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Self Study: The Enneagram

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

Years of primary care experience, with a genuine desire to really improve the lives of my clients, has taught me that I can't achieve the results I desire or that my clients desire without helping them first understand themselves, their needs, and their #worth. Vitality requires a genuine investment in yourself and many of us haven't thought about our own needs for a very long time, if ever, or at least not until we are ill or significantly harmed in some way.

When one has a fairly traumatic event, this often motivates a deep dive into self-study. We hope to learn what it is we really want, what we need, and what is our purpose. What is the meaning of life and how do we fit within that? While this may be too much to consider today, for you, not understanding how you fit into this life means you may not truly comprehend your worth. You may not see the importance in prioritizing your own needs.

I will be candid and admit that I have had a bit of a martyr complex through the years. I suspect this is part of my basic make-up but the Christian teachings I embodied certainly heightened this attribute. The frequent direction to step out of my comfort zone and serve others for the greater good, really murkied the lines for me and caused me to #disembody to the point I had no awareness of healthy boundaries. Ultimately, I served and prioritized everyone but myself until I became so overwhelmed and so depleted, I completely burned out. I then hid from the world and its reality for quite some time. I was blessed to have this time, but most don't have the pleasure. My hopes are that I can work with clients within their wellness visits to help them create a self-study habit. I hope to help them become so embodied they readily identify and protect their #boundaries, and also prioritize their needs and personal rights. Self-love and self-care is true primary care.

Question the Lens from Which You See the World

While I consider myself an exceedingly honest person, I have learned that I can write a narrative for my life that I am willing to accept and am excellent at making excuses for very toxic people. I think this is probably true of many people. We create a vision of the reality we can accept and it can be very distorted from the truth. Goodness, many of us even do this about our weight or our age, our financial resources. We also do this about our coping mechanisms.

What we don't know about ourselves can and will hurt us, and of course, those in our lives. Authors, Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stable, of The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery shares that "as long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we're prisoners of our history. We'll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us." I can admit today that the underlying cause of my own marriage's failure was that neither of us really understood who we really were or the brokenness within our souls.

Do we really know ourselves? How does our past impact who we are today? What are the hidden wounds and misguided beliefs we picked up as children that maybe still govern our lives? I did have a very rough childhood, traumatic even, but I had created a successful career, held leadership positions, and had a lovely family. I had moved on, forgiven my abusers, and felt as if that time in my life was another lifetime ago entirely. I did not appreciate the dive into this past each therapist I ever visited wanted to endure. "To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility," says Brother Dave from the writings of The Road Back to You.

Sooner or later we have to distinguish between who we are and who we are not. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that is and find our real self. The Road Back to You utilizes a screening tool to identify an #archetype of sorts, based on coping skills you have acquired from childhood. The theory is that over time, our adaptive strategies become increasingly complex. They get triggered so predictably, so often and so automatically that we can't tell where they end and where our true nature begins. Ironically, the term personality is derived from the Greek word for mask (persona), reflecting our tendency to confuse the masks we wear with our true selves long even after the threats from our childhood are gone. This personality, or even the mask of coping mechanisms, has defined us, limited us, maybe even imprisoned us.

When we over-identify who we are with our personality we forget or lose touch with our authentic self - the beautiful essence of who we are and certainly I was so very much this person just a few years ago. I might even argue that many professionals confuse their professional life or persona for their authentic self. I know I wasn't aware of who I was at all without midwifery. I was facing a personal crisis of exponential levels when I knew it was time to walk away. I didn't know any purpose for my life outside that role. My wonderful #therapist reminded me in each session, seek what is most authentic to you.

On this journey, she gave me a bit of homework, including reading and learning about the #Enneagrams. Certainly I am not arguing that this type of thing boxes anyone in or is the full picture of who we are, as we are very complex beings, but it did help me better understand myself. I feel like the Enneagram also helped me see my best self when I am healthy, and how I express myself when I am in an unhealthy place. Rather than hitting the floor smack in the face and needing a complete #transformation, now I can better recognize a need to reevaluate my commitments when I miss making the bed in the morning. Yes, I have committed to making my bed every single day so that I know, when I can't make time to do this simple task, I am becoming overwhelmed and need to scale back. No need to wait until I am having anxiety attacks or getting exceptionally fussy to recognize I am overwhelmed.

How Does Your Inner Child Cope

The premise of the #Enneagram is that there are nine basic personality types, one of which each of us will naturally gravitate and ultimately adopt as a child so we can cope with challenges and find our safe place. Each type has a distinct way of seeing the world and an underlying motivation that powerfully influences how that type thinks, feels, and behaves. Within these nine types, there are infinite numbers of expressions and there are also triads, leaning towards the mind, the heart, or the gut. Finally, there are wings, so while we generally identify more-so with a single number, we really are more on a spectrum so a neighboring number may also express much of your personality.

