Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An Enneagram Eight For A Day...Or a Nine Or a One...

"Can you ever switch types?" I’m frequently asked. "No" is the short answer. Our Enneagram personality home base is home base - which seems to be hardwired into us.

Still, as we grow and change, we can avail ourselves of attributes and strengths beyond the intrinsic ones of our own type. Heck, we can do it whether we know the Enneagram or not, although the map helps.

The Enneagram describes nine distinct world views. We might also envision the types as nine personality gifts, each of which illuminates a part of human potential.

Can we purposefully embody the positive traits of another type; a gift of human potential not innately our own? Can we access the appropriate attribute for a given situation, even if it is not natural or unconscious for us? Surely it is worth a try as we attempt to grow and actualize ourselves.

I remember one time when I was embarking on a business trip to teach the Enneagram to a group of women business leaders on the East Coast. My West coast flight was to leave in the early am, so I needed to catch an airport shuttle bus for the 1.5 hour ride to SFO.

Ordinarily, the bus drivers were ruthless about not waiting for latecomers or holding up departure for any reason. On this day, for unknown reasons, the driver waited for late folks he knew were coming for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes.

This Seven slammed into One. I felt myself tighten up in my body, my teeth clenched, and I became anxious and outraged. I stopped myself and took a long hard look at my own reaction. What type might possibly have an attribute that could help me in my current situation.

I thought about my son, a go-with-the-flow Nine. How would he handle this? Well, I mused to myself, he would kick back in his comfortable, warm seat on the bus and either doze or open a book to read.

And if he missed the flight? Well, there were other flights to the East Coast, and the class wasn’t till the next day. Things just have a way of working out.

So I pretended. I acted like my Niney son. I stopped looking at my watch and started reading my book. My jaw muscles unclenched and I relaxed.

I had a most pleasant ride to the airport, got off at my stop (lateish), walked into the terminal, got my boarding pass, and walked right onto the plane since they were boarding already. (yes, it was pre 9-11.) It remains one of my favorite trip experiences.

One of my Enneagram students (a One) told me that she wanted to be more free and lusty with her husband during sexual closeness So she pretended that she was an Eight the next time they were intimate and claimed that it was the best time they’d ever had in bed.

While we can never truly “know” what it is to be another type or even to manifest the gifts in the specific flavor in which they experience themselves, we can try to expand out of our own limited Enneagram box. We may be surprised at the range we have available to us.

Have you always wanted to be a Four? A Three? A One? Try it for an afternoon or a day or in a situation where those gifts seem called for. Let us know how it works!