The Enneagram: Removing the Mask

“Removing the Mask” 30-40 oil on canvas. In the collection of Suzanne and Joe Stabile, Dallas, Texas.

 “Sooner or later we must distinguish between what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is . . .” – Thomas Merton

Many have heard of the Enneagram by now, and wondered what it is and whether it is valid or not for Christians. Many others may have taken a look at the image of the Enneagram and dismissed it because it looks like a pentagram – at least I did at first. I was very skeptical and suspicious, but my opinion has changed because the Enneagram has made a huge difference in my life, my relationships, and my walk with the Lord.

Nearly five years ago, my husband, Wade, was invited to a clergy seminar in Greenwich Village hosted by Ian Cron and the guest speaker was Enneagram Master, Suzanne Stabile. When he got home, he shared what he found to be the most important aspect of the entire seminar —the Enneagram. We stayed up into the small hours of the morning exploring the Enneagram and discussing our relationship and how our personalities clash and click. It was the single biggest “aha” moment of our marriage.

The Enneagram is an ancient personality and spiritual-transformation tool. It is not scientifically infallible or inherent, but it is immensely useful. It is unknown where it came from or who first discovered this particular map of the human personality. What we do know is that it has been a work in progress for nearly two thousand years. Some trace the origins of the Enneagram back to the fourth century desert mothers and fathers and the monk, Evagrius Ponticus (345-399), who also wrote about the “seven deadly sins.” The nine vices of the Enneagram are the seven deadly sins plus “fear” and “deceit.”

As a student of theology and as a marriage and family therapist, I find a great deal of validity and truth in the Enneagram. There are a number of respected psychological and personality assessments available to us today such as Myers-Briggs, 16PF, MMPI-2, and Strength Finders to name a few. What separates the Enneagram from these personality tests is that the Enneagram is not just an assessment; rather, it is a tool or system for understanding one’s self and for mapping out a direction for spiritual maturity into a Christlike, authentic, true self. It shows who you are, and it also reveals who you could be with spiritual growth and maturity.

One of the things the Enneagram shows us is that in order to make our way in the world, we have taken on personality traits that have become habituated patterns of behaviors. These habits have served us by helping us avoid negative feelings like fear, pain, betrayal, or rejection. Even though these habits of our false self—our personality— serve as protection, they can also cause unnecessary harm in our lives and prevent spiritual growth and transformation.

Somewhere along the way, probably when we were very young, we started adopting coping strategies, conditioned reflexes, and defense mechanisms to protect ourselves. These strategies we enlisted to protect ourselves as small children became habits of our personality.

However, what worked for us as children will not work for us as adults, and therefore, we put on a mask—an inauthentic false self. Ironically, the English word “personality” is derived from the Greek word for mask (persona).

The Enneagram explains that there are nine distinct personality types and nine ways of seeing and being in the world. The nine Enneagram personality types are:

  • ONES are perfectionists with the sin of anger and the desire to be good.
  • TWOS are givers with the sin of pride and the desire to be needed.
  • THREES are performers with the sin of deceit and the desire to feel valuable.
  • FOURS are romantics with the sin of envy and the desire to find their significance.
  • FIVES are observers with the sin of avarice and the desire to be competent.
  • SIXES are questioners with the sin of fear and the desire for security and support.
  • SEVENS are epicures with the sin of gluttony and the desire to be cared for.
  • EIGHTS are leaders or bosses with the sin of lust and the desire to control their lives.
  • NINES are mediators with the sin of sloth and the desire to avoid conflict.

The spiritual work of our lifetime is to learn how to get out of our own way, surrender, and allow the Lord to transform us into the Christlike servant he needs us to be. We must learn to let go of old patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing that no longer serve any purpose. We must learn to remove the mask of our personality and become the authentic self God created us to be.

For more information about the Enneagram and to discern your number I highly recommend the work of Suzanne Stabile at www.lifeinthetrinityministry.com 

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