4 Things NOT to do with the Enneagram

Photo: Ann Gadd

It can be hard to avoid not getting trapped in dead ends as we explore deeper into ourselves. Because the ego wants to protect us from anything we may find unacceptable or hard to work with. These dead ends, swamps even, are places that seem fun, enticing, and tantalizing, yet which don’t necessarily serve our, or the Enneagram’s, purpose.

Here are four I’ve identified:

1) Spreading the word

You’ve found the Enneagram. It’s exciting. The information is incredible. I mean how do they know that stuff? Like how your “Seven” boss reacts under pressure. Or what your partner says when they’re feeling good about life. Why your child loves to play alone with bugs. It’s all there. Pure magic, and uncannily accurate.

But take heed of the allegory of Plato’s cave. A prisoner in a cave is freed from his chains of illusion. Exiting the cave for the first time, he perceives a new reality. Naturally, he wants tell the other prisoners in the cave of his findings. So, he returns with the truth of his experiences outside the cave, just the same way we all want to share the Enneagram with colleagues, family, and friends. We’re sure everyone wants to hear and will benefit from the insights.

Rollback many years ago. (I still cringe.) I’m at a party chatting to a psychologist friend about my Enneagram discovery. I’m animated. Excited. She seems interested. As a result, I continue. Oh boy, do I continue. At the end of our prolonged “chat,” she turned and says: “Hmm. Just another personality profiling system,” and walks off. I‘m devastated.

Somehow my delivery had gone very wrong. (Hint: Read what happened to the freed prisoner when he re-entered Plato’s cave to share the good news with the other prisoners.) Not everyone is in the right place (physically, emotionally, and/or mentally), to appreciate the Enneagram’s wisdom. And that’s okay. (Also, my delivery may have been a tad off.) So share the Enneagram but choose the time, person and place.

2) Identifying others’ types (even when they haven’t asked to be identified).

You did that weekend Enneagram workshop. Now, you’re full of enthusiasm. You want to share the love and tell everyone their Enneagram type. The book club group. Colleagues. Friends. The supermarket cashier. (It’s so obvious what type they are.)

He’s talkative and excitable, so he must be a Seven. She criticized the food, so definitely a One. He’s a bit of a loner, so no doubt he’s a Five. She looks anxious. A Six for sure. It’s so tempting, but a word of advice: don’t jump up behind people and expose them. You could lose a friend, or a kneecap as a result. (See point 1: Plato’s Cave, and what happened to the freed prisoner — it’s not pretty.).

There two reasons for not revealing a person’s type (or what you believe them to be):

a) You rob them of their journey to find themselves (their type) which can be as insightful and rewarding as the destination. (As a Nine who started believing I was a Three, moved to a Six, then hit Seven before heading to Nine, I can attest to this. I learned so much about those types along the way, all of which are aspects of myself.

b) Because you could be wrong. You may know loads about the Enneagram, but you can’t possibly know what a person’s hidden motivations are. Two people may act similarly. However, their root fear and neuroses for doing so may be very different, making them different types.

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3) Calling someone out about their Type’s behavior.

Your brother is displaying all the less integrated aspects of a type Six, you’re sure. With your Enneagram knowledge, you feel duty-bound to point this out. You want him to be integrated. And don’t even mention your Nine partner. How many times do you have to tell him/her that having an afternoon snooze on the couch is less healthy Nine behavior, particularly when there’s work that needs to be done? Every time you fight, which is often, his/her detached approach to your comments is infuriating. They lower your level of integration…

Pointing fingers is tempting, but not helpful to either party. However, in a loving relationship, you can help each other to be aware of when you’re sliding down the integration ladder. Non-judgement and compassion are the keys. Focus on more integrated behavior. For a Seven you might say, “Your optimism inspires me.” (Rather than you’re an escapist hedonist.) Or for a Two, “I really love and appreciate all the wonderful things you do for me. But sometimes I experience your attention as being intrusive. Can we chat about it?”

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4) Getting caught in the glamour of the personality of your type.

This is perhaps the most important, and yet least understood aspect of the Enneagram. There are so many posts about the Enneagram these days. Anything from how different types cook, to what gifts they buy. These posts can be loads of fun to share with friends and family.

But (and this is a big BUT), the danger is that we become so enamored with pop psychology’s upbeat focus on only the integrated aspects of our type, that we have no inclination to shift and grow.

What’s not to like about your classy, cultured, sensitive, original, deep Four self? Or your helping, sympathetic, sacrificing Two self? Why give up that personality? No way. So, like the beautiful Greek mythical hunter Narcissus who fell in love with his reflection, the Enneagram reflection we see can become entrancing.

“I’m an inspiring, driven, achiever Three,” or “ I’m an receptive, peacemaking, patient Nine,” say the coffee mugs on our desks. To ignore all those less integrated aspects of our type, (because that’s not us, right?), is to avoid huge learning potential. In doing so we lose the chance to embrace all aspects of ourselves and all types. It’s much like constructing your own metal/mental/emotional cage and smiling while you chuck the keys away once you’ve locked yourself inside.

Essentially, we are all types. Focusing only on being your type is like wearing only yellow outfits when there’s a whole spectrum of colors to be explored. If we delve deeper and use the understanding of the fixations, passions, and basic fear of our type to move beyond the need to act from that neurosis, then we’re doing serious spiritual self-work.

So, let’s use the Enneagram to help guide us into how to break out of the narrow confines of our personality to experience ourselves more completely.

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Ann Gadd is in iEQ9 Enneagram Coach, IEA presenter, and author of 4 Enneagram books (incl. Sex and the Enneagram), as well as a children’s Enneagram series.

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Ann Gadd

Ann Gadd

Ann Gadd is in iEQ9 Enneagram Coach, IEA presenter, and author of 4 Enneagram books (incl. Sex and the Enneagram), as well as a children’s Enneagram series.

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