Have you ever heard of the enneagram?
I find there are three camps of people in the world. The enneagram-enthusiasts, the folks who are tired of hearing about it, and those who go in and out of both. Oh, and the ones we’ll call “The Innocents” who have yet to be inducted—so four camps.
Put simply, the enneagram is a personality typing system. But if we’re being honest, the enneagram has more of a devout following and rich history than that description suggests. This nine-point mystery of mathematics and motivations has left traces of itself throughout hundreds (some say thousands) of years of religion, race, culture and philosophy.
“I’m kind of a big deal,” adds Enneagram.
Shut upppp, responds Camp #2.
Let me tell you how this school of thought has been helpful for me. Far more than knowing that I am a lion or an orange or a whatever-the-combination-of-meyers-briggs-letters I am, knowing my enneagram number has helped tremendously in my self-awareness journey which I think has bubbled over into my friendships, job choices, and most recently my parenting. Instead of merely giving me a personality profile with which to identify and say “me too,” the enneagram exposes my coping susceptibilities in stress, my signs of health, and my chief motivations that drive them all. The enneagram has reminded me of the positive things I add to the world while also READING MY MAIL when it comes to the stories within which I have framed my life in an effort to survive.
Now let me tell you how it has frustrated the mess out of me. I do not completely love how I am perpetually trying to type the people I meet in an effort to know how then to see them, talk to them, understand them etc. Those who the community would deem as ennea-pros would be the first to say that no one should ever type anyone else. It should be a personal discovery for the individual. And yet, here I am, deciding that the person on Facebook who is posting the most oddly artistic and maybe somewhat sad stuff must be a four, that the person who is challenging a good amount of the slightly liberal articles I share must be an eight, and that the person who is ever-so quietly reminding the general public that we have to, for the love, distinguish between “your” and “you’re” surely is a five. I very much do not like to be boxed in or have people assume they have me “figured out,” and yet my assumptions are running rampant. Though I’m working on this. People are complex. Sometimes it takes years for them to realize what number they are.
Nevertheless, it’s been primarily helpful for me. Specifically in parenting.
I am a seven.
This, as I understand it, means that I am enthusiastic and energetic about a lot of things (maybe too many things), that I enjoy a decent adventure and a wide load of options, and that I am both playful and practical. The Enneagram Institute says that when moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), scattered Sevens suddenly become perfectionistic and critical at One. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), gluttonous, scattered Sevens become more focused and fascinated by life, like healthy Fives. I’m, to this day, still offended every time they use the word gluttonous.
Sevens have also been known to be jacks of all trades, masters of none and to remain in perpetual childlike nature. In an average spot, we have a hard time not making jokes when things get tense (usually at someone else’s expense), staying focused on a job or task, and not masking our anxiety by remaining constantly distracted with things like social media or new ideas. My friend Sarah often uses Lorelai Gilmore and Chandler Bing as her go-to seven examples.
I’m confused, say The Innocents.
Breathe in the goodness…keep it coming, says Camp #1 (you weirdos).
I’m thankful that my husband Luke and I had been utilizers of the enneagram a good while before parenting.
One, because in parenting, even though unique humans, in unique combinations, sandwiched within unique situations are embarking on the journey of raising a brand new unique human, we still read articles and hear opinions as if they could have a chance to hold universal truths. And that gets confusing. I think personality typing has helped me remember that the people writing blogs (like us, lolz), and doing podcasts, and reacting to our choices are all also very unique people in unique circumstances themselves. It has helped me remember to sift information before comparing it with or applying it to our lives. Please…please, please…always sift anything you read on Milk Drunk Blog. We are not you. Our babies are not your babies. Our lives are not your lives.
Two, it has reminded me that, even though it sometimes feels unnatural for me (someone who consistently wants to be the child with options) to now be a parent with limitations…there will be other things that come naturally. Like make-believe, and planning vacations, and mud-pies-in-the-backyard days. I may not be awesome at being observant when it comes to all of the safety hazards that surround my son at all times, in all places, like Luke (a 6)…but boy does my kid love the stupid songs and dances I make up to make diaper time bearable.
Three, in this new season, where disintegration (stress) frequently accompanies our lack of sleep, it is nice to know the warning signs. For me, it is when I start compulsively straightening the throw pillows and the bathroom hand towel. When “no one around me” can “get it together,” when I don’t want our house to look lived-in in the slightest or I’m obsessively looking at my phone before bedtime, there’s a good indication that something else needs to be addressed. That I need to slow down, focus, admit the problem, and take some stuff off the plate…breathe, go deeper, feel, acknowledge my sadness and fear and not impulsively try to fix it without some decent thought, prayer, and counsel. And time.
And lastly, I’m thankful to know that this little baby, who has seemingly inherited his mother’s comedic timing and his father’s curious expression, is growing a personality all to himself. One that will experience stress and health potentially very differently than ours. One that could have its own way of understanding, reframing, and communicating. One that will give and receive love, encouragement, and challenge in ways for which I want to be on the look out…as they may in fact be unfamiliar to my own.
Personality work is simultaneously cultish and also brilliant, admits Camp #3…because they know that self-awareness helps us show hospitality to people who are different than we are, even those who are in our own family.
I cannot believe I read this whole thing, scowls Camper from #2 (with a smirk).
How do I find out what number I am? say The (former) Innocents
I’m glad you asked. You can take the test over at Eclectic Energies and then there’s a whole cave of info to get lost in at the Enneagram Institute (including relationship profiles between your number and another…to help better understand those housemates and partners you’re living with).
I’ve memorized those sites already, says Camp #1
I have no idea what’s going on but I’m excited! says Chandler Bing.
Happy Enneagraming, you crazies. I hope we find that there’s a lot less black and white in this world, and that we get a little more ok with navigating the grey areas…even and especially in our parenting of these wildly diverse and complex and beautiful kiddos.