This personal growth tool helped me find my inner beauty and face my brokenness
You are a one-time act. The way you arrange words, tell a secret, whisper a truth, arrange song lyrics, kiss someone, is unlike anything that another will do. And the older I get, the more I understand how important this is.
I recently heard in a documentary that "Your sentence structure and word use is more unique than your own fingerprint." And it's in this spirit of awe that I started to invest in self-discovery tools that honor this individuality. I threw open my arms to weekend retreats, spiritual resources, personality typing systems, and put it all on the table. I made myself vulnerable in counseling appointments, attended self-care retreats and even welcomed the advice of dating coaches into my life!
When I took a weekend away in the desert for one such retreat, I learned more about myself in four days than I have in years. And it was around that same time that I was introduced to something called The Enneagram.
The Enneagram is a highly useful personality typing framework used for spiritual self-discovery.
The Enneagram is an ancient tool for self-understanding based on nine distinct perspectives of the world. Its roots go back to the early monasticism of the Desert Fathers, some suggest to Sufi Mystics and others to a pre-Christian era. Catholics have readily embraced the Enneagram, but some Protestant traditions keep a skeptical distance. Nonetheless, as a compass guides a ship through the sea, the Enneagram helps me navigate the waters of my soul, holding a mirror up to my inner way to see things that are necessary for growth in a way that nothing else has.
The Enneagram also gives us perspective on our distinct, God-given personality type in a way that transcends our behaviors or tendencies, and starts at the root of how we perceive the world. Author Don Risso of The Wisdom of the Enneagram explains it this way:
"The main filter that we use to understand ourselves and the world around us, to express ourselves, to defend ourselves, to deal with our past and anticipate our future, to learn with, to rejoice with, and to fall in love with, is our personality type."
What"knowing your number" means
The Enneagram will unpack your inner dialogue and perceptions, and present it you with alarming accuracy, which is both a terrifying, but precious experience. The nine points on the Enneagram represent nine ways of perceiving the world, and it is through this filter that we run every thought without ever knowing it. It is not some kind of magic map of the soul, but it has a shroud of mystery around it that lures all wisdom-seekers back for more. What's great about the Enneagram, above all, is that it works. Here's a short rundown of the types:
Type 1: The Perfectionist
Exacting, justice-oriented, hard-working and responsible and driven by the need for perfection.
Type 2: The Helper
Nurturing and lavish with outward affection but tends to forget self by being absolved in the needs of others.
Type 3: The Achiever
Image-conscious, socially adept, and capable of attaining impressive achievements, but sometimes at the expense of authenticity.
Type 4: The Individualist
Moody, indulgent with emotions and highly expressive through creativity or artistic outlets, with a need to feel affirmed they are not ordinary.
Type 5: The Observer
Bookish, whip-smart, and innately curious, fives are innovators at their best, but often retreat to their inner worlds to be alone with their thoughts.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Willing to fall in line behind those they trust, the Loyalists at their best are faithful, true, and courageous in pushing past their fears.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
The need for stimulating adventures knows no bounds for these passionate, adventurous novelty-seekers, but they often move at a pace too fast for reflection.
Type 8: The Challenger
Ebullient, animated, and strong, these leaders are born pushing boundaries, but feel at once, duty-bound to guard the weak or the underdog.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Placated, effacing, and at times indifferent, the Peacemaker aims to see things from all sides without taking any one perspective.
As an Enneagram 5 wing 4, I am "The Observer". I want to understand the inner workings of things, and am adept at withdrawing to the life of the mind. I will sit alone and churn up ideas for hours and lose track of time. I have a rich inner world where I escape to gain competence to deal with the world. But it also pegs my most unflattering side. My stinginess with certain emotions. My natural resistance to joining social events where small talk is rampant. My fierce guarding of my free time, which is disproportionately reserved for creative pursuits like reading and writing.
But there's an uncanny sense of freedom that comes the moment we are known, and we know it. It's a terrifying reality that we love and yet long to escape. And that's what the Enneagram has done for me. It's made me face the real me. The "me" who would rather categorize and analyze relationships than enter them. The me who shrinks to make myself small, to reduce need for fear of being controlled, for fear of losing my freedom and glamorous independence. But into these deep chasms of fear the God of the universe wades out to me, calling me by name and number: seeker, doubter, truth-teller, broken-hearted learner.
Our authentic personality is powerful, and we need to know it.
Richard Rohrer says this: "Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had.” Some part of that is a huge relief because it means we don't have to reinvent ourselves. We just need to peel away the false identities we've put up like shoddy patchwork. Things we've done that need to be undone. It's really as simple as that.