How Bad Advice Led to Life-Changing Invitations for This Enneagram Eight

How Bad Advice Led to Life-Changing Invitations for This Enneagram Eight

Pastor and activist Sandra Maria Van Opstal shares about power and vulnerability as an Enneagram Eight and how she turned bad advice into opportunities for deeper freedom.

In college I led a Bible study with some friends in our apartment for a pretty large group of people. I was studying Scripture for the first time, learning to lead, and doing it in community. I was so thrilled—until the conflicts started. There was so much tension and I didn’t know why, and to make things worse the parties involved were not willing to confront the issue. As an Enneagram Eight and an intuitive feeler I could sense something, but I didn’t know what I had done. One of our mutual friends confronted me and expressed that I had a very powerful personality and could change the atmosphere of a room. I would later hear this from supervisors who were “intimidated” by me or encouraged a “gravitas” that I carried. People in my life seemed to be speaking to some kind of power that I had of which I was not aware. I was told that I needed to “manage my power.”

When I was in my twenties, I was being mentored by someone at my church who had my best intentions in mind. Here I was, twenty-nine years old and still single. My mentor seemed to be so impacted by my singleness that they brought it up every time we met. I was not concerned. I did want a partner, and of course I wanted to be in a relationship with romance, sexual intimacy, and connectedness, but I had a revolution to instigate. In one particular conversation we had they expressed that if I slowed down maybe someone would see that I was available and have interest in getting to know me. I’m not sure why that would make me more attractive since I felt that a Christian would be inspired by my passion for God and my work in coming alongside and working with those who were disenfranchised. I responded as only an Enneagram Eight could: “I’m not slowing down, they are going to have to catch up!”  

In my thirties, I was having a conversation with another friend and I expressed how frustrating it was that I had not yet found a partner for this adventure I was on. I was traveling the world, learning from Christians in other cultures, interrogating faith, designing models of ministry, serving in my local church, and continuing to lean into my worship of God. Yet, it seemed most Christian men were afraid of me or felt they needed to compete with me. After venting about these men and then shedding a few tears, I waited for my friend’s wisdom. He offered this, “Well, maybe if you showed your softer side it would help.”  I will not recount what I was thinking because it would not be allowed in this forum. Fellow Eights will know it went something like this: “!?@$^$%&$^&^%!”

These are clearly memorable moments to me because not only do I remember the advice that was given to me, I also remember all the details of the moment, like what I was wearing and where these conversations took place. The bottom line was that I did not trust these advice-givers.

First of all, these were men in faith settings in which power, drive, and strength are perfectly acceptable for men, but not for women. I was not going to let patriarchy have the last word. Secondly, these were White men in White Christian settings who had little to no experience working alongside Black Indigenous people and women of color. I was not here for White-centered ways of relationships and life. They couldn’t champion the passion that their Latina sister had in her gut, they could only silence me and diffuse the power that they felt overstepped the expectation. I knew that their overall assessment was wrong, but there seemed to be a word of invitation to me about power, slowness, and vulnerability.

I began to ask Jesus to give me the grace to lean into the invitations by asking:

How do I manage my power and still be fully myself without being afraid to offend? 

What does it mean to have passion and urgency for your good news of peace and care for myself?

In what ways am I protecting myself and hiding vulnerability? 

Is it ok to be strong when I feel strong?

Over the decades, with the wisdom of the Enneagram, I have come to understand myself better. As Eights, we are strong—stronger than most. We are able to withstand injury and insult that others cannot. But we are human and therefore also weak and vulnerable. Eights have more energy than most (especially those of us with a Seven wing). We are able to work longer, run harder, and produce so much that it amazes our friends. But we are human beings, and we must learn to be in our Creator’s presence and not always on a mission. As Eights we are leaders, and people count on us, but vulnerability is necessary for human connection.

These are all things I am learning by God’s grace and with a little sense of humor. I am thankful for the bad advice I was given because that bad advice provoked life-changing invitations that has led to collective liberation, healing, and flourishing for myself and those I love.

Are there moments of bad advice that might invite you to deeper freedom?

