Mom, Me, and the Enneagram

no-one-wayI’ve written about my relationship with my mother on Nine Paths before. And yesterday I posted a portrait of her on Facebook, along with these comments:

This is a portrait of my mother as a young woman. It was taken before she married my father, so late 1930s or early 1940s. She was born 12/19/17 and died 11/05/99. We were about as opposite, temperamentally, as a mother and daughter could be. But she had a great sense of humor, so although we argued–a lot!–we also laughed a lot, which is probably what carried us through.

Temperamentally speaking, my mother and I were kind of a match made in hell. She was a 9 with a very strong 1 wing, which we both learned when she agreed to explore the Enneagram a couple of years before she died. I’m an 8 with a very strong 7 wing. To top it off, on the Riso-Hudson (RHETI) test, her lowest score was for 8 and my lowest score was for 9.

This is typically how things went between us:

Mom: Follow the rules.
Me: Well, I will if I agree with them.

Mom: What will the neighbors think?
Me: Who cares what the freaking neighbors think?

Mom: Do what I tell you to do.
Me: Why?

Mom: Why can’t you kids stop fighting? (I have two younger brothers.)
Me: Because we don’t get along–obviously!

Mom: You need to do (fill in the blank) exactly this way.
Me: Well, that makes no sense. If you want me to do it, I’ll do it my way. Otherwise, feel free to do it your way.

To say the least, I was a challenge for my mother to raise–much more so than either of my brothers. And my mother was a challenge for me to deal with. I knew nothing about the Enneagram when I was growing up, but I did pretty much figure out how to get around her. Although I didn’t know she was a 9, I was aware that she really didn’t want to know about all the stuff I was doing that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, so I just told her what she wanted to hear. When anything questionable came to her attention, her 1 wing compelled her to take action, which she did–or tried to do. But as an 8, I was willing to accept the consequences, and I knew she would eventually get over it.

I learned a lot about the upside of type 9 many years later from my friend, Donna, when we co-facilitated groups at the substance clinic where we both worked. I like to think that growing up I would have been more sympathetic to my mother and less of a pain in the ass if I’d known then what I know now.

The practical benefits of learning the basics of the Enneagram can be enormous. For one thing, they can give us a fighting chance of understanding each other, which is something the world could really use right now. That’s one reason why I support making the Enneagram accessible to a much bigger and broader audience.

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4 responses to “Mom, Me, and the Enneagram

  1. I like this article – very smart and well written and perceptive. Yes, the Enneagram provides the most effective language of all the personality type tools to understand another, although – and this maybe just my lack of knowledge – as an 8 w7 myself I don’t think Ones are the most problematic opposites; for a start they share the Gut/instinctive triad. No, Threes and Fours on the other side of the world, as it were, are much more difficult to deal with, and, I find, even to empathise with.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment. The opposite aspect I see between 8s and 1s is “do it my way” vs. “do it the right way.” On the other hand, since 8s tend to think their way IS the right way, both types are going to take a stand for what they think is right. My partner was a 4w5. We had intensity and reactivity in common. But he was much more emotional/sentimental than I am, and he remembered considerably more of our joint history than I do.

    Since you’re a fellow 8w7, I’ll add that as an 8, I’m really glad to have the moderating influence of a 7 wing. 🙂

  3. Hello. I’m a six with a five wing and it has been wonderful learning the enneagram. It has helped me understand my family and helped me to understand myself. It led me to take on the discipline of meditation, which I do for half an hour morning and night (the bookends of my day) and since then, I have felt less reactive. I enjoy eights because they stand up for what they believe in and can cope with very difficult situations at times. Sometimes I have felt overwhelmed by them but at the same time, I love the softness that emerges when one gets to know them.

  4. Anne-Marie, how wonderful that you’ve incorporated meditation into your day not once, but twice. Using it as “bookends” is a great idea for any type and especially for those of us who are more reactive. I can see how you cold be overwhelmed by 8s. Sometimes we overwhelm ourselves. I appreciate your kind comments about us.

    Most of the 6s I know have a 7 wing or no wing. I’d love to know a little about how you feel your 5 wing affects you.

    Thank you!

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