The first time I heard about the Enneagram, I was fresh out of seminary in 2005 and blogging with a full head of steam almost every week day. Several popular progressive bloggers had listed in their sidebars, among other badges that we would now deem tacky and unsightly, these little illustrations that demonstrated their enneagram numbers.
Most of these bloggers were “8’s” and it happened that I thought most of these guys were jerks, which isn’t too shocking if you know about an 8’s dark side, so that did it for me. I had no need for the enneagram.
Years passed. Others mentioned the enneagram to me, including my friends Leigh Kramer and Anne Bogel, both of whom I trust as level-headed and well-read people with excellent judgment. At first I flipped through a few type descriptions and took a few online tests, and nothing really checked out. Oddly enough, it’s difficult to know ourselves!
Then, one day, Anne wrote to me that she had a book idea. I read through the first few chapters of her book, which showed how we can use the various personality tests to know ourselves, while also soberly considering their limits.
I loved her sample chapters so much that I was disappointed that I would have to wait a few years before it would be published, but I had no doubt that a publisher would pick it up. In the meantime, Anne gave me a gift, helping me see the ways that my personality impacts my choices and my interactions.
Through her own vulnerable stories about herself and her family’s interactions, I saw how knowing your personality type can prove immensely useful in relationships. Anne provided a helpful thumbnail of the enneagram’s use and limitations, changing my perception of it in a matter of a few pages.
Thanks to Anne and several other enneagram-loving friends, I launched a period of research into the enneagram online, via a few books, and podcasts. Some sites and books and podcasts were more helpful than others, but over time, I finally nailed down that I’m a 9 with a 1 wing. This has become one of the most significant discoveries in my life. Here are a few ways that this has helped me.
For starters, the 9 is a peacemaker who wants to preserve harmony, sometimes at all costs. So I need to be aware of the need to face conflict or discomfort without resorting to passive aggressive responses.
A 9 needs lots of recharging time after being around people a lot or facing a lot of conflict, and this may have been one of two most helpful lessons for myself in my daily interactions with my family. For instance, when my kids are ignoring me and acting out over and over again, it’s not just the kids who need a time out. I need a time out! I need to recharge after facing conflict.
If we’ve had a busy morning helping out at church or we’ve been at a lot of social events, I need to recharge for a bit before I’m able to interact with people. The times when I’ve been at loud parties and just wanted to hide in a dark room by myself isn’t a bad, anti-social behavior. That’s just my inner survival mechanism kicking in.
The other important lesson for my family besides the need to recharge is my response to conflict. I call this, “going turtle.” I have struggled to face conflict over the years, shutting down internally and finding it hard to think clearly. This has often exacerbated conflict, as my inability to speak in the midst of conflict can appear as indifference. As I recognized this tendency in myself, I worked on pushing through my initial fears of speaking up when in conflict. This isn’t true in every situation, but I have learned that speaking up can help diffuse conflict, and that gives me courage I didn’t always have to face it.
I can’t emphasize enough that the enneagram is just a glimpse into who we are and how we function. It’s a very fluid and flexible way of looking at personality, since it reveals how we respond to stress or how we act in health. For instance, a nine reacts to stress with sloth or acedia, and that has proven so helpful when I am going through a stressful time. Rather than beating myself up with guilt over my lack of motivation, I can look into the root cause of the stress. That is far more effective in the long run than just trying to be more motivated!
If you’re a personality test skeptic, Anne’s book is for you. If you’re curious about which tests could actually help you and your family, Anne can help.
The good news is that the wait is just about over. As of September 19, 2017, Reading People will be released into the world. I couldn’t be happier for Anne because I know she put years of research and personal experience into this book. I’m excited on your behalf to read it.
Pick up your copy today. (It’s about $8 on Kindle right now!)
If you want to nerd out on the enneagram a bit, this episode of the Liturgists is amazing.