Much has been written and continues to be written about typing and enneatype confusions. One theme, and an important one, is to not confuse behavior with motivation, because several Enneagram styles do the same thing but they do so for different reasons. In the Enneagram, motivation is a far better indicator of type than actual behavior. For example, working very hard to the point of overworking is not the exclusive territory of enneatype 3. It can easily be every other type just as easily, but the reasons for doing so are very different.
A second theme is subtype. Certain subtypes of a given Enneagram style can easily be confused for another enneatype. In fact, the subtype may look behavioral much more like the type it isn’t than the type it is. Claudio Naranjo is the master at clarifying these important distinctions, and I also highly recommend the work of Bea Chestnut, whose passion and writing is in this arena, having been first stimulated to do this by Naranjo’s work. In fact, you can read Bea’s blog about these distinctions on my blog by going to a guest blog by Bea Chestnut here.
In this blog, I want to describe a phenomena I’ve observed 2-3 times in the last few months working with people in the US and in various parts of the world: a deep confusion among very smart people who know the Enneagram and think they are a 7 when they are really counterphobic 6s with a strong 7 wing. Let me give some context for this.
All of these people to whom I am referring have participated in my 5 or 6-day certification programs. All are clever people, very smart; one has written an Enneagram book and really understands the system, while the two others don’t know the system as well, but they do know it really well. Two of them were trained in multiple week programs by other well-established Enneagram teachers. All have taken one or more online test, and really did not doubt that they were 7s.
So what happened? In my professional certification programs, I am not trying to find people who are mistyped, although I do believe it is important for accurate typing in order for people to utilize the Enneagram effectively. Even more, I absolutely believe that those of us who teach, coach, or consult with the Enneagram are better served and better serving to our clients when we have our type right. Otherwise, we are saying we have a specific enneatype, but our way of understanding this particular type may be biased by our assumption that others of this type function as we do. As a result, we may be teaching certain types incorrectly.
All this said, over a 5 or 6-day period, it usually becomes more apparent when participants are being mistyped. I may notice it, but more often, other participants start to think and feel that something is not right. It may be that the type group of which they are (wrongly) identified notices it first. The group might say this: “We’re not sure if ___ really is a ___.” Alternatively, my programs often draw some people with a depth and breadth of Enneagram knowledge and experience, and they may say something to me or to the person, more as a question than a statement: “Is this person really a ___?” Sometimes, the person, him- or herself starts to notice a lack of “fit.” Sometimes I notice that when we do type group-based activities or when that person is self-describing in some way, the type just seems wrong. For example, in my coaching program, I review the major defense mechanisms for each type, then ask participants of that type to give specific examples of how this defense mechanism has appeared in their lives. Recently, a man (whom I’ll call Ryan) who thought he was a 7 could not give even one example of reframing (the primary 7 defense mechanism) and didn’t even really understand what reframing was, even though this was explained to him multiple times, with examples. How could Ryan, a very smart and self-aware person, not understand reframing if he were truly a 7? This was the question.
With Ryan as the most recent example, there is also a female example, a very astute and tuned in person who has thought for years she was a 7. But over the time I have known her (I’ll call her Maria) – during times of stress in her life but also in times of relatively little strain – she has always shown way too much obvious anxiety compared to most 7s. She’s clever though and can reframe when asked, although she rarely does this in her day-to-day life. Both Ryan and Maria, it turns out, are actually counterphobic 6s with very strong 7 wings, although deciphering their enneatypes did take a lot of time and even more energy.
Here was the telltale sign, one that was actually quite subtle: although both were highly creative with a million ideas floating in their minds seemingly all at once, both Ryan and Maria actually experienced this multitude of ideas as confusing to them. In other words, although they were fascinated by their own ideas (as well as those of others) and both were incredibly quick minded, at a deep level, they longed for some peace of mind, a way to slow themselves down, if just for a moment. What they were perceiving as an uncontrollable mind was actually causing them some angst, whereas with 7s, they are so infatuated with their minds and so accustomed to the speed, that longing for a slow-down is not normally something in their deepest desires. For 7s, to feel settled, still, whole, to be listened to and taken seriously, these are the areas for which they long.
Here’s the odd thing. Both Ryan and Maria truly identified with 7 and not 6, and they were initially resistant to identifying with 6. They perceived 6s as pessimistic (not really true) and viewed themselves as more optimistic than 6s (but counterphobic 6s can have a devil-may care attitude), and also labeled their anxiety as excitement (interesting, but excitement and anxiety are close cousins). When they finally landed on counterphobic 6 (and it took them a while), they were actually really happy, much happier than they were as 7s. Even though they had resisted this possibility, their bodies and faces went from chronically tense to relaxed. And they really like being part of a “tribe” (6s are tribal) rather than being part of a loose group of free-wheeling, spontaneous 7s.
So what did I learn? First, a lot more about how to help people distinguish between being a 6 with a 7 wing and being a 7 with a 6 wing. But more than that, I learned more about how the Enneagram is so very subtle and nuanced. Every time I work with the Enneagram with real people, I always learn at least one thing that stays with me forever. This was a big one!