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Enneagram Typing: Up Close and Personal


After writing about typing, mistyping, and stereotyping and asking Bea Chestnut to guest blog on the topic of Enneagram typing and the Enneagram subtypes, I decided to get up close and personal about why this topic matters so much to me.

There are people in the Enneagram community who seem to engage in indirect speculation that I can’t possibly be an Enneagram Two. I almost never hear this from anyone directly; it is almost always through another person who knows me well and gets annoyed or incensed on my behalf, then eventually mentions it to me. Why do people discredit the idea that I am a Two?

She’s too successful and forward moving.” [Aha, she’s a Three]

She has too much personal energy to be a Two.” [Aha, she’s an Eight]

She’s not as warm, loving, and flattering as Twos are supposed to be.” [Oh, she can’t be a Two]

She has very high standards.” [Aha, she must be a One]

Of course, these are usually people who don’t know me personally and thus have a limited frame of reference, yet they are so sure they are correct. At first, I was amused. As it continues, I feel more annoyed. Why do people care so much about this? What makes them so sure that they know my type accurately and I do not?

Upon first exposure to the Enneagram, I thought I was a Four, and although Helen Palmer wasn’t so sure about this, it seemed the best fit. After working with style Four development activities for 10 years, the Enneagram Four issues seemed to be melting away. Then in 2003, I met Claudio Naranjo. Over a dinner, I asked him this: “I’ve always thought I was a Four; what do you think?”

As his hand stroked his very long beard, Claudio said: “No, not a Four. You are too consistently warm – not the unpredictable warm-retracted Four dynamic – and you have an essentially sunny outlook. Plus, most Fours have a deep reservoir of anger, and I don’t sense that from you. Maybe a Two?”

The idea I might be a Two shocked me, and I had a panic attack. Not knowing much about social subtype Twos and having met only a few of them, I had not identified with style Two. My high level of discomfort and anxiety, which I rarely feel, got my attention that I needed to seriously consider that I might be a Two. I had never had this experience when I thought I was a Four.

Still highly anxious, I asked my then “boyfriend,” also an Enneagram teacher, if he would still love me if I were a Two. His answer, a good one: “I love a person, not a number.”

I asked my then 11-year old son – who has known the Enneagram well since he was six years-old and is an ace at typing people – what he thought, and this was his reply: “Mom, you may be a Four in the world, but you’re a Two to me.” As more panic set in, I saw my whole life in front of me like a movie. The child who had been free-spirited and happy and then… at age four, the trouble started.

Without going into great detail about the trouble, let me just say that I experienced just about every level of trauma possible from the time I was four until I left home at 18. Most of it was directed at me; some of it came more forcefully toward my siblings. At the center of it was my mother, a borderline personality with the charm and attractiveness of a movie star and the potency to create dysfunction wherever she went.

The Two child in me would literally not have survived in that household, and so it became clear that I retreated into a solitary place in the Enneagram; in Enneagram style Four, I could be alone, feel some feelings in a safe-enough environment, engage in philosophical pondering which was, in the end, my salvation. When I married in my early 20s, I became a battered wife; in the early 1970s, few people were aware of this issue. My then-husband once told me, “I love you so much, but if you stay with me, either I will kill you or you will kill yourself.”

This was my wake-up call, one that led me to pursue modern therapy, learn to be a Gestalt therapist myself, and engage in every development path that seemed fruitful; Rolfing, Psychosynthesis, the arts, tai chi, meditation, ashrams in India, and more. My colleague and friend Bea Chestnut refers to people who have engaged in serious and productive self-development work as “well-processed” and those who have not as “not processed.” In this latter category are people who have the knowledge and do the activities, but don’t seem to grow and transform from them. I always laugh when she says this, but wonder at times if I might be “over-processed.”

I am not perfect, that is not my pursuit, and I never think about it (no, not a One); I don’t like goals very much, have had one or two over my whole life that got quickly eliminated as something more powerful arose in it’s place, plus I really dislike marketing even though it has to be done (no, not a Three); and I don’t like conflict very much, will engage in it if I have to – which is seldom – and while I am intrigued by observing power dynamics, I rarely get into power and control issues with people. My current personal work has more to do with not repressing my anger than learning to manage its expression (no, not an Eight).

I’m more of a free spirit at heart, identifying more with a butterfly or a hummingbird than a bear or an oak tree.  There are other teachers in the Enneagram community about whom people like to speculate. Take Peter O’Hanrahan, who many people say can’t be an Eight because he appears so mellow and never seems angry. For those who speculate, I make this suggestion: talk to Peter directly and let him explain. And learn more about social subtype Eights with a Nine wing and a link to arrow Five. And learn more about Peter from Peter, not from your idea of Peter.

To end with a story: In a client group during a typing session, a man identified himself as an Enneagram Eight, but he had the highest voice I’d ever heard from a man, much less an Eight male, whose voices usually come from deep their belly center. At the break, we went aside, and I said this: “You identify as an Eight, yet most Eights I know have deep voices that come from low in their bodies. Yours is much higher. There may be a reason from your background and experience that explains your higher voice, though there is no need to tell me this story.” He said, “There is a reason!” We both smiled and left it at that.

Thanks to Bea Chestnut, Senior Member of the Enneagram in Business Network (EIBN), for her guest blog on typing, stereotyping and subtypes.

And to Peter O’Hanrahan, Enneagram teacher and Senior Member of the EIBN, who will be writing the next guest blog on the topic of Enneagram typing.

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