About the Author

Sandra Maria Van Opstal

Sandra Maria Van Opstal is a second-generation Latina and the executive director of Chasing Justice. She is an author, pastor, and activist who has given leadership in global movements such as Lausanne, The Justice Conference, and Urbana Missions Conference. She has also served as an executive pastor at Grace and Peace Church and as an activist on the west-side of Chicago. She is the author of Forty Days on Being an Eight and The Next Worship.

3 Ways of Navigating Life with the Enneagram: Thinking, Feeling, and Doing

Three Ways of Navigating Life with the Enneagram- Thinking, Feeling, and Doing

Pastor Todd Wilson explores how each Enneagram type draws on one of three Centers of Intelligence in this excerpt from his book The Enneagram Goes to Church.

Early on in life, before first grade, each of us learns to prefer one dimension of personality over the other two. We learn to lead with thinking or feeling or doing. We find it works for us and helps us get our needs met. We look to one of the other two dimensions for support, and we then let the third dimension, whichever that is for each of us, sit idly by or fall out of use. In a word, we neglect it.

In a nutshell, this is the Enneagram theory of personality. The nine personality types at the heart of the Enneagram are the result of these three dimensions of personality coming together in nine different combinations. Some lead with thinking, others with feeling, still others with doing. Some support with thinking, others with feeling, still others with doing. And some let thinking fall into disuse, others feeling, and still others doing.

These three aspects of experience—thinking, feeling, and doing— make up nine different combinations of personality types. This is the deep logic of the Enneagram.

But the Enneagram also claims that the way each personality comes together is through the overuse of one of the centers (known as the Preferred Center), the misuse of a second (known as the Support Center), and the underuse of a third (known as the Repressed Center). Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

Your Preferred Center (or Triad)

The Enneagram arranges the nine personality types into three sets of three, according to which dimension of personality plays the lead role in our life. These three clusters of three are known as Triads. Your Triad identifies which is your Preferred Center.

Each of us takes in information from the world around us with either thinking, feeling, or doing. We draw on one of the three Centers of Intelligence to help us make our way in the world. This is the how we process the information coming at us.

I like to think of it as the way we read the world. What are you quick to notice? What immediately catches your eye? Where does your attention tend to go? What do you see that others may not see? Is it the action or actors in any given situation? Or the emotional dynamics of the people involved? Or the ideas, perspectives, or possibilities at play?

If you read the world with feeling, you are in the Heart Triad. If you read the world with thinking, you are in the Head Triad. And if you read the world with doing, you are in the Body Triad. One of them will be your preferred strategy for living in the world and making sense of it.

Each Triad has its own unique traits. Let’s take a closer look at what they are.

The Heart Triad

Those in the Heart Triad know what they know about the world and relationships through their hearts, through their intuitive emotional grasp of a situation. People in this Triad lead with their hearts, which means they read the world with emotions or feelings. Heart Triad people are often highly emotionally intelligent. They’re generally very good with people and have little trouble showing empathy, compassion, or understanding.

All the social geniuses of the world are in the Heart Triad. They’re the kind of people who gravitate toward other people and find relationships come very easily and naturally. You won’t find many socially awkward people who are in the Heart Triad. Interpersonally, they’re smooth. Because they’re so relationally attuned, they tend to be overly dependent on people’s opinion of them, especially when they’re working in an unhealthy space. Heart Triad people can be good listeners and warm conversationalists. But they can be beholden to the approval of others, emotionally reacting to rather than thoughtfully engaging with people in their lives.

In a word, Heart Triad people crave validation from others, which can make them needy. And while presenting themselves as others-focused, it can ironically be all about them—their own validation, affirmation, or accomplishment. This is a shadow-side of the Heart Triad. Deep down, they struggle with shame and worthlessness, which is why they cultivate an image of themselves that wins approval and affection from others. When this is brought into balance, they are exemplary individuals who love to love and be loved. But when it is overdone, it can lead to cloying, self-serving dependence on others.

