**This post is part 2 in a 4 part blog series on Spiritual Formation Through the Lens of the Enneagram. Click here to catch up on last week’s post!**
It is commonly understood that personality assessments are tools used to reveal certain aspects of our personalities, but not always are they seen as a tools for spiritual growth. So, how is it that the Enneagram cultivates spiritual growth? The Enneagram can be used much like any other personality assessment; however, within the real work of this tool, knowing your type is not the final destination. In all reality, when you find your Type the journey has just begun.
The Enneagram is a dynamic system that categorizes general patterns of human behavior into nine suggested personality types to aid the processes of unmasking the false self and discovering your True Self. Along my path toward deeper knowledge and experience of myself and God, expanding my understanding of the True Self and the false self has been invaluable. Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, has said, “There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” Gaining greater awareness of my false self, as well as experiencing moments within my True Self, has brought new dimension to all my relationships. These new awarenesses are not always fun, but slowly this “transformational knowing”, as author David Benner calls it in The Gift of Being Yourself, provides glimpses of the True Self and greater intimacy with God.
You may have heard the True Self referred to in various terms—for example, Authentic Self, Essential Nature, Self-in-Christ, Higher Self, Soul, or Essence. These words attempt to name the unique manifestation of Love that God intended for us – the image of God within. Ephesians 1:4 says we were “spoken forth” by God before the foundations of the world. This means we understand our spiritual journey began with God’s original blessing and love. This True Self, as radiant and beautiful as a diamond, has always been with us. Richard Rohr speaks of our True Self as an immortal diamond – inviolable and hidden under layers. It is not something we must strive for, earn or achieve, but rather discover and uncover.
The layers hiding the True Self are what make-up the false self, which can also be referred to as the small self or ego. The false self is not all bad, and in fact at times it was helpful to us, particularly during childhood. When our needs for love, survival, security, power, or control were not met as children we developed strategies to obtain them. At times this was beneficial, depending upon the given circumstance. The problem comes when we continue using these strategies as adults when they are no longer necessary. What were coping mechanisms and helpful patterns of behavior as a child, eventually become defense mechanisms and limiting patterns of behavior as an adult. Not long after I began my journey into self-discovery I had a new awareness of some not so pretty parts of my personality. I am a Nine with a One wing, so, naturally, as a parent, I prided myself on being a calm and peaceful presence. Often I gave myself a parenting win for not intervening when our girls would get in fights. I thought I was pretty great for letting them learn, at a young age, to work out their own problems (nevermind that the same sibling walked or limped away injured every time). I thought to myself, “Well, I must just be more patient and laid back than those other moms.” In all appearances one would believe that was true. However upon taking a deeper look, as a Nine, in order to have peace and serenity at all times I withdraw from conflict and deny the anger churning deep within. With this new awareness I could see my pattern of behavior was a typical, not-so-healthy Nine response to feelings of anger, and not so much my ability to execute all-star parenting skills. This was a humbling realization but totally worth the new freedom to live and love more fully as I learn to let go of this tendency and become more of my true self.
Within each Enneagram type there is both strength and weakness, virtue and sin. The unique gift you are designed to offer the world becomes distorted when buried underneath the layers of false self and, consequently, becomes your greatest liability or weakness. Depending upon your Type, varying levels of shame, fear, and anger are woven throughout the layers of your false self. Your response to this emotion may cause unconscious behaviors like demanding, earning, or withdrawing in order to meet your sensed need for security, affection and/or control.
Questions to ponder:
What glimpses have you received of your “immortal diamond” – your True Self?
Where in your life do you struggle most with your false self?
I’ll continue to highlight key concepts and my “aha moments” as we explore spiritual formation through the lens of the Enneagram. Please know that I barely brushed the surface of what could be said about True Self and false self. If you’d like to take a deeper dive, I have provided a few recommended resources. Further resources on the Enneagram can be found by going to the first blog post of the series, Spiritual Formation Through the Lens of the Enneagram: Crossing the Abyss. Click HERE to become and subscriber and make sure you don’t miss out on the rest of this series!
True Self/False Self Recommended Resources:
The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, by David Benner
The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, by Richard Rohr
New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton