Personality and the Enneagram
One theory of personality that I have found helpful is the Enneagram. The Enneagram symbol can be traced to the works of Pythagoras, and the Sufis used the Enneagram in their narrative tradition. In the 1960s, Oscar Ichazo, founder of the Arica School, started recording and using the Enneagram in relationship to the human psyche. His approachable and useful psychological system incorporates traditions and wisdom from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy.
Personality is the unique pattern of temperament, emotions, interests, and intellectual abilities that develop a child’s innate tendencies.
As a way of explaining motivation and behavior, the Enneagram theory describes nine personality types based on corresponding psychological constructs. According to the theory, a child is born with a dominant type that determines the way he learns to adapt to his environment.
Here are some of the theory’s basic principles:
- One type is not better than another. The numbers assigned to each type have no meaning; they are neutral.
- Every type applies to both males and females.
- Each type has both positive and negative aspects.
- People are the same type for their entire lives.
As a tool for understanding yourself and others, the Enneagram can help you gain insight into your child’s personality. It can also help you identify your style of parenting. Today, many psychologists, educators, and business leaders use the Enneagram to help people understand each other and thus improve communication and productivity.
I have enjoyed studying the Enneagram personality theory for more than 20 years. It has served as a valuable tool for understanding myself, my family, my friends, and my business associates. It has been especially helpful to me as a parent because I have used it to understand differences in my children’s personalities and to learn how their unique characteristics contribute to their view of the world. It has also helped me to understand my own parenting style.
For example, as an Enneatype Seven, I encouraged my children to be independent and adventuresome and to experience life to its fullest. When [my daughter] Emi was born, my father revealed an insight into my parenting style when he said to me, “Now you have someone to play with.” While my multiple ideas and activities were stimulating to [my daughters] Emi and Mari, it was probably challenging for them to keep up with me while tuning in to their inner selves.
Instead of seeing the theory as a way of defining your child, however, use it as way to help him gain freedom through recognition and appreciation of differences among people.
By the time your child is around four to five years of age, you will probably be able to determine his Enneatype because his consciousness will have developed enough to provide a separate sense of self and ways of fitting in to the world. However, even at an earlier age it is possible to identify characteristics that are representative of a type, and it is fun to try. At the very least, the Enneagram can show you that your child is an individual with his own way of viewing the world.
Because the Enneagram is related to a person’s motivation, the system can help you understand why your child behaves in a certain way, which in turn helps you to accept him and to offer him compassion. Most often, personality types develop as a defense mechanism—as a way of surviving. Instead of seeing the theory as a way of defining your child, however, use it as way to help him gain freedom through recognition and appreciation of differences among people. This awareness can also lay the groundwork for you to make better parenting decisions as you help your child build on his strengths, recognize and minimize his weaknesses, and develop confidence.
The recognition that your child’s reactions are often a result of his personality type can also alleviate your concern that you are responsible for everything that he feels and does. You may be worried if he seems overly introverted, dramatic, aggressive, or complacent. When you realize that these responses originate from his personality, you can work with the trait rather than against it. Additionally, when you recognize your own personality-driven tendencies, you can become more intentional in your behavior.
I remember when [my daughter] Emi, an Enneatype One (which is called the Perfectionist), saw some grass growing in the cracks of our driveway and asked to cover them with tape; she wanted to fix what she perceived as imperfect. When Mari moaned and groaned excessively about minor issues, I thought I must have done something terrible to cause her pain. Later, however, when I realized that she is an Enneatype Four, which is termed both Romantic and Dramatic, I felt relieved to know that complaining was simply a natural way for her to process experiences.
The Enneagram Chart, which includes descriptions and associated motivations for each personality type, is applicable to both children and adults. As you read through the chart, think about these questions: Which type matches your child? What are his strengths and weaknesses? How do you relate to the different parenting styles? As a parent, how can you build on your assets and make improvements to your family relationships?