4 Ways the Enneagram Is Changing My Life

Photo from Pexels.com

Photo from Pexels.com

I’ve never been overly interested in personality tests, but this one—this one was different. Occasionally I heard friends discuss the Enneagram, speaking “numbers” and “wings” as fluently as a second language. 

Despite my skepticism toward “personality types,” curiosity finally motivated me to complete the personality assessment.

I like the term “assessment” because unlike a test, there is no way to fail; it simply tells you what’s there and what isn’t. As a nurse, I’m well versed in assessing. We assess lung sounds, pain, safety—even poop! 

As a nurse, an assessment is neither a moral ruling nor a categorization algorithm. It’s an observation: this patient has crackles in their lungs; that patient has C. diff. The body’s current strengths and weaknesses are documented, and a plan is formed to move toward optimal health.

Much like a nursing assessment, the Enneagram leaves room for growth and struggle. It helps me identify healthy and unhealthy tendencies so that I can make a plan to move toward health. I won’t get into the complexities of how the Enneagram works, but there’s a brief description below. You can find more at the Enneagram Institute Website.

The Enneagram involves nine personality types, conveniently labeled 1-9. Each person has a dominant personality type (their “number”) and a secondary type (their “wing”), which is one of the numbers directly beside their dominant type. For example, I am a “6,” so my wings could be “5” or “7.” As it turns out, I’m a 6 wing 5. As I’ve studied sixes and other numbers, here’s what I’ve learned.

Enneagram of personality

1. I’m learning not to take harsh comments personally.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve always struggled with taking criticism or hurtful comments personally. Conceptually, I knew other people viewed the world differently than I did, but I didn’t understand what those differences were. 

Here, the Golden Rule failed me. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” left me wondering why genuinely well-meaning people would use harsh language when I made a mistake or make insensitive comments.

Studying the other Enneagram types helped me move from just knowing the fact that others think differently to understanding examples of other perspectives and why some people have “thick skin” and some (like me) don’t.

2. I’m learning change is hard for me because relationships are so important to me.

In a podcast about Enneagram sixes, Sarah Thebarge commented, “Relationships are everything to me.”

This is when something clicked in my brain. Historically, moving cities (or countries) has been extremely difficult for me (see my ebook on reentry for the raw details). I’ve always wondered at the people who seemingly flow seamlessly in and out of cultures, countries, and cities.

Finally, it dawned on me why it’s so difficult or me. Relationships are everything to me. Any time relationships change (church, community, friendships, etc.), I feel lost and out of control. I feel like my life has been ripped from me because to me, relationships are the essence of a meaningful life.

This insight helps me in two ways: it helps me understand why I feel the way I feel (like I’ve been hit by a train every time I move), and it helps me embrace truth (my life is not over when I move).

3. I’m learning to identify fear-based habits.

My therapist often mentions something called my “pain cycle” and “peace cycle.” Essentially, a pain cycle alternates between feeling distress and reacting to that distress with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Those unhealthy reactions spark shame and more distress, and the cycle continues.

In contrast, a peace cycle involves experiencing distress and then recalling truth and acting on those truths. This leads to internal peace and healthy behavior.

As a 6, my main motivation is a desire for safety and security. Armed with this knowledge, I’ve been amazed at how many of my decisions in life are based on how I feel insecure or unsafe, whether physically or emotionally.

Remembering these feelings of insecurity are a major trigger for my pain cycle, I’m learning to cling to truth in those moments instead of numbing in unhealthy ways.

4. I’m learning to have grace for others—and for myself.

Recognizing others’ Enneagram numbers has helped me immensely to understand what I previously labeled quirks, incompetence, or even intentionally disruptive behavior.

Instead of instantly concluding people are being manipulative or immature, I’m learning to think about their personalities and try to understand what’s going on beneath the surface.

I’m not mentally “putting myself in their shoes” or trying to think like someone else—because the truth is I will never be able to see or understand the world like someone else does. 

However, I can learn about the ways other people think, appreciate the things that are important to them, and set boundaries when those relationships start to turn toxic.

Overall, the Enneagram is helping me to appreciate weaknesses and strengths, my own and others’. It’s helping me to celebrate how I will never understand the way my friend Lindsay thinks  or the way Kris makes decisions. It’s turning frustration into interest, condemnation into curiosity.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing I’m learning from the Enneagram is this: not only do I need others, but others need me, too.

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When Failure is a Guarantee

As many of you may know, I am currently in shift toward copyediting and writing as a career and away from nursing (see Why I Quit Full Time Nursing). The transition into the writing world has taken place over the past few weeks, and though I mainly feel peace and excitement about the change, I'd be lying if I told you I'm not nervous.

