I’ve been trying to study the Enneagram for several years now. I’ve read highly recommended books by Helen Palmer, Don Richard Riso, and Russ Hudson but for some reason none of them really made sense. I mean, I got what they were saying and it seemed like a useful system but I didn’t feel like I understood it well enough to actually use it in my life and especially not in relating to other people.
This latest Enneagram book I’ve tried is one that my first counselor recommended over a year ago. I’ve finally been able to get it through a digital library (didn’t want to buy it if it would just sit unused on the shelf like all my other Enneagram books). I haven’t quite finished it yet, but what I’ve read is enough to know The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile is the best Enneagram book I’ve read (please note this is an affiliate link, which means if you click on the book title and make a purchase I’ll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you).
I’ll be talking in more general terms about the Enneagram in later posts, but today I wanted to share a personal story. I know my enneatype is 4w5, but until now that knowledge as been more depressing than helpful. Myers-Briggs® types tell you how your mind works. We can talk about healthy and unhealthy versions of each type, but overall it’s usually a fairly neutral description. Your Enneagram tells you how you’re broken. It talks about your deadly sin, your childhood wounding message, and your core fears. To me, it seemed overwhelmingly negative.
The Wounding Message of 4s
For my type, Riso and Hudson describe 4s as “The Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, Temperamental Person” in their book Discovering Your Personality Type (affiliate link — it’s a good introduction to the Enneagram). Helen Palmer starts out talking about 4s in her book The Enneagram In Love And Work by saying they are envious people with the worldview, “Something is missing. Others have it. I have been abandoned.” These descriptions might be true, but there’s not much in there to make me feel hopeful. Nor did these authors’ suggestions on how to move to a healthier version of a 4 resonate with me.
Another issue I had was with Helen Palmer’s insistence in another book (which is no longer on my shelf so I can’t check her exact phrasing) that my core wounding message from childhood was abandonment. I’m part of a stable, loving family so that seemed as if it shouldn’t be accurate. I don’t remember her phrasing it “you may have perceived abandonment” (as The Road Back To You does) but rather “you were convinced you were abandoned.” The idea that I’d got “I’m abandoned” out of a childhood where that is most certainly not the case just reinforced another message that is deeply ingrained in 4s: “There’s something wrong with you. Your circumstances didn’t make you this way; it’s all your fault.”
When I was doing schema therapy with my first counselor, one of the unhealthy ideas we worked on was, “There is something in me that’s broken. People leave when they see this, but I don’t know what it is.” We replaced that with the idea, “I am not abandoned, nor am I always at fault when something goes wrong.” Replacing it didn’t work quite so well as the other schemas, though. This one was dug in deeper and it kept coming back.
Why We Feel so out of Place
It wasn’t until I got to the chapter on Fours in The Road Back To You that I realized this persistent schema is the exact same idea that other 4s are carrying around. Out of 20 points in a list of “Here’s what it’s like to be a Four” most of them resonated with me, and these the most deeply: “I never really felt like I belonged. … I spend a lot of time trying to explain myself. … I feel there is something essential lacking in me. … I worry a lot about abandonment.” Here are some other quotes from this chapter that really hit me deeply:
“Fours feel something important is missing from their essential makeup. They’re not sure what it is, whether it was taken from them or they had it long ago but lost it—only that the missing part is nowhere to be found and they’re to blame. The result is that they feel ‘different,’ ashamed, uncertain about who they are and ill at ease in the world. …
“The need of the Four is to be special or unique. They believe the only way they can recapture or compensate for their missing piece and finally secure an authentic identity is by cultivating a unique image, one that distinguishes them from everyone else. …
“The wounding message Fours hear all the time is ‘There’s something off about you. No one understands you, and you’ll never belong.’” — The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron
This book’s explanation of Fours made sense to me. It’s exactly how I feel, though I’ve never known why. For some reason unfathomable to me, I’ve lived my life with the perception that I’m out of place, different, and misunderstood. That something really important is missing and I can’t fix it, so I have to find some other way of making up for the lack. I’m not sure if an Enneagram teacher would say I’m a 4 because I feel that way or I feel this way because I’m a 4, but either way reading this chapter made something in my brain click into place. This is what’s going on, finally explained in a way I could understand.
What Do I Do With This Now?
The great thing about The Road Back To You is that it does not leave you just sitting there with a whole lot of depressing information about yourself. It starts each number’s chapter with a description of a healthy, average, and unhealthy version of that type. It uses real-life examples of each type who are viewed positively by others. It speaks carefully about our wounds and beliefs about ourselves, and then points toward a path of spiritual transformation.
Perhaps it helps that Ian Morgan Cron is a type 4. I know it helps that he’s writing from a Christian perspective, which connects well with me for reasons obvious. Near the end of each chapter, he starts talking about what each type needs to hear and gives 10 practical steps for growth.
“Fours need to hear this loud and clear: there’s nothing missing. It may be hard to believe, but God didn’t ship them here with a vital part absent from their essential makeup. Fours arrived on life’s doorstep with the same equipment everyone else did. … For Fours an important healing message is ‘We see you. You’re beautiful. Don’t be ashamed.'” — The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron
I’ve spent the last week meditating on the concept of shalom. It’s the Hebrew word for “peace,” but more than that it means wholeness — nothing missing, nothing broken. Even if I can’t figure out why I feel something is missing, I need to move past trying to figure out what is broken and accept that in God I can have perfect shalom. I am worthy and whole; nothing missing, nothing broken. Even if I wanted to say, “Isn’t everyone flawed and missing pieces apart from God?” that should not be the case now since I’m doing my best to live a life with God instead of apart from Him.
I know I’m not the healthiest version of myself yet. But I feel like reading this book has pushed me a step closer. And I’m going to work on the suggested Ten Paths to Transformation for Fours, starting with these three:
- “Offer yourself the gift of unconditional self-friendship as you work to unwind lifelong feelings of shame and inferiority. Never give up on yourself!” — i.e. don’t give up because I don’t feel good enough yet.
- “Stop fantasizing about the ideal relationship, career or community and getting stuck in longing for it. Instead, work hard for what’s possible and see it through to completion.” — and this is why I’m finally going to grad school for a Master’s degree instead of puttering around waiting for something ideal to fall in my lap
- “When the past calls, let it go to voicemail. It has nothing new to say to you.” — I was already recognizing the need to let go of things in the past that I can’t change or will never have all the answers on.
What are your thoughts on the Enneagram? Have you ever used it, or some other system for identifying core wounding messages, for personal growth?
Featured image credit: PIRO4D via Pixabay