An overview of the Enneagram

The Enneagram is a psychological system that describes nine personality styles, detailing their inner workings and very different ways of seeing the world.  Like the people it portrays, the Enneagram is complex, subtle and dynamic.  The system pinpoints our unconscious worldview and self-image, our inner motivation and habits of processing information.  It also defines our greatest limitation in life as well as our greatest gift, which remarkably, are the same.

The Enneagram shows that each of us has a central way of making sense of reality, a personality strategy that informs everything we do.  We schedule time, take medicine, tell stories and run errands all in relation to it.  This strategy guides us through life providing us with an inner map of the world that, in turn, shapes our outer behavior.  It is our greatest strength but when we use it too much, it becomes a weakness, a derailer.

Among other things, the Enneagram identifies our bias.  When we overuse our personality strategy we see the world through a specific filter that limits our perceptions.  Not a static filter like a camera might have, which darkens or colors some objects while letting us otherwise see clearly.  More like a camera that will not take pictures of anything red or smooth or moving.  This filter creates a limited focus of attention – our bias – and prevents us from seeing or hearing certain things clearly or even at all.

Learning about our personality’s bias can initially be a shock.  For starters, it means that the way we see reality isn’t reality and that our most cherished assumptions about the world are relative.  Also some of our more deeply held beliefs may be more like neurotic defenses than true ideals.  The Enneagram names our illusions, showing us our personal foibles, delusions and vanities in unflattering detail.  In addition it implies that our personal limitations are entirely our own creation, that we engineer our difficulties and get in our own way.

However, after the shock of this new awareness, comes the welcome relief; we don’t have to take our own behavior so personally.  Character  “flaws”  that seem to be “ingrained”  in our being are actually shared by many other people and have an internal logic.  Since our limitations are our own creation, we actually have more power than we realize; on some level, however unconscious, we are making choices and can learn to make new ones.  We also have an array of talents, abilities and resources that are characteristic of our personality style.  Even the limitations of our style suggest how to work with it, marking out an obvious path to growth, self-development and emotional intelligence.

When used in an intentional way, the Enneagram will help you  create more possibilities for desired results, to be more aware of your impact on others, and, by understanding yourself better, learn to be more self-accepting and compassionate with yourself (and others).


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