Taking a good look at ourselves

Most of us have at some stage stopped to assess what and how we eat. Perhaps as a result of a health scare, high cholesterol or lack of energy, or wanting to lose weight, – we begin to pay more attention to what we eat and what we don’t eat and work towards a more balanced diet. This improves how we feel, what we do, how we live each day.

What if we apply this in other areas of our lives? We seldom stop to examine how we think, feel and behave or why we do so. It’s easier to see other’s traits and less straightforward when we come to our own. And why would we want to look at ourselves in this way? Aren’t we doing just fine ticking along? The problem is we tend to respond and react in predictable ways even when they don’t serve us or those we care for. We avoid the same situations, fall out with others for the same reasons, repeat the same mistakes, feel stuck in areas where we want to change. And we do all this without any real awareness.

The Enneagram is a brilliant tool to help us have a good look at ourselves. Like a mirror it shows us what we tend to pay attention to, what bothers us, where we do well and what challenges us, where we shine and how we get stuck. It even shows how we turn up in relationships. And then it goes deeper to explain our inner motivations- where all this comes from.

We develop our patterns early in life as a way of getting our most basic needs met. In childhood these are important survival strategies that help us navigate our way. In adulthood they become automatic and habitual. We keep doing what we’ve always done whether it’s meeting the needs of others before our own, avoiding conflict, asserting strength and power and so on. What helped us growing up comes to limit us. Our patterns keep us stuck when we should be moving on, they prevent us being free and joyful in relationships. And it is difficult for us to recognise what’s going on. This is where the Enneagram comes in.

At a basic level there are nine different Enneagram types of personality, nine different ways of viewing the world and this applies across languages, culture, continents. We each relate to the patterns of one type in particular. With our different backgrounds, life experiences, culture, genes and so on, we each wear our type uniquely. Identifying our type helps us feel less alone. We realise that others too experience life as we do. The Enneagram is taught worldwide because it shows how despite our differences, we are all connected. It promotes tolerance and understanding. Working with the Enneagram makes us more aware of what goes on inside us.

It’s a wonderful journey of self-discovery to get to know yourself in this way. We start by observing ourselves more closely, what triggers us, what makes us feel good and much more. We become curious about what goes on inside us, and how that relates to our outer world. We see unfamiliar parts of ourselves and this can be uncomfortable. It’s like being in a clothes shop dressing room with double mirrors showing a rear as well as a front view. Compassion is a necessary companion. We’re all doing our best. Humour lightens our journey when we’re able to gently laugh at ourselves.

Once we begin to really notice our patterns, we can try to understand why they developed and how they were necessary when we were young. We realise that we have a choice, we don’t have to respond and react in our usual ways. It’s as though without realising it we’ve boxed ourselves in and live a curtailed life. The Enneagram helps us climb out of our box and see that we are much more than our personality. Learning about the other types helps us recognise what’s going on for those close to us, what drives them to do what they do. So as well as understanding ourselves better, we gain insight into the inner worlds of others. It’s a little easier to be compassionate.

Taking a good look at ourselves can be daunting, exciting, courageous and challenging. You may realise you are not who you thought you were and you may discover you are more than you ever dreamed.