I discovered the Enneagram a few years ago. It has opened my eyes to the lies I told myself for decades. It explains your fears and motivations for coping with those fears. I’ve now had a long time of self-observation, in general and with the pandemic bringing out things in me that caused me to consciously “notice” my coping mechanisms. Though I hated last year — its disruptions, its riots, its violence, its political chaos, its pandemic, its rampant fear, its lack of toilet paper, and not being able to see my friends for months on end — for me, 2020 was good for self-reflection and maturing as a person. And I owe a lot of that to the Enneagram.
The theory of Tritype is that while you have one primary type, which dictates the majority of your responsiveness, you also have a “fixation” (fix) in the other two centers. Enneagram has three centers: head (how you deal with logic and fear), heart (how you want others to see you), and gut (how you deal with anger and responsiveness). You can read through the numbers here on my personality typing blog.
Being a 6, I constantly over-thought my fixes, but eventually settled on 9 for the gut center, and 2 for the heart center. The 269 tritype is compassionate and agreeable. I call it the Cinderella tritype, since it’s patiently long-suffering.
For the 269, life is all about getting along. Pairing the avoidant nature of 6 and 9 with the helpfulness of 2 gives this type a unique motivation to soothe conflict and encourage acceptance an understanding in everyone they meet. Far from being a victim themselves, the 6 leads them to reserve trust for only their closest friends, but the 9 tempers this distrust with an almost universally non judgemental disposition. In trying to always be nice, the 269 may sometimes fail to speak their own truth when it is needed.
I want to talk about how each center affects me, on a personal level, below, to illustrate the increased level of self-awareness I’ve had since starting this journey.
The first time I read a profile on the 6, I felt instant relief, because it meant I was not “alone” in being “this way.” I fight, on a daily basis, a barrage of self-doubting thoughts. I think this, no wait… what if you overlooked something, or did not analyze it deeply enough, you should reconsider this conclusion. Or that isn’t safe, don’t do that. Or I don’t want to trust this person with myself, until I’m sure they won’t reject me. The endless barrage of over-thinking, checking every answer, and fear I cannot “do” it – life, marriage, dating, book tours, whatever.
6w7 makes up the majority of my personality. I’m hard-working, studious, but also cautious. I didn’t realize how much fear has a grip on my life until I recognized myself in the 6 profile. I grew up thinking my way was the “logical” way – and in a sense, it is, but it is also a logical rationalization to avoid taking any risk. To me, being logical means minimizing risks, avoiding pain, and not making foolish mistakes. If you are logical and detached, you can navigate the world more safely. I’ve also become more aware of my negative thoughts, and fearful slant toward people; it takes a lot for me to trust them, after a long time of continual “testing” to find out if they will accept me. I’m learning to face my anxieties about being among people who disagree with me, without feeling threatened by my sense of “aloneness,” because my 6 tends to see too much different-ness as a threat.
My 7 wing, however, likes to have fun and desperately needs things to look forward to, or I can become dissatisfied in my life. That’s why I host teas, I invite people to the movies, I arrange outings, and stay in contact with my friends—for entertainment, communication, and fun. Throughout the forced isolation of the pandemic, I saw myself coping through purchasing things, repainting and redecorating rooms, even bringing home a kitten to “liven up” my life. Having everything shut down and all entertainment venues canceled has been hard on my 7 wing, because it means fewer places to go, people to see, and events to “take in” to quell my need to “escape.” I also have a stubborn desire to remain optimistic and cheerful, which fights against my 6 tendency to assume the worst is about to happen. So I spent all of 2020 bouncing between depression and gloom, and wide-eyed idealistic optimsim that this period of enforced hell would soon be over so we could have fun again.
For my gut fix, it was hard to see it, and it wasn’t until I listened to a 9w1 podcast about introjections (taking what people say about you, and making it part of your identity) and diffusion of energy that I really saw 9 in myself. I’ve always thought of myself as 1 fixed, because I am dutiful, moralistic, judgmental, and blunt. I deal with fears of being bad, and I avoid being inappropriate. But 1 fixers have no trouble calling people out on their bad behavior, and I would rather dig myself a hobbit hole, crawl inside, and stay there. I can avoid conflict through disappearing, pretending nothing is wrong, and holding my tongue. When conflict arises around me, I feel a rush of anxiety like a tidal wave crashing over my head. I have, on occasion, wanted to get up and leave, but have never done so. It’s all part of my 9ish avoidance of anger. I have felt it dissipate the instant I thought, “I should tell this person that.” The threat of confrontation made it altogether vanish. I’ve spent years ignoring my anger, insisting I am not mad when I am, and struggle with passivity in relationships, where I tolerate far too much because I don’t want to tell them off and risk what, to me, feels like a “huge” confrontation. I remember one time being with two people who started sniping at each other, and I snapped at them to act like adults. I then felt bad about it, and apologized to one of them, who looked at me in confusion, because “that was… nothing.” To me, as a 9 fixer, it felt like this giant thing, but to them, it was minor. To a 9, any self-expression that could separate you from other people feels “huge.” Even if it’s just a small blip.
