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How to Use Your Enneagram Type to Learn and Change

When I was on my honeymoon, a three week break from work spent in Hawaii, I turned to my husband of three days and asked, “What’s next?”

I had been focused on my future with Brian since I was 15 and we started dating. We’d checked the wedding off the list and I now had no idea what to do with myself.

It didn’t take long – literally in the next breath – “I wonder when we’ll have kids”.

I had already named my future children and even had a good idea of the birth order, the ratio of boys to girls, and imagined adopting, as well. By the time I got married, the only thing left to do was to conceive.

As I write this, I feel compassion for my husband who might not have wanted to start a family so quickly. I wouldn’t know because I didn’t stop to ask.

Back then, I didn’t know this drive was optional. It was just who I took myself to be. I saw this as just another way in which I embraced all that life had to offer. I loved these qualities and I wasn’t interested in changing anything.

But also back then, I hadn’t felt the impact of this drive on my nervous system yet. I had no idea how this need to think, plan, and initiate would impact my family. Even if I had, I didn’t know I could be any other way. This is who I was. 

When the Enneagram found me in my forties, this drive had gone awry. I felt the impact and those around me did, too. Except I hadn’t drawn the link between the suffering in my family and my behavior.

I was:

  • Frustrated
  • Reconsidering my marriage
  • Running on empty; and
  • Blamed everyone buy myself.

 

If I’m honest, which I think you’d want, I have to admit that my chief complaint was that my family didn’t listen to me. After all, I knew what was best for each of them so was flummoxed at the response I was getting when I offered up my best parenting and partner skills.  This was my state of mind when I started studying the Enneagram with a firm-but-gentle teacher.

Fast forward to my mid-fifties, several years into using the Enneagram as a framework for my inner work. I now understand what took me to the darkness of my forties and I haven’t gone back there.

My compulsion to plan, anticipate, move, and do whatever I thought would make me happy is ultimately what took me down. My requirement that my kids and husband do the same made this a family problem, not just a me-problem.

This was my personality on overdrive. The necessary work included deconstructing my personality and recreating something that worked better for me and by extension, for my family. They benefit from my Enneagram work, for sure.

What does Enneagram work look like?

Inner work with the Enneagram takes place within the paradox of didactic learning and self-observation.

The Enneagram points you in a direction. It shines a light on the unconscious habits that contribute to “who you take yourself to be”. It’s up to you to discern whether these habits are working in your favor. If they aren’t, you now have the option to change things. 

By definition, unconscious habits aren’t easily seen so I didn’t know anything about my personality until I worked with someone.

Once I identified my Enneagram Type, I could see myself more clearly and objectively. Your Enneagram Type is your guide. It gently says, “If something isn’t working in your life –  if you have a big event approaching or if you are experiencing stress or insecurity – look out for these traits and tendencies that might throw you off course.”

Once you spot them, you can do something about them. Each Enneagram Type will have something different to look out for (this is why “one size fits all” advice doesn’t actually fit us all!).

In my case, learning about my Enneagram Type taught me that if I don’t pay attention, my default mode is to barrel through life, getting things done and checking things off my list, often without regard for the toll it takes on me and those around me. We sometimes call this a propensity for the “gluttony of experience”.

I tested it out. I thought I was just active, busy, and efficient and thought, “yay me!” but those traits can also come at a cost.  

What I couldn’t see then, but have learned through self-observation, is that I required everyone around me to also be active, busy, and efficient and when you weren’t, I was frustrated and you were miserable. I just couldn’t see it then.

Before you go and say how great it is to be active, busy, and efficient, I’ll reframe these for you. When these traits are on overdrive, they look more like impatience, frenetic activity, disorganization, poor listening, and chaos.

Today, at fifty-four, I understand myself so much more than I did at forty-four.

  • I can actually see myself losing presence and have learned how to come back to myself
  • I know what my gifts are and I know when those gifts aren’t gifting
  • I don’t have expectations, consciously or not, that you and I are the same

 

Do I lose my cool? Yup. But I recognize it and recover much more quickly. I know that when I lose my cool, it is always about me. The Enneagram has taught me that, too.

I’m a work in progress. As I write this, that urge for “gluttony of experience” is creeping in. I want to tell you so much more about the beauty and gifts of this work. Instead, I take a breath, feel my feet, and come back to myself where I know that this is enough. I trust that you’ll ask if you want to know more. In that thought, I find freedom.

Ok…but wait one second. If you DO want to know more, ask questions, and be with others on the journey of becoming who they are, join me for office hours in July.

Picture of Christina Granahan

Christina Granahan

Enneagram-informed coach + therapist

I teach you how to use your Enneagram type to realize the relationships and success that you’ve been chasing at work, home, or school. Let's connect and see how I can help you.

You have one life. Let’s get you living it.

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