Who in the World Am I? (Dating the Enneagram)

Following the writings of the prophet Jeremiah has been a challenge this year. So far, it’s been seventeen chapters of lament tempered by steadfast faith — along with words of judgment interspersed with glorious promises of restoration. It shouldn’t have surprised me then when Jeremiah 17 took a sharp curve in the road at verse nine:The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

Who indeed, for we are many things in addition to being “deceitful,” and our inability to know ourselves fully becomes readily apparent when we take it upon ourselves to know someone else in a meaningful way. Alice Fryling offers insights on how knowledge of the Enneagram can help us in sifting the motives of our hearts by understanding our own unique temperament — and maybe that of our loved ones as well.

Mirror for the Soul invites believers to connect the dots between self knowledge and the grace of God, for as we embrace our Enneagram number, we learn that we are more than just a package of gifts and failures.  Alice shares her own self-discovery in this way:

“I am a person created by God, loved by God, and uniquely gifted to love others with God’s merciful and gracious love.”

Often what we lack in our efforts to change and grow is a language of transformation. Alice found this in her study of the Enneagram and holds it up to readers as a mirror to provide a clear view of ourselves, and as a corrective to the “puzzling reflection we have of our own lives.”

The Enneagram has hazy historical origins, but, then, so does the wheel. In the 1970s, Richard Rohr brought its teaching to laypeople, and since then, numerous authors have made it accessible as an aid to the Christian’s spiritual journey.

In my reading about the Enneagram, I’ve been eager to find a parking space that fits me so I could begin to understand my gifts and the reasons I get sidetracked. Mirror for the Soul has given me a different goal for this personality inventory. Why not slow down and live in a space, trying it on to see if it describes me? Then look at another one that might be a closer fit? Alice calls this “dating the Enneagram,” and recommends a meandering process of self-discovery, noticing what happens when you are under stress, and using the process to learn about yourself.

Nine Spaces and Nine Unique Perspectives

The diagram shows that each of the nine spaces has three components:

  1. A main attribute
  2. A compulsion of “the false self” whose agenda is to look good and to pretend
  3. A “grace given to that person as an invitation to return to the true self.”

I’ll clarify this using the Three as an example, because I think that’s my space: The main attribute of the Three is Effectiveness:  I like to get things done. Ugly Deceit rears its head when I need to hide behind “success” in order not to be known as a failure. However, the path back to health is Truth: truth about myself, and Truth from God (in large doses, everyday).

The gift of the Enneagram is that there is no “right” space. The Two with their gift for loving is no more beloved than the Eight with their gift for power. Each space is vulnerable to hiding, but in different ways, and God invites each of the nine types to receive grace in order to become their true self.

Trying On the Triads

Alice Fryling’s approach to self-discovery within the Enneagram focuses first on the Triads or groupings of the nine spaces:

  • The heart triad (2,3,4) lives life based on feeling.
  • The head triad (5,6,7) lives life based on thinking.
  • The gut triad (8,9,1) responds to life with their gut instinct.

It was this recommendation that sent me into “dating mode” with the Ennegram, because, although many of the traits of Three-ness line up with my tendencies, I typically function from the head rather than the heart. My love of books and knowledge lead me to wonder if I’m a five. I’m taking the author’s advice and looking at my motivations, life perspective, and instinctive responses to get closer to the bottom of this mystery.

Looking in the Mirror

For those who are on a quest for the transformation that comes with self-knowledge, Mirror for the Soul offers a number of practical principles and cautions:

Look to your weaknesses and motivations rather than behavior. Beware of your blind spots.

Since “the Enneagram is not in the business of giving out compliments,” (49) it is helpful to ponder the problems that come along with our gifts rather than focusing only on our gifting.

Spend some time attempting to understand the Wings and the Arrows.

Referring to the chart above, our Wings are the spaces on either side of us and influence  each of us differently and to different degrees.  For example, my bent toward quirky has led me to think that whether I’m a 3 or a 5, my wing is likely a 4.

Referring again to the chart, the Arrows pointing away from a number indicate where we tend to go in stress. Those pointing toward the number describe “how we are living when we are in a healthy place in our lives.” (109) With this in mind, it becomes clear that spaces in the Enneagram are not rigid boxes, which accounts for the uniqueness we see even among people who may share the same type. Alice speaks of being “at home” (107) in a space, and the more we understand ourselves and the Enneagram, the more likely this is to occur.

