Monday, April 8, 2013

Soul Insights

Since antiquity people have worked to unlock the mysteries of personality.  The ancient Greeks noted four personality types:  sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholy.  These types correspond to the dominant bodily fluids, they believed.  With my allergies, I’m sure Hippocrates would have labeled me phlegmatic.

Many counselors, life coaches and personnel departments use personality assessments to help clients and employees understand themselves and others.  Twice I have taken the test for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which labels me (and my wife) as ENTJ.  (I used to be an INTJ until I became less introverted.)   Then with the DiSC profile, I am an “I,”  which stands for Initiator, or Integrator, or something.  I never found DiSC very helpful.

In all these personality models, there seem to be some preferred types.  Some are born leaders, while others are destined to follow compliantly.  I’m waiting for the profile that labels people Loser, Sucker, Whiner, Coward; and then Winner, Mover-Shaker, Lucky.

A friend recently pointed me to another personality assessment tool.  He found it through a mutual friend, Jerome Daley, who wrote about the insights he gained through the Enneagram.  I checked out the on-line resource he suggested and took the free inventory test.  I don’t intend here to give a full explanation of this system, but I do hope to spark your interest and encourage you to learn more about yourself.

To me, the symbol for the Enneagram looks rather creepy, and the name sounds like an incantation.  As I studied the system, I learned that the name comes from ennea for “nine,” and refers to the nine-pointed star.  The paradigm suggests that there are nine basic personality types, and people tend to identify with one or two of these types.  Each type has a characteristic virtue, and a trademark sin.  The sins exposed with the Enneagram include all of the Seven Deadly Sins (anger, pride, envy, avarice, gluttony, lust, sloth), and two others (deceit, fear).  A person lives into her virtue by growing in integrity.  One falls into his sin by using destructive coping mechanisms. 

As Daley says, the beauty of this framework is that no personality type looks like the paragon of perfection.  And no type looks like the ultimate loser, destined to be chosen last by the team captains of life.  Further, the Enneagram clearly shows that  my wife and I have very different personality types.  I already knew that, but neither Myers nor Briggs could make the distinction. 

I devoured Richard Rohr’s book, The Enneagram:  A Christian Perspective. He and coauthor Andreas Ebert show the ancient roots of the system, and the Christian influence in its development.  The Enneagram helps Christians discern spirits, as 1 John 4:1 encourages.  From ancient times, counselors from other religions have also found that the Enneagram sheds light on the human condition.

The Enneagram shows how certain personality traits tend to cluster together in individuals.  For example, people of Type One are perfectionists and tend toward anger.  When they are integrated, they live in serenity.  My type, Type Five, withdraw from the world and tend toward stinginess.  When integrated, we bring thoughtful objectivity to the world and openly share insights.

This model encourages the disciple to become the person God created him or her to be.  The Enneagram recognizes our flaws, and forces us to come to grips with them.  Then it shows us a path to wholeness and integration.  As we do so, we become more like Christ.  Only Jesus lived in perfect wholeness.  In him we see all nine personality types at their best.

Most importantly, the Enneagram gives us insights into ourselves.  We can see our fatal flaws, our habitual destructive patterns.  We can change our thinking and experience freedom in our souls.  Only then can we responsibly understand others.

I can maximize my “Fiveness” and enjoy the life of integration.  I can recognize my tendency to dwell in the theoretical realm, and push myself to action.  I can see my tendency to be stingy, and push myself to be generous.  Through the power of Jesus, I can be myself, and be a better version of myself.