The degree and range of power those learning the Enneagram give teachers is astounding. It’s really more about the power of the Enneagram, what it enables us to do, and its complexity. They admire us for our knowledge, the self-work they think we’ve done; there is an aura around us, most of which is a projection, but that is part of the learning experience of those new to the Enneagram. In other words, many new learners need to hold Enneagram teachers in an elevated way as an aspiration for them. Maybe, one day, they might be there, too. Of course, most of this elevation is positive transference; hopefully, most developed Enneagram teachers understand this phenomenon.
But when it comes to typing, new (and even older learners) give their teachers even more power, too much so in many instances. The reason this comes to mind is that I’ve recently been encountering and engaging many people in my certification programs and corporate work who have known the Enneagram for many years. Their type, as they know it, is sometimes wrong, yet they’ve been describing themselves to themselves as this type, and it is often the result of an Enneagram teacher having told them their type. Subsequently, they have morphed into this type, although it has not been a perfect fit. And, at some level, they know this. And at another level, a teacher they respect has told them the answer, so they think it must be true.
To give a really good example, several weeks ago I met Peter, who had been told by the wife/partner of a very famous Enneagram teacher that he was an enneatype 3. No doubt in his mind and none in mine until I got to know him better. As I was teaching the 9 types to others newer to the Enneagram, every time I said something about type 3, Peter said, “I’m not like that.” Every time another 3 in the room said something about him- or herself, Peter would repeat, “That doesn’t really describe me.” He said he was a self-preserving 3, which is the countertype to 3 and so doesn’t appear quite as much a 3 as the other two subtypes, so I just thought, “It must be for this reason he doesn’t relate to 3 as much as I would expect.”
Eventually, however, I started to wonder about his type, particularly when he said, “I never work from goals and plans.” After asking him what he meant by goals, I was also sure he was not addicted to goals and plans and never had been. True, he seemed highly developed psychologically and spiritually. But, never a goal or a plan?
To be respectful of him as well as the Enneagram-savvy person who had told him he was a 3, I showed him and the group (of which he was one of the key leaders) a short video of a self-preserving 3 male, just like he thought he was. Peter laughed and said, “I am nothing like that.” Then I showed him a video of a type 7 female, and he couldn’t stop smiling. “Now that’s it!” he confirmed.
Once Peter recognized himself, he (and everyone around him) said type 7 made perfect sense. Charming, dashing, energetic and full of ideas, Peter could engage anyone and everyone around his vision and ideas. Execution, however, was another story.
As Peter settled into his being a type 7, he relaxed much more and actually felt liberated. He was who he was, not who he had been told he was, and now his development could accelerate in ways he could not have anticipated.
I think we need to be careful as we help people discover themselves because they may take us more seriously than we actually do. Do I want on my conscience that I have unintentionally led another human being, serious about his or her consciousness and development, along a path that didn’t belong to them? So I suggest (for myself and for others) both a lighter touch when we guide others, but also a clearer touch. Do we know what we don’t know? Let’s go learn it!