Are you prone to growth hovering? We all are, at least on and off, since this is one of the ego’s favourite activities. But since growth hovering is not actual growth — but excels at masquerading as just that — the challenge is to sense when orientation and overview falls over into hoarding and hovering, postponing any real inner work, and thus also true inner growth.
All the time there seem to pop up new, fresh approaches on the Enneagram as a whole and on the personality types found on it. And they all seem to promise greater insight, leading to increased/speedier/deeper growth. ”The concept of tritype/wings/arrows/counter-types makes me understand others/myself better.” “With [insert any concept] it all makes so much more sense.” “Now I can finally recognise myself.” Yes, all those things might be true — but we need to remember that the “understanding”, the “sense” and the “recognition” referred to are all in the intellectual realm. They provide ways to a firmer intellectual grasp; a more complete mental insight into how a mechanism works. That’s all well and good, of course, and it can be very useful — but it does not constitute inner work; not even close.
In inner work, we want to understand from within, and we arrive at this understanding through experiencing ourselves. The Enneagram model in general, and the insight into our personality type in particular, provide a framework for our discoveries — but the discoveries themselves need to spring out of experience, not intellect.
Hoarding and hovering
Yet, groups discussing and promoting various “extra features” of the Enneagram are nineteen to the dozen, while groups exchanging experiences, growth issues and actual inner work material are few and far between. It’s like that old cartoon, depicting a fork in the road with signposts pointing towards “God” (leading onto an overgrown, rarely trodden path) and “Discussions about God” (leading onto a virtual motorway, highly frequented and well maintained). The ego loves defining itself, talking about itself, reflecting on itself and having its theories, affiliations and reflections endlessly validated (or questioned, so it can defend them). And, of course it does. Staying in the discussions and the theories and the opinions means, after all, that we don’t need to experience ourselves too deeply or with any awareness to speak of, and as long as we don’t do that, our habitual self-image is safe.
When I was scouting for a term for this keeping-inner-work-at-bay-while-still-engaging-with-the-material, the term “growth hovering” came to me. It feels like that’s what we’re doing: we’re never quite settling down to experience anything deeply, to allow ourselves to be personally affected by it. Instead, we prefer to hover, staying with the helicopter perspective where we ourselves don’t actively engage in any real-time presence, any hands-on experiencing. We hover, and we hoard yet more information, yet more detailed maps of the territory that we claim to want to explore. It seems, though, we prefer to explore it in theory (which is an oxymoron, btw 😉).
But what about all these lovely tweaks, then 😨?
So what about all these extra-features of the core personality type — wings, arrow points, tritype points and so on and so forth? Are they false? No, they are not. In some cases, e g with wings and arrow points, their main purpose is to describe a type correctly. It does not mean they will always describe everyone of that type, though. (I wrote about this in another article: Confusing people with types — why “Enneagram theory” doesn’t always match you.) In other cases, e g with “tritype” and “counter-types”, they serve to explain why someone of a certain type might not look like that type at first, and might not recognise themselves entirely in the description. None of these descriptions and clarifications are necessarily wrong or incorrect, when it comes to describing type or outlining someone’s specific personality profile. But again, the descriptions and outlines don’t constitute inner work, any more than a description of a field and an analysis of earth samples constitute farming of the land.
So, all these tweaks might be all kinds of interesting, theoretically correct and possibly illuminating on an intellectual level. Enjoy. But if we keep investing in them as escape routes from our core type once they’ve done their job and provided the explanations and clarifications, they mostly serve to derail our inner work. What we need is not a more detailed description of ourselves; a neat line-up of all the reasons I’m not always a textbook Eight every hour of every day — “Oh, look, I’d better work on my Two/Three/Six habits!” Because the point of personality types and their descriptions clearly isn’t that every individual of the same type is identical. It is that there are identical elements between them, and those elements are the interesting part. However, the ego loves detailing the definitions, and prefers to stay in that detailing and refining “work” than look at our basic issues. In short, it prefers to hover.
