Saturday, October 2, 2010

Enneagrammatical Errors: Common Enneagram Mistakes

Once we learn the Enneagram of personality, a whole world opens up to us
. We discover that our perception of reality, well.. isn’t reality. It’s a mere facet, reflecting a limited worldview. We realize that we have been like the blind guys groping that elephant. The part we perceive is real enough, but we only apprehend a small part of the whole. As my teacher Helen Palmer says, each of the Enneagram types has one ninth of the truth.

The Enneagram map helps to be vigilant as to when we are falling back into what Tom Condon calls the ‘trance” of our type. We question the reality before us and try on perceptions of the other eight types in an endeavor to sense the whole Elephant, as it were.

Certainly, new worlds offered by the eight types we do not inhabit have much to teach us. Our own type illuminates much as well. Yet, we may slip into “knowing” by virtue of our Enneagram knowledge too soon. We may fall prey to Enneagrammatical Errors.

Here are a couple of common ones that most of us (including me) have fallen prey to.

Point Envy
I’m not sure, but I”m guessing that Sevens get this one a tad more often than the other types. Thankfully, I can’t remember how many times I heard from a well meaning Enneagram enthusiast that they wished they were a type Seven. All I can say to that is “Oh no you don’t! You don’t wish you had my inside.”
Each type comes with its own set of problems and heartache, gifts notwithstanding. Speaking from the Seven perspective, I can truthfully say that what looks like happiness and optimism from the outside (even felt at first from the inside) often is the manhole cover over a huge, dark sewer of pain.

And until we travel below ground through that muck, all the twists and turns through the shadow, true joy eludes us. Believe me when I say that I would not wish that horrifying journey on anyone. Except maybe a fellow Seven who’s ready to become “real.”

My friends who inhabit the other eight types of the Enneagram have their own dragons to slay on their journeys. Point Envy is natural, perhaps, but misguided. (And for more on how Envy plays out read the previous Blog Entry: An Inquiry Into Envy For All Enneagram Types) So the next time you find yourself wishing you were a different type, count your blessings. The devil you know and all that....

Instant Typing
People I’ve known for a couple hours when they discover I am an Enneagram teacher invariably ask “What type am I?” Well, I don’t know. and anyone who says they do is cantilevered out there a little too far.

Because the Enneagram map describes an internally held worldview and beliefs about reality, there is really no way TO know. I just give my stock (and true) answer: “No one knows how you feel inside except you. Anyone can have any trait or characteristic that we notice externally given the right situation. It’s why we exhibit that trait that illuminates the internal landscape and narrows the search for type.” It works. They get it, dare I say, instantly. Feel free to use it next time someone asks you.

The Enneagrammatical error of instant typing occurs when people actually believe that they can type others after a few hours, minutes, days. Or even, gasp, by looking at a photo. I don’t care how talented, enlightened, or how many years you’ve spent studying/teaching the enneagram, you cannot tell someone’s internal terrain just by looking at them. And if someone types you, even if they know you well? Take it with a boulder sized grain of salt and do the work yourself.

The Enneagram is a map of internal terrain and an inner worldview, best learned by self- inquiry and self-observation. True, books, classes, websites, and trained professionals can offer tools to the seeker to help them narrow down their type to break its hold. But the discovery process is an individual one, exploring oneself with the map as a instruction guide for growing oneself.

We’ll look at more enneagrammatical errors in subsequent blog posts. Some of the mistakes we’ll address will include:

Enneagram Evangelism. Being Too Enthused About the Enneagram

Being a Not Type


Confusing The Map With The Territory

Have you noticed, fallen prey to, or been the unlucky recipient of other Enneagrammatical Errors? Or have a tale to tell about one of these? Leave your wisdom here in the comments; we learn by sharing.


Kylie Stedman Gomes said...

Hi Lynette,

Beautifully written post, and one I agree with wholeheartedly. Thank you!

Point Envy

You're probably right about Sevens being the target of Point Envy more frequently than other types, although I have occasionally encountered people who, understandably enough, think it would be easier for them to be a type more in stereotypical keeping with their gender, or family, culture or work environments.

Instant typing

When I first encountered the Enneagram, my own type-finding journey was thrown thoroughly off the rails by a couple of well-intentioned 'experts' who emphatically told me that I could not possibly be the type I immediately feared I was (an Eight). In some ways, it was lovely to hear that the self-development work I'd been doing for the preceding few years in the interests of NOT being like my father had either paid off in spades, or been entirely unnecessary in the first place ... *wry smile* ... however, as a result of being all too ready to believe I didn't have an Eight's problems, I drove myself around the twist for several months, trying to sort through the remaining types to figure out what I was "missing" (I spent quite a while trying to choose between Seven and Five, actually).

And then, when I finally attended an Eight panel (the last of a series), and the penny irrevocably dropped into my Eight issues ... ouch! I think the preceding months of denial just increased the shrapnel exponentially, and I cried a decade's worth of tears over the next few weeks. Palmer's observation (The Enneagram, p 324) that "the special problem with denied material is that it can emerge into awareness suddenly, and with great force, which, given the Boss's proccupation with justice, precipitates a barrage of self-hatred and self-blame" is dead on the mark. It amazes me that I still have skin left after tearing so many strips off myself!

Looking back, however, I do understand why these 'experts' said what they did. The problem is, traitwise, I often don't look Eightish at first glance - generally reserved, somewhat introspective, highly curious, and sufficiently interested in human truth to - normally - stand back and watch it emerge (rather than prodding people with sticks to see what they do). The Eight trance usually only shows up when I feel that one of "my people" is being threatened, when I'm challenged to do the impossible (a rather frequent part of my old life as a project manager, actually!), or when I feel betrayed or lied to about something important.

Sidenote - I'm aware that I also didn't *help* one of these experts by showing up to my first panel dressed as a "stereotypical" Four might, just to see whether he - the panel convenor - would be so silly as to fall for my bait ... or garner my respect by looking past the surface. I'm sorry to say that I caught the fish in less than 20 seconds. Still, I think it is only fair to admit that some students of the Enneagram are considerably better at 'typing' than others are ... not that they're always right ... but that they take a more open, less confrontational, less "I'm right because I'm an expert and you're a novice", more motivation-based (and less trait-based) approach to assisting people in figuring out their type. A number of years ago, for example, I attended an Enneagram conference and got talking to another attendee about the panel approach. During the course of conversation, without mentioning my type, I told him my story of dressing-as-a-Four, and his response was to laugh and say "Sounds to me like an Eight testing the panel convenor!" :-o

Anyway, Lynette, I've just started a new blog myself (, and hope you don't mind me including a link to yours. I do very much enjoy your articles.

Kind regards,

Theresa said...

While you Sevens can often be the "target of point envy", we threes are often the target of "evil eye" and "Oh, you're one of THOSE." I must admit I find myself cringing a bit when someone asks me my type. Oh well, I chose it for this time around and the lessons have been, shall we say, interesting? Certainly has been fun.

Elan said...

Thanks for sharing this. I think a good sign of finding your type is thinking that no one envy's yours. I'm a 6 and i feel like its the worst type (even though I know that its not like that).

I especially like the focus on how only people know what is true for themselves.

Anonymous said...

One of my friends is a 7 and I'm 4 and when I read your post about point envy I must admit I envy sevens, but the funny thing here is that mi seven friend envy fours. :P