I’ve been interested in the Enneagram for a few years now, but the process to discerning a number, and learning more about it, once you do, can be daunting. Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile are releasing an Enneagram primer today called The Road Back To You. If you’re curious about the Enneagram, this is a great place to start. I found the book very readable, and engaging, filled with new insights. I caught up with both authors to talk about their book. You can read or listen below.
Cara Strickland: Hi Ian and Suzanne! It’s so great to talk with you today.
Suzanne Stabile: Thanks, it’s great to be here, Cara.
Ian Morgan Cron: It sure is, thanks for having us.
CS: Absolutely. Let’s go ahead and get started. Will you tell me a little bit about your book?
SS: Sure. I’m excited to talk about the book, and about my invitation from Ian to be a part of it. Ian called me one Sunday afternoon and said ‘let’s write a book together.’ He’s one of my favorite authors and I was honored. We continued the conversation. The thing that makes our book different from other books about the Enneagram, I believe, is that we’re both storytellers. Our book is a primer on the Enneagram,meaning it’s a good book for first-time Enneagram people. It’s filled with the stories that make up people’s lives that are number specific, in a lot of ways. Our book is very readable and entertaining. We hope and believe it will be extraordinary helpful to people in making their way in the world, knowing more about who they are, and how they see the world, and how that’s different from other folks.
IMC: I would add to that, the reason I called Suzanne is that I had learned about the Enneagram way back in the nineties, and then maybe ten years later attended a week-long workshop with one of the more well known teachers. Then I, through a wonderful set of circumstances, met Suzanne and went to a workshop she was doing, and she blew me out of the chair. I refer to her as the Mrs. Miyagi of the Enneagram. She’s the ninja Enneagram teacher, and I’ve been really blessed to learn so much from her. It just made so much sense to do it, I felt like ‘well this woman’s got some wicked good teaching, and I know how to write,’ you know, I think enough to be able to try and organize the material into something that would be helpful to people. I hope that what shines through is Suzanne’s genius, hopefully crafted in some language that reflects the gifts that I bring to the table.
SS: Cara, somebody else asked us why we wrote a book together and we said ‘because we couldn’t help ourselves.
CS: Can you tell me a little bit about the Enneagram about it as opposed to other personality typing systems?
IMC: Sure. So the Enneagram is an ancient personality typology, meaning that it’s a personality typing system, or a map of the human personality. It teaches that there are nine interconnected, but distinct, personality styles, one of which, all of us kind of default to, or begin to default to in childhood, and that we inhabit in the world. Initially, we inhabit it as a form of protection, and as a way of getting our needs met and navigating the world. And then, you know, unfortunately, we don’t shed that skin, and what worked in childhood starts not to work in adulthood, right? That sort of defensive adaptive stratagems don’t work in adulthood as they did in childhood. What the Enneagram does differently than other typologies, what I love about it, is two things, one is that it recognizes that the human personality is fluid and dynamic, not static. In other words, the Enneagram doesn’t actually put you in a box, it actually tells you about the box you’re in and how to get out of it. So a lot of these other tests, what they do is they describe personality in a somewhat static way and don’t actually explain ‘Well, what does healthy look like in your personality?’ ‘What does average look like? What does unhealthy look like?’ It doesn’t tell you, what does your personality do when you’re under stress, or when you’re feeling secure. So that’s something I really appreciate about the Enneagram, is that it recognizes that personality is very very complex and mysterious and adaptive, remarkably adaptive. My personality, here in Illinois, is a lot different than it would be on a battlefield in Afghanistan, under stress. So anyhow, I appreciate that dimension, and as a therapist, I’ve not come across a more useful tool in helping clients to become their best selves.
SS: The other thing, Cara, that’s true about the Enneagram as opposed to some other systems, is you can do something about it. There’s a lot of Enneagram work that’s available and doable by most people so if you want to address all of the things that Ian just talked about, in terms of being healthier in your number, there are ways that you can learn to live in to a healthier place, because with Enneagram wisdom, the best part of you is also the worst part.
IMC: Yeah, Suz, unpack that a little bit because I think that’s another thing that really separates it from other typologies, you know, which are fairly neutral. I love how you talk about how it reveals both the best and the darker side of who we are.
