The Enneagram is a straightforward, yet rich and complex system that describes our individual strengths and weaknesses, deeper-level motivations, and most importantly, the compulsions that often rule our lives.
Although we operate under the impression that we’re consciously choosing what we do, most of the time we’re at the effect of unconscious impulses. We’re living our lives on autopilot; asleep at the wheel, doing the same things over and over again, expecting different outcomes.
Even a little knowledge of the Enneagram makes that abundantly clear. But as practical and useful as the Enneagram is, people often resist learning more about it because they don’t like the idea of categorizing people—or of being categorized themselves.
But it turns out that the unconscious part of our brain (System 1) categorizes things and people all the time. We can’t stop it from categorizing, and since a certain amount of categorizing is essential to our survival, we wouldn’t want to stop it. Besides, it isn’t categorizing per se that’s the problem. It’s allowing an unconscious—and unquestioned—process to determine our conscious attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.
Seeing Patterns and Making Connections
In Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, theoretical physicist Leonard Mlodinow says that categorization is one of the most important mental acts we perform.
One of the principal ways we categorize is by maximizing the importance of certain differences…while minimizing the relevance of others. If we conclude that a certain set of objects belongs to one group and a second set of objects to another, we may then perceive those within the same group as more similar than they really are—and those in different groups as less similar than they really are. Merely placing objects in groups can affect our judgment of those objects.
Substitute persons for objects and you can see how categorization can lead to problems.
When I moved to New Mexico from California nearly 16 years ago, I soon made the acquaintance of several other 8s. Immediately, I felt comfortable with all of them as a result of our similarities. Although we have significant differences, those differences did not seem as important as our similarities so I downplayed them.
Our brain is constantly categorizing other people (positively and negatively), and how our brain categorizes them determines how we react to them and often how we treat them. We then come up withpost hoc explanations to cover our lack of awareness of the unconscious basis of our attitudes and beliefs.
Categorizing people by Enneagram type is usually a conscious and deliberate process. But the traits and characteristics we associate with different types—and our attitudes toward them—may not be entirely conscious. Those unconscious attitudes may lead to negative stereotyping we aren’t even aware of.
On the other hand, understanding all nine types of the Enneagram can help us become more aware of some of the stereotypes we have about other people. It can help us understand both ourselves and the people in our lives much better.
If we pay attention to the way we use the Enneagram to categorize people, we might notice when we perceive all 2s or all 9s as being alike. We can remember that although all 2s and all 9s have a lot in common with each other, each 2 and each 9 is different from the others. And even though we may not be 2s or 9s, we still have things in common with them. We can consciously look for the similarities as well as the differences.
Panel of All 9 Types
At the next Monthly Meeting, you will have an opportunity to hear directly from a panel composed of the nine types who will tell you:
- how understanding their type has made a difference for them
- what they want you to know about them
- what they like and dislike about being their type
- how you can get along better with them
- how they would respond in a variety of different situations
Most Enneagram panels consist of people of the same type, which is great if you want to dig deeper and learn a lot about a specific type. But it doesn’t help you get a big-picture perspective of the Enneagram.
Whether you already know something about the Enneagram or are simply curious, you really won’t want to miss the next MONTHLY MEETING OF THE MIND (& BRAIN). So if you’re in the area and able to attend, please join us!