When people talk about the process of personal or spiritual growth using the Enneagram, they often talk about “catching yourself” acting out of your number so you can engage the world in a more flexible manner. This is certainly important, and it is one of the key ways that understanding the Enneagram can help us grow. But I think there are actually two different levels of Enneagram personal growth, and it’s important to understand both levels if we are going to use the Enneagram to its fullest potential in our lives.
Level 1: Understanding Your Number’s Basic Needs
Before we can start to “let go” of our number, I think we need to be honest with ourselves about our number’s basic needs. We need to do a “good enough” job meeting those needs, or else we will tend to struggle in life. For example, I identify as a 6, whose basic needs are safety and security. Now, most people would probably say that safety and security are important, but for me as a 6, they are highlighted. It’s important for me to know that about myself, because I tend to struggle in life if I’m not feeling safe and secure. It’s helpful for me to organize my life in such a way where my basic needs for safety and security are met. For example, it’s important for me to have a little extra money in my bank account, in case of a rainy day.
My wife identifies as a 7, so her basic needs are a bit different. She doesn’t worry as much about our bank account. (In fact, she hardly ever looks at it.) Her basic needs involve having a lot of fun experiences and variety in her life. Again, most people would probably say that fun and variety are important, but for her as a 7, they are highlighted. It’s important for her to know that about herself and organize her life accordingly. For example, she runs a non-profit organization and is self-employed, so she gets to do different things every day. If she had to work a 9-5 office job and do the same thing every day, she wouldn’t like it.
What about you? What is your basic need based on your Enneagram type? Have you organized your life in such a way to meet that basic need? Here are some thoughts on the basic needs of each type:
- Type 1 (The Perfectionist): being right, correct, and orderly.
- Type 2 (The Helper): helping and meeting the needs of others.
- Type 3 (The Achiever): success, achievement, and getting things accomplished.
- Type 4 (The Individualist): being unique and authentic.
- Type 5 (The Observer): thinking, observing, and guarding their energy and involvement.
- Type 6 (The Loyalist): safety and security.
- Type 7 (The Enthusiast): fun, spontaneity, and experiencing life to the full.
- Type 8 (The Challenger): strength and autonomy.
- Type 9 (The Peacemaker): understanding the perspectives of others and avoiding conflict.
Level 2: Catching Yourself and Being Flexible
Once you have met the basic needs of your number, the second level of Enneagram personal growth involves catching yourself when you are acting out of your number. Growing up, we each develop strategies to get our needs met and deal with pain, and these strategies coalesce into our personality. At some point, however, our personality “hardens” and we tend to act in rigid and inflexible ways. We might act in a way that isn’t in our best interests, but it’s just the way we always do things.
If we can understand our number in-depth, we can catch ourselves when we are acting in line with our number’s tendencies. Once that awareness happens, we can make a conscious decision about what we want to do. If the behavior is working for us, by all means, keep it up. But if the behavior isn’t working to get our needs met in a healthy way, we can experiment with doing something different. In this way, we develop more flexible ways of engaging and reacting to others and the world. Ultimately, we expand our repertoire of behaviors and give ourselves a better chance to meet our needs and be happy.
What do you think of the two levels of personal and spiritual growth using the Enneagram? What is one take home point that you can apply in your life today?