Enneagram typing – getting one’s type right – is so important, and at times so complicated, because without the right type, using the Enneagram for deep development is near impossible. Yes, some of the development activities for some types do have a positive effect for people of other types, but the development will only go so deep. Sometimes people even recognize the type they think they are may not be the best fit when the development activities for their presumed type bring some pleasure, relief and growth, but the growth then becomes no longer necessary. Type is more pervasive than a somewhat easy resolution, as the deeper and more subtle aspects of our type structure offer us a lifetime of learning!
In my Train-the-Trainer and coaching certificate programs, as well as “Consulting with the Enneagram,” we spend 5-6 full days together in constant engagement. That means people are constantly engaged with one another and also themselves. During that time, obviously, our types are showing up constantly, both to ourselves (if we are self-observant) and to others (who are generally observant and asking questions if the type seems to not fit).
As a note, during my programs, I am not looking for people that may have their type wrong. At the same time, should this appear to be a possibility, I do work with people on this because (1) as an Enneagram teacher, I do believe it is part of my responsibility to raise type issues and ask questions or to explain distinctions; (2) most people do want to know their types so they can work on developing in the best areas; (3) it is important for people who coach others and teach the Enneagram to know their types if they can so that they are not communicating misinformation (unintentionally) about themselves and the types; and (4) in my programs, participants do learn about types from experiencing one another. If people are wrongly typed, the entire learning process suffers.
In my two most recent programs, several examples of this arose. Names are not included for obvious reasons, but the issues are described.
Two Twos who thought they were Eights
Two women thought they were Eights, but they turned out to be social subtype Twos, who may be look-alikes for social subtype Eights. Social Twos have more forward energy in a big way than the other two subtypes of Two, and as a social Two, I know there are people who are sure I am an Eight (which strikes me as something strange, amusing and which I think has to do with the fact that they either don’t know me or don’t understand subtypes very well. Rarely, if ever, has an Eight ever though I’m an Eight).
These two women, both from different countries, had both suffered greatly as children, as had I. With my suffering, I went quite internal, but these two women had been in environments where they had had to be far tougher and confronting. This was why they thought they were Eights, and both had had Enneagram teachers confirm that Eight made sense. This is a great wake-up call for all of us as teachers. If we don’t know the background and context of a person, we can make assumptions, mistaking some of the cover for what’s inside the book.
How this mistyping became more apparent was due to two main factors. Neither woman was in her body (as opposed to heart and head) no matter how much she tried. This can sometimes be the case with sexual assault victims, who absent themselves from their bodies as a way of dealing with the trauma, but this was not the case for either woman. In addition, both women had been engaging in self-development for many years, and both were highly aware. The second factor was that neither woman had particular issues with anger (both could get angry, often repressing their anger) and neither could relate at all to revenge (balancing the score when feeling harmed oneself or when another is harmed).
After learning about the subtypes and a lot of self-reflection, both women realized they were social subtype Twos. When they discovered this, they actually relaxed quite visibly, their warmth showed more than their toughness, and they were both off on a new venture of self-discovery.
A self-preservation Three who thought he was a Five
This man was extremely interesting: clearly smart, warm but not effusive, and very self-aware. He was also quite charming, but not in a false way. For several years, he had assumed he was a Five, and an Enneagram teacher had confirmed this. The man assumed he was a Five because he was intellectual, had had to work hard to get in touch with his feelings, and was more quiet than outgoing, although he was engaged and had been so from day one of the program. I had been wondering for a few days if he were a Five because he was warm, and he did not seem emotionally detached. And so I offered to do a typing interview with him in front of the other participants, which he readily accepted.
During the typing interview, it was really clear that he was a Three and not a Five. Results, goals, and plan focused: yes! Concerned about the reactions of others: yes! Seeking admiration and respect for what he could do (as opposed to what he knew): yes! Emotionally detached: No! (He sometimes had to work to access his feelings and sometimes not, but he did not vacate his heart and body, which is what defines emotional detachment, and he had always been like this from the earliest ages.)
He was introverted (some misconstrue introversion for being a Five), smart (one doesn’t need to be a Five to be smart), and a self-preservation Three. The self-preservation subtypes of all types are the least rusting and most fearful of the three subtypes, so this had been confused with the fear that underlies the Head Center styles Five, Six, and Seven. In addition, self-preservation Threes have an image of no image, so he hadn’t related to being image oriented.
When he found himself, these were his words: “The development I have done so far thinking I was a Five has helped, but now the whole world has opened up.”
A Five who thought he was a Three
I found this the most interesting situation because in this case, the man was a Three “have-to-be.” There are always type “want-to-bes;” this is based on what individuals think is the best type, and as a result, they believe that is who they are because they really want to be like that, whatever that is.
In this man’s case, he thought he was a Three, could describe himself as a Three fairly readily, and had been told by an Enneagram teacher he respected that he was a Three. But during the week, another man, a Five who had been in intensive small group work with the “have-to-be” Three came to me and asked, “Do you think it is possible he could be a Five and not a Three? When I listen to him and his story, values, thoughts, and feeling responses, he sounds so much like me.”
At the time I said it might be possible, but then as the days unfolded, it seemed more and more plausible, but still…. So I offered a typing interview, to which he accepted, and although he sounded somewhat like a Three, his responses to type Five were stronger and clearer. As a man who wanted to really know, he said, “I really think I felt like I had to be a Three [and he gave excellent reasons], but I think I’ve known all along that there was something where Three didn’t really fit. Let me really think about and explore Five.”
He said he would just let it sit inside him, and along with all the program materials that he thought useful in his pursuit, I also gave him a copy of Bea Chestnut’s new book, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge, and suggested he read the chapters on types Five and Three. The next day he returned saying that he had spent over six decades not being who he really was. What was more remarkable was how relaxed he looked. There is something wonderful about coming home to yourself, and then the real work begins!