The Head Triad

If those in the Heart Triad are interpersonal and geared to relationships, then those in the Head Triad are impersonal and oriented to ideas, thoughts, and insights. This of course doesn’t mean that those in the Head Triad are socially inept, uncaring, or bad with people. It does mean, however, that they’re always looking for an objective perspective on life.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is a member of the Head Triad. Members of the Head Triad are often intelligent, insightful, and curious. The majority of the world’s sages and wisdom-people come from this Triad. They have great powers of perception, and interestingly enough, they tend to be highly emotionally invested in their way of perceiving the world. When Head Triad people move toward the excess of their personality, they can be as stubborn as a mule and as unyielding as a brick wall. Occasionally, this expresses itself as intolerance toward the opinions of others.

Those in the Head Triad are planners, analyzers, visionaries, and scholars. They like studying things, spotting patterns, seeing the world as predictable. The shadow-side of this, of course, is fear—fear of not knowing, fear of not having options or opportunities, fear of not having their environments be safe and secure. Head Triad folks are on a lifelong quest for security, which produces in them either fierce loyalty or recurring bouts of worry.

The Body Triad

People in the Body Triad lead not with feeling or thinking but with doing. They’re deeply connected to their bodies and read the world very instinctively and from their gut. They will have an intuitive sense that something isn’t right but may not be able to explain to you why. They just know it in their bones, so to speak. Because their preferred strategy in the world is to lead with doing, they tend to “think fast,” as social psychologists would put it—that is, with their bodies.

Body Triad people naturally value physical comforts and pleasures, whether that’s a five-course meal with fine wine, a restful bedroom escape, or an immaculately kept kitchen. Because they’re in touch with their bodies, which is our source of power and presence in the world, they often come across as commanding personalities, at times even demanding. They’re abuzz with instinctual energy, which can at times be overwhelming to themselves and others. As a rule, they don’t like being vulnerable and prefer to maintain control over any situation they find themselves in. Lurking beneath the surface of their lives is anger, and when it is directed toward individuals, we call it rage. This explains their vitality and intensity.

I’m an Eight, which means I’m in the Doing or Body Triad. In every situation, I’m asking, What should be done? or What am I going to do? I don’t consciously try to think this way; it just happens. This is the way I am in the world. I walk into a room, and I have an instinctive sense for what I want to do. I talk to a friend on the phone, and I’m processing the conversation in terms of action. I go for a walk with my wife, and I tend to talk about what we’re going to do or how we should strategize to make something happen. It’s my default way of working in the world.

I should mention the downside of this. Because our personalities take shape around our preferred strategy for approaching the world— whether thinking, feeling, or doing—we tend to overuse that dimension of our personality. This, in turn, puts us off balance. Rather than living more integrated lives, in which thinking, feeling, and doing are mutually supportive and closely interconnected, most of us tend to overuse one, misuse the other, and underuse the third. The Enneagram has a way of talking about our use—or misuse and underuse—of the other two dimensions of personality.

Taken from The Enneagram Goes to Church by Todd Wilson. Copyright (c) 2021 by Todd Wilson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, USA. www.ivpress.com

You Are More than Your Enneagram Type

You Are More Than Your Enneagram Type

Enneagram teachers and authors of Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram Clare and Scott Loughrige and Adele and Doug Calhoun introduce how the Harmony Enneagram theory makes way for spiritual transformation.

Transformation is the soul of the Enneagram. Anything short of transformation and it’s just another personality fad. Something here today and gone tomorrow. We find ourselves conflicted about Instagram Memes, Enneagram art, and Enneagram music. Often these vehicles are fun and give a new generation access to an ancient tool and they can keep us defined by “type” rather than transformation. And, let’s not lose sight of the value of the Enneagram as a tool that can heal relationships, open us to truth, draw us to God and bring about spiritual transformation.

Soren Kierkegaard writes: With God’s help, I shall become myself. The Enneagram gets behind defenses and rationalizations to the truth of who we are.

In Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram we write, “The Enneagram can help you recognize your unique melody as well as where you are off-key internally and relationally. The Enneagram reveals your tempos, soloist agendas, and dedication to your ‘playlist.’ Still, discovering the truth of your number can never encompass who you are. Nor does it automatically change you or your relationships. Relational repairs and healthy interactions take intention and attention. Enneagram insights have to be applied to the rhythms and grooves of ordinary daily lives to bring transformation and harmony.”

