August 8, 2010 4:48 PM   Subscribe

So: enneagrams. If you've spent any time studying them, how did you put the knowledge to use?

wiki link if you have no idea what I'm talking about
posted by roger ackroyd to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Whoa, I haven't though about those in years. I've never really studied them, but my 8th grade teacher taught us about them and we assigned ourselves numbers. It was a fun way of characterizing yourself and thinking about how you relate to others and how your social needs are different.
posted by fermezporte at 4:57 PM on August 8, 2010

I was part of a work team that used the enneagram as a team-building exercise. It was helpful as a context for understanding each other. My boss was a 9, and I would get so annoyed by her wishy-washy-ness. After studying the enneagram, I was better able to understand where she was coming from and the upsides of those personality traits.

I'm a 4 (the special snowflake type!). I think it has been helpful to understand that "specialness" is a strategy formed during childhood rather than an immutable part of who I am.
posted by jeoc at 5:08 PM on August 8, 2010

Well, which type are you? The knowledge you take away will differ based on what type you are, and how accurate you think it is.

For instance, I am a 4, and I found the type description very accurate and close to my personality. One of the books I read on the subject (can't remember the name now, unfortunately, maybe I can track it down later) had a list of things that help a 4 thrive, and a list of pitfalls common to 4s that can get in the way of their development. I found those lists very useful. For instance, one entry said that a 4 should recognize that the trauma felt in childhood is real, but do their best to move past it. Another entry said that 4s do well when their aesthetic sensibilities are used to reach out to other people rather than to close themselves off into an inner world. I found this useful because type 4 seems really relevant to my personality. If you don't see a lot of yourself in any of the types, you probably won't find such advice very insightful or useful.

I personally found the enneagram very relevant to my personality, much moreso than the Myers-Briggs type indicator. Compared to the enneagram, the MBTI strikes me about as accurate as a horoscope, which is to say that it's overly general to the point of irrelevance.
posted by malapropist at 5:33 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stripped it of the new-agey aspects, which I for one don't find terribly useful. But, for me, it's most helpful as a reminder that other people sometimes want fundamentally different things than I do. We give a lot of lip service to the idea that people are different because they act differently, but still tend to assume that deep down they want the same things we do. Then they do things that contradict that, and we think that they are acting crazily, stupidly, irrationally, etc. And sometimes they are, but other times they're just working from an entirely different base set of motivations and assumptions. The enneagram can work as a sort of short hand for those motivations and how they can play out in actions, and having that framework can help you 1) feel less frustrated with other people when they don't align with your way of life because you understand why they might be doing the things that frustrate you and 2) provide at least one way of discussing those frustrations without making it about how the other person is wrong and terrible.

For example, my roommate (7) and I (5x6) have very different approaches to time. Keeping the enneagram in mind, we can have a discussion about when to leave for something without me thinking the whole time that she is rude and inconsiderate for not making/keeping our timetable, because I know that having strict deadlines make her feel trapped and takes all the fun out of things for her. And she can not think of me as anal and nagging, because she knows that not having strict agreed-upon boundaries on things makes me feel anxious and worried. It doesn't necessarily give us a solution, but it can help us understand where the other person is coming from. It's certainly possible to have that discussion without the enneagram (plenty of people do). But people don't always know how to explain their whys to other people, and the enneagram can give them a sort of vocabulary to talk about it.

You also have to be really careful not to put the other person/people into little type boxes and then assume you know why they do things better than they do. The types don't exist as some sort of platonic ideal; it's just a useful categorization method. No one is ever going to fit perfectly.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 5:51 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Slightly more valuable than horoscopes. One of the more popular Enneagram books I read said that 4s (my type) are at risk for committing murder-suicide, so take it with a huge grain of salt.
posted by yarly at 6:09 PM on August 8, 2010

The two Enneagram books I have are by Don Richard Riso. I'm rather drawn to systems of categorizing and noting patterns in people, that analyze the reasoning and motivation to different personalities. I found the Enneagram most useful in helping to understand myself better (although discussing types with partners helped me understand how they approached the world as well).

The Riso books go into a great deal of detail about how each type functions, what causes their particular spirals of dysfunction (he relates each type to the different psychological issues they tend to have); much of it focused on each type's POV toward the world, what they considered their place in it, how that POV was formed, their reactions, and what mental traps they usually encountered. It was fascinating and also gave me insight into why I'd lapse toward certain grooves of thought or emotion.

I remember reading and discussing other authors' breakdowns of each type and feeling they were more focused on the "mystical/spiritual" aspects of using the Enneagram (which I wasn't very interested in) and they didn't go nearly as in depth as Riso's explanations. His books are a little too focused on the problematic paths each type could go down but they do explain how each type improved themselves as well, and I know that did assist me in learning to work with and reform my own particular negative thinking and emotional habits.
posted by flex at 7:22 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

The most valuable insight I've gleaned from the Enneagram has been that I can step out of the story of my life that I've been telling myself. I'm a one, and I've lived my whole life as though the central question of my life is whether I'll be good enough. In every situation, every challenge, every opportunity: am I doing it perfectly, am I doing it right? Or am I a complete failure? Seeing that I've created this story and imposed it on myself lets me work to set it aside and ask much more interesting questions.

