Sometimes, people say that they have to “access their Nine” (when perhaps they mean “chill”) or “awaken their One” (when perhaps they mean getting organised or doing whatever they do more meticulously). But we can all chill, and we can all be thorough. So when is it actually relevant to discuss “accessing” other types within, and when is it just short-code for bunches of traits?
One aspect of the “Zooming out” approach to the Enneagram that I like to advocate for is distinguishing between us behaving, reasoning or feeling like another type and us exhibiting aspects of the deeper core structures of that same type. For instance, if we “go to” our designated point of stress/disintegration, we tend to believe we are experiencing what that type is typically experiencing. But most often, we are not. Rather, we are borrowing an inner or outer dynamic from that type, while still functioning very much out of our own type’s core motivations and fears.
Why is this important? Well, as far as getting to know ourselves, it’s not, really. After all, inner work means working with whatever you find in the moment, whichever personality type it’s considered as belonging to. But as far as understanding the Enneagram and its types, it does make a difference. If you are a Nine “going to Six”, you might well have a strong inner Six and experience the core structures of point Six. But it might also be the case that you, still very much from a Nine core space, exhibit typical Six traits from a distinctly Ninish position. In case of the latter, if you believe you now understand the Six from within, you have limited your perspective on point Six and what it means to have that as your core personality structure.
Nowadays, there’s much talk about “inhabiting [or experiencing or allowing or developing] all the types”, and this is beautiful. We do have traits, abilities, challenges, possibilities and aspects of most, if not all, of the Enneagram points. But this is not the same as experiencing their innermost dilemmas, fears and/or psychological conditions. And if I assume it to be, I’m going to arrogantly assume I know what it means to live from all these different points — whereas, in reality, my understanding isn’t nearly as deeply anchored as I might think.
Surface similarities that only go skin deep
This doesn’t even have to be a wing point, or an arrow. For myself, when I look at, say, point Three (a point with which my core Eight has no visible connection on the Enneagram, but which I nonetheless often recognise traits from), I can check a number of things that I do, feel and think that seem distinctly “Threeish”. But when I look at the Three’s “why”, however, the likeness stops. My Eight ego doesn’t want to be the best to be validated or admired or have my worthiness confirmed — it wants to be the best so that I won’t be questioned. And when my ego “phones in its personality pattern” in a conversation with someone, instead of showing up fully and being emotionally accountable, it’s not so much to present a likeable image (which would be the Three motivation) but rather to make sure there’s no opening for the other getting close to me beyond what their intimacy paygrade allows for. And so on, and so forth. It looks, and feels, Threeish. If I were talking to a Three about these different behaviours, we could very well be in full agreement about what we do and how it feels. But in my case, the inner control central is still very much run by point Eight, and if we were to explore our deeper motivations, we’d find different fears and desires at the root of said behaviour.
Then, I might go to my Seven wing and look at the dynamics there. Here I might recognise, say, the tendency to acknowledge a feeling, identifying it and possibly seeing what it’s really about, only to have the ego go, “check!” and continue about its business, considering the matter handled. When I look at the deeper dynamics, this time I might realise that yes, it is the Seven dynamics I’m seeing: I just don’t want to go there in case I never find my way out. I need to keep swimming, lest I sink. In this case, it’s fair to say that there is a splash of Seven core dynamics to my Eight. If I go and look at the Nine, I do see patterns that I recognise there, too — but, as with the Three, not below the surface.
Enough respect to really listen …
I’m not saying this means we cannot understand types which we don’t share deep core structures with. We can. Increased self-knowledge, along with increased knowledge of all the types, makes that possible. But it gets much more possible if we realise we don’t necessarily understand deep Two dynamics just because we sometimes feel clingy, are people-oriented or want to help others out — even if it is to our detriment. We still need to look deeper — and also, likely, have a number of deeper conversations with some Twos 😉. When we respect others (including others of our own type, of course) enough to be willing to listen — rather than just assuming we already know all we need to know — true understanding can deepen and integrate.
… also makes room for really learning
Once we start understanding the types this way — from within, as it were — we can also begin to open up to their best features and capacities in ourselves. Inviting the capacities of type Two, Six or whichever type it might be, we open to these capacities within ourselves. We don’t need to try and mimic the Nine for inner peace, the Three for efficiency or the Two for actually caring about others; we can find these qualities within ourselves, as they are human qualities, not exclusive to any type. Mimicking something that I perceive as “not me” is hard work, and so is trying to be something I’m not. And that’s the beauty of it — it’s not that we “become” these types by truly understanding them, nor that we “go beyond” our own type. We only — but miraculously — grow, evolve and become more whole ❤️.
Members only Bonus
As members-only material (membership is free and you can register here), there is a type-centred reflection for each type, category Surface or core? You can contemplate the (totally arbitrarily selected) aspect of said type, explore to what extent you recognise it and to what extent you do also, in fact, recognise the core dynamics beneath the surface behaviour, reasoning or reactivity. There are no rights or wrongs. Reflections are very welcome (and please share your type if you comment).