The Enneagram comforts and discomforts. It names how we default and defend ourselves from truth—especially truth about ourselves! Jesus continually struggled with people who were closed to new truth about God and themselves. During his last hours with his followers, Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12). Jesus’ friends just weren’t prepared to hear truth that contradicted their agendas and self-understanding. Two thousand years later, we are no more prepared to bear and practice truth than Jesus’ disciples were.

For us personally, God graciously used the Enneagram in our lives to get around our defenses and blind spots so we could practice truth. The Enneagram revealed the reality of our inner discord and its effect on others. Knowing our Enneagram number gave us eyes to see how image, wounds, lies, triggers, and default responses shaped us every bit as much as our faith. Yet, recognizing our number was just the beginning of a journey that is changing us and our ability to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves.

What Is the Enneagram, and Where Did It Come From?

What is the Enneagram and where did it come from

Spiritual director and Enneagram teacher Alice Fryling introduces the Enneagram’s history, Christian roots, and means for spiritual growth in this excerpt from her book Mirror for the Soul.

The Enneagram captured me from the first workshop I attended in Madison, Wisconsin. I had my doubts that the mysterious circle with its numbers, lines, and arrows could tell me anything about myself. But as the presenter described each number, I began to see not only myself but also my husband, my daughters, even my neighbors. I saw why relationships get so confused. And I saw why I was often confused with myself. I saw a description of my spiritual journey that was unlike anything else I knew. I was hooked.

Several years later I attended another conference about the Enneagram that did not go as well for me. It was a two-day conference on the origins of the Enneagram. I did okay with the history. The presenters described the influence of various scholars and teachers on the Enneagram over the course of history. I learned about Evagrius Ponticus of the fifth century, Ramon Lull of the thirteenth century, and Oscar Ichazo, Claudio Naranjo, and Robert Ochs, all from the twentieth century. Not that I really knew who any of these people were, but at least I got the history part. Then the presenters moved on to the diagram of the Enneagram. I sat in the audience trying to listen well and nod wisely. But I had no idea what they were talking about. That was partly because I do not have the scientific or mathematical expertise that the presenters had. But I have since learned that I am not the only one confused.

The Origins of the Enneagram

As I have read more and more about the Enneagram, I have learned that its origins are clouded in mystery. One Enneagram book admits that “the exact origins of the Enneagram symbol have been lost to history; we do not know where it came from, any more than we know who discovered the wheel or how to write.” Perhaps I was not so uninformed after all. We may never know the exact origins of the Enneagram or the Enneagram diagram.

We do know that the Christian roots of the Enneagram probably go back to the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth century.

They are often considered the “spiritual directors” or mentors of the early church. As people sought them out for help on the spiritual journey, these teachers saw patterns of life that are reflected in the Enneagram. Since then the wisdom of the Enneagram has been passed down through oral tradition. This accounts for some of the confusion. Just as modern-day journalists give different reports about the same event, so historical and contemporary teachers of the Enneagram describe its history and content with a variety of words and perspectives.

In modern times this oral tradition has been passed down largely through the Catholic Church, but until the second half of the twentieth century the Enneagram was considered “secret knowledge.” Laypeople, it was thought, could not handle this information with care and wisdom. When Richard Rohr, a Franciscan teacher of the Enneagram, learned of the Enneagram from his spiritual director in the 1970s, he was told not to pass it on in writing or to let anyone know where he got it. But, says Rohr, discovering the Enneagram was one of the “three great overwhelming spiritual experiences of my life. I could literally feel how something like scales fell from my eyes, and it became clear to me in a flash what I had previously been up to: I had always done the right thing . . . but for false motives.” Breaking the silence, Rohr became a major influence in bringing the Enneagram to laypeople within the Catholic Church and, more recently, to Protestants. It took centuries, then, for the Enneagram to become accessible to someone like me.

The Enneagram as a Spiritual Journey

I wonder what the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth century would say about our understanding of the Enneagram today. Would they even recognize it after thousands of years of being passed down by oral tradition? Our current understanding of the Enneagram incorporates a variety of perspectives, different words, and different applications. The Enneagram is taught today from the vantage points of psychological understanding, the business world, and secular, nonreligious points of view.

