Enneagram

I said before I would explain the Enneagram a little, and why people like it, so I’ll try to do that now. It’s a personality model with 9 basic types, usually called by their number, 1 – 9, which are value-neutral. The arrangement of types are organized by a spiky star thing inside a circle, because it looks esoteric. Well, ok, not just that. Also because it offers a structure for describing the relationship between the types. The way these relationships are described makes me a little uncomfortable, actually.

Generally they’re grouped in triads, with different triads for different traits. First, going around the circle, there are the triads described by the “center” they have the most issues with — that is most distorted, or needs the most work or requires the most attention. Going around there’s a pattern of “over expressed,” “cut off,” and “under expressed.” 2 – 4 are in the “feeling triad,” 5 – 7 are in the “thinking triad,” and 8 – 1 are in the “instinctive triad.” A personality centered on one of the numbers can have a “wing,” or some of the attributes of one (or sometimes both) of the personalities next it, as well.

The other connection that is most pointed to is shown by trios connected in a triangular fashion, having to do with the under- and over – expressed or cut-off status of the center. 3, 6, and 9 are the cut-off ones, 5, 8, and 2 are… over expressed, I think, but am unsure, and 1, 4, and 7 are the other one. There are other connections which I’m not going into at present.

In any event, this makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because terms like “feeling center” or “instinctive center” make me uncomfortable. Probably because, for me, they’re suggestive without being very exact, and what they suggest is mostly Sedona and the part of Santa Fe with all the tourist shops and Hindu statues. I suspect that’s because it borrows religious ways of seeing without any particular religious commitment, and that makes things unduly vague and fuzzy. Orthodox often talk about the appetitive, noetic, and… erm… I always forget this one. The one that’s reminiscent of fire. I think it’s a similar distinction, and similar as well to the platonic distinction (noetic, appetitive, and “spirited”). I suppose if I were going to press the comparison , I would say that thinking is most like noetic (especially in the Aristotelian sense), feeling is most like the one that reminds me of fire, and instinctive is most like appetitive.

In that case, what it’s saying is something like this: in the feeling triad, a 2 has this kind of extroverted thumatic energy (that’s the one I don’t know the Greek name for), which is expressed as trying to always help the other, support them, care for them — but in a way that easily becomes unbalanced toward finding identity in being the rescuer or helper. In a 3 that energy is sort of cut off from the other powers of soul, which sort of go off and do their own thing, as a not very well grounded persona. In fours it’s sort of introverted (I’m using that as a verb… directed inward), with lots of preoccupation about personal identity as someone separate from and different than others. I think that’s sort of how this analysis works.

Personality models like this can be helpful, in large part, because they give us a way to talk about ourselves that admits both strengths and weaknesses, as well as different places of health or neuroses, while still being fairly non-threatening and non-judgmental. That’s also much of the draw, at least for me, of Jungian typology. It gives a context, especially for things we struggle with, or even traits which should be positive, but have become distorted for whatever reason. For instance, I might say “I have a tendency toward sloth.” And if it just stays there, then it sort of becomes “well just try harder to do better” way of looking at things. Which usually fails. (Sloth, in the traditional sense, is mostly about “checking out,” and has little to do with lack of busyness) So there’s this attempt to provide some context, which is hard on one’s own, because we (or at least I…) often don’t know why we do things the way we do them. Or even why we do or don’t do them at all.

So we try to build up, or find, a narrative with some context. If that’s the enneagram, then it might say: sloth is a characteristic sin of “type 9.” People like this are non-assertive, unassuming, non-confrontational, peaceful, sleepy, slothful, cheerful, complacent, doesn’t know how to deal with anger, and so on. They tend to deal with difficulties by dampening energy, tuning out, and waiting, but can be passive-aggressive. Up to a certain point. They tend to feel invisible among people they haven’t got a personal relationship to. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that I’m in this group (and maybe my dad as well).

This context can be helpful when trying to set realistic goals for oneself. As a teacher, it’s unrealistic for me to expect that I should suddenly become someone who can walk into a room and command it by force of personality in the way that some people can. I not only can’t — I don’t even want to. And I’ve learned from some really good teachers who don’t, either. They’re good for other reasons — but not necessarily with waves of middle schoolers in a formal classroom. (I don’t analyze my current job like this, because I’m not trying to get other people to do things directly, and if they choose not to, I’m not accountable for that. There’s so much more space between someone making an ad and someone choosing to respond to it or not, than there is between teacher and student)

I was thinking about this as I was trying to answer application questions (my job is sort of part time, so I’d like to tutor or be an aide or something educational but not too strenuous part time next semester if I can), and questions for something else, and I tend to go into a kind of defensive “I can’t help that I’m sort of mellow, not a passionately energetic extrovert!” mode in these situations. And I like that these personality theories tend to put in a lot of reminders, like “go ahead and work on tuning out vs being present, because that’s something that you’re going to be able to have success at. Maybe don’t worry so much about being a social butterfly, because that’s not actually necessary.”

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