The So-What Factor

For the believer, greater self-awareness is not a narcissistic rabbit trail, but, rather, it leads to a greater capacity for loving relationships with others and deeper worship of God. The Enneagram invites us to wonder about addictive behaviors that keep sending us back to the same broken cisterns for satisfaction. It reveals suffering as a means to growth and transformation.

As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, and then ponder what we find in the mirror of the Enneagram, it would be tempting to despair, for we all have work to do. However, “the truth is that God is always waiting to be gracious to us and always ready to extend mercy.” This is good news as we boldly persevere in asking, “Who in the world am I?” and then live our way into our own unique journey of discovery in which we confront our sadness and frustration alongside our unique gifting and strengths and learn that the reflection gazing back at us belongs to a face that is deeply loved.

//

This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

Alice Fryling is a spiritual director whose website joyfully announces this stunning truth:

“We are mirrors whose brightness is wholly delivered from the sun that shines upon us.”     ~C.S. Lewis

Her site offers more information about her work with the Enneagram as well as engaging with Scripture.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

55 thoughts on “Who in the World Am I? (Dating the Enneagram)”

  1. Your review is fascinating, the book sounds incredibly thought-provoking, Michele. Your final ‘so what?’ reads like a compelling invitation, especially examining this whole concept within a biblical framework.

    Definitely will consider this in the new year.

    New year? Oh, not yet!!

    😉

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  2. Hi Michele, I so look forward to reading your reviews! I am reading this book, actually this is my second reading.There is so much to learn about ourselves! This book ties in with another book I read, The Gift of Being Youself by David Benner. Thank you, again

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    1. Definitely a book that’s worth a second read. I’ve been back to it again just since writing my review because I’m puzzling over my husband’s space on the Enneagram. And I haven’t even started on my kids yet . . .

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  3. I’m happy to learn about a new book on the Enneagram! I’ve been reading over my notes just this morning from The Sacred Enneagram. I hope to write a review soon about it, but it’s difficult to compile so much information into one post. (I’m fairly certain I’m a five. ha). Thanks for sharing this, Michele. I’ve sent the sample to my Kindle already. 🙂

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    1. I’ve been surprised at how different authors can make the same information have a different feel because of their approach. Cron and Stabile’s book came across really as an overview and was so helpful. Anne Bogel’s treatment was a couple of chapters so it was an intro. This book by Alice Fryling reveals her roots as a spiritual director.

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  4. I could see how this would be a helpful self- discovery tool. I think while everyone can identify with each of the personalities depending on the time and circumstances it’s a great reminder to think about what prompted that particular response and feeling.

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      1. I was thinking that too as I briefly read through them; it would be hard to figure out which are my main tendencies. Thanks for sharing with us at Love To Learn.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is so enlightening to me since I’ve heard of the Enneagram but never read anything about it before! Interesting. Maybe I will look into it more, and I imagine there’s a test to take.

    I love this quote, ““I am a person created by God, loved by God, and uniquely gifted to love others with God’s merciful and gracious love.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there are online tests, but I’m hearing that the best way to really live your way into a right understanding of your number is to read about all nine types and then to think and pray about it. (You can also read descriptions on line!)

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  6. Does this book reference the work of Ian Cron in The Road Back to You? I am trying to wrap my head around the enneagram and have read just a little bit of Ian Cron’s book.

    I like the knowing about the Triads. I am such a feeler and move out from my emotions. I ahve several thoughts as to what I am but know I need to date the enneagram longer to get a better picture.

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    1. No, Alice references the work of Richard Rohr and some of the more foundational writers and thinkers (as Ian and Suzanne have). I get the impression that Alice has been working with the enneagram for a long time and is now writing a book because those of us for whom it is new are now interested in it.
      I think you’re wise to sit with your decision for a while. I’m still indecisive too.

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  7. Michele, this is absolutely fascinating! I’ve heard of Enneagrams, but I’ve not done any research on them. It’s interesting to try and determine where I am in the numbers. I think I know. thanks for sharing about this book. I need to add it to my TBR list. 🙂

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  8. Michele,
    Hmmm….very interesting! Hadn’t heard of this before. I like the idea of dating our potential dominant trait…trying it on for size. I think I tend to be a helper and I can see where pride would be my Achilles heel. Though I never thought of myself as a prideful person per se, but pride can truly be a stumbling block when we get the misguided notion that we are somehow in control in our helping. Good food for thought to chew on. The best news is that God loves all the personalities with their good, bad, and ugly included.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  9. Shared this with a friend who adores the enneagram. Hoping to open up some head space to dig into this for the new year… It fits with an upcoming series I have planned. Thanks for sharing! Blessings!