My presentation of the Enneagram is from the perspective of a Christian’s spiritual journey, looking at God’s gifts to us, our failure to express these gifts in love, and God’s gracious response to that failure. The Enneagram identifies the gifts we have been given. When we are freely and lovingly expressing these gifts, we are not held back by self-serving compulsive motivations. But on the journey of life, even when we want to live out of a truly loving place, we hit daily roadblocks. The Enneagram identifies the things we fixate on that cause us to get sidetracked or stuck on the journey. It shows where these fixations take us: right back into our compulsive, false-self perspective. In the words of the Enneagram, our compulsions are our “passions.” Christians often call them sins. But from the Enneagram we learn that we are not left in our compulsions or sins. It also identifies the graces (or “virtues”) given to us to lead us to transformation.

This is not a linear journey, from compulsion to transformation. It is more like a circle, or even a figure eight, that we weave in and out of many times a day. Richard Rohr said in one of his many talks on the Enneagram, “The agenda of the false self is to look good, to pretend. The biggest problem with the false self is not that it is there, but that we start to believe it ourselves. You can tell when the false self takes over because you become easily offended. The false self,” he says, “is offended (about every three minutes) because it is fragile. The true self, on the other hand, is unoffendable.” God invites us, through the wisdom of the Enneagram, to notice when we are acting out of false-self motivation. Then God, in love, invites us to let go of that motivation and return to living out of the gifts and grace given to us.

The Enneagram describes a life of growth, change, failure, and transformation. I have changed as I have traveled this Enneagram journey. By the grace of God, I am a different person today than I was when I went to that first workshop.

The Theory of the Enneagram

As we begin, we will take a bird’s-eye view of the Enneagram. Don’t worry if this seems confusing at first. Human beings are confusing people. The Enneagram will eventually help sort that out.

The Enneagram suggests that we are all given particular gifts. Numbered one to nine, these gifts include goodness, love, effectiveness, creativity, wisdom, faithfulness, joy, power, and peace. We usually like our gifts. In fact, we like them so much, we become addicted to them. We cannot live a day without our giftedness being front and center in our lives. But as we try to do this, we find that we cannot express our gifts perfectly, others do not value our gifts as much as we think they should, and other people have different gifts that we may think look better or worse than our own gifts. When we become frustrated about these experiences with our gifts, it is as though we reach a roadblock on our daily spiritual journey. We try to circumvent the roadblock by exaggerating the gift we have been given. A person in the Three space, for instance, is often very successful and effective in what he does. This becomes so important that failure is totally unacceptable, something to be avoided at all costs. If failure cannot be avoided, the Three person unconsciously decides that a little deceit might cover it up. Or a person in the Eight space may be so enamored with her leadership and power that she tries to control everything and everyone. When this doesn’t work, she doesn’t know why and doubles down and tries harder to control, alienating her colleagues even more.

All of us live with some version of these examples. We all exaggerate what we value. We exaggerate the gift we have been given in order to try to look good, control life, and impress ourselves and others. When we do this, we are no longer free. We become compulsive about how we think we should express our gifts and how we think our gifts should be received. The Enneagram identifies the particular compulsions that accompany each gift.

The Enneagram does not leave us stuck in the mire of our compulsions. It suggests a grace to help us return to God’s love, love for ourselves, and love for others. The classic presentation of the Enneagram uses the word virtue for this quality that helps us return to our true self. I prefer the word grace, a word used by many Enneagram presenters. This is a word that hints at something given to us freely, that we do not have to earn. For each of the nine spaces, a grace, or a perspective on life, is suggested to help loosen the grip of our compulsive thinking. The nine graces identified all hint at the mercy and love God offers all of us all of the time. As we receive the particular grace of our space, we also notice the graces of the other spaces and begin to participate in God’s overwhelming mercy, indeed in God’s grace. This will become clearer as we look at each space.