My heart fix took the longest to figure out, because I would relate and not-relate to each one in turn, as my 9ish tendency to “merge” took on the beliefs about myself that applied to each center. I could see myself in the helpfulness of the 2 and the need to be a good person, and the workaholic behaviors and emotional distance of the 3, and then the sense of being different and “not like others” of the 4. But it was not until I realized 2s see everything through a sense of shame of how they “should” be (and are not quite measuring up) that it clicked. The heart and image types directly reflect areas of shame and pride, and my pride has always been… being a good and generous and loving person, and being needed. A 2w1. I’ve justified staying in bad situations because “they need me.” I’ve given out unsolicited advice because “they need it, and it will improve their life.” I’ve felt resentment for doing unto others what I would like in return, and discovering they never got the memo. In my mind, trade happens. I do this for you, you do this for me. It’s a 2 way of thinking, along with a conscious sense that I should reduce my own needs and focus more on other people, to be truly a good person.
Once I caught on to my own self-deceit, I went through all the shame and disgust that finding out your heart type does to a person, because yes, there are wonderful things about being a 2 – that automatic helpful nature is very generous with its time and energy. But there is also the truth that it all stems from pride. From being needed. No wonder I’ve always liked Emma Woodhouse, we both have the same assumption to assume we are wonderful and necessary to people’s lives. In that way, we can become a martyr to their needs! Sacrifice on their behalf. C.S. Lewis said that the root of all evil is pride, and I believe it—because I have spent an incredible amount of time in my life feeling not good enough, not kind enough, not generous enough, while simultaneously congratulating myself on being necessary, needed, and moral. Ugh. Barf.
2, 6, and 9 are all “other people oriented” centers, which explains a lot about my overall approach to people and my passivity. The wonderful thing about this tritype is its empathic nature—it is easily able to feel suffering and experience it strongly without forming harsh judgments when things are happening around it, so it has a naturally forgiving and accepting nature both toward animals and humans. I find it hard to deal with cruelty or unkindness and it is very easy for me to cry when touched by things. But it’s also extremely sensitive to conflict of any kind and inclined to retreat from it, tends to aggressively self-analyze and rethink failed relationships as it ponders what it could have done to maintain them (even if they are not worth saving), and the nickname around Enneagrammer town for it is “Stockholm Syndrome.” Which I laughed at, but also makes me cringe, because… it’s true. If there’s one tritype willing to endlessly put up with unnecessary crap, it’s the 269. My 7 wing prefers the name Cinderella Syndrome. It’s a little less cringe. 😉
So what is the point of the Enneagram and why would you want to feel bad about yourself? The point is… we don’t have to stay suck inside our boxes. We can grow as individuals within our type, once we know what our tendencies are. My 2 traits are easy to recognize, and I’ve started working on shutting down the negative aspects that cause me grief – which is easy, because it’s the last number in my tritype and not an enormous part of my overall personality. When I’m tempted to offer unsolicited helpful advice, I am learning to hold my tongue. (It doesn’t work all the time, so bear with me.) I’m also training myself not to assume people need me to do things for them voluntarily, and to be more ‘selfish’ in whether I want to do it or not. In the past, I would have just done it for them, while secretly expecting them to do the same for me, and being angry when they did not. It’s not my job to look after everyone. This way I enter relationships on equal footing, not as their self-appointed mother.
Diffusing the 9 traits is more difficult, because 9s hate conflict and so do 6s, so that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. I would rather ignore the world and what upsets me than engage with it on a daily basis, and it is natural for me to just diffuse my energy into the environment. I’m learning to observe myself ‘letting things go’ and trying to focus more on healthy expulsions of my anger—allowing myself to feel angry, to assume I deserve to take up space and speak my mind, and by not invalidating my own opinions before I’ve even voiced them. I used to be more vocally active than I am now, and it’s partly out of anxiety at being targeted. A few too many people didn’t like what I said, so I shut down… but I hate existing in a space of non-honesty. And it’s simply just useful to know what I’m doing, when I am doing it, so I can work on being less conflict-avoidant.
Picking apart myself as a 6 is the hardest. Some things I’m good at and they are easy—remaining level-headed, sensible, and logical are good aspects of my personality, but working on trusting other people, not putting up mental guard rails, telling myself to assume the best outcome instead of the worst, and not assuming people are angry at me without evidence, are all things I have to learn. I also have to learn to trust myself more and assume I can do things, or that I am right even when my opinion goes against the general consensus. 6s do not trust themselves enough, and I have a bad habit of distrusting my own knowledge and intuition. The more I struggle with negativity and expectations of doom, the more I notice other 6s around me drowning in their own pits of “worst case scenarios” and fear. And that, I think, is something truly useful about self-knowledge and the Enneagram… that once you see the hole you are in, you start seeing the hole others are in, and how all of you could climb out of it and become a better version of yourself. Isn’t that why we’re all here? To grow?
As the Enneagram has taught me, everything I tell myself is a lie. People either love or hate me for me, not what I produce or can do for them. The things I fear mostly will never come to pass. Conflict with someone else will not shatter my world. I can write this blog post, and do nothing else all day, and still have worth as a human being, a creature of God. He did not put me here to be afraid, to be passive, or to hide behind how productive I am, but to live. To love. To learn. To improve. To seek spiritual awareness. And to know that I am loved. By Him. Whether He gave me this tritye or I chose it doesn’t matter. It is who I am, it is my challenge to work through, and it is beautiful, because it is me. It has negative traits but also wonderful ones of empathy, kindness, generocity, and love. I can use it for the greater good, and learn to look for my happy ending.