When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready, the teacher disappears.”Lao Tzu
When one of the Enneagram community’s most distinguished teachers called into question my type earlier this year, I found myself being openly defensive.
This was disturbing to me. And also, intriguing!
At the time, I considered it to be an expression of my psychological maturity that I signed up for more time, and potentially further embarrassment, with this teacher. Now I know better. This was classic 4 shit.
Before I continue, I want to highlight something important. I was not deriving pleasure or significance from being a Type 7. It’s true that I had come to appreciate 7ness during my five years being one. However, I was more than a little annoyed by the type too: a fact that I had taken to be further evidence of having typed accurately.
Problematically, the resistance I felt to having my type questioned stemmed from my identification as someone who was not a novice at the Enneagram. I had, after all, been studying the map for years with an intent to grow. I could not fathom being any other type or subtype. 7 just stacked up.
At the point that I asked my teacher what type she thought I was – which happened a lot later during our time together than you might think – our group exercises had primed me enough for a psychological opening.
“You know, I’m not totally sure Rez, but I think it might be a Self Preservation 4”, she said. In that exact moment, I began to entertain the possibility.
I knew that this SP4 character broke form from the other 4s in several key ways: a fact that made them harder to type. I even enjoyed a close friendship with an exemplar of this subtype (or so we had thought at the time).
“How is this not me?”, I asked myself. After that, the scales fell pretty rapidly.
True, 7 had made such sense behaviourally, but 4 made sense beyond words. It was hollowing to realise that I was waiting for others to notice what a “big strong girl” I really am; to give me credit for the huge burden I’d (willingly) be invariably carrying in life.
That was around three months ago. My mistyping experience has begotten a few pearls, which I offer below.
Lesson 1: Mistyping is very easy
No surprises in Lesson 1.
Probably only the most fixated, caricature versions of the subtypes are going to be easy to spot. The rest of us risk mistyping, and the Enneagram’s ‘countertypes’ – SX1, SP2, SP3, SP4, SX5, SO7, SO8, SO9 – are more likely to be mistyped. In a way, the ‘countertypes’ are the most inauthentic to the type’s Passion.
If you are sincerely engaged in a process of inner development – and if you are serious about using the Enneagram to support that process – then you need to get yourself in front of an equally serious, and ideally professionally-trained, human.* Being typed accurately is just one of the benefits of working with a coach on your development.
What I did (which is exactly what you should not do) is ask a friend to type me, and then proceed to study the Enneagram with a mind full of confirmation bias!
Never one to accept things at face value, I had been duly skeptical about my friend’s – a coach and Enneagram aficionado herself – categorisation. I am sure I considered the other types (unfortunately I cannot remember).
However, by the time I got to know the subtypes in greater depth, I had solidified myself as a 7. I was already doing the 7’s self-observations and work – not a totally negative thing (see Lesson 4).
Lesson 2: The Passions can take a while to understand
This is a bit like the first lesson, only more affirming to my still-wounded ego. This lesson will be most relevant to the population of Enneagram students who believe that they recognise themselves in other type’s motivations – not just their behaviour.
One of the impediments to letting go of 7 was an under-nuanced understanding of what Gluttony actually is. This Passion in particular (it seems to me) can fall prey to being poorly understood.
Many of us are a bit gluttonous for experience and avoidant of delayed gratification. Many of us also have highly compromised attention spans. None of this is Gluttony precisely.
Gluttony in Enneagram terms is the emotional drive not to be limited in any way and to taste a little of everything, figuratively.
In case you are tempted, do not be satisfied with cursory understandings of the Enneagram Passions. Like a lot of the Enneagram, they warrant repeating study and contemplation, if you are going to avoid mistyping off the back of them.
Lesson 3: Landing on your correct type after mistyping can be profoundly joyful
Identifying yourself on the Enneagram is often reported to be a confronting, perhaps even horrifying, experience. I want to wave the flag for the exact opposite (#4)!
For me, landing on my correct type after mistyping was the sort of deeply meaningful experience that I cherish, indeed that I live for. Compounding the richness and drama, my Enneagram birthday happened amidst a painful romantic breakup. I know; how very 4.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally get it when others are grossed out by their type. All the types are gross. But after the disgust, there needs to be love and compassion. And not just for our own types.
That is one of the things that the Enneagram does. It gives you 27 footholds into humanity.
Lesson 4: Mistyping might not be entirely fruitless for growth
Enneagram heavyweight Russ Hudson has said that even if you are mistyping yourself, it wouldn’t matter if you were doing it in a way that helped you to grow.
I love Russ for saying this. I feel like he has spoken well to (i.e. validated) my experience (i.e. ego).
Although I’d much prefer to have had my type correct all these years, I did get some benefit from mistyping as a 7 for five years.
