A Shortcut to Self-Awareness

If you aren’t yet convinced that much of what you do is completely outside your conscious intentions and control, the Enneagram might change your mind. At the time I wrote the following introductory post (Know Thyself) for my Enneagram blog Nine Paths, I had yet to learn just how much of our lives we spend on autopilot.

When you identify your type, you may find that the Enneagram knows you better than you knew yourself. It isn’t the personality equivalent of a Theory of Everything, but it gives you a place to look, a way to pay attention to what you’re doing, thinking, and feeling. It’s absolutely the best tool I’ve found for demonstrating how habitual and compulsive our behavior is and for expanding  self-awareness. Unless we develop self-awareness, we have little chance of changing or overriding our compulsive behavior.

Know Thyself

Was the ancient Greek sage who inscribed those words at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi exhorting us to understand ourselves? It isn’t entirely clear. But it is clear that Socrates, who insisted the unexamined life is not worth living, meant exactly that when he used the same words. But how do we examine our lives? How do we get to know ourselves?

The Enneagram is one means to that end. It is an apparently simple, yet rich and complex system that reveals our strengths and weaknesses, our deeper-level motivations, and most importantly, the compulsions that often rule our (unexamined) lives. We move through this world under the impression we’re making authentic choices, but most of the time we’re just blindly following our compulsions, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome. We’re living our lives on autopilot; asleep at the wheel.

Only after we become aware of our habitual patterns of behavior and responses can we turn the autopilot switch off and freelychoose what to do or how to respond. The better we know ourselves, the less likely we are to be ruled by our compulsions. The less we are ruled by our compulsions, the more open and authentic we are. Gaining this depth of personal knowledge and understanding has another benefit, also pointed out by Socrates: it helps us understand other people better, too. In fact, Socrates believed we have to understand ourselves before we can truly understand anyone or anything else.

At the simplest level, the Enneagram can be viewed as a personality typing system, but don’t think recognizing and accepting your Enneagram type will strip you of your unique sense of identity or individuality by lumping you together with every other person of the same type. Far from being a narrow one-size-fits-all box, each point has plenty of room for subtleties and variations.

Since it doesn’t simply pigeonhole people, but is a comprehensive and multifaceted system, it takes a bit of effort to fully grasp. Numerous books are now available on the Enneagram, written from various perspectives. Below is a very basic overview of the key elements.

Enneagram is a Greek word that means nine points. The Enneagram symbol is composed of a triangle and a hexad within a circle.

The resulting nine points represent nine basic, or core, personality types, each of which has a unique perspective and approach to life. The theory behind the Enneagram is that we each polarize at one of the nine points. We then overdevelop the characteristics associated with that point, while leaving the characteristics associated with the other points undeveloped. So each point also represents a particular type of imbalance. Our core personality type doesn’t change over the course of a lifetime, but as we become aware of our imbalances, we gain the ability to moderate them. We are no longer ruled by them.

Read the rest of the post here.


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