Why Knowing your Enneagram Type is Important
converting vice to virtue on the path of personal transformation
Over ten years ago now, a dear friend of mine kept bugging me to take the enneagram assessment. I was resistant at first. You see, I work as a psychotherapist and didn’t want to look at a new client and think, “Here comes a Type X.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that attitude demonstrated my lack of knowledge about the point of the enneagram system. My friend’s persistence won out, though, and I am so glad that it did.
Knowing my enneagram type has proven to be one of the most important tools of awareness that I have ever experienced. In fact, I use this system with almost all of my clients. Unlike in the popular media, the point of the enneagram is not to recognize and celebrate a set of qualities that make you like a certain group of people. Rather, the system is based on the concept of personal transformation through conversion of your core defense mechanism to its opposite virtue.
The word enneagram literally means nine-pointed figure. While this symbol has been around for hundreds of years, the enneagram personality system originated in its present form in the early 1970’s through the work of Bolivian-born, Oscar Ichazo, and Chilean-born, Claudio Naranjo. The nuances of the system are still under development today.
Each point on the enneagram symbol corresponds with a personality type that is associated with a basic human vice (anger, pride, deceit, envy, greed, fear, gluttony, lust, and sloth) and with the opposite virtue (serenity, humility, authenticity, equanimity, non-attachment, courage, sobriety, mercy, and decisive action). Identifying your type helps you to see how you have been employing your “vice” to cope and also shows you how to embody your virtue.
In other words, knowing your enneagram type is important because it reveals your blind spot and helps you to live into the highest version of yourself.
The enneagram is based on the idea that humans have a split mind, a True self/false self. Your unchanging True Self is your Essence and represents a higher state of consciousness. When you are connected to your values and integrity (or the Love within you), you manifest this higher state of consciousness and cannot help but make skillful choices. This is called the enneagram type in its maturity.
Your True Self is masked by your persona or false self, which feels insecure, defensive, and self-absorbed, and asks, “What about me?” When you are connected to your insecure persona, you manifest a lower state of consciousness and cannot help but make unskillful choices. This is called the enneagram type in its immaturity.
The idea of a True Self/false self is not new and is seen in different spiritual traditions. For example, Thomas Merton wrote in New Seeds of Contemplation, Chapter 2, “It is then the false self that is our god, and we love everything for the sake of this self. We use all things, so to speak, for the worship of this idol which is our imaginary self.”
The journey of letting go of your persona to live from the openness of loving presence begins with identifying what kidnaps your awareness and makes you scramble for love in unhealthy ways. Knowing your enneagram type can be an important tool for this trip of a lifetime.