Reminding ourselves to slow down, touch down and look within
While there are obviously a lot of ways one could divide types of inner work, for our purposes here, I’d say this work has two main formats: Spontaneous work prompted by life, and a more formal practice done more or less regularly.
Spontaneous work prompted by life
When we begin working on ourselves, it’s soon clear to us that any normal day usually offers plenty of opportunities for us to observe, explore and sit with reactions, behaviours, patterns et cetera. When we can find the time in between our daily chores, it’s hugely beneficial to use these as fuel for our inner work. We get to see, in real-time or in retrospect, our own, three-dimensional version of traits, behaviours and motivations we might have read about. We get to experience it first-hand — both the issues (that perhaps looked pretty straight-forward on paper) and, in time, the dissolving of them (which is a totally different thing from reading about them!).
At first, we might do more of this work after the fact. Perhaps we experience something at work, and there’s not really time to sit and explore our feelings. But later, when we have some time that same evening, we might go back to the situation and experience the feelings and reactions again. To the extent we can actually access them going back, it’s fine to work on them belatedly, too. This way, we even get the added bonus of being able to press pause, rewind, try different approaches, experiment with various perspectives. That’s precious — and it can actually be quite entertaining!
A more formal, regular (or not) practice
Another format for inner work is of course whatever exercises, practices and habits we choose to implement. Perhaps we have a morning meditation routine, perhaps we follow different online or irl courses, and perhaps we do programmes or exercises that we find in books (or we might mix and match from these or other options). The point is, we initiate the work “from nothing” — it’s not that live necessarily just served us with a situation or reaction that we want to explore, but we choose to sit down and just start.
Here, the “what types of exercises to choose” gets interesting. Since we’re not grabbing anything particular out of our actual experience as our starting point, but rather just follow an exercise and see where that takes us, we get to choose what “type” exercises we do. And this is where we can happily fool ourselves to walk in circles (while thinking we are doing deep and productive work) by working on issues that are, in fact, not the most relevant spokes in our wheels.
Say I am an Nine, but I want to work on my experience of Six within — a point that is, after all, the designated “stress point” (or one of the arrows) of point Nine, and one that I might frequently experience myself visiting when things get too overwhelming. That seems reasonable, right? Well. Since I am in fact not a Six, but a Nine (and no, we are not our types any more than we are our genders, but it’s a convenient way to put it), one of two things is likely to happen: Either I start out doing whatever’s prescribed for the Six and quickly end up in more familiar Nine waters, or I handle the exercise and exploring of the issues with brilliance and feel good about myself for having taken such a major step. If it’s the former, no problem (and of course it’s fine to do whatever type’s typical exercises and use them as a portal to whatever I need discovering). However, if it’s the latter, I might just as well have spent the time defending my core type structure as the right thing to do. Point being, it doesn’t really help me a lot.
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The thing is, whether I’m a very Fivish Seven, or an Eight with strong Two, or such-and-such and-such a tritype, or have this or that wing, it’s all me. And my work starts, and ends, with myself. If what I do brings me closer to that and helps me deal with my real stumbling blocks, great. If not, as far as inner growth is concerned, not so great. And again, it’s not that these different maps, or suggestions of extra features to our basic types, can’t make sense. They can. But “working on” these things is almost always a workaround, a way for our habitual, fixated state of shunning that which we really need to face.
But what about my non-type-typical bs?
Understandably, people get confused. “But surely, I need to work on all the neurotic/silly/destructive/annoying things I do, even though they are not technically of my core type?” But well, there’s a kind of magic in this work that I think many people miss, getting lost in the tweaks: When I work on me, on the issues of my basic type — then other, extra-features-related stuff tends to soften, too. As an Eight, I don’t really have to work on “my Two”, or “my Five”. I do Twoish things sometimes, yes. And I do Fivish things. But I do them for Eightish reasons. And, as we keep emphasising, the reasons (i e, motivations) are the main point, not so much their expression. So when I work on “me” — when I explore whatever it is that I do — the rest tends to fall into place ❤️
And. Having said all this about how we “