When it comes to typology many of us know the Myers Briggs. From career counseling to high school psych class to social media memes to online dating questionnaires, the MBTI reigns supreme. For hardcore personality junkies, one of those roads may have led to the lesser-known enneagram.
Serving as a nice complement to the Myers Briggs, it’s especially useful for those seeking growth from a more personal and psychological, as opposed to a professional or relationship, standpoint. The enneagram with it’s depths into motivations, including those on a subconscious level, provides just the tool.
For example, various stages of healthiness are classified and ascribed to each personality type. Here’s what the Enneagram Institute has to say about the eight’s levels:
For someone struggling or seeing their partner, friend or family member go through a tough time, there’s no doubt these charts can be a helpful resource. There’s relief in knowing at least an abstract sense of a path forward unique to one’s personality type. Identifying the worst case scenario can also ease the fear-of-the-unknown factor.
Overall, these charts are hugely beneficial and instrumental in providing a needed framework for exercising understanding and compassion. It gives us the language and emotional tools to realize we all have potential to grow and disintegrate.
In my countless hours spent reading about my own type, talking type with friends and generally browsing through forums online (yes, I include myself the aforementioned personality junky category), I’ve noticed there are a few ways the enneagram can actually hinder the compassion it seeks to facilitate. Like anything good, there’s always a way to mis-use and abuse.
Here are a few to enneagram abuses to consider:
1. Are you excusing your own unhealthy behavior?
The unhealthy levels of each type are not a hall pass to act destructively. Neither are they the reason for unhealthy behavior.
2. Are you putting up with abuse, mis-identifying it as type?
Similar to the above, it’s tempting to view a friend, family member or partner’s abuse as inherent to their type and therefore justifiable. The enneagram has helped you understand their core motivations and fears, making it easier to rationalize and excuse abuse.
As I’m trying to support a friend who is in an abusive marriage, I’m seeing her use the enneagram to justify staying with her husband. “The controlling is just what his type does in an unhealthy state,” she says. The follow-up is “it’s something I can deal with because the enneagram is helping me understand what drives these behaviors.” The implication is that because the enneagram illustrates a solution, through the path to each type’s integration (highest state of health), the problem, the abuse, becomes more bearable.
3. Are you pushing the enneagram as “self”-help on someone else?
I’m not saying spreading the word about the enneagram is a bad thing. I definitely advocate for it generally and believe the world would be a better place if more people used it as a self-help tool. The key is using the enneagram for self-improvement must stem from one’s own desire.
Those tending toward co-dependency, in their overzealous and unhealthy desire to help, may run the risk of becoming unwanted enneagram missionaries.
Overall, when used wisely, self-help literature and typology are amazingly powerful tools. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, so use the enneagram responsibly. Another way of looking at this is to use the enneagram by balancing self-compassion with compassion toward others.