“I find the Enneagram constricting and limiting, encouraging you to work with just one type. We do have all nine types within us; the really great teachers all say that.” Yes. And do you know what? They all, also, teach that one of them is going to be “your type”; if it weren’t, the Enneagram of Personality Types would be completely useless.
But here is where people tend to go wrong if they explore the Enneagram type fishing pond before first encountering — and practising navigating — the inner work fishing pond: They expect finding your type to be the be all end all of the inner journey. “Bang, here’s your type, now you know it all, and if you just stick to this awareness and follow your recipe, life will proceed to be just peachy.”
This is, quite obviously, not the case. But when people believe it is, they get their knickers in a twist over subtypes and tritypes and wing theory and line movements, as if figuring out these things were what stood between them and liberation. And to a varying degree, these things can be really useful — but the truth is, what stands between ourselves and liberation is, in fact, inner work. This means cultivating presence with and awareness of ourselves; exploring our instinctual, emotional and mental impulses, reactivity, and patterns. That is the ticket to increased freedom, not self-defining to the finest detail. (Keep your shirt on, we can still meaningfully do that. And with much more ease, too. So keep reading.)
The Enneagram is just a map
The thing is, the Enneagram does not, specifically, tell you to conduct your inner work in a particular manner. It just offers us this amazingly to-the-point map of the human psyche and shows how, within us, “type” springs from its psycho-spiritual, essential roots into particular forms of ego-patterns. That’s all (and it’s a lot!). Also, its various components and the insights it rests upon springs from the actual arena of self-discovery and quite hardcore inner work. So, in a manner of speaking, going in, this is assumed to be a given. Although nowadays, that is usually not where people are coming from learning about it.
What this means, though, is that you were never meant to “work on your Enneagram type/s” (either in singular or plural form); you were meant to work on you. And I’m not just splitting hairs; there’s actually a difference. The you that you need to work on will contain all kinds of patterns, beings assigned to all kinds of types. It will also contain a bunch of patterns, traits and qualities that have nothing to do with type whatsoever. The latter are qualities like being empathetic/intelligent/thrifty/inclined to be untruthful; things that have nothing to do with which Enneagram type you are. But all of it comes with the package that, on this journey through life in a physical body, you call “me’.
A bag full of patterns
Thus, what we get when finding our type is a bagful of ego patterns, tendencies, manipulations, and misconceptions handed to us with a loving note saying, “Look in here, darling — here, you are likely to find the format of most of your crap.” And if we grow our understanding of the model and the deeper, inner workings of “type”, we will also be able to see more clearly where these patterns stem from, which in turn can give us very valuable hints on how to go about our inner work.
However, nowhere does it say: “Here, and only here, are the issues you are allowed to work on.” We are not required to first chart our type (or tritype, or subtype, or any combination of traits and tendencies) and only then do the work for that type or combination. We are meant (I mean, if we are interested in the first place, of course), to self-explore; to increase our self-knowledge and understanding and awareness. In this endeavour, type can offer immensely helpful pointers, which is beautiful. (And refining “type” in various ways can, too, of course.) But when we do approach the work from this direction, never will we erroneously believe that we have to access our issues through “type” to be able to work on them. No. When an issue presents itself, go ahead. When an ego-pattern crops up; dive right in. Or, you know — find a coach, therapist, model, technique, group, teacher or whatever appeals to you to safely cultivate that needed awareness and inner connection. That is how we grow.
And right there on the journey itself …
As a matter of fact, through this work — cultivating, crying, laughing, seeing, doubting, re-framing, hesitating, rejoicing and connecting with all aspects of ourselves — all our desired specification will become apparent to us. To the extent that you are interested, all the components and labels will find you, and now they will make sense. In their own time, and when you are ready.
And it also just so happens, that looking at traits like the centres of intelligence, the instinctual drives and the levels of balance can help us both find our core type (as well as any “extras” that we might find fascinating) and find all kinds of issues and patterns that we might want to explore more closely. Again, this is why I gravitate to this kind of work: I love moving in the Enneagram world, and I so appreciate the Enneagram of personality for showing us ourselves so beautifully (and uncannily truthfully). But I also want to always offer the inner work-aspects first, not as a “work on your type” kind of model but more as a “get to know yourself” model ❤️