New book

Elizabeth Wagele is one of the best Enneagram authors in the field. Her Enneagram Made Easy is what I give beginners.
Her new book on the Enneagram is The Enneagram for Teens

The Enneagram concepts are the same for all ages. What makes this for teens is that all of the examples, all of the quotes, all of the references are by and for teens. Her usual accuracy shines through, and I want to underscore how valuable her cartoons are.

This could nicely be a text for high school or college students. You don’t need any clinical language and you don’t have to import adult experiences and examples and explain them. The accuracy of her examples and the language of the teens make it have an immediate impact.

When and where and with whom

Our Enneagram style is a coping mechanism. It is, among other things, a set of strategies we use to get things done and solve some problems. It is how we earn love, with all the complexities that go with that endeavor.

Never take things out of context. Only literal things like math can be taken out of context. Four is always four whether it is four wheels or four winds or four books. Four is four. But everything else is not literal. Tired allows of degrees, so does fair and beautiful and many and wise.

So our Enneagram strategies (Fives learn more, Threes earn more etc.) will be context-sensitive. A good way to sensitize yourself to your Enneagram excesses is to monitor when and where you are apt to be most egregiously your number. If you are a hyper-helpful Two, in what contexts are you most apt to misplace your boundaries and start smothering someone. Under what conditions, with what people, at what time of day…the list can be long, as long as it is helpful. We are not always acting out our style, but under certain circumstances, we are more apt to do so than in others.

Oh, really?

Beware of people who have clearly stated motivations for what they do. A few years ago I had a pious client who had the disconcerting habit of explaining many of her decisions and actions with religious motivation. “We always do X because of Jesus. “We always read scripture before going to bed. The Word nourishes our family.” (She loved to read scripture, he would much sooner have sex, but then she could postpone sex or if she read long enough, he might go to sleep.) My impulse was usually to ask if there were any collateral benefits that she got from doing that.

When you know the Enneagram, realize that the upfront motivations of which we are aware are often colored by our Enneagram motives. In the example above, she is a pretty fixated One who is polarized against sensual pleasure and assumes that her religion is her motivation. (Ones often self-erase and then over-identify with a tradition or the law or a political party – something beyond themselves to give them a feeling of self.

Perspective

I understand our Enneagram style to be a type of deep personal trance. I coach accordingly. Parables, stories, aphorisms and koans all work to weaken our trances. Here is a vignette from Anthony de Mello’s book, One Minute Nonsense.

“As your perception is, so will your action be. The thing to change is not your action but your outlook”

“What must I do to change it?”

“Merely understand that your present way of looking is defective.”

We try harder

Why do we keep employing the strategies of our Enneagram style after they don’t work? Psychology Today has an article and a (probably) new word to explain it.

Perseveration: the pathological, persistent repetition of a word, gesture, or act.

Perseverance: steady persistence in a course of action in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

Some forms of dementia, traumatic brain injury, anxiety and OCD can cause people to perseverate. They repeat words and tasks or try repeatedly to solve problems, but are left frustrated and unsatisfied. They’re not necessarily insane, but stuck in a non-productive pattern due to a glitch in brain function.

What is pathological in an extreme form is illustrative of patterns that defeat us. Under stress we double down. A Five under stress will want even more information or a Nine will withdraw even longer. The dynamism at work here is that when our strategies don’t work, we get frustrated. When we get frustrated, our first inclination is to do more of our Enneagram strategy. “We try harder” is the road to pathology.

Exaggeration

Our Enneagram style can be so influential in our judgments that reality gets skewed, especially by exaggeration. An Eight might see a full blown (emotional) war or a Five might see inadequate information as totally stupid.

Here is a link to a pretty unhealthy Six, Lindsay Graham, who is frightened and trying to frighten us. What is ironic is that Jon Stewart is himself a Six! That makes a kind of Enneagram sense: Stewart is a good judge of fear. (He is counterphobic).

Enneagram self defence

One of my intellectual heroes is Gregory Bateson. Here is a fine if somewhat abstract statement of why our Enneagram style can be a problem and how we can prevent that problem.

The continued existence of complex interactive systems depends upon preventing the maximization of any variable.

OK, here’s how that works in us. If our Enneagram style has a tight focus, it is one variable. Our Enneagram style has a goal (Ones want to be right, Fours want to be different, Eights want power etc.) If we pursue that one variable/goal of our Enneagram style, we ruin our “complex interactive system” we call life.

Perhaps an example will help. Corporations have only ONE legal goal: maximize profits. That is their legal focus. Legally they have no obligation to the community (as when Hershey moved from Hershey, PA to Mexico leaving the community that depended on them in dire straits). Nor do corporations have any obligation to the future, (sustainability) or to the environment (think coal mining).
All of the horrors corporations do, they do in the name of “maximizing” one variable. Monsanto didn’t set out to poison us, they were only focused on making money. Same with BP when they polluted our Gulf, and Kellog when they sold us crap for our children to eat for breakfast. There is no conspiracy: there is just maximization.

And frequently, when we do self-destructive things, we’re often just maximizing the (often unacknowledged) goal of our Enneagram style. We can live peacefully with our Enneagram style if we balance it with other concerns.

When I’m very good – 9

Listening. That’s what Nines do best. Because they don’t have their own strong agenda, they are open to yours. Carl Rogers, the originator of Client-centered therapy was a Nine. The therapy was largely listening and feeding back what the client said, thus assuring the client s/he was really heard.

The phrase that Nines frequently use in their coaching promotions is that they “create space” for the client to discover what they need to know. This is a mysterious process to me, but I’ll bet it is an richly symbolic description of what goes on when a style Nine listens with his whole attention.

When I’m very good – 8

You want an Eight in your life when justice is not being served and you need help serving it. Eights can take focused aggressive action when they learn of injustice. I for One, think that if anyone leads the charge against the climate change, it will be an Eight. I’m counting on them. The rest of us can and will take small actions, an Eight might just have enough energy to fight the good fight.

When I’m very good – 7

Spontaneity is one of the strongest suits of a style 7, so if you want an enthusiastic start to something, a Seven will be energetic and creative.

Many Sevens start up businesses and have a great first year but then don’t have the structures in place to make them work. But their optimistic vision and energy is exactly what is needed to get started.