You are Not Your Number

Interest in the Enneagram appears to be growing and more people are asking, “What’s my number?” What does it mean to ask this question? What are we asking when we inquire about our Enneagram number? Generally we approach questions about our personality type in the spirit of, “Who am I really… in the deepest sense? What behavior patterns are hiding in plain sight?” While some bristle against being “put in a box,” many find personality schematics interesting, surprising and fun to uncover new patterns in the way we relate to the world. While the Enneagram allows us to feel known and understood, it does not place us in a box, nor does it illuminate our true selves. As my mentor, Suzanne Stabile, says, “The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. It shows you the box you are in.” And to those would say that the Enneagram is revealing their deepest self, The Enneagram is not telling you who you truly are, but who you are pretending to be because you have forgotten who you truly are.  


The key to the Enneagram’s power is illustrated in the story of a great dragon that guarded a cave full of treasure. Many strong warriors entered the cave and fought the dragon, seeking to win great rewards, but none were successful. One day, a young warrior calmly entered the cave, approached the dragon, and leaned close to the beast’s ear and whispered something. The creature stepped aside and the warrior emerged from the cave with an armful of treasure. The other warriors approached him and demanded to know how he had defeated the dragon. The young warrior replied, “Only he who knows the dragons name can tame the beast.”[1]This is how the Enneagram works. It names the compulsions of your personality, and when you name this beast it will step aside.  


Once we find and name our personality type, and therefore uncover some of these patterns, where do we go from there? Personality schematics may lead us to a place where we know a bit more about ourselves; if we find a use for the information at all we employ it to explain and justify our behavior to others. We say things like, “I do it this way because I am an INFJ,” and with this statement the schematics purpose is fulfilled. Most schematics do not offer a call to transformation. On the contrary, there is often a sense that our personality type means we are special people and this typology justifies our special way of being in the world.  


When we approach the Enneagram in the spirit of “this is who I truly am,” we miss the fundamental point of the Enneagram. This ancient spiritual tool may uncover patterns that feel like its peering into your soul and uncovering your deepest, truest self, but in reality the Enneagram is uncovering who you are pretending to be because you have forgotten who you truly are—God’s beloved child. Enneagram Twos help others so that they will feel loved because they have forgotten that God loves them. Sixes habitually prepare for the worst because they have forgotten that a loving God will take care of them. Nines try to control their world to protect themselves and maximize serenity because they have forgotten that the loving God gives peace that surpasses all understanding. I could go on, but the point is this—you are not your number. We are all parading as truncated, caricatured versions of ourselves because we have lost the connection to our true self, hidden in Christ. 


What does this mean practically for those looking to find their number? First, you can take any of the Enneagram assessments out there, but understand that they are misleading if you assume that a mere test can reveal your true self. Tests are generally not framed within the context of a tool to tell you who you are not.The danger of tests is that they participate in a culture that tells us that personality schematics are simple and fun, when in reality the Enneagram is complicated and difficult. The Enneagram, properly understood, calls us to a kind of spiritual/emotional surgery. It is invasive and painful, so that it can ultimately provide healing and breathe life into your world.  


Secondly, personality tests rob you of the journey and the process of self-discovery.[2]Tests should be understood as pointing you in the general direction of some possible Enneagram types. We cannot rush the spiritual journey. It does not matter if it takes you years to find your type or if you find it immediately because the Enneagram’s power resides in its ability to develop self-awareness throughout and after the number discernment process. In other words, the Enneagram reveals your false-self when you engage in a personal quest of self-discovery that extends far beyond casually perusing test results. A test can undoubtedly be a tool to deeper spiritual work, but it must be interpreted and transcended within a spiritual community. Furthermore, the more subtle nuances of this spiritual work should be curated by am Enneagram teacher who is knowledgeable, care, and respects the seriousness of this spiritual work.   

 

Some find their type right away and then they must go on to learn the myriad of ways that the compulsive behavior and silent motivations run through their lives. Others search for a long time before they find their type. Either process requires the essential self-examination process that leads us to name our false self. Like the dragon in the cave, this process of naming your personality will allow the false-self to step aside. Setting aside one’s personality does not mean that we walk around like drones in a robot movie. Rather, it means that we are no longer slaves to the compulsions of the layers of personality we have built up over the years, but are free to act with awareness and intentionality.  


I have found that the process of discerning your Enneagram type is best undertaken through oral communication. For some reason those who hear their Enneagram number grasp the brokenness in a way that is deeper than those who read about their number. Those who have engaged the Enneagram only by taking tests or reading typologies seem, at best, to understand their number at a conceptual level; they seldom internalize the information and observe themselves, or grieve their number. This is why there are no “find your number” resources on this blog. I hope that this blog will help those who know their number to plunge into the depths of the Enneagram and use the tool not as justification of one’s behaviors, but as a means of transformation. For those looking to discover their Enneagram number I welcome you to contact me hereto schedule a Know Your Number Workshop.


As you continue in your journey of self-discovery, I hope you appreciate the Enneagram as a deceptively complex and deeply critical tool. Any test or instructive material that leads you to believe that the Enneagram is telling you who you truly are is like a china cabinet that was given by a son to his parents. The son loved his parents dearly and sent them a cabinet, but he lived far away and couldn’t visit often. On one of his rare visits he asked his parents, “why aren’t you using the radio so we can talk?” “What radio?” they responded. The son stood up, and went to the cabinet. Took out the plates and cups and opened up a second door revealing a ham radio. China cabinets are great, but don’t let a ham radio go to waste when it can connect you to your loved ones.[3]Schematics that merely describe the personality can be helpful, but don’t confuse them for the transformational tool that is the Enneagram. It can help you connect to yourself, your loved ones, and the Loving One.      

 


[1]This story has been borrowed from the good people at clam.com and re-appropriated.

[2]I use the term “self-discovery” here and will continue to use this kind of language in this post and elsewhere on this blog, but I am always talking about uncovering a false self rather than finding your true self. 

[3]This story was borrowed from Cynthia Bourgeault’s The HolyTrinity and the Law of Threeand re-appropriated.