If we’re willing to invest some time in learning the Enneagram system, it yields much useful information about the 27 possible kinds of personality styles. This helpful data can support those who are motivated to know themselves to understand who they are and what makes them tick at a deeper level. Of course, we are much more than our personality, but knowing the shape and tendencies of our ego patterns makes it easier to separate our defensive habits from all the rest of who we really are—and who we can be if we work at it.
But I believe what sets the Enneagram apart from other such personal growth maps, or typologies, is the specificity and depth with which it does one thing in particular: it shines a light on the shadow self of the personality it describes.
The Enneagram’s X-Ray Vision
What makes the Enneagram so mind-blowingly enlightening (if you really “get” what the Enneagram is all about) is that it shines a light on the parts of us that we don’t want to see—and we don’t want anyone else to see either. This is what Jung called the “shadow self” or “shadow side.” Let’s face it: there are aspects of how we act, feel, and think that we don’t want others to know anything about—and that we often don’t even want to admit to ourselves. Why? Because it will make us feel bad about ourselves. And it’s the most natural thing in the world to not want to feel bad feelings about ourselves. It’s a natural as not wanting to touch a hot stove or take a freezing cold shower.
This may be why some people “don’t like” the Enneagram. Some people (understandably) don’t want to have their shadow sides exposed. Who wants other people to see that we secretly think we are better than everyone else, or worse than everyone else, or that we manipulate, resent, or envy others, or try to control everything, or are afraid of everything, or have needs, or feel vulnerable instead of competent or attractive or “strong”?
The Enneagram tells us about these shadow sides that we’d rather deny than face. And we all have them. The problem comes when we’d rather stay oblivious than face reality–even when our blind spots are pointed out to us. And the Enneagram can seem cruel or unforgiving when it comes to our reluctance to face reality. But this is exactly its (super) power.
Those Slippery Sneaky Shadowy Blind Spots: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
At the risk of stating the obvious, the thing about blind spots is that they are parts of how we are that we can’t see. Even when we have a good self-work ethic, it can be very difficult to recognize something about ourselves that our ego has been working overtime to hide from us. And this is where the Enneagram’s superpower saves the day: It shows us the whole picture of our archetypal personality patterning, and gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse into the parts of ourselves that we either just can’t see or go out of our way to try not to notice.
We’re all human and we all have egos and automatic defense mechanisms that protect us from seeing and owning things about us that are painful. And the Enneagram pulls the curtain back on whatever it is we are hiding from ourselves in an effort to avoid some of the painful truths that make up the shadow behind what are egos would like for us to be.
And if we don’t know what we don’t know, we can get stuck when we want to grow and manifest our potential. If we can’t see what we need to work on to develop ourselves, how can we capitalize on our desire for change and greater happiness?
There’s no getting around the truth that if we are seeking real transformation we need to be willing to receive what the Enneagram shows us. It’s not always fun in the moment when you allow yourself to see a hard truth you’ve been blind to before, but it usually leads to more fun (and inner peace) in the long run.
Courage = The Form of Every Virtue at Its Testing Point
If the Enneagram’s superpower is the revelation of the shadow self, we humans can aim to be super powerful in having the courage to see and own our blind spots. It takes courage to continue to be curious about what we don’t currently see in ourselves. It takes courage to be open to hearing from others about the shadow side of ourselves that we haven’t wanted to look at–and to be open to learning to tolerate the pain connected to having our shadow selves exposed.
If we really want to aspire to realize our essential higher virtues—and release ourselves from our ego’s narrowly constructed defenses—we need to continue to remind ourselves of the necessity of seeking to know what we don’t know and valuing the Enneagram for it’s unparalleled (and sometimes irritating) ability to point this out.
Beatrice Chestnut has a psychotherapy, coaching, and business development practice based in San Francisco. She teaches Enneagram workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world including Australia, Korea, South Africa, and in various cities throughout the U.S. She has been a therapist for 18 years and a licensed therapist for 12 years. Bea has been working with and studying the Enneagram system of personality types for twenty-five years, ever since it blew her mind in 1990. She has worked with many different kinds of teams and businesses as a trainer, coach, and change consultant, including high-tech, bio-tech, marketing, retail, health care, educational, and consultancy organizations. More than anything else, Bea is passionate about helping others find their way toward consciously creating more fulfilling relationship, work, and life experiences. She believe’s that the only way we can make our own individual lives better and that of humanity as a whole is for each of us to work to wake up and become more conscious, present, and alive.
I have had the privilege of attending Beatrice Chestnut’s training workshop – Understanding the Enneagram’s 27 Instinct-Based Subtypes – and being a co-participant on Uranio Pae’s Workshop with Beatrice. Her workshops and book are highly recommended. (www.beatricechestnut.com)
Thank you Bea for your insights, wisdom and teachings that have inspired and empowered me!