I am. I'm nervous, and I'm worried, and sometimes I'm overwhelmed.

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

Yesterday as I drove down the road under the cloudy Texas sky, I thought about my fear of rejection. Over the past few days I've submitted freelance articles and queries to various websites, with the knowledge I will eventually either be rejected or accepted. At one point in life (okay, for most of my life), the possibility of rejection would have prevented me from trying at all. My fear of failure and the belief I had to be the best simply wouldn't allow for such a huge, unnecessary risk. For all those years, failure was not an option.

As I slowed my car down for a red light yesterday, I suddenly realized that still, failure is not an option.

Failure is a guarantee.

Over the years, I've read accounts by writers and bloggers about the rejection letters they received from editors, publishers, magazines, and websites. They described heartbreak and frustration and anger and discouragement, and they also described perseverance and perspective.

As I submit my articles, I know my work will be rejected sometimes (probably more often than not in these beginning stages). It's inevitable. Yet I am learning to maintain my sense of self-worth and identity so I can move past it. I know who I am, and I know my work is not a reflection of my value.

Still, it is disheartening to know failure is a guarantee—and about the only one I could think of that comes with writing. That, and a low budget.

All afternoon, I pondered the change within me from being terrified of failure to accepting it as a part of life. Later that evening during a time of worship with my church small group, I had another realization, just as sudden as the one about failure. I knew in that moment I had to lay down my editing career and writing dreams at Jesus' feet, and I had to leave them there. For the first time in my life, I found how easy it is to become a workaholic (now that "work" was something I loved). I had to invite Jesus into every word I wrote and every article I completed. If I did these things, I knew:

Success was not an option either. It was a guarantee.

Success is living and breathing in the presence of Jesus, holding onto the hem of His robe and offering my talents and gifts at His feet. It is using my work to glorify Him, yes, but more than that it is a continuous, desperate, building desire for more of Him. With this unquenchable thirst for more of Jesus, with Christ as my whole world, there could only be success. There already was success. Perhaps success isn't something attained or accomplished but something as fluid and active as recognizing the presence of God.

Moving and breathing and talking in His presence is success. I have success in my lungs as I breathe and type now because I am breathing and typing with Jesus. Success will never be a thing that can slip from my hands because success is knowing Jesus, and His Spirit lives within me. And if ever I become desperate to grab hold of success again, I have only to remember:

Turn to Jesus, for not just success but life is found in Him.

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Reentry: the Beginning

It’s been almost three weeks. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have spent time in five cities, two states, and two countries, and I'll have stayed in six different homes since I landed in Houston on June 8. What a ride it’s been! Here are my thoughts on reentry so far.

I’m holding it together on the outside (well, most of the time), but on the inside I’m still a mess. 

I still have existential crises over very simple things. For example, when I go for jogs in the morning it freaks me out thinking about how little I sweat during the day and how everywhere is air conditioned. Everywhere.

Example number two: I almost cried in a specialty craft store because everything in the building was just for fun. My Cambodian friends poked fun of us (Americans) because we do things “for fun.” No practical purpose. Not for food, not for money, not for resources. Just for pure enjoyment. We have entire stores in which everything sold is just for fun.

The change in culture, environment, and norms are huge. How does one make sense of it all?

It’s like I’m in information and sensory overload all the time.

My days haven’t been overbooked. In fact, they haven’t even been fully booked. I’ve visited with people and enjoyed their company, and I’ve had plenty of down time. Under normal circumstances, this schedule would be fine. However, I’ve found in this reentry process it’s easy to become overwhelmed because everything is taking twice as long to process.

So much change has taken place—from highway construction to friends’ relationship statuses—and it’s quite a task taking it all in. Again, how does one make sense of it all?

I’m still scared.

Recently I wrote in a post about how a friend asked about my fear.

I didn’t realize what a relief it was to talk about fear until she asked this question. In most conversations, I mention that living overseas is hard, and I may throw in a bit about loneliness. Yet somehow, I gloss over fear. I hit on this in my reentry confessions a few weeks ago, so I won’t delve into it here. The point is, I’m still terrified even though it may not show on the outside, and I'm still learning a lot about letting go of control.

I’m afraid my memories of Cambodia are losing accuracy.

In between the spurts of grief, life in Cambodia is starting to feel distant and far away. As I talk to friends and family about Cambodia, I find the same words coming out of my mouth again, and again, and again. I didn’t rehearse these lines, but they come out as though they’re rehearsed. I answer the same questions with the same answers and make the same lame jokes every time.

