Recognizing and learning all about your Enneagram type can be illuminating, fascinating, and either amusing or dismaying—sometimes a mix of both. You may have an experience, like I did, of having the Enneagram explain something about yourself that had previously been a mystery. Or you may gain some insight into the root of an ongoing problem in one or another area of your life. But after the mystery has been explained or you understand why you keep having that particular problem, then what? Maybe even so what? There’s limited value in simply having new labels or new categories to apply to yourself and the other people in your life.
Yes, each type has many positive characteristics, and it’s good to acknowledge and celebrate them. But the greater value of the Enneagram is that, along with describing our strengths, it also points out our imbalances, compulsions, blind spots, and automatic behavior—things we might want to consider changing or being less at the effect of. Why? Because living on automatic pilot is constraining. It closes us off to a wider world of possibilities. Sometimes it prevents us from seeing what’s right in front of us. It’s like being half asleep all the time.
Awareness (Self-Observation) and Intention
The more aware we are about our automatic behavior and the more intention we have to grow beyond it, the greater our chances of waking up. Even so, making these kinds of changes can be difficult. For example, understanding that as a Type 2 you’re compelled to help other people, even when doing so may be detrimental to you, is good to know. But by itself, that understanding doesn’t actually provide you with the means to alter your behavior. Self-observation and self-awareness require us to take a step back and really look at ourselves as we are doing, feeling, and thinking—as we are living our lives. That takes practice. More to the point, it takes a practice, which is where journal writing comes in—Ennea-Journaling, that is.
Both Elizabeth Libby and I had been keeping journals for much of our adult lives and had taught journal writing to others. After we met at an IEA conference in California in 2000, we began exploring the benefits of using journal writing as a way of working with the Enneagram—an intentional practice to develop self-observation and self-awareness. We already had a wide repertoire of journal writing exercises, and we experimented with using different exercises or techniques with various aspects of the Enneagram. In 2001, we presented Ennea-Journaling: Writing for Transformation at the IEA conference in Philadelphia.
Here is an example of using journal writing to develop and deepen the results of self-observation. It was written by a female Type 6 (no wing).
Authenticity (who I am)
I can be a mass of contradictions and I guess that will have to be okay with me. I can be trusting and vulnerable or I can be suspicious and guarded. I can be sweet as can be or I can be a sourpuss. I feel best about myself on the days when I am relaxed, peaceful, independent, decisive, and willful. When that is happening, I am free from anxiety and feeling authentic. It is good for me to maintain a certain level of detachment from others so that I can stay true to myself. It is easier for that to happen when I am feeling grounded and centered. I have more ability to trust myself and others when I can stay centered within myself. Little ways that I can be authentic are to just go shopping by myself and the keep what I buy or take a room in the house and make it my own. If I am not watchful or mindful, I can let myself slip by scanning my environment and letting myself become who I think others want me to be. When that happens, I have become a chameleon and that is the road to my inauthentic self.
Some things about being authentic that I have noticed:
- It is very hard to be authentic. All of a sudden, the day is over, and I am thinking was I ever authentic today?
- It takes effort to just be me. To just watch and observe others without getting caught up in their stuff was difficult.
- It is somewhat of an odd feeling when I am purposely detaching from others.
- Also, I sense that others expect a certain reaction from me, which is why they come and interact in the first place. I observed that when you don’t give people what they came to get, there is some level of disappointment in the air.
My desk fountain at work is what I try to use as a reminder to stay true to my authenticity. The fountain reminds me of a running river and just as a river runs its own course, it is important for me to remember to do the same.
Like many other practices, such as exercise or meditation, the more you put into journal writing, the more you’ll get out of it. Consistency is key. Experiment to find the time and place that’s most conducive for you to write. Then make an appointment with yourself to write on a regular basis. Some people keep their journals on their computers, but when it comes to journal writing, I’ve never found the keyboard to be an adequate replacement for pen and paper. Currently my preferred “tools” are a gel ink pen and a college-ruled spiral-bound notebook.
Journal writing is a practice that can serve you at any age, at any stage of life, and in just about any situation in which you may find yourself. From time to time, I’ll offer Ennea-journaling exercises and suggestions for using them to map your personal journey.