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  10. Michele, this is very interesting to me. I have never heard of this before. Wondering where I am on this chart… Thanks for sharing!

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  11. I just read Lisa Burgess’ post on the Enneagram and am gaining some different insights from your post on this as well, Michele. I read another book on this and took the test, but can’t remember (since it’s been years) what my number was. All of this talk of how to apply and understand these tendencies better makes me want to dig that book out again! But I also love the way you’ve highlighted how there’s a blind area in our lives and personalities. That sounds intriguing, so I might have to check this particular book out further. Thanks, Michele!

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    1. Yes, I read Lisa’s post as well. We do seem to run along the same track pretty often, and I always appreciate her perspective. With your counseling background, I’m sure you’d bring some unique understanding to this inventory.

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  12. I’m always so intrigued by personality surveys, yet I find them overwhelming. It seems I can relate to every category! Not sure if that’s good or bad!

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  13. What good words of wisdom “For the believer, greater self-awareness is not a narcissistic rabbit trail, but, rather, it leads to a greater capacity for loving relationships with others and deeper worship of God.”
    I think perhaps Christian neglecting taking the time to understand themselves because they fear that it is narcissistic.

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    1. I’m sure you’re right in some cases. And there are also Christians who reject the Enneagram because of its roots in who-knows-what and then in Catholicism.
      All truth is God’s truth. I’m sure He delights in our ability to understand the way He made us.

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  14. Isn’t it interesting how we can find ourselves in many of the categories? I took two separate tests for it, and both came back a 2. And, the 2 seems to fit pretty well, when I study it. Have you listened to Annie Downs podcast on this? I’ll link it for you, in case you haven’t heard it. She has an expert on there, who goes through each number with details. Very interesting. 🙂 I’d not heard of this book before you mentioned it. Thanks for sharing, friend. xoxo — Oh, here’s the link: http://www.anniefdowns.com/2017/09/21/that-sounds-fun-episode-53-beth-mccord-the-enneagram/

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    1. Wow, thanks for sharing this link! I love to listen to info about the Enneagram. Have you heard Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s podcast called The Road Back to You (like their book)? I think it’s still available and they devote an entire show to each type. Well, your two-ness certainly comes out in your love for community over at your writing home.

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  15. I came across the Enneagram many years ago, before there were Christian approaches to the model. This is probably the third time I’ve seen it from a Christian perspective. I probably need to take a closer look at it. I like the idea of “dating” … getting to know it, instead of taking a test. Sounds interesting.

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    1. Well, that insight certainly made me breathe a sigh of relief. It frees me up to really examine how I react under stress and to think about tendencies over time. I hope you’ll get a chance to give it another look!

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  16. I thoroughly loved this. I wouldn’t mind pit stopping inside this book for a bit. I always “feel” (and use that word a lot) I am a mix breed of so many, and than dwell on it and get confused. This past year I have been letting go of trying so hard to find myself and really just learning to “go with it” to see (as you say, experiment in a way). It takes the pressure off and I see by visuals what did or didn’t work, and it helps point me in the direction that fits. Having said all that, I still think I am a combo lol. It is so interesting how God created us!

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    1. My guess is that the dissonance you are feeling with identifying a type is the pull of your wing (whatever it is!). I am finding that whatever number I think I am, I’m always horrified by the blatant identification of all my weaknesses and sin tendencies.
      Even so, it’s good to begin knowing ourselves, so we know better how to take grace.

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  17. Oh my Michele – I read Lisa’s post about the Ennegram personality/gift evaluation and was so intrigued. What a delight to see your amazing descriptions. My son loves personality tests and how they help us understand each other. I am forwarding this to him and will learn more about this. I can not figure out what I am – I will have to date it a bit!!! … and read the book! Thanks – great post!

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  18. I have taken so many different personality tests through my employer, but I have never heard of this one. Thank you for sharing with the Blogging Grandmothers. I will have to do more research. This is very interesting. I have shared on social media.

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