There are an incredible number of people who have been exposed to basic information about Enneagram types, but comparatively few who actually use this goldmine for what it really is!
Because of that, I want to introduce you to some of the concepts that it took me years to encounter, even though they're fundamental to how the system really works.
Personality vs. Essence
The Enneagram is a system that teaches us how we put ourselves in boxes, rather than being our true and full selves.
At an early age we teach ourselves to present an edited version of ourselves to the world in order to stay safe - the 9 personality types represent the 9 key strategies we can use to do that.
The more strongly we cling to these strategies, the more we rely on our Personalities to survive rather than on our true, Essential selves.
Our Essence or Essential nature is who we are outside of our direct physical existence, the whole of who we are as individual who exist as one with the world. Our Personalities believe we are completely separate from anything outside of our bodies and behaviors, but our Essential self knows more than that.
Understanding this is key to understanding anything at all about the types! Each type represents a distortion of our virtues, not an emphasis on our strengths. Let's take a look at what that means for each type:
-1s are not closer to perfection than others, they are most blocked in their self acceptance and use their personalities.
-2s are not loving, they are most blocked in their experience of love and use their personalities to try to manufacture it.
-3s are not superior, they are most blocked in their self esteem and use their personalities to try to prove otherwise.
-4s are not more special than others, they are most blocked in the area of their self-image and use their personalities to create a fake identity.
-5s are not smarter than others, they are most blocked in their perception of their capacity to survive in the world and use their personalities to develop practical skills to compensate.
-6s don't have an easier time fitting in with others, they are most blocked in their feelings of personal safety and use their personalities to secure positions that feel stable.
-7s don't have more energy or more fun, they are most blocked in their experience of fulfillment in life and seek external stimulation to compensate.
-8s are not more strong, they are most blocked in their strength and use their personalities to compensate.
-9s are not calm, they are most blocked in their experience of union with others and use their personalities to fake it.
As you can see, it's a small but significant distinction! Flipping this understanding of the types is the first step to allowing the real personal development to begin.
The goal of Enneagram work is not to get rid of your personality pattern, that's impossible. The goal is to minimize your use of the defensive aspects so you can let your Essence shine through.
Working with the System
Now that you understand the goal of the Enneagram, the next step is to understand how to use it to achieve that goal!
Simply put, we use the Enneagram by studying and letting go of our limiting personality patterns so we can to become more Present and aware of ourselves every moment of our lives.
Presence is the concept that we are most effective, fulfilled, and most "ourselves" when we are fully aware of all aspects of ourselves at all times. When we are Present, we are aware of our physical impulses, our true feelings, and have a clear and open mind.
Each type's defenses represent what are basically automatic thoughts and behaviors that distort our awareness of our bodies, hearts, and minds. The Instinctive types (8, 9, and 1) distort our body's natural impulses, the Feeling types (2, 3, and 4) distort our emotions, and the Thinking types (5, 6, and 7) distort our thoughts.
We all have a primary type which will always be the cornerstone of our issues, but in truth we use the strategies of every type to some degree.
So back to the topic at hand - how do we get the most out of our Enneagram studies?
As we study the patterns of each type, we have to openly and honestly connect what we learn to the ways we use our Personalities to bring ourselves out of Presence.
If you learn you're a type 9 and simply say "I'm a go with the flow person, I guess I'll find ways to accommodate my need to go with the flow" then you're missing the point! Learn why 9s go with the flow, and connect with the pains you've experienced that cause you to do that. Understand it as a trait you learned to protect yourself and choose to be Present to what scares you on a subconscious level, rather than tuning it out.
It's the process of committing and applying what we learn to ourselves that creates the growth.
The hardest part of doing this is that our defense mechanisms will resist the process, at least at first. But once you learn enough and see just how true the wonderful insights of the Enneagram are, you cannot "unsee" it, and you'll find it harder to stick to your old patterns than to move on to a free and open way of living!