By NANCY PATRICK
I only recently heard the term “enneagram.” I felt a little behind the curve when I discovered that most of my family already knew about it, so I jumped at the chance to attend ACU’s Summit this fall when I saw a two-day course on enneagrams listed in the program.
Before you get bored and quit reading, let me assure you that I will not attempt to teach the subject of enneagrams. Rather, I want to discuss the complex nature of human personalities and how they work with others as we live in relationship.
The idea of enneagrams appears among many theories regarding the study of temperaments or personalities. Most of us enjoy studying the characteristics of the distinct types because we enjoy trying to discover our own. Since various studies label the types differently, I’ll describe my personality and my husband’s to illustrate how the types can complement or conflict with each other.
The main characteristics of my personality include perfectionism and the need to fix everything to my standards. That means I tend toward bossiness at times. On the other hand, my husband’s personality seeks peace above all else. He hates conflict and avoids confrontation. That can mean that he refrains from expressing his real feelings in order to keep the peace.
In our marriage this has been both good and bad at times. We do not argue because peace lovers will not enter the fray. However, I must guard my tendencies to take charge and insist on my way. If we did not love and respect each other, I could intimidate my husband and he could become angry and sullen.
Marital relationships require constant work and understanding to make them work. If couples who take marriage seriously put great effort into their marriages, imagine the difficulty of working out the multi-faceted aspects of family members with whom we live. A family traditionally has consisted of parents whose personalities differ from each other and their children who likewise differ from both the parents and their siblings. Without patience and understanding, this mixture of temperaments presents a recipe for a fallen cake!
Not only do we have all these individual personalities, but also we have the influences of nature, nurture, economic influence, social status, and birth order. That list, far from complete, provides ample aspects of personalities to understand why relationships are so complex. Many factors contribute to what makes an individual tick.
Sometimes a family of grown siblings who have similar circumstances live in dramatically different ways. Brothers and sisters not only have different personality types, but they may hold opposing values. Some lean toward my husband’s peace-loving nature while others tend toward my perfectionism. Some people love fun above all else and prefer parties to responsibilities while others may tend to melancholy thoughts.
Added to all these influences, birth order often influences a person’s attitudes and values. For example, even though my sister and I shared the same parents and lived in the same home, we responded to our environments quite differently. Four years older than my sister, I assumed the first-born position and felt a sense of responsibility. With my perfectionistic personality, I may have set an unfair standard for a little sister. That may have put undue pressure on her.
Because of age differences, children react to circumstances in various ways. When I was sixteen and my sister twelve, our mother had what we used to call a nervous breakdown. Our house, often very tense and filled with anger and fear, did not provide a safe haven for a child. At sixteen, I understood the situation, but my twelve-year-old sister did not. I have no idea how she perceived our circumstances, but I’m sure her fear far exceeded mine and certainly was of a different nature.
Because every person reacts with a different set of personality traits, gender distinctions, ages, mental acuities, and spiritual gifts, we should take great care in our evaluations or assessments of those within our families. Sometimes we judge a parent, sibling, spouse, or child according to our own distinct psyches; consequently, that judgment might incorrectly reflect negatively on others.
The value of enneagrams and other similar assessment tools should rest in what we can learn about ourselves—our strengths and weaknesses. Rather than trying to change those around us, we might better use our new understanding to improve our own weaknesses so that our relationships can become stronger and more fulfilling.
This principle applies to our relationship with God as well. If our personalities are overbearing and demanding, we do not experience the abundance that comes in surrendering our total beings to God’s control. Each personality has spiritual gifts with which to bless others. Our personalities do not give license to claim exemptions from desirable behaviors omitted from our list of characteristics; rather, the responsibility to develop those behaviors rests solely within us.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.