After understanding your primary type and wing, the Enneagram can show you how to better understand yourself when stressed, overtaxed, under fire, or absolutely burnt out. During these times, your number may move towards yet another number on the larger diagram and when secure, grounded, and healthy, they can move towards yet another. Again, sometimes it can be difficult to be mindful of how we feel. We become so externally focused or disembodied that until we lose it, we just aren't real self-aware or as I've shared previously, we talk ourselves out of our feelings, writing a narrative that fits our persona. However, if we objectively evaluate ourselves using what we learn from the Enneagrams, we can better identify our weaknesses and find some validation when healthy.

Using my own example, I am an Enneagram Eight with a Seven wing. This makes me a #challenger in that I am motivated by a need to protect others. An Eight is strong, avoids feelings that make them feel weak or vulnerable, and can use anger as a defense mechanism. Eights have more energy than any other number. We are full-throttle, zestful, and earthy. We can also be confrontational, even aggressive, so as a midwife, I spoke in front of the House and Senate committees regarding injustices that I felt needed addressed in legislature. We aren't intimidated and will go to the head of command without second thought if it means protecting someone else. I have been a fierce advocate for women who struggled to find their voice or who were traumatized, and a strong supporter for vulnerable babies. This has less to do with my passion for birth or breastfeeding, and more to do with my passion for protecting vulnerable people. We speak truth to power. Eights are the go big or go home type of people and fiercely oppose limitations or restrictions. If something is worth doing it is worth over-doing. We often intimidate but are genuinely surprised when we learn we've left this impression.

Here is the thing though, as children, something happened to Eights in our formative years that required us to prematurely abandon our childlike innocence in order to take responsibility for our own lives and often the lives of others. More than once, I had to sacrifice myself to protect my sister. I have never stopped protecting others since. This doesn't come from a need to please, but more-so the need to do the right thing. Eights are often raised in unstable homes or bullied at school so that it became clear they could rely on no one else but themselves. Regardless, the Eight learned that the world is a hostile place where only the strong survive, and the weak or innocent get emotionally beaten up or betrayed. We put on our armor and never let others see our soft side. We worry about betrayal. Thus, we concluded that there are two types of people, those who control and those who submit. Don't mistake though, Enneagram Eights do not have a need for control - we just don't want to be controlled.

The depth of discussion on each Enneagram archetype is extensive. I've offered a tiny glimpse of what this book provides and there are many books specific to the Enneagram and how one might express themselves in various relationships and circumstances. I encourage you to dive in and learn more about who you are and what is really authentic to you. As a child I was often told I was too sensitive, too much, too this or too that. Well, today, in my 4th decade, I accept and embrace this is who I am. My wing is a 7, which is the Enthusiast. This number is the fun, spontaneous and adventurous type who is motivated by a strong drive to be happy and gather experiences. This is very much in-line with my Sun Sign as well, the #Sagittarius (another blog discussion on the topic of self-study I'll offer into the future).

Finally, within the triad as an Eight, I am driven more by my gut than my head or heart. Anger is often my guide, and I can externalize it (also common to the Sagittarius, but we puff out exceedingly quickly too). I respond to life instinctually or at the gut level. I am very honest and direct. As we move along the spectrum whether we are more healthy or less so, each Enneagram expresses their stress or security numbers. As an eight, I see myself serving others more when I am healthy but doing this too much can cause me to become unhealthy and martyr myself. I have to remind myself to give from my overflow, not sacrifice my own needs. It can be exceedingly hard for an Eight to not give until they bleed though because what they are challenging is often very passionate circumstances, like protecting clients in making their own healthcare decisions.

When I do become more burnt out and stressed however, as an Eight, I will move into habits more common to the fifth Enneagram. This is when I demonstrate more of a short-temper, become fearful, and maybe become super independent, hoarding my feelings and love from others. These are important concepts because as you begin to recognize yourself in a less healthy place, you can catch yourself and make better choices, most especially choosing to take better care of yourself. You can also be more aware of your more deadly sin, fixation, addiction, or thorns.

The wisdom here is really quite profound and deeply revealing. If you are feeling lost, burdened, over-whelmed, misunderstood, please pick up a copy of The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Give it a whirl. Journal about it. Then learn about your partner, your children, your bestie. May it bring your peace and comfort. Also, Sandals Church offers sermons on each of the Enneagram types and the amazing artist, Sleeping at Last, has a song for each type. I have linked mine for you, but they will get you towards your own.

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