By Mollie Talbot
My husband and I will celebrate four years clean/sober on March 10th. My journey to and from that date has taught me more about God, life, love, and grace than I ever dreamed. But even more, is what facing rock bottom taught me about my identity. One of the life-rafts I was thrown in early sobriety was a tool called the Enneagram (any-uh-gram). My friend suggested it as a means of helping me find the voice God set within me before I began silencing it with vodka and pills. The Enneagram provided language to explain not only my behaviors but the motivations beneath them. Knowing this helped me work toward health and growth while beginning to embrace the pieces of myself I’d pushed away for being different. I began to recognize that "different" is exactly where God wants each of us because our different pieces fit together to make the body of Christ.
A brief background: The Enneagram is a few-thousand-year-old tool used for personality typing that sees us as nine interlocking types. A great description for those who feel this is too confining is to think of it more as nine different colors. There are countless shades of each and thus, room for growth.
Disclaimer: I never got caught up in fear of whether or not it was “evil” or had roots in mysticism and here are the reasons why:
1. I have confidence in the Holy Spirit’s guidance and discernment,
2. Nowhere in my studies has anything conflicted with the Word of God, and
3. I recognize that the more I learn of myself and others, the more I learn about my Father. After all, we are His image-bearers, created uniquely to fulfill a purpose He set out for us. To me, the Enneagram supports this truth.
Here’s a rundown of the 9 Enneagram types attached to the different aspects of God’s character that they each display.
1 “The Reformer” -- the goodness and rightness of God
2 “The Helper” -- God’s love and care
3 “The Achiever” -- God’s hope and radiance
4 “The Individualist” -- God’s creativity and depth
5 “The Investigator” -- God’s wisdom and truth
6 “The Loyalist” -- God’s faithfulness and courage
7 “The Enthusiast” -- God’s joy and abundance
8 “The Challenger” -- God’s power and protection
9 “The Peacemaker” -- God’s peace and oneness
This is not an introduction to the Enneagram or a how-to piece on discovering your type. As I said, you can resort to Google for further exploration if you wish. Instead, I want to use this opportunity to provide a few examples of how the Enneagram has helped me work toward health as a mother, wife, and friend. We can agree that as long as we’re on this side of Heaven we’ll continue to grow and change. The Enneagram teaches that working toward self-awareness while developing empathy for our differences can help us achieve harmony. I write this because, in addition to harmony, I’ve found confidence in the role God created me to fill.
The Enneagram and Parenting
As a parent, the Enneagram helps me identify patterns in my boys while providing a possible “why” behind their behaviors. Practically, this allows me to step into their perspective in order to communicate more effectively. For instance, my step-son Brady is the most helpful and peace-seeking pre-teen I’ve ever met (thank you, JESUS!). While we’re grateful, if we continuously praised these characteristics he might perceive his value limited to the times when he’s self-effacing, out of the way, agreeable, or serving others. So, instead of the blanket praise for these amazing traits, we empower the opposites. We have to remind Brady that while we appreciate his help, it’s not his job to parent his brother--that he gets to be a kid too. Then, because of his tendency to merge with whatever is going on in order to remain agreeable, we give him control. “What would YOU like to do tonight?” “How do YOU think we could be doing this better?”
Another crucial step we’ve taken is in empowering his feelings. Not just identifying them, but expressing them. That right or wrong, he’s safe with us and so is his feelings. Brady needs to remember that who he is on his own (i.e. his needs, feelings, desires, and dreams) has a place within the Kingdom that no one else will fill in the way he’s meant to and that he is a helper and peacekeeper by simply being himself.
If you have some Ennea-knowledge you can see that we’ve trended tendencies of the 2, helper and the 9, peacekeeper. This doesn’t mean that he’s a 9 or 2. He’s 12 and has plenty of changing to do but because of our awareness of the types, we’re getting a jump on helping him round them out. If he’s 15 and struggling with self-absorption, isolation, reality-escaping, and frequent emotional outbursts, we’ll love him best by empowering the awareness that he’s not an island. That his thoughts, feelings, and self-awareness are made even more valuable by the knowledge that they belong to a greater whole. (At this point Ennea-friends, he might be showing tendencies of the 4 and 5).
My toddler, on the other hand, is currently a tornado of the 7’s joy and experience-seeking mixed with the independence and stubbornness of the 8. I frequently ask for his help to show him that it’s okay to ask for mine. I explain that I NEED his help with the laundry or dishes because he’s strong and brave and can do hard things… and then I melt when I watch his fulfillment come with such joy that he holds me which is unlike him, or when he runs to climb the couch and jump off of it, which is very much like him. Disciplining him needs to be the removal of the “fun” aka timeout. I try to encourage him to express his feelings when he’s upset, with WORDS and then when he throws things, we remove the fun until he can calm down. Timeout doesn’t work with a withdrawn child. I personally LOVED it growing up. ;)
Enneagram in Your Friendships
You can see how a basic awareness of the 9 types helps you communicate more effectively with people who don’t (and aren’t supposed to) see things as you do. Additionally, when it comes to our own inner-frustration, mounting resentment, or anger that we feel when our husband or friend lets us down, it provides the reminder to step out of ourselves. To remember to take a deep breath and think. What else do I know about this person? What are they showing when they know you’re going through a lot but keep personalizing your distance as something wrong in your friendship? What seems to be some other big stressors in their lives? How can you meet them in the fear they’re experiencing while still respecting your boundaries?
Or on the flip side--when you see a friend who is withdrawn and struggling, try to touch base and show love in a way that feels out HER needs rather than what YOU would want if you were struggling and withdrawn? The Enneagram helps us give other people room to see and do things differently than we do.
The Enneagram in Marriage
My marriage is the most beautiful place I’ve seen the Enneagram show up and bring with it the gift of grace for us to sit in, unwrap, and laugh when the realizations fell into place. My husband and I are a hilarious combination of seemingly opposite types. It has helped us identify the differences that we can better respect in one another while showing us there are certain things that actually unite us more than we realize. I am an introverted 5; a withdrawn, energy-conscious, cerebral, innovator-type who leans into the logic behind my feelings to come out on the other side with a lesson to teach. Kyle is an extroverted 7; he is joy incarnate. A perpetually-moving collector of happiness, goodness, experiences, and accomplishments who kicks anything that hurts pretty far under the bed.
I’m grateful that we discovered the Enneagram early because a combination of these two types without understanding or valuing the other person’s type could’ve been disastrous. Of course, we still bump heads but we remember on the recoil “Ohh Mollie, I shouldn’t have sprung that on you; I forgot you need time to process” or “I’m sorry Kyle, I didn’t mean to accuse you of not caring; it’s just that when I talk about feelings, I want your support even if you can’t relate.” What was great was discovering that 5s and 7s both spend a lot of time in their heads. 7’s thinking about what they could do or should do next and 5’s thinking about… well, everything. With this knowledge, we’ve been able to grow together while we work on being more present for our own self-health and for our family.
There’s power in recognizing that our unique gifts would be without purpose if it weren’t for the different and complimentary gifts of others. 1 Corinthians 12:12 says:
The Enneagram has been a practical tool for helping me appreciate this verse in a whole new way. My hope is that you feel nudged to dig a little deeper today. If it’s not into the Enneagram then dig deeper into what makes you, you. I believe that being created in God’s image means that by exploring ourselves further, we’ll not only find more love for the differences we see in others but fall more deeply in love with the diverse and majestic characteristics of our Creator.