The 7’s strengths – of positive reframing and synchronistic thinking – were the ones that I internalised as mine for a while. Consequently, I really embodied them. Such is the power of suggestion. (Perhaps there is space in the world for some sort of placebo Enneagram therapy? You heard it here first.)
I also may have become emotionally healthier…although this was just luck.
As I had been taking myself to be a type 7, one of my practices was to slow the frig down, and stay with negative emotion. As it happens, this is not a terrible practice to be in for a SP4, who is pretty nifty at (faking) feeling good, and has a work ethic to rival the SP3 and the SO9. A good developmental practice is always very counterintuitive. Slowing down is this for me.
Aside from any personal benefits to mistyping, I am more conscious than I was about mistyping others, and therefore hopefully less of a menace on this front.
Following my experience with Ginger (Lapid-Bogda), I invested in training with Beatrice Chestnut and Uranio Paes, as well as the pros at IEQ9 (thank you Covid and thank you Zoom, for bringing these Enneagram giants into my home this year). One hopes that a mistyping would not have survived my past few months.
Lesson 5: If you want to master something, make like a Five
Being scrupulously aware of, and honest about, the gaping holes in our understanding in a subject area is very important if we want to attempt to master it.
Call it my large Five wing, but I had the niggling, nagging, thorn-in-my-backside sense that I was not receiving the developmental opportunities that I know are available through working with the Enneagram map. That niggle is what moved me to attempt to systemise (at least in my mind) how we develop with the Enneagram. And wanting to be competent at that is what led me to seek out time with the experts.
It is not a very popular message, but I believe that it is worth paying attention to apprehensions of incompetence, despite how uncomfortable that is.
Lesson 6: Much of psychological integration rests on astute self-observation, and to me at least, there is no better map for that than the Enneagram
Landing on my correct type has activated my path of growth. Right now I am still realigning my self-observations. Or rather, aligning them!
However, a few growth priorities are emerging: six, funnily enough.
1. Quit with all the enduring!
As a SP4, I have been able to see that I endure certain situations to an unnecessary degree. This has been the most difficult aspect of myself to come to terms with (so far).
To use a fresh example: in relationships, I have resigned myself to not being completely satisfied with the depth of the connection, instead of just going and being around people who can satisfy me (they exist!) My current hypothesis is that resignation is a hallmark of the SP4, and one of the major ways that the T4’s need to be different is funnelled by the subtype.
One does need to take care with this, as all three 4s are hypersensitive to being dismissed or misunderstood, and all three withdraw in frustration in their relationships (see Object Relations).
However, those closest to me have frequently pointed out that I am perhaps expecting less than I should. I just never listen.
I have one friend who regularly tells me “you’re so stoic, Rez”. This used to be the best compliment you could give me! Now it is the exact opposite; a red flag.
With his beguiling dispassion, Uranio Paes uses the metaphor of a boiling frog for SP4s. Wikipedia says:
The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
I have been that boiling frog.
2. Embrace fragility
I’m okay being vulnerable. But what I see is that I don’t really live life from my vulnerability. I also have some Eightish judgment going on when I witness others being weak and/or lacking resilience. I need to stop treating life like the proverbial equivalent of a Tough Mudder and move around like I am, in fact, perishable like everyone else.
3. Stop experiencing other people’s suffering for them
As a SP4, I now have a fresh take on why I have been so drawn to alleviating others’ pain, albeit at times in quite unskilful ways. That intent is pure; it is beautiful. But how I go about that sometimes is not “clean”, I believe. I find myself on occasion imagining and internalizing suffering (selectively) when actually, there might not be any. There is something not entirely reality-based about the way I empathize. I do not fully understand it yet. But I have my eye on it.
4. Allow more happiness
As a T4, I have been able to see that despite the mask of my subtype (faking good, remember), I have quite the taboo on happiness. This has been evident throughout life. I plan to allow more happiness in – or at least give it equal treatment to the angst.
5. Purge envy
As a T4, I know that observing the comparison-generator mechanism, a chronic influence in my life, and getting sick to my back teeth about it, is the way to go. The masochist in me is salivating at the prospect.
6. Keep an eye on the ‘withdrawing’ response
As T4, I now recognize a way that I am difficult to be with in relationships that I hadn’t quite appreciated. The extent to which I withdraw in simmering disdain, for example, is something I’ll be keeping an eye on. Perhaps I can adopt the styles of the assertive and compliant Enneagram types, at least on occasion. It is my hope that this awareness will serve me better in my intimate relationships.
I thank – and am forever grateful to – Ginger Lapid-Bogda for refusing to accept me as a T7, Uranio Paes for his hard lines on how to approach development with the Enneagram, Beatrice Chestnut for giving me a home on the Enneagram, and maybe mostly myself: for being brave enough to repeatedly confront the uncomfortable. I bow to all who join me.
*If it isn’t obvious, I am one such human. Supporting people in their developmental work using the Enneagram is my joy and my craft. I encourage you to check out my typing packages and coaching programs.