Disclaimer: I've been trying to write this blog post for 4 months.
Each time I sat down to the computer feeling like I was ready to write, something would throw me back into the sea of self-doubt and I'd feel inadequate to share on this topic. In fact, I'm still sort of in those waters, but I've found a landing place on recognizing that I'll never fully arrive in this life. I've chosen to embrace the fact that I'm on a learning journey until the day I die, and I've made peace with believing that what I know and understand right now is still useful, even if it is incomplete or (quite possibly) wrong in some ways.
So, what is the self anyway?
Canadian philosopher and cognitive scientist Paul Thagard Ph.D. defines the self as "a theoretical entity that can be hypothesized in order to explain a huge array of important psychological phenomena." He explains that the self is "a highly complex, multilevel system of interacting mechanisms."
The self--my self--contains many layers that have been molded together as a result of genetics, biology, environment, social and cultural conditioning, family dynamics, and (according to my personal beliefs) divine creativity. We are uniquely wired, and although similarities certainly exist, no two people are exactly alike. In the last year, in particular, I have spent a substantial amount of time attempting to understand my self better. Some might call it practicing self-discovery or self-awareness. This journey actually began early in my adult life as I've (for as long as I can remember) taken great interest in understanding what makes systems and people work the way they work. I absolutely love learning. In fact, I've often said that if I could be paid to be a full-time student I'd have signed up for that gig a long time ago. I simply can't get enough. My hunger for learning is insatiable. So it made sense that when I discovered the Enneagram (a system of personality typing that describes patterns in how people conceptualize the world and manage their emotions) I eagerly dove in headfirst. I'm not sure who first introduced me to the Enneagram. It may have just been a random post I saw during a social media scroll. However it happened, I was sucked in from first glance. I was instantly and intensely attracted to the idea of learning everything there was to know about how people conceptualize the world and manage their emotions. And, despite the fact that I rarely jump on popular trends or fads, I hopped aboard the Enneagram bandwagon.
The first thing I did (which I'm sure most people do when they first hear about the Enneagram) was take a free online Enneagram test. The problem with many online tests is that the questions can be answered incorrectly very easily before someone understands the purpose of the Enneagram. Unlike most typing profiles, the Enneagram is not based on behavior, which makes getting "typed" incorrectly very common at the beginning of the Enneagram journey. In the first test I took, I answered based on behavior (what I had done, was doing, and "wanted" to do) and I got my first Enneagram results--type 3. I knew of a handful of public figures who were sharing frequently about their "3-ness," and because these were people who I admired, I felt good about "being a 3." It all made sense, that is until I actually began to learn the Enneagram. For those of you who are completely confused because you're unfamiliar with the Enneagram, I'll give a quick history and summary of the 9 types so you have some background for understanding what the heck I'm talking about.
The exact origin of the Enneagram is not known. Some assume it has roots in Babylon around 4,500 years ago, while others assign classical Greek philosophy around 2,500 years ago as the origin. The model has been attributed to the Jewish Kabbalah, Christian mysticism and Sufism, as well as a mystical form of Islam. The modern Enneagram system, however, is the work of contemporary authors. Georg Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a mystic and spiritual teacher, introduced the model as a spiritual symbol in the 1930s, and it arrived in America during the 60s. The Enneagram is most often used for personal self-knowledge and personality development, as well as conflict resolution, team dynamics, leadership and emotional intelligence. It has become widely used in disciplines such as counseling, psychotherapy, business development, parenting and education. The form of the Enneagram is a nine-pointed geometric symbol containing an outer circle with nine points (personalities) that are numbered clockwise and evenly spaced. There is a triangle between the points 9, 3 and 6 and an irregular hexagon which connects the other points. Few people are completely and exclusively a single type, but everyone seems to have one dominant number that he or she resonates most deeply with. One or both the wings (numbers on either side of the dominant number) may influence the ways of thinking and acting and are integrated into someone’s overall personality. Each number in the Enneagram is also connected by two lines to two other numbers. The first line is called the direction of growth or integration line and describes the direction of development that a person takes when growing. The second line, called the direction of stress or disintegration, describes how a person of the same type reacts under stress conditions.
If you're interested in learning more, here's a great follow on resource:
As I mentioned, there are 9 basic types. Here's a basic introduction to each type from The Enneagram Institute...
1 THE REFORMER/PERFECTIONIST
The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic
2 THE HELPER
The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive
3 THE ACHIEVER
The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious
4 THE INDIVIDUALIST/CREATIVE
The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental
5 THE INVESTIGATOR/SPECIALIST
The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated
6 THE LOYALIST
The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious, and Suspicious
7 THE ENTHUSIAST
The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered
8 THE CHALLENGER/CONTROLLER
The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational
9 THE PEACEMAKER
The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent
In Part Two I'll be sharing how I came to realize that I was actually not a Type 3, and what I discovered about my true number and self as it relates to health and happiness.