Nine Perspectives on Life

People in the One space are gifted with goodness. They do things well, very well. They are conscientious and ethical, striving for excellence. But on the journey of life, they discover that things are not always good, that they themselves are not always good. The false self convinces them that they are responsible for making life not only good but perfect. When things are not as perfect as they think they should be, Ones experience anger, toward themselves, situations, and others. God invites Ones to receive serenity, which is the ability to accept things as they are and to become less reactive when things are not perfect.

People in the Two space are especially gifted to love. But as Twos journey on in life, they discover that they actually like to feel needed by others even more than they like to love unselfishly. As they compulsively try to meet the needs of others, they deny their own needs and develop a pride that leads them to hover and control in the name of love. The false self convinces them that they know what everyone else needs but no one can know what they need. The grace that leads Twos back to the true self is humility. As they begin to acknowledge their own needs and weaknesses, God transforms them to be better able to love others with authenticity and grace.

People in the Three space are gifted to be effective, to succeed in making things happen. But as they succeed in life, Threes may become vain about their successes. When threatened with a sense of possible failure, Threes, in their false self, give in to deceit, the compulsion to twist the truth to fulfill the self-image they have created. Truth is the grace offered to Threes to experience God’s transformation. The Enneagram reminds Threes to embrace and express truth about themselves, their abilities, their weakness, and emotions.

People in the Four space reflect the creativity of God. But because they cannot always make life and themselves creative and special, Fours give in to self-doubt, self-contempt, even self-hatred. This leads to envy, as they believe that everyone else has qualities they are missing. The grace offered to the Fours is equanimity, which gives balance to their emotions, allowing them to feel their feelings without getting stuck in them.

People in the Five space are gifted with wisdom. They are knowledgeable visionaries. But for Fives, the quest for knowledge and information is never ending. They become protective of their knowledge and may have an air of superiority. If they give in to the false self, they experience compulsive avarice or greed, taking in more and more knowledge but not wanting to give it out or let go of it. Detachment is the grace offered to Fives, allowing them to hold more loosely all that they know and move into their true self as they engage with others, even without knowing or understanding everything.

People in the Six space are faithful. They are loyal and easily influenced by authority. But they do not trust themselves. The false self says to Sixes that the opinion of others has more validity than their own ideas, and that they should embrace truth as others see it. Because they believe they must be prepared for every possible danger, their false self is especially prone to fear. God offers the grace of courage to Sixes. It takes courage for Sixes to learn to trust themselves and not assume that other perspectives have more validity than their own.

People in the Seven space are gifted with joy. But as they live with this gift, they are tempted to overstate the positive and to resist anything dark or negative. They protect themselves from the stresses of life by planning and dreaming. When the false self takes over, Sevens succumb to gluttony, wanting more and more of everything joyful or “happy,” in order to avoid inner pain. The grace offered to Sevens is sobriety. This grace invites Sevens to take only what they need and live with that. In their true self, Sevens can enjoy life even if it includes some darkness.

People in the Eight space are often leaders. They are gifted with power. But Eights may deny their own vulnerability. To cope with this fear of weakness, they come to believe that they need to dominate others. “It’s my way or the highway.” The false self demands more and more power, giving in to lust, an insatiable passion for power over others. God invites Eights to receive the grace of innocence, a childlike capacity to admit weakness and vulnerability.

People in the Nine space are gifted with peace. They are calm and content and remind us that God is peaceful. But because they fear change and conflict, Nines may become indolent, not willing to exert themselves, even for things that are important. As the false self takes over, Nines can become slothful or lazy. This may lead them to become neglectful, taking the path of least resistance. God’s grace to Nines is action. In their true self they are able to be more assertive, to state their own positions and preferences, and to become energized and involved in life.

Seeing the Enneagram in Ordinary Life

Lest this all sound too simple, it is. Humanity is not neatly divided into nine categories. But the simplicity of the Enneagram is part of its genius. In the complexity of our life circumstances, our private motivations, and our inner inclinations, we lose sight of the unique ways we respond to life and we forget to appreciate that not everyone responds as we do. The Enneagram, quite simply, helps us see what we are doing.