Rote answers scare me because it means I'm not actively remembering Cambodia and what it was like. I’m terrified I’m going to forget what life was really like—I’m afraid realistic memories will be swallowed up by rote answers. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my experiences.

Yet when I stop to think about life in Cambodia, I know I can’t possibly lose these memories. They’ve shaped me in ways too deep to be undone. I can’t un-remember the joy of riding on the back of a motorbike with the wind in my face, the serenity of writing blog posts at a restaurant in town, or the sweat dripping from my face all day long. No, I definitely cannot forget the sweat.

These experiences are forever a part of me, and so are the experiences learning to trust in God and witnessing His faithfulness over and over and over. I can’t un-remember this, and I can't un-trust Him. I’ve seen too much. I’ve been in too deep. With all my current fears and anxiety, I can’t stop believing Him and following Him. I guess that’s what happens when we say yes to His great invitation into His presence.

People may think I’m crazy for the way I live life (heck, I often think this whole thing is crazy), but today I’m clinging to this gift: I can’t un-see God’s goodness and faithfulness, and I can’t stop trusting and following Him. Fears, anxieties, transition messiness and all.

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Scarcity and the Spiritual

Scarcity is a topic just making its way into the public conversation arena. It can be summed up as the belief there’s “not enough:" not enough time, not enough happiness to go around for everyone, not enough money, and the list continues. It can manifest as “I am not enough”—not pretty enough, good enough, nice enough, productive enough—a lie I faced head-on after an experience in a Cambodian hospital left me painfully aware of my inadequacies.

The scarcity mindset is rampant and often leaks unnoticed into all realms of our lives, including the spiritual. I’m sure scarcity manifests itself in different ways for different people, but here are three ways I’ve noticed the “not enough” mantra invading my spiritual life.

1) I’m afraid there’s not enough grace and mercy to cover my sins.

As someone who grew up in church, the gravity of sin was hammered into me from a young age. Add perfectionism to church legalism, and it’s easy to understand why it’s such a struggle to believe Jesus’ mercy is enough to cover me every time I sin. Time after time after time, I stumble and fall, and sometimes it just seems plain impossible that Christ has any mercy left. Questions such as “How can God forgive me even though I’ve fallen into this sin so many times?” and “How can God still love me after all I’ve done?” are birthed. Yet the Word clearly says His love endures forever, and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22). Viewing this lie as a scarcity issue has helped me understand where these fear-based doubts come from and freed me to rejoice in the abundance of the Lord’s mercy.

2) I start believing there’s not enough encouragement for all the times I feel down.

Every time I serve overseas, my mom has this wonderful tradition of collecting notes from my friends and family and sending them with me for days when I need a little extra encouragement. It’s a great resource—except for several years I convinced myself the number of moments of discouragement I'd have would exceed the number of notes to read. I stockpiled the letters for times when I “really needed” them. I tried to muscle through the hard days because I was so afraid a harder time would come and no encouragement would be left. At the end of several summer trips, I had a dozen unread notes to read on the plane home. They were still fun to open, but I found I’d robbed myself of the encouragement God had provided for the hard times.

These days I push past my fears and reach out to others when I'm having a rough day, either by sending a text or opening a note (though I try to be careful I’m seeking hope first from the Lord and not from other people’s words). It’s been a source of encouragement and strength, and on days I have no letters and no signal, the Lord continues to provide. The interactions I find most encouraging are, after all, the ones pointing me back to find strength in the Lord Himself.

3) I’m afraid God’s gifts are limited.

Even when I pray, I fall prey to the scarcity mindset. I’m hesitant to ask the Lord for hope, encouragement, or a boost in mood. I act as though there’s a quota for the gifts He gives each of His children, and we must be wise about when and why we ask for them. However, when I look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels, His generosity cannot be measured, and Paul refers to the riches of Christ as unfathomable (Ephesians 3:18). I must ask myself, “Am I robbing myself of asking for and enjoying His gifts because of a scarcity mindset?”

The root of it all, I suppose, is a belief that God is not enough. It’s a lie that creeps into my heart and makes subtle but significant changes in the way I view God and myself. When I start believing God is not enough, I search for “enough” in other places: in myself, in others’ approval, in “success,” or in knowledge. Yet Jesus is enough is a fundamental part of the Gospel. There is no scarcity in His Kingdom. I have to remind myself of this every day. He’s enough to hold my fears, my failures, my future, my down days. He's enough for my scarcity mindset and all it entails!

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