“The goal of understanding your Enneagram ‘type’ or ‘number’ is not to delete and replace your personality with a new one.”
Adapted From Chapter 2, “Finding Your Type”
Human beings are wired for survival. As little kids we instinctually place a mask called personality over parts of our authentic self to protect us from harm and make our way in the world. Made up of innate qualities, coping strategies, conditioned reflexes and defense mechanisms, among lots of other things, our personality helps us know and do what we sense is required to please our parents, to fit in and relate well to our friends, to satisfy the expectations of our culture and to get our basic needs met. 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 our true natures begin.
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, even long after the threats of early childhood have passed. Now we no longer have a personality; our personality has us! Now, rather than protect our defenseless hearts against the inevitable wounds and losses of childhood, our personalities—which we and others experience as the ways we predictably think, feel, act, react, process information and see the world—limit or imprison us.
Worst of all, by over-identifying who we are with our personality we forget or lose touch with our authentic self—the beautiful essence of who we are.
Though I’m a trained counselor, I don’t know exactly how, when or why this occurs, only that this idea of having lost connection with my true self rings true with my experience. How many times while spying my children play or while gazing up at the moon in a reflective moment have I felt a strange nostalgia for something or someone I lost touch with long ago? Buried in the deepest precincts of being I sense there’s a truer, more luminous expression of myself, and that as long as I remain estranged from it I will never feel fully alive or whole. Maybe you have felt the same.
The good news is we have a God who remembers who we are, the person he knit together in our mother’s womb, and he wants to help restore us to our authentic selves.
As Thomas Merton put it, “Before we can become who we really are, we must become conscious of the fact that the person who we think we are, here and now, is at best an impostor and a stranger.” Becoming conscious is where the Enneagram comes in.
The goal of understanding your Enneagram “type” or “number” is not to delete and replace your personality with a new one. Not only is this not possible, it would be a bad idea. You need a personality. The purpose of the Enneagram is to develop self-knowledge and learn how to recognize and dis-identify with the parts of our personalities that limit us so we can be reunited with our truest and best selves, that “pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven,” as Thomas Merton said. The point of it is self-understanding and growing beyond the self-defeating dimensions of our personality, as well as improving relationships and growing in compassion for others.