Listen to how this might play out in an ordinary conversation when my husband and I connect in the late afternoon. If my husband asks me, “How was your day?” I would probably answer with a Four perspective, which can be a bit melancholic: “The committee chair didn’t get back to me about the brochure. Now I’ll be late with what they want me to do. The doctor never called about my test results. I don’t think he likes me. I didn’t have time to get the groceries so we have to eat leftovers.” If I were a Seven, I might be more optimistic: “The committee chair didn’t get back to me. Now I have extra time to work on the brochure. The doctor’s office didn’t call, so the test results must be okay. Oh, and I didn’t get to the grocery store. Let’s go out to eat.” Or notice the underlying anger in how a One might respond: “The committee chair didn’t call back. She should have! And I never heard from the doctor. We should switch to someone better. I should have gone to the grocery store, but lately they have so few cashiers, the lines are so long I didn’t have time.”

Each of us looks at life and relates to others within the perspective of our Enneagram space. Rohr often points out that “every viewpoint is a view from one point.” But this does not mean that everyone in each space looks or sounds the same. Human beings are much too unique for that. Not all Fives value the same aspect of wisdom. Not all Eights want to be powerful in the same situations. And not all Twos want to help in the same ways. But the categories are still instructive. We observe categories in all of creation. Consider the variety of roses and the many types of maple trees. Not all roses are alike, and not all maple trees are alike. But if we did not have tree and flower categories and rose and maple categories, we would not do well tending the backyard. The Enneagram gives words to describe nine categories of human beings.

Spiritual Blind Spots

One reason the Enneagram confuses us at first is that it identifies our blind spots. We are, by definition, unaware of psychological and spiritual blind spots. I don’t always know what I’m doing when I’m doing it. I can’t see what’s wrong with my compulsions. What’s wrong with wanting to be an expert in using my gifts? The One person might think, unconsciously, Why shouldn’t I strive for perfection even though nothing is ever perfect? Or the Nine might wonder, again unconsciously, Why shouldn’t I always be peaceful, even if I avoid conflict? We all have times when we don’t know why we are choosing to live life as we do, or we simply don’t see what we are doing. Other people experience us differently from how we experience ourselves. Jesus asked, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 RSV ). Our blind spots are the logs in our eyes. The Enneagram is trying to point out to me things about myself I can’t and don’t want to see.

Our Enneagram compulsions are like rocks on a dark path. We stumble over them because we cannot see them. People in the Two space, for instance, stumble over their invasiveness and control as they compulsively try to help people. Those in the Six space stumble over their fear of disloyalty or disobedience as they give in to the compelling influence of authority figures in their lives.

The problem with our blind spots is not just that we are frustrated with life, others, and ourselves. Our blind spots are powerful deterrents to our spiritual growth. To the extent that we remain unaware of what is motivating us, we are not free. Learning about the Enneagram has helped me embrace the truth that God gave me gifts because God loves me and has equipped me to love others, not because my gifts are so impressive. God does not love me more because of my gifts. This truth has been immensely freeing for me. But it is counter-intuitive and contrary to my normal thoughts and feelings.

My Native Language

Jesus said that the enemy of our faith is the great deceiver. “When he lies,” Jesus said, “he speaks his native language” (John 8:44). I have learned the language of the great deceiver well. In many ways it has become my native language. In order to grow spiritually, I need to translate my inner language into the language of God. Through the Enneagram I can see that my particular native language is the language of the Four. The lies I believe are second nature to me. Among other things, I believe that even though I am gifted in creativity, I must be extraordinarily special in all that I do. I believe that I am uniquely burdened by being sensitive and that others always have something I am missing. I did not even know I believed these lies until I learned I was a Four. In fact, when I first picked up a book about the Enneagram (to prepare for that first conference), I knew for sure that I was not a Four. That’s how blind I was!

Looking beyond our blind spots to the truth of who we are is a difficult process. It is no surprise, then, that finding our “home space” can be a challenge. Chapter seven is devoted to practical ways we can meet this challenge and find the space that best describes our gifts as well as our compulsions.


Learning the language of the Enneagram invites us into deeper self-awareness. Who in the world am I? This is not a narcissistic question. If I do not know who I am, I cannot see the log in my own eye, I do not know the full extent of God’s grace, and I am trapped in ongoing patterns of living that are not life giving. As I have continued on in the journey of learning the truths of the Enneagram, I have become more and more grateful that the knowledge it gives increases my own self-awareness, even if at first I don’t like what I see.