I have the Helen Palmer book, and I've found it very useful because it's very open - doesn't pretend the types are strict categories and very positive - shows you how each type becomes more whole and healthier. And it seems compatible with the idea that the Enneagram is useful primarily because it's a way of organizing your thinking about who you are and why you do what you do. It's a pretty insightful way of doing it, in my opinion, but its value resides in the insights it produces in you. If you read a few books and feel no shock of recognition ("oh my God, that's me"), then it's probably not the system for you.
posted by Betsy Vane at 8:21 PM on August 8, 2010

Ah yes, the book I was thinking of was The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life by Helen Palmer. Probably the same book Betsy Vane is talking about?
posted by malapropist at 9:29 PM on August 8, 2010

I liked that it gave a sense of self reflection and analysis, but also with a sense of agency, choices and personal change. Your life is not written in stone. Ideally, if you follow through you are less bound by your type and experience more well being and freedom. I also liked the ability to get insights in terms of perspective taking and dealing with dyads or group settings.
posted by kch at 9:34 PM on August 8, 2010

I'm also a 4, which means that I:

have abandonment issues - lots of them
rigorously guard my special snowflake status
am supremely jealous of folks who I perceive as more specially snowflakey than me
am melancholic and self-indulgently in love with my own pain
don't want people to leave me yet I want to be left alone
want what I can't have and don't want what I do have
can be hypersensitive
have a prodigious capacity to nurse a grudge
swim in a sea of feelings - have feelings about my feelings and have feelings about feeling feelings
am, needless to say, moody
resent people when they don't love me the way that I want them to
don't know how I want people to love me
have zero tolerance for anything or anyone I deem superficial
tend to live in either the future or past tenses, rarely in the present
like pretty things

Yes, I'm getting to the 'how has this helped me' part.

Understanding the nature of my jealously does a great deal to loosen my grip on the object of my jealousy. It puts the breaks on my little reptilian brain that wants to snarl and gash at it. Recognizing that my own infatuation with emotional pain can sabotage my happiness lets me live more happily. Knowing that I expect love to come in perfect, custom-wrapped, space_cookie packaging helps me chill the fuck out and be grateful for and enchanted with love's multiple guises. Fours can be quite self-absorbed, but they can also be deeply empathetic, creative, warm, intense and willing to use their passions in the service of others. This too is nice to know.

So you get the drift here. If you give any credence to the idea that we all have our shadow selves and our ideal selves, this is a good place to start. In my mind, anything that can add meaningfully to your arsenal of self-awareness is a good thing. You don't have to buy into the entire system to glean a few nuggets of insight into how you tick. The cool thing about various schools of typing personality is that, even if you throw the book across the room and declare 'Bullshit!', you've still learned something about yourself.

Have fun.
posted by space_cookie at 9:40 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you can figure out the types of the people around you it can be really useful in learning how to deal with them. If you understand what is important to someone you can use that to smooth out your interactions with them (or to aggravate them in very effective custom-tailored ways, if you want to go that route.)

I find I use it most for self-understanding, though that actually took a long time to work out. I spent years thinking I was a Four, because I can identify with a good many Fourish issues (and, whenever I test, Four is always at the top of the list.) I always felt like a very bad--or horribly gypped--Four though, because I'm not artistic or stylish or dramatic or into "mood, manners and luxury" as one book puts it. It wasn't until I typed my daughter as a genuine Four, and began to look at the differences (and areas of friction) between us, that I realized I'm actually a Five with a strong Four wing. A LOT of things about my personality then fell into place, and since then I've found the enneagram seems a lot more accurate when describing my strengths and potential weaknesses.

Another way the enneagram has helped me is in my marriage. I used to get frustrated with my Nine husband for not being more One-ish, but learning about how Fives and Nines complement each other in a relationship has made me appreciate his good-natured laid-backness much more. Sometimes it is easy to take for granted a person's good qualities when they are not flashy or attention-grabbing, and this helped me be more aware of things I might not have otherwise appreciated. (And it also made me realize that I don't really want a One... my dad is a One and I have no desire to relive a version of THAT relationship.)

It has also been helpful for figuring out things I can do to make my husband happier, because Nines are notorious for going with the flow and rarely expressing any preferences, even when asked. It's been helpful to have an idea of things I can do that he might enjoy or benefit from.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:11 AM on August 9, 2010

When I looked at the enneagram many years ago, I saw myself as a 1, which translates to: "Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic." (http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/typeone.asp)

And then there's this: "Average 1s are driven by their 'inner critic', an inner set of standards that tends to be quite rigorous, and independent of what other people tell them. Hence, the average 1 is very self-critical, and also critical of others when they expect the same high standards of others that they have imposed on themselves." (http://www.9types.com/writeup/enneagram.html#1)

Just seeing those words - or something similar - was an ah-ha moment for me. It reinforced something I already sort of knew about myself, and made me more conscious of it. That, in turn, helped me learn to avoid the excesses that 1s are prone to.

So, for me, it was like many personality-type systems: It gave me one really useful insight.
posted by jeri at 8:21 PM on August 9, 2010

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