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4 telltale signs that someone is probably not truly engaged in real development work

Over the last 20+ years of learning and teaching the Enneagram in organizations, conferences, and my intensive public certification programs, I’ve noticed patterns that indicate (at least to me) when someone knows the Enneagram but is not really engaged in their own development work. It’s always a choice; to develop or to not develop!

But here are my thoughts on areas to watch for in oneself or others, be they friends, program participants, or even family members.

Using their type to justify their own (not-so-great) behavior
I do this because I’m a _____.
____’s like me always do that.
It’s part of my nature to just do that!
That’s something I’ll never be able to change!
Oh, I’m just a ____.

Statements like these suggest the person knows something about his or her type, but isn’t really doing much development about the growth paths that are possible. And the belief systems, as well as the defense mechanisms, hold this lack of movement in place. As one of my clients always tells his staff, “Don’t let your type be an excuse for poor behavior or lack of growth that would serve you well!”

Describing their development path but demonstrating behavior that suggests they are not following it
I sometimes meet people, either at Enneagram conferences or as participants in my certification programs, who say they are working on their development and can articulate the “whats and the hows” of this, yet their behavior suggests either the development work they are doing isn’t working effectively for them or where they started was so low self-mastery that progress has been made, but there is still tremendous movement needed. I suspect it is the former because the people I am thinking about are reasonably self-mastering – that is, likely at least moderate or even high-moderate – and have been working with the Enneagram for many years, as little as three and some for decades.

These people are really more the exception than the rule, but I work very hard to make sure my behavior doesn’t reflect low growth and, should I have a lower way of responding, I notice this and do more self-work! Discrepancies such as these are the best reminders to stay awake and develop.

Having their type wrong (most probably) and refusing to examine other possibilities
Some people in the Enneagram at large – this includes people who teach the Enneagram as well as people newer to the system – have misidentified their own type and seem unwilling to consider other possibilities. I observe this most often by a highly defensive reaction on their part, even anger at the suggestion that they may not be the type they claim or a suggestion by an Enneagram teacher to explore the possibility of another type.

Here are some examples (names not included, for obvious reasons):
Example 1: a man in his early 40s who has been studying the Enneagram for many years who is sure he is a Five, but nothing in his thinking, feeling or behaving suggests this except one factor. When he was younger and in his family system, where everyone was quite boisterous, he was extremely quiet. In fact, he hardly said a word. Now, however, he talks all the time, is often the first to speak in groups, is highly forthright in his opinions, and appears to be very much in his body. So except for early quietness and a love of learning (which can go with almost any type), he appears to be a social subtype One or possibly a self-preservation subtype Three. But, Five he will remain, and of course, I (and others who experienced him for six days and some for longer periods of time, all of whom did not experience him in any way as a Five), could be all wrong about this.

Example 2: a woman in her late 50s who is absolutely charming, vibrant, entirely engaged, focused, talented (and lets us know this about her), argumentative at times with a smile on her face, and is sure she is a social subtype Nine. Nothing about her seems like a Nine of any subtype except that she really doesn’t like conflict, although she does create it at times. Nines rarely create conflict, and it takes a lot to know they are in the room because they keep themselves less full than they actually are. This woman takes over a room when she enters it, gets to know each person personally, and has a mega-watt smile, almost always.

At one point, I did a one-on-one typing interview with her, and she appeared to be either a one-to-one Three or a one-to-one Two, but which was unclear. Nine did not emerge as a viable type for her. Still, a few months later, she returned to say that her “original” Enneagram teacher was absolutely sure she was a social Nine, so that was it! And whenever I suggested even possibly exploring other types (I never said she was not a Nine, absolute or otherwise), she got angry, even furious, and in public. Not so much Nine there, I still think. And, I could be wrong!

Taking a “spiritual bypass”
This is a really subtle and not-so-subtle issue. Because the Enneagram is spiritual (as well as psychological) and engaging of the spiritual aspects of the Enneagram can make us feel much better, it is too easy to confuse psychological development with spiritual advancement. In addition, the spiritual work can give us a nice high or good feeling without the pain or discomfort involved in psychological work. Ultimately, the two are intertwined; spiritual growth and psychological growth support, reinforce, and accelerate each other. But it is a sad loss when people take a spiritual bypass, just as it is sad when people do not use their psychological growth to develop spiritually.

Here are some warning signs of “spiritual bypass:”
Thinking you have done all your work, so the road of growth is really easy
Referring to yourself (even in your mind) as a “master”
Perceiving your students (I use participants) as your followers
Using the hypnotic guru voice when you speak

To further explain “spiritual bypass,” please read the excerpt below from Psychology Today:

Excerpt from article “Beware of Spiritual Bypass” by Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D. published in Psychology Today (October 2, 2011):

“Over the years, I’ve become fascinated with the ways in which we try to feel endlessly good. We’ve gotten progressively more skillful in our methods: turning away from drugs or alcohol to alter our consciousness and turning towards things like self-help books, meditation, yoga, prayer, and special diets. In some ways, we are now spiritually distracting ourselves from our feelings, thinking that we are walking a healthy spiritual path.

This experience is called spiritual bypass. Spiritual bypass is a defense mechanism. Although the defense looks a lot prettier than other defenses, it serves the same purpose. Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it.

We need to remember that spiritual practice and emotional growth are not about achieving a particular quality of feeling (“good”). Being a human being on a spiritual journey isn’t about getting cash and prizes all the time, it is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like. What are you experiencing right now? And how about now? Can you be present to all of your feelings without any one of them defining you?”

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