I was dining with friends the other night who knew nothing about the Enneagram but were intrigued. (Ah yes, that’s how it starts for many of us.) As I briefly explained the worldviews of the nine types, one asked an insightful question. “Does it help if your partner or someone close to you tells you what they see/know of you? In other words, do you have blind spots when it comes to your personality type?”
As we say in Hawai`i, that question was right on the kinipopo. (In other words, he hit the nail on the head.)
Certainly, we have blind spots, especially but not limited to when we first learn the Enneagram. A Six may believe that everyone sees movies of the worst case scenario in a situation. A One may believe that everyone has as harsh an inner critic as s/he. A Nine once asked me in a class, “Doesn’t everyone merge their desires with others in order to get along?” He was incredulous when the rest of the class roared “No.”
The Enneagram describes nine personality types as they experience themselves. Often, however, our way of being, perceiving, and acting is as natural to us as breathing. We still believe that we experience reality “as it is” rather than through our own filters. Our filters may be difficult for us to apprehend.
Here is where a trusted other may be of invaluable help. We can elicit feedback on how we are perceived by others. This may help lead us to a new level of discovery and illuminate our impact on others. Our self-development through the Enneagram can be helped immeasurably by learning how we affect others through our type specific behaviors.
Ask a trusted confidante how he or she experiences you. Do I take up too much space sometimes? Am I too critical? Do I seem fun but flighty and superficial?
Don’t ask this when you are feeling fragile, when in an altercation or upset with another, or if you are doing it only so you can tell him/her how you experience them. Approach this in open inquiry as a further exploration through the map that the Enneagram provides.
This is not only a helpful practice when you are first learning about your type and its worldview. It is invaluable as we continue along the path. Case in point: a dear friend of mine runs a retreat center where staff lives in intentional community as well as creating spiritual learning experiences for guests. Everyone is encouraged to discover type and learn how to work with it. (Most gladly take advantage of this opportunity, if at first only to join the ongoing Enneagram conversation.)
Living closely in community is challenging, no matter how evolved the participants. Conflicts and misunderstandings arise despite the best of intentions. Sifting through the layers for resolution requires skill and compassion. And the Enneagram is invaluable in this process.
Still, no matter how dedicated and aware, we may be run by our personality at times. My friend who runs the retreat center is a Four. She has used the Enneagram to further her personal and professional life for decades. Like all of us, she can still be confused or tripped up by her habit of attention. Fortunately, she is all too aware of this possibility.
When uncertain, she will come to me with the situation that has arisen. After laying out the potential problem or conflict, she will ask me for clarification. “Is this something I need to confront or am I just doing my Four thing now? Am I creating drama where there need not be any?”
Naturally, the answer varies depending on the situation. However, her willingness to question, to explore often creates clarity where there is none. I am constantly in awe of her attention to her process and her commitment to compassionate discourse. It’s what makes her a wonderful leader.
My Three husband and I are continually reflecting each other’s habits back to one another in gentle ways. It is because we wish to grow, that we have agreed to be helpmates in this process. He has helped me immeasurably through the years, as have our children. I am profoundly grateful for their sharings.
The Work of growth is simple but it is not easy. And believe me, there are no short cuts – my Seven self would have sussed them out long ago if they existed. But we need not do it alone. A trusted intimate can be a most welcome companion on the journey to one’s best self.