I am willing to journey on because this kind of awareness is essential to spiritual growth and intimacy with God. John Calvin wrote, “Nearly all wisdom we possess . . . consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. . . . The knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”

David Benner wrote more recently, “Lack of awareness is the ground of our dis-ease and brokenness. . . . Choosing awareness opens up to finding God in the midst of our present realities. . . . Awareness is the key to so much. This is why it is, in my opinion, the single most important spiritual practice.”

These are strong words from respected Christian leaders teaching hundreds of years apart. We would do well to listen. Our spiritual blind spots are not just a matter of stumbling and bruising the knees of our soul. Our blind spots keep us from knowing the love of God. If I am hiding behind a blind spot, I am unconsciously trying to keep God, others, and myself from the love that God offers. Knowledge of the Enneagram has led me into a self-awareness that has drawn me closer to the heart of God.

Adapted from Mirror for the Soul by Alice Fryling. Copyright © 2017 by Alice Fryling. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, www.ivpress.com.

The Enneagram Is Not Just for White People

The Enneagram is Not Just For White People

David Potter at Sojourners interviews Micky Scottbey Jones on decolonializing the Enneagram and the lack of diversity in Enneagram circles.

The landscape of social change is evolving. While effective activism and spiritual vitality have long been positioned in opposition to one another, today’s social movements are investing greater attention to their interdependence. At this intersection of personal and collective well-being, justice doula and movement chaplain Micky ScottBey Jones holds both deep conviction and embodied wisdom.

Jones’ passion for infusing movements with healing and resilience — as well as the need to sustain her own activism — led her to begin working with the Enneagram of Personality: a system that identifies nine unique ways of being and relating to others. In its common usage as a personality typing system, the Enneagram helps classify and understand different personalities – which often includes creating a profile of common behaviors, emotions, and motivations for each of the nine types.

While Jones has found the Enneagram invaluable, it is not equally accessible to all people. The lack of diverse teachers of the system leaves a critical absence of knowledge. Inspired by her commitment to decolonizing faith and justice, Jones recently launched a fundraising campaign to support her efforts to become an Accredited Professional Enneagram Teacher/Trainer. Sojourners spoke with Jones about this process and why she thinks the Enneagram is an important tool for both personal and social transformation.

The Enneagram for Pastors

church steeple

Enneagram expert Suzanne Stabile shares in Christianity Today how she and her husband, pastor Joe Stabile, have utilized the Enneagram within their church ministry context.

My husband, Joe, is a pastor. In other words, he is teacher, public speaker, counselor, children’s story teller, youth leader, HR director, master of ceremonies, facilities coordinator, volunteer coordinator, mission trip coordinator, hospital chaplain, creative designer, office equipment technician, mediator, fundraiser, finance officer, funeral director, father, and grandfather.

Does he excel at every one of those tasks? How could anyone? He thrives in some parts of the ministry, and in other areas he merely gets by. For 2,000 years, men and women have tried to discern a call and find their way in the ministry, only to find a world of expectations that cannot be met.

Through his 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, Joe has found a number of tools to manage the range of expectations that come with ministry. None have been as helpful to him as the Enneagram. The Enneagram explains the differences in those who have filled the pews in the churches we were appointed to serve. It has helped us become aware of how we all see the world differently, how we respond differently to what we see, and the specific steps we can take to become more like Christ.

Of course, like any self-assessment tool or personality test, there is a danger in making the Enneagram more than it is. It is simply one helpful tool as we journey toward understanding who we are, who God is, and who we are in relation to God. By itself, the Enneagram doesn’t have much to offer, but when combined with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual practices, it can be extremely helpful.

Below are descriptions of the nine Enneagram types, as well as some advice for those who find themselves in those descriptions, applied to the pastoral role. You might be tempted to think of others who fit each description. That’s an understandable impulse, but the healthiest way to use the Enneagram is by focusing on self-awareness, not diagnosing others. Try to discern where you land and consider how growing in this kind of self-awareness might help you in your life and ministry.