“The Sign of Four: My Own Enneagram Mystery.”

M.J. Downing

            I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, take the Enneagram test and examine my personality type in depth. Invoking the Doyle title wasn’t my desire.  The test that I took from Truity.com identifies me as a Four, and emotional type, a heart type, and I don’t think I could be less happy with that result. However, I began this as part of my Lenten journey this year, so I should not be surprised that my results have me pretty deep in my “shadow” side, those sorts of things in myself that I view as bad, less worthwhile.  After all, Lent is a Christian’s chance to do a little shadow work, giving up something that is desirable or taking on something that I think will enhance my understanding of God, me, the whole deal.  Therefore, I suppose that my mystery time will center on giving up the sense of who I think I am in an effort to see something genuine, authentic about myself.  Naturally, I suspect that I will find that I’m a complete jerk.

            As a reader of Fr. Richard Rohr’s books, blog posts, and daily emails, I have been exposed to the worth of the Enneagram as a way to find my authentic self.  His most recent email posting, 2 March, 2020, has a very interesting idea about Enneagram personality types: they represent more of the false self I have constructed with which to face the world. I am not consigned to be a four in perpetuity, overly emotional, prone to envy, and self-doubting.  My investigation of this mystery, Fr. Rohr suggests, will help me see ways to let all of that go and be who I am in my most authentic self, as God created me.  So, witnessing my own jerk nature, I can come to see who I really am, which, as for most of us, will remain something of a mystery as I am continually created anew, which is a more hopeful outlook.

            But, if my reader asks, why do I trust the Enneagram results as pegging who I am?  I must answer that the tests results show me pretty clearly who I nave been all my life.  These results are complex enough to give me a more objective view of me, my tendencies, values, traits.  Sure, people who meet me often say that I seem to have it all together, present as one who sails along on an even keel, motivated, disciplined, thoughtful, and caring.  However, I have known the difference between the mess inside me and my outward presence for quite a while now.  People do not often see the fear, anger, and anxiety that runs my life and has cost me opportunity, relationships, and peace of mind.  I see them and keep that stuff inside, which I think I must do to be seen as ‘good’ by my friends.

            Yet, I see that I am a dedicated friend, for the most part, always looking for ways to have that deeply significant friendship.  Only my closest friends, I think, have heard me talk about what a mess I feel like inside.  Those relationships I have lost over the years have been lost by the often overwhelming anxiety that keeps me from presenting who I truly am, how I really feel within, and the Enneagram offers me clear insight on that, even as it tells me how I can improve.

            For example, as a Four type, I am artistic and highly emotional.  I have a great deal of empathy and emotional awareness of self and others, when I am healthy. Envy, it says, is my core weakness, the sense that I am incomplete, lacking what I think others have, desiring what I think they have, which often comes down to me judging my insides as flawed by seeing the happier, more successful outsides of others.  Fours often come from a childhood experience of deep loss, which is me.  My mother died when I was four, and I’ve spent the last sixty years trying to be okay by having those around me signal back to me that I am good.  I knew this, of course, saw it long ago as the origin of my co-dependent personality.  That has been a bad trap for me, one which I have fought but only partly understood.  Enneagram helps me see all that objectively and offers me ways to appreciate that and develop through it.

            So, here begins my Lenten journey, which might be in the essay, story, or even poetic form from time to time.  I rarely write poetry because it is too revealing, but I might share some of my doggerel to illustrate the steps of my journey.  I do it here to invite some feedback from others or just to let people know me better. As a Four type, I do feel as though I am different from others, and that isn’t just about emotions.  I see things in a different light, see myself as unique, and part of my growth task is to see that I have a great deal more in common with everyone than I think I do. Most of us, I believe, want to see ourselves as the hero of our own narratives.  Too much of the time, we see ourselves as the villain as well.  

            However, I once did a “past-life” regression with a psychologist friend of mine, which put me face to face with a sort of angelic being.  I know. I know. It was all in my head, right?  I was put under hypnosis, which I allowed to happen, and was led through some scenes from my own imagination—which is rich beyond belief—and ended up telling stories of past lives that I could have made up on the spot.  They certainly arose on the spot, since I had not consciously thought of them before.  Clearly, I saw myself as made up of many, many types of people.  But the thing that stays with me was the message of that angelic being.

            In my hypnotic state, I came before a council of higher powers who were my directors at the end of one of my most recent past lives. See? I told you I was full of characters. At the same time I doubted that they were real in any objective sense, I got a message fort my next life, one that I did not expect, and one I’ve been unpacking ever since: the angelic being held me in its bright essence, gave me a hard hug, as though to shock or warn me as much as comfort me and said, “Be More Kind.” The angel did not say, be kinder. I’ve always tried to be kind because that is a good way to get people to respond positively to me.  That has been my M.O. for sixty years.

            What I got from that angelic being—which I suspect I made up on the spot—was a message I had never thought to give to myself: be more like your kind; be aware that you are like others.  And here, the Enneagram has offered me this wisdom again.  So, on this Lenten journey, I am looking at seeing beyond the Sign of Four, to see more of what my weird inner reality has in common with others.  I sincerely hope that it makes me a better writer, but I am looking for going beyond that which I think of myself and becoming more completely the person I am in God’s eyes.  It may not be pleasant, sometimes, but I think it will be illuminating.

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