Enneagram as a Map of our Personalities

Say you’re visiting the Financial District in lower Manhattan for the first time.  Without a map.  Could you find Ground Zero?  Wall Street?  Probably all you’d have to do is ask someone with a pulse and they’d point the way.  How about the closest cafe or the place where George Washington was inaugurated?  Wish you had a map yet?

Now, what if the hotel you are staying at gives you this for a map:

nosha on flickr

nosha on flickr

Okay, you have a bit more information.  If you are standing by that tall yellowish building near the upper right corner of the picture, you might have a better sense of where the water is, anyway.  You will recognize more of the buildings now as you walk around.  You might have a better sense of direction based on this map.  It’s a little more info, but not a lot.

You go back to your hotel after a frustrating first day, not understanding what you’ve seen and not knowing the easiest way to get where you want to go, and you complain.  You complain with just the right mixture of self-righteousness and pleading.  The concierge goes in the back and comes out, handing you a map like this:

manhattan financial district1


Now you know where the shops and eats are.  Your second day might be a little less stressful, but you want to see more.  You want to know where everything is, don’t you?  Not just the main streets but the courtyards and alleyways too, so you can really get a feel for the district, the parts you don’t even know to look for, right?

You duck into another hotel that’s bigger and fancier than yours and you march right up to their concierge noting the gold tassels hanging off his lapels, and you ask for the best, most detailed map of the area.  With his white gloves, he hands you this:

manhattan financial district4


Now we’re talking.  Sure, it will take some time to study this map, possibly with a magnifying glass, but now you see there are all kinds of places you didn’t even know were there.  You would never have guessed there’d be an Amish Market just a few blocks from City Hall.   The drug rehabilitation center doesn’t surprise you as much, but that’s news too.  You decide to go see these things for yourself, but since you stuck the map in your back pocket, within minutes, you’re lost.  Not to worry, right?  Just whip that thing out, re-orient yourself and you’re back in business.

This is what the Enneagram does for us, except it maps out people.

Without maps, we can get quite frustrated with ourselves.  Why am I always so uptight with that person?  When will I stop procrastinating my life away? Why do I lose my mind when someone gives me advice?

Without maps, we don’t understand or have much tolerance for why other people are so gossipy, so controlling or such loners.

When it comes to our own children, it can be even more distressing.  How can I get my kid to be more organized, more sociable or less of a bully.  Did I do something to make her that way?

When we start to learn our way around the Enneagram, we start to understand that maybe our child acts like a bully because she’s an eight and she has little tolerance for weakness in others because it scares the crap out of her that she might be weak herself.  Maybe our child is disorganized because the most important thing in life to him is to stay happy and out of pain, and the drudgery of life’s minutiae might just suck the joy right out.

Remember what maps do:

  • Provide a symbolic representation of what exists in a territory
  • Show the relationship between things in space

And what maps don’t do:

  • Fix things
  • Judge the value of what is in the territory or the territory itself

There are no ‘bad’ or ‘good’ personality styles.  The Enneagram isn’t designed to teach us how to stop being motivated by what motivates us.  It just takes the guesswork out of who we are and why we do what we do SO THAT

(this part coming up is really important)

so that we can make conscious choices about how we want to respond to life rather than running on the unconscious motivations of our personality styles.

Remember when you explored Wall Street map-less and then switched to a detailed picture of the area?  You became able to make conscious and well-informed decisions about where you wanted to go and what you wanted to see.  When armed with information about our personality styles, patterns, habits and motivations, we can learn ways to practice deciding what to do with our fears, or our insatiable need for approval, or our anger when everyone else is doing it wrong, rather than reacting the same way we always do, especially if that doesn’t end up working all that well.

11 thoughts on “Enneagram as a Map of our Personalities

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