The first time I had a conversation with someone about the Enneagram (described by author + Enneagram teacher Ian Morgan Cron as “an ancient personality type system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how human beings are wired, both positively and negatively“) I quickly figured out which number I DID NOT want to be. As my conversation partners went through a brief explanation about each number and some defining characteristics, they came to the number eight. “EIGHTS!” one of them declared. “UGH, EIGHTS!” the other replied. “They’re called eight-holes,” they continued. “Oh boy,” I thought in my head. “I do NOT want to be an eight-hole.”
For about the next year and a half, I tried and failed to find an Enneagram number that seemed to fit. At one point I even became so frustrated with the typing system that I began bashing it when anyone expressed skepticism about it. But behind the bashing was a mounting frustration – I was in a period where learning more about myself was proving to vitally important to both my personal, spiritual, and professional growth, and not being able to articulate why I felt the way I did or why I do the things I do made that journey all the more difficult.
Then January came.
Over New Years, I was having a conversation with my brother, Sam, who has become quite a well of knowledge for all-things Enneagram. As we were discussing the different types, I told him I often didn’t feel like the number I’d eventually settled on (a Six, “The Loyalist” whose motivation is to have security, to feel supported by others) really fit me. He suggested I look at type eights again, telling me it seemed like I might find some truth in type eight’s “social” sub-type. Truthfully, I was offended that my brother thought I was an eight (“The Challenger,” whose core motivation is to be self-reliant, prove their strength and resist weakness, to be important in their world, to dominate the environment, and to stay in control of their situation.) The term “eight-hole” rang in my brain over and over again. Plus – I thought – I’m not an angry person. I don’t have trouble with vulnerability. And I’m not really that into justice.
Eight just didn’t seem to fit.
A lot of people who have leaned into Enneagram teaching will share with you that a good way figure out what number you could be is to see which number offends you the most. The more I let my brother’s suggestion that I could be an eight marinate in my mind, the more I realized how fitting my response was if I was that number – anger. It makes sense that an eight would not only be resistant to being controlled by the constraints of a label that an authority put over them, but that they also would be resistant and deeply offended when others see the weakness that exists within them. Vulnerability AND self-perceptiveness is a struggle for many eights, and admitting to another person that they might just be what they never wanted to be is, well…painful.
So there I was – stuck between my desire to continue on a path of spiritual and personal growth and my desire to control how others would see me if they knew I was an eight. Did everyone really think I was an eight-hole? Was I actually a bitch like that one guy in college told me? Was my anger out of control? Did I truly not show vulnerability in moments where that really matters? And how had I not seen it all this time?!
Christopher L. Heuertz touches on my feelings of disillusionment, confusion, and skepticism in his book The Sacred Enneagram writing, “When it comes to recognizing the truth of our own identities, most of us experience a symbolic version of blindness that keeps us from seeing ourselves for who we really are.”
While all these questions and my subsequent processing of them were difficult to encounter, an element entered into the process that I did not expect: relief. Though it is hard to realize how deep my capacity is to hurt others and myself (both intentionally and unintentionally), it’s also a great relief to not only understand myself better, but realize that grace is waiting for me on the other side. Again, Heuertz mentions this as well: “Learning to see ourselves for who we truly are—the good, the bad, the ugly—is a gift of grace. The Enneagram helps us do just that.”
Realizing I was what is likely the most hated (or at least, most negatively described) number Enneagram number got me to the bad real quick. But it also made a lot of stuff in my life make a whole lot more sense. My passion for not only being a female leader but seeing other women in leadership roles coupled with my frustration when men tried to control me…my desire to see the scales of justice balanced in situations that seemed so unjust…my inability to admit my true feelings about romantic interests and my confusion in wondering why my friends always seemed like they thought I was fine when really I was lonelier and in need of encouragement more than ever…my skepticism of those in power…my hatred of feeling used or manipulated…the list goes on and on.
Since college I can say that the work of the Holy Spirit has begun to cool my temper, unclench my fists, and help me take off my armor. I’ve said stuff out loud that I never would have dared saying for fear of rejection or looking weak. I’ve had to apologize to a lot of people for the ways I steamrolled them, for the moments when I lied to protect myself, for the opportunities I didn’t take to both give or receive love.
It might sound corny, but the easiest way to describe what this process of self-discovery has been like came to me when I was texting my brother about realizing I was an eight. I told him, “It’s like a cloud was blocking my view and then I realized I was the cloud.”
My brother texted back, reminding me of an essay I wrote during my senior year of college. The essay is about playing catch with my dad. He told me to read it again, and maybe it would help all this disillusioning, mild-identity-crisis stuff make sense. So I did. Here’s a little passage from it – I wrote this when I was 21, three winters ago.
“To a tall, gangly six year old girl who had a tendency to feel a bit out of place amongst her dainty classmates, being told I had “a strong arm” was a formative moment. With that compliment, my dad began to teach me one of the most important lessons I needed to learn as a child. He encouraged me to be proud what gifts I did possesses, of what strength I did have, of who I was and how I was made. Playing catch with my dad on those humid summer nights taught me to not be ashamed of my identity, my gender, my skills, my interests, my personality traits. I was Grace Leuenberger, and I was strong. As I’ve gotten older, I realize how formative that lesson I learned while playing catch would become for the future I had ahead of me, the power behind the connotations of that word and that trait.
Years later, I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve been confronted with the negative associations that can come with the word strong and the traits that stems from strength. Words like aggressive, intense, and bossy have pushed their way to the front of my mind, words I didn’t feel the string of when I was playing baseball in the backyard with my dad. It wasn’t until I recently that this realization occurred and witnessed firsthand that being strong could be perceived as a problem by others. While in college I’ve been told my “strong personality could prove challenging for a man accept,” I’ve been criticized for holding leadership positions, and I’ve been made to feel all the kind of words that twist strength into characteristic no one would want to be proud of. Instead of strong, I’ve felt very small, weak, and confused. This criticism has stung, and it has stung hard.
Undeniably, there are more moments ahead when the sting will resurface, when my strength will be tested and when my very identity will be scrutinized. But I will remember the foundation I am built on, the things I learned while playing catch outside on the grass island between the church bell tower and the oak tree, while eating around the dinner table, while sitting at Little League games on a warm spring night.
Over a decade has passed since I last played catch. Just last winter while packing for another move, I found the basket of baseball gloves as I was sorting through old mittens and gloves, including my dad’s. As I put my hand into his glove, I was brought back to all those muggy summer nights, to the lessons I learned playing catch. That glove is a piece of my past, an artifact of my identity. It is my dad’s glove, and it reminds me that the sting will subside, that I should not be afraid of fastballs, that I can be proud of being called strong. That glove was part of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: to not be ashamed of who I am or how I was made, because my father and my Father love me that way. It’s an old lesson, an old truth, but as I grow older myself, I’m finding that those kind of truths are the best.
I don’t know what Enneagram number you are. I don’t need to know, you don’t need to know, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter anyways. What does matter is what I wrote in that essay three years ago: I am not to be ashamed of who I am or how I was made, because my father and my Father love me that way. It’s an old lesson, an old truth, but as I grow older myself, I’m finding that those kind of truths are the best.
So call me what you want. I may not be the kind of women that you probably expect me to be. I will slip up. I will err towards the shadow. I will hurt people I love and hurt myself, too. But there’s grace even in the fall. There’s light that surpasses the shadow. There’s a love bigger than you, than me, than all the personalities and problems we bring to the table.