The Enneagram and Self-Knowledge

Being a mom, it’s easy sometimes to lose track of yourself as a person, too. Of course you exist in relationship to other people – in particular your children – but there can be times in which you aren’t sure who you are or what you’re doing, except in relation to said children.

It was fun to dig into a book this summer called The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. A friend asked if I wanted to read it with her, and we ended up having a small group of women from church get together and discuss it. We had people of most different personality types represented there, and one of the most interesting parts of our conversation was hearing about how everyone felt their very different personalities affected their lives and relationships.

Wikipedia describes the Enneagram as “a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.” There are a few things I really appreciated about this understanding of personality types. For one thing, it incorporates tendencies toward optimism or pessimism, which I think is an important dimension of personality that isn’t always captured. But I actually don’t love the system as a whole. It seems to me to be 9 semi-random groupings of personality traits, as opposed to a systematic evaluation of where different people fall along various dimensions (like the Myers-Briggs personality type system) – and as someone who prefers logical thought and analysis, I really dislike that. I also think it’s a lot easier to type some people (me) than others (Matt). He and I read much of the book together and had interesting discussions about who we thought might fit which personality type and what that meant for how they interacted with the world, and we got our families in on it, asking my brothers and sister-in-law and then his mom and sister (who were visiting while we were reading it) what types they thought they were.

Even not loving the classification system as a whole, reading the book was still beneficial and fun. I suspect it comes as a surprise to no one who has spent more than 5 minutes with me that I am a One, otherwise known as “the perfectionist.” I’ve been aware of my tendencies toward perfectionism for quite some time, but it was still helpful to read and be reminded of the strengths and weaknesses associated with those tendencies. The summary description of this personality type in the book includes statements like:

  • People have told me I can be overly critical and judgmental.
  • I don’t feel comfortable when I try to relax. There is too much to be done.
  • It seems to me that things are either right or wrong.
  • I notice immediately when things are wrong or out of place.
  • I like routine and don’t readily embrace change.

True, true, true.

And it’s so important to be aware of all of those tendencies in myself! Being aware that I prefer to operate in black and white in the midst of a world of grays helps me not to get so frustrated by the intricacies of different situations and to be willing to look at both sides. Knowing that my tendency is to focus on things that are incorrect is a reminder to me to look at all that is correct, too. Realizing that there are reasons for my love of routine helps me to give myself space to deal with change when it has to happen.

And all of that awareness helps me to be a better wife, a better mom, and a better friend. Just because I am a perfectionist and want everything to be done just so does not mean that my children will appreciate my attention to detail. Because it is so easy for me to notice the negatives, I need to make a special effort to look for the things Matt is doing that are helpful and express my appreciation.

I also appreciated that this book was written from a Christian perspective and included information about spiritual strengths and weaknesses of each personality type. I don’t think I’d thought of my personality influencing my relationship with God in quite that way, and it was a good exercise. Some words that stood out to me were, “If you’re a One, you believe the only way you’ll know peace on the inside is if you perfect everything on the outside. It’s not true.” It really is a temptation for me to pursue peace by getting my external world in order – devising systems for regular toy pick-up, planning our meals and our school days, etc. But true peace comes from Jesus, from being real with Him, working through our thoughts and feelings with Him (the book highlights the importance of Ones being honest about their anger!), trusting in Him, and relying on His Spirit.

Since reading it, I’ve been more cognizant of the ways my personality may be affecting me throughout my days and in my relationships. I still don’t love the Enneagram system as a whole, but I have found that taking the time to look at who I am and what that means for how I live my life was illuminating and helpful!

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