Tom is driving to work, barely noticing the road as his thoughts pull him into another world. “I can’t believe my boss said that to me yesterday. What a jerk! I bust my butt for that place and all he can tell me is what I haven’t done perfectly.” As he pulls into the parking lot, he sighs, “I wonder what I did wrong today.” With a sense of resentment, he enters the building, still cycling through the story of yesterday in his mind, yet also sensing the familiarity of both this feeling and this story.
Why Does This Keep Happening?
There is a sense of familiarity that you may notice in the types of problems that keep cropping up in your life. These familiar issues are reflected in your thinking: same story, different day. We often find ourselves frustrated with feeling like we’ve solved an issue, only to find it coming up again and again, and with it the same kind of inner dialogue. Many of us are unaware of how much chatter is constantly going on. But stop and listen for a minute. You’ll see that there is rarely a time of quiet, of just being open and aware.
When Will This Stop?
The mind can seem like a perpetual motion machine. When we begin to observe the mind, the chatter can seem to increase. While we ultimately want to quiet the mind, to live in a more peaceful inner world, we can make use of this chatter to understand the pattern of our thinking and discover our Enneagram type.
What is the Enneagram?
Although we have all the aspects represented on the Enneagram within us, we have one that’s like our home address, our center of gravity. It’s where we live. The Enneagram invites us to notice both our dominant habit of attention and the underlying motivation for that habit of attention. This can be a helpful way to think about the types. This habit of attention becomes programmed into our minds, like software in a computer, and is responsible for the redundancy in our thinking.
Like computer software is programmed to accomplish certain tasks, our habit of attention is trying to fill certain needs. These needs are basically the need for security/survival (food, shelter), love (closeness with special others) and belonging (fitting in with the group). Every person on the planet is trying to fill these needs and we do it in different ways, which are described by the Enneagram.
Tom recognizes the familiar feeling of resentment towards his boss. There’s a rush of energy like a fist in his chest being shaken at the world, and the thought “I shouldn’t be treated like this.” Then the next familiar feeling of worthlessness arises as he thinks, “why can’t I ever do anything right.” More than anything, Tom wants to feel worthy.
What Are the Dominant Patterns of Mind described by the Enneagram?
Tom’s repetitive pattern of thinking may indicate an Enneagram Type called the Perfectionist. Each of the types has a name and a number oriented around the circular diagram. This is not a ranking of the types and one is not better than another. All types have blessings and challenges.
Here is the short and sweet version of each type describing the habit of attention and the motivation for that habit of attention. (please click on the name of each type to link to an in-depth view of the type)
Type One, The Perfectionist:
Attention goes to error and correcting error. The goal is to avoid making mistakes and to be a good, worthy person to gain love and belonging. Because of this, attention is often critical and judgmental of self and others.
Type Two, The Giver:
Attention goes to the needs and wants of others to get love and approval. The hope is that through taking care of others’ needs and by becoming indispensable that these important others will give back.
Type Three, The Performer:
Attention goes to task and goals to gain love and approval through performance, looking good and winning.
Type Four, The Romantic:
Attention goes to longing for what is missing in the present, idealizing the future, and intensity and depth in relationships. The goal is to regain the lost original and ideal love, and to be understood and loved.
Type Five, The Observor:
Attention goes to intellectual pursuits, the world of ideas and intrusions from others. The hope is to gain protection from intrusion of others needs and wants from you, and from own feelings of inadequacy.
Type Six, The Loyal Skeptic:
Attention goes to potential danger or what could go wrong. The goal is to assuage doubt, gain certainty and therefore safety.
Type Seven, The Epicure:
Attention goes to the next fun possibility or fascinating ideal in order to escape pain and frustration.
Type Eight, The Boss:
Attention goes to power and control, potential betrayals and issues of fairness. The goal is to hide one’s own vulnerability, to not be controlled by others, and to gain respect and protection through being strong.
Type Nine, The Mediator or Peacemaker:
Attention goes to keeping the peace, others agendas and needs. The hope is to avoid conflict, and gain belonging and comfort by keeping the peace.
I don’t like being boxed in this way!
The Enneagram describes the box that we are already in. Just watch your thoughts and your life? If you’re like most of us, it’s hard to choose to perceive yourself or others with a fresh perspective. This is not because there’s something wrong with you but rather a result of the habitual nature of mind. We are “programmed” to see things in the same way. It’s neurobiology not a character flaw.
Tom is at work, sitting at his desk, when a co-worker, Sherry, walks into his office. She notices his drooping shoulders and asks if everything is all right. He takes a leap and confides in Sherry about his frustrations with his boss and with himself. As Sherry listens attentively, he notices the repetitive nature of his complaints. Having an epiphany he thinks, “maybe I could see this differently. Maybe it’s how I’m perceiving this that’s the problem.”
As the Enneagram elucidates through the type descriptions, we are preoccupied with certain bits of information out of a large array of possibilities. Each Enneagram type perceives the same data (or experience) differently. As we see the “bit” we are most drawn to or stuck in, we have the possibility of discovering our type orientation and expanding our perspectives. We can develop the skill of observing our thoughts and the feelings associated with those thoughts and making different assumptions and choices. And the road to freedom becomes illuminated with new possibilities.