This past Friday, my husband and I went on a date to one of our favorite little places in town. It’s cozy and quiet and you can get delicious Greek food in a setting that someone from any of the past fifty decades could recognize. It’s kinda my favorite. Oh, and they put so much cheese on their pizza that it’s physically heavy to lift. Also my favorite.
I ordered a pizza for obvious reasons and he ordered a pita. In between big bites of cheesey carby goodness, we worked through a book my friend, Jana, loaned me: The Enneagram Made Easy.
The Enneagram is method for understanding personality types. According to the Enneagram, there are nine types of people. The Enneagram is kind of like any other personality finder/test that you might have experienced in the past, with a few major exceptions.
One, it’s super accessible and easy to understand. It doesn’t take long to figure out your personality type and “wings” (how your personality may be influenced by other types).
Two, the Enneagram doesn’t just tell you your personality type, it tells you how this personality type reveals itself in your career, your free time, your relationships (kids, spouse, and friends), and your emotions.
Three, and this is a big one, the Enneagram doesn’t just tell you your strengths, it also tells you how you will struggle based on your personality type. This was huge for me. I couldn’t believe that so many of the things I was good at or struggled with wasn’t because of who I am as an individual, but because of my personality type which millions of other people share. For some reason, this was oddly reassuring. I’m not just crazy, I’m a FIVE! (More on that later.)
In the book we worked through, the authors write that “by working with the Enneagram we develop a deeper understanding of others and learn alternatives to our own patterns of behavior. We break free from worn-out coping strategies and begin to see life from a broader point of view.”
I found this to be completely the case. I learned that I’m the Observer. That I love to learn and understand things, but that I need time to process my feelings. One thing that was really interesting in my section was the note about social anxiety: “Remember that if I seem aloof, distant, or arrogant, it may be that I’m am feeling uncomfortable.” Wow. Bingo!
I’ve told close friends that the more overwhelmed I feel, the calmer I get. Like STONE. COLD. SOBER. sort of calm. People misread this allllll the time, which can actually end up hurting my feelings since I’m not acting aloof on purpose, I’m just feeling really anxious! I found this to be really helpful to see in print, so that I can use this as a tool to help me go deeper in my relationships. There were many other examples just like this. There were things I read that I instantly resonated with, even though I would have never put those feelings into words before reading them on the pages of this book.
The most helpful part of the whole experience, though, was discovering my husband’s personality type. Mike is a three on the Enneagram: the Achiever.
There were things that we discussed that night that BLEW MY MIND.
He too resonated with things that he never before would have put into words. As I read aloud the section, “What’s Hard About Being a Three,” Mike nodded to each of the bullet points. I was shocked, and had to put the book down.
“You really feel that way?” I asked?
He nodded. Then he looked at me funny.
“Are you crying?” he said.
I was. I was crying. Not in a bad way, not really. It’s just…we’ve been married for going on 12 years and I had NO IDEA that he had these feelings. In a way, neither did he, not consciously, but still. It was just such a profound moment for me. I learned something new and really important about my husband. He was vulnerably with me and that brought us both closer. And now, I have a whole new sensitivity to the ways he struggles. I’m not going to say that I’m suddenly ok with my husband’s crazy need to work 24-7, but know I understand the why and the motivation behind that drive. Now, I can address the issues going on behind that habit and we can work together in a more productive way to improve our relationship and life together.
For the remainder of the weekend, Mike and I have been discussing different points of our personalities. We’ve talked about how we respond when we are under stress, how we respond when we are content. We’ve talked about how all of this affects us as parents. Mike put a key point that he learned about me in play on Sunday when I was obsessing over something (fives struggle to get out of their heads) and he reminded me to take physical action and then move on. (ie, Don’t just think about something to death, do something, and then move on. We also discovered that this makes sense why I do yoga – by choice – almost daily. It helps me get out of my head in a physical way. I need that.)
Instead of getting frustrated with me or trying to give me advice based on how he would handle it as an Achiever (waaaaaay different than me as the Observer), both of which would have just added fuel to the fire and gotten us no where, he went back to what he learned about me. How I think. How I perceive the world and handle stress. How I get stuck. Then, he helped me according to that understanding.
I’m telling you guys, this is a game changer. I’m so excited to put this into practice in my marriage. I’m excited to share some of this information with some of the other people closest to me so that we can all understand each other better. I can’t wait to do this with my kids some day!
The book I’m reading is The Enneagram Made Easy by Renee Baron & Elizabeth Wagele. I highly recommend you and your spouse find a copy of book that includes the quizzes for each personality (check your local library!) and go over it together on your next date night. If you don’t have a sitter and can’t get out, put the kids to bed one night, make some coffee or tea, and get cozy on the couch together. Whatever works for you.
Again, the thing that is unique about this is that you will come away with practical steps to take to not just understand yourself and others better, but to know how to recognize behavior that might be a habit, but not all together healthy. I’ve taken all kinds of other personality and gift finder tests in the past, and they all left me with the same question: Ok, now what?
I can tell you “now what” for me after learning more about my number and wings on the Enneagram. I have a few very specific “now whats” for myself personally, how I relate to my husband, how I relate to my kids, and how I relate to others. That’s huge. It’s exciting. And honestly, it’s kind of a relief. It’s nice to know that some of the things that are hard about being you aren’t the things you thought they were – they are just the way you’ve learned to view the world! Suddenly, you can’t use the excuse, “Well it’s just he way I am.”
No. That’s just what you tend to do, and that’s a big difference! We can modify habits, form new strategies, and understand life from a broader point of view – if we want to! The Enneagram helps you do that.
Do you have any experience with the Enneagram? I’d love to hear from you, especially if you know your number! Have you found this method of understanding personality types to be helpful? Accurate?