The Big Why

I recently discovered some great new resources about the enneagram, a favorite tool of mine for self-awareness. What is driving my excitement is how the enneagram is now being used to help us not only get to know ourselves better, but also to be able to engage more effectively with others. Better yet, how we can tap into the individual strengths and motivations of all 9 types to create dynamic new solutions to our collective, repetitive problems.

The distinctive difference between the enneagram and other personality assessment tools is that the Enneagram addresses the “why” of our behavioral patterns. It reveals why we are motivated to respond and behave in familiar patterns, taking the phrase “it’s just who I am to a whole new level. Think about how transformational it would be in your closest relationships if you had this deeper insight about yourself and each other. It has the potential to take conflict off the table and replace it with understanding. Just that awareness alone can turn disagreements into more empathic and productive conversations.

To shed a little light on the “Big Why”, take a look at the core desires and basic fears for each of the 9 enneagram types:

  • Enneagram Type 1: The Reformer
    • Core Desire: Having integrity, being good, right, balanced
    • Basic Fear: Being wrong, bad, inappropriate, imperfect
  • Enneagram Type 2: The Helper
    • Core Desire: Being loved, being wanted
    • Basic Fear: Being unloved, unwanted, needy
  • Enneagram Type 3: The Achiever
    • Core Desire: Being valuable, successful, admired
    • Basic Fear: Failing to appear as successful, being exposed as incompetent
  • Enneagram Type 4: The Individualist
    • Core Desire: Being authentic, unique and special
    • Basic Fear: Being without identity, flawed, misunderstood, inadequate
  • Enneagram Type 5: The Investigator
    • Core Desire: Being competent, independent and knowledgeable
    • Basic Fear: Being helpless, incompetent, without resources
  • Enneagram Type 6: The Loyalist
    • Core Desire: Security, guidance, having help
    • Basic Fear: Being unprepared, afraid, being blamed, without support
  • Enneagram Type 7: The Enthusiast
    • Core Desire: Fun, happiness, freedom, contentment
    • Basic Fear: Missing out, being deprived, trapped or bored
  • Enneagram Type 8: The Challenger
    • Core Desire: Being in control, protecting self and others
    • Basic Fear: Weakness, vulnerability, being controlled
  • Enneagram Type 9: The Peacemaker
    • Core Desire: Peace, stability, harmony
    • Basic Fear: Conflict, feeling shut out, losing connection

Having this basic understanding of key motivations and basic fears helps us become more aware of the root source of our own reactive behavioral patterns. It also gives us a relevant focal point for understanding where others are coming from and what is at the heart of the matter for them.

It was through a recent Typology podcast with Ian Morgan Cron and his guest, Seth Abram ,that I learned about another enneagram podcast — “Fathoms”. I just loved that name, Fathoms, and what it represents: discovering our inner depths, one fathom at a time. I scrolled through the Fathoms podcast episodes and found several that caught my immediate attention. I’m going to share the highlights of these episodes in the hopes of whetting your appetite to learn more for yourself.

Just imagine the potential that could be unlocked for creative problem resolution if we cultivated an appreciation for different perspectives based on “others” core desires and unique strengths. In the episode entitled “A Conversation with Enneagram Magazine” two college friends share their initial introduction to the enneagram and how they came to launch their dream — the Enneagram Magazine. What makes this magazine so compelling is that Bekah and Molly are tapping into the collective insights of all 9 types to explore one singular topic per issue. For example, the most recent issue of Enneagram Magazine is entitled “Justice”. What a timely and critically important topic. Here’s the intro provided from their website for the Justice issue:

We begin 2021 by diving into the topic of Justice through the lens of the Enneagram. We will be honest, this topic is not an easy one to cover. However, the importance of discussing Justice has never been more apparent to us. We dive into uncomfortable conversations with grace, providing perspectives that may be unusual, unexpected, and unfamiliar to our circles–and that’s okay. Our hope is that this issue will help move us from individualistic comfort into higher communal awareness that encourages thriving for everyone.

Enneagram Magazine was launched just last year. The first issue provides the foundation — it is Enneagram Primer. Subsequent issues included Creativity, Leadership, Relationships. In 2021, they are embracing a theme of growth and using a relatable metaphor of the life cycle of plants. Topics will be Soil, Health, Endeavor and Wonder. Health will correspond to seeds and what is needed to grow from the inside. Endeavor will represent the emerging and Wonder will focus on the flowers and fruits of self reflection and personal growth. It is an apt metaphor for going inward and examining the areas of our life that invite change and then taking the big step to live it out. All 9 enneagram types will be represented for each topic. The diversity of self-discovery perspectives will be rich.

Another Fathoms podcast I found to be enlightening was the March 10th episode entitled “Addiction, Recovery and the Enneagram” with Michael Naylor of Portland Maine. Michael Naylor is an esteemed addiction expert and an enneagram teacher. I was fascinated by his background, stories and observations especially since the enneagram is rapidly becoming an invaluable tool for many types of counseling. The big takeaway from this episode was that people can successfully go through rehab programs only to relapse later because they never really got to the root cause of their motivations for their addictions – the big why. This is where the enneagram plays an impactful role. The rehab and the enneagram work done in tandem can be a lasting pathway to freedom from addiction and its root causes.

Michael is a type 4 and freely shared some humorous yet poignant moments with his own counselor as they unraveled his patterns and his recurring melancholy with the help of the enneagram. Michael stressed the importance of having two or three rock-solid people in our lives that will support our efforts to become aware of our behavioral patterns and help us “catch” them in real time. Early detection is key in the process of changing old habits and patterns for the better.

Since I recently shared my blog post, Author of our Own Stories, the next episode to catch my attention was “Understanding the Inner Critic” with Lynda Roberts, an authorized Enneagram Institute teacher and former president of International Enneagram Association. No matter what enneagram type we might be, we are all quite familiar with our inner critic.

Lynda offered that our inner critic plays two roles — the judge and the ego manager. Our inner judge is the one that offers an abundance of self criticism and is prone to shame or blame us. Lynda also pointed out that our own inner judge is the one who also judges “others”. Our “ego manager” sends our marching orders and this ties right into our core desires and basic fears. She offered an example of these marching orders for herself, a Type 6: “you need to be responsible, you need to do what is expected of you.”

Lynda pointed out that our inner critic was developed in childhood and absorbed both explicit and implicit messages about the rules of life. Since humans can’t survive on instincts alone, we needed this guidance to launch us into adulthood. But much of this messaging is no longer valid or needed as we evolve through our adult life. Lynda equates this to “taking off the training wheels” — we do not need childhood messaging that gets in the way of opening to our true selves. We can discover and enhance our own mature inner guidance that aligns with our personal core values.

It may have been serendipity that beckoned me to listen to one more podcast as I was working on this blog post. This Typology Podcast, hosted by Ian Cron, featured Dr. Curt Thompson, psychiatrist and author, focused on shame and how it plays out in the human experience. This conversation dovetailed so perfectly with Lynda Roberts insights about our childhood and our inner critic. It also circles us back to the beginning of this post where I shared the core motivations and basic fears of each other 9 enneagram types. The enormous take-away from this podcast was that the very things we do to cope with our basic fears ultimately end up reinforcing our fears. We create our own self-fulling prophecy through ineffective coping skills. We push away what we want the most.

Dr. Curt Thompson believes that the enneagram reveals nine helpful ways in which people develop their personal narratives. It helps us understand how we came to develop our attachment style and our temperament when we were quite young. Dr. Thompson says “It is the dominant way we make sense of our lives. Nine consistent, predictable ways to tell our narrative, that comes naturally, and was shaped in our family of origin.”

In this episode, Ian Cron and Dr. Thompson offer remarkable insights around the power of shame and the subtle, silent messages that are carried over from childhood into our adult lives. That inner critic that whispers we are not enough or will never be enough. They walk us through each of the 9 enneagram types and real life examples of where our strong desire to avoid shame at all costs can derail us. I have a few friends who are also students of the enneagram and we compared notes on these examples — and oh yes, they were spot on:

Afraid to ask for help for fear of hearing no (type 2)

Coming off as a bully to protect vulnerabilities (type 8)

Afraid to assert yourself (type 9)

Second-guessing yourself in a conflict (type 6)

Dr. Thompson shares that shame is a signal for us. We will first feel it in our body. He does an incredible job of explaining both the neurobiology and the neuroscience of residues from childhood experiences that cause us to be unconsciously triggered. He encourages us to pay attention to how we feel and to pause before reacting or responding.

His strongest piece of advice was also his most touching — “healing for shame requires that others come find us”. We need to be there for each other, to help each other recognize that often our pre-conditioned behaviors are preventing us from having great relationships and happier lives — not who we are at our core.

Michael Naylor sums up the value of the enneagram this way: “the enneagram assists people in discovering unconscious patterns causing them unnecessary suffering and guides them to more liberation from the patterns acquired as a little one.”

The Enneagram is such an enlightening transformational tool. It can really help us to see our full potential and the incredible capacity we have to be the best versions of ourselves. Each of the 9 types brings unique strengths and perspectives to the world. I am more than a little excited about harnessing all of that energy and creativity for the greater good.


Enneagram Magazine

So beautifully designed, it will become a treasured resource, a coffee table magazine and a conversation starter.

Fathoms: An Enneagram Podcast

April 8, 2021 – A Conversation with Enneagram Magazine

March 25, 2021 – Understanding the Inner Critic with Lynda Roberts

March 11, 2021 – Addiction, Recovery and the Enneagram with Michael Naylor

Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron

April 22, 2021 A Framework for Wholeness with Seth Abrams (Enneagram 9)

May 28, 2020 Dr. Curt Thompson on the Enneagram and Shame

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Inspired New Horizons

I am blogging about reinventing myself in my retirement years as an independent woman free to fully enjoy life's adventures, while practicing mindfulness and discovering my life's purposes.

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