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Boxes or Windows: My Self-discovery with the Enneagram

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

stained glass window

My eyes locked on the muted yellows, greens, and mauves of the stained glass windows on the other side of the church sanctuary as words and descriptions finally resonated, finally penetrated. At last, a flashlight shining into a dark corner in my heart I had never dared to look.

My story with the enneagram begins like basically everyone else’s: I first heard about this nine-type personality assessment my freshman year in college, took the free test, and got a number and two paragraphs describing my identity. Needless to say, I was not satisfied.

To briefly fill in for those who don’t know, the enneagram is a personality typing system that is founded on the idea that everyone has experienced pain throughout our lives. Everyone carries these wounds as well as our personal responses to the world that has hurt us. The enneagram is a way to describe the ways these things have shaped who we have become.

For two years, I studied the enneagram in search of my true number, scrolling through websites (The Enneagram Institute), listening to podcasts (The Enneacast), reading books (The Road Back to You). I was simultaneously hungry to know myself and frustrated by the whole system. Why did I have to discover my number to feel more complete and known?

Reaching a point when I checked out emotionally, I declared I must be type ten (and of course, there are only nine primary types). It felt like the enneagram created all these simple boxes people could fit in and feel more seen—and content. There just didn’t seem to be a fit for me. And I didn’t know if I wanted to be that basic, either.

I remember that day I first started to see a resemblance of my soul mirrored in the enneagram. In an all-day enneagram workshop that was offered for my summer internship, Jesse Eubanks (author of Mapping Your Enneagram Story), was describing each of the nine types. When he started explaining the dirt and roots of one of the types, some things started making a little more sense.

He spoke about childhood themes and perceived wounding messages and sensitivities. He spoke about the deeper desires and struggles in the human heart. Our search to find security, freedom, or identity out of a deep sense of loss. The ways we’ve chosen to respond to the world that brought chaos and scars to us simply because the world is broken. And the restoration that is possible there, too. The healing messages our souls long to receive.

Staring up at that stained glass window, I was confronted by the paradox of the ugliness and beauty of seeing a new, or hidden, piece of myself. But finally, seeing these things.

I realized I have always been too afraid to see myself honestly. These wounds and struggles and desires have all culminated in this complicated and deep concept that is simply summarized in three small words: fear of shame. Out of this basic aversion, I learned the practice of hiding. And of course, no one truly longs to be hidden.

After two years of searching, longing, studying, and giving up, the enneagram became, not a box, but a window. Something unlocked to reveal a new space within myself. Learning my fear of shame. Learning about the hiding. Finding the value of vulnerability. Seeking that honesty more readily.

With the window opened now, there have been changes. I am still the same girl with the same childhood wounds. I still have the same longings—it is a unique window, with the stained glass, the particular hues and intricate designs. These colors will always be part of my story. But in this newfound illumination, there is greater knowledge, and with that, greater freedom and opportunity for transformation.

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