’s my body talking, not my head!
4. The Enneagram helps you tidy up and discard your stumbling blocks.
The most valuable insight I’ve gained from the Enneagram is that what makes me strong in my relationships with others is what stands in the way of my relationship with myself.
My Nine personality is especially well suited to my work as a Spiritual Director. Nine’s are accepting, caring and inclusive. We tend to be attentive to others, reassuring and receptive—qualities that allow me to deeply listen to my clients and to feel empathy and compassion for them.
However, the flip side of a Nine is that we put so much attention on everyone else and their agendas that we experience a great deal of inertia toward ourselves and our own agendas. Every type has a vice, and a Nine’s is sloth—or inertia, a kinder name for this vice—but whatever you call it, sloth is sloth.
As a result of this tendency, I’m easily distracted by what you want me to do for you. I put things off that I should be doing for myself because I’m too “busy” (“distracted” is more accurate) helping everyone else. I go to sleep to my priorities and what I want because I would much rather please you than please myself. Ask me where I want to go for dinner, and I will usually say, “I don’t care. Where would you like to go?” Now that I’m aware of this tendency, I am more likely to be aware of the choices that I make. And awareness is the key to change.
Studying the Enneagram has been life changing, and my local Arizona Enneagram Association offers affordable—and sometimes free—classes and workshops. An inexpensive type test can be found on The Enneagram Institute, as well as a wealth of information on each type and a signup for a free daily EnneaThought. Today’s email reminds me that I have a right to express myself and make choices, but I must assert my needs and feelings.
Each class yields wonderful discoveries, and I no longer want to hide underneath a chair when I learn a new facet of being a Nine. I have gained new appreciation of my gifts and strengths, and self-awareness makes minimizing my weaknesses possible. If I understand another’s personality style, I’m likely to be more accepting and kind. Tidying up my life with the Enneagram will be an ongoing adventure of growth and change.