SS: So I’m a two on the Enneagram, and that means that I’m a giver and a helper. So I can be very generous, and helpful, and kind, and it can all be altruistic. But I can use those same gifts in a less healthy space, in a less healthy time, and be manipulative, and controlling, and trying to get my way, and trying to get people to do what I want them to do. So it’s a matter of learning how to use your best gift for the good of the most people, rather than using your best gift for your own good.
CS: One of the things that I had read before, about the Enneagram, is that it can sometimes be unhelpful to try to determine your type when you’re young. What are your thoughts on that?
SS: Ian, since you’re younger than me I just have to let you go first. You’re closer.
IMC: You know, I’ve heard that before, and I understand why someone might say it, so I don’t want to be a complete contrarian here. In the second half of your life, let’s say, by that point you have experienced sort of the fallout of repetitive, self-defeating patterns. It may be that you’ve been married a couple of times, fired a couple of times, you had a couple of trainwrecks, you’ve been to therapy, whatever, and you just know, there’s something going on that has been tripping me up forever and I’ve got to find out what that is because I’m like living in Groundhog Day, you know. You’re really ripe for learning the Enneagram at that point because you’re like ‘Oh I actually have the proof, the evidence, in my own experience that this is true,’ you know, this patterning is true. That’s an advantage over being younger, but my experiences, with my own children, and Suzanne can speak to her even greater experience on this, I’ve looked at my kids who know their own numbers and I’ve thought to myself, ‘man that’s going to save them time.’ And I think that’s what good teaching does, it saves you time. If I had known my number at 25, like my daughter does, it would have prevented me from going down roads that I wasted time on because I just didn’t know myself well enough. So I’m in favor of young people knowing it, and I think they can learn a lot from it, I do understand the criticism, and I do think people who are a little bit older are more convinced early on than maybe younger people, but that doesn’t mean that they should be excluded from that journey.
SS: One advantage that I find 18, 19, 20 year olds have, when I’m teaching on college campuses on Enneagram know your number workshops, so it generally takes all day for me to do that, but when I’m teaching 18, 19, 20 year olds, they find their number much faster, then people who are in the second half of life, because they haven’t had to adapt so much. At that age, they know what they think, they know how they see the world, they know how they want to live their lives and do things their way, and that’s advantageous to knowing your number. Ian just spoke wisely to the advantage of knowing how your personality affects your relationships with other people and your life, so I think there might be a divide there, where it’s easier to know your number at 18, 19, or 20, and if you learn that, it saves you a lot of pain, and time, and keeps you from making some of those mistakes. On the other hand, if you learned it in the second half of life, a little bit later on, you can look back and know for sure, what was the best part of you and your number, and what was the worst part.
CS: How would you recommend readers go about finding their Enneagram type?
SS: Read our book, The Road Back To You.
IMC: Well, that was an obvious self-promotion.
SS: Well, it was an honest answer to an honest question. I think we should start there. I also think if you can find a good Enneagram teacher who teaches it orally, it’s hard to beat that. The Enneagram was an oral tradition for centuries before anybody wrote anything about it, and there are nuances that you hear when it’s taught orally that you don’t necessarily pick up when you’re looking at a list of characteristics or when teaching about the different numbers is reductive.
IMC: Well, the problem with tests, and I think Suzanne probably rates them as being accurate about 60% of the time, which is a pretty low hit rate, really. First of all, the Enneagram, like the Myers-Briggs, is not a scientifically validated instrument. You know, as a therapist, you would look at it and think, some therapists would think ‘Well, gosh, you know this thing hasn’t been sample studied and etcetera etcetera.’ That doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate, I’m just saying that it’s not designed to be a “test,” like a multiple choice test. Now, the reason it’s very difficult to learn your number from a test, is because tests can only measure or determine traits, in other words, I tend to do this, I tend to do that, in these circumstances. The way that you get to know your number isn’t by traits, learning the underlying motivation that drives those traits, that makes those traits emerge and activate. You just can’t learn from a test, what is the hidden motivation driving those personality traits, why you’re acting, feeling, thinking, processing the world, you just can’t get at that by traits. Now, you might be able to get in the neighborhood, but it won’t take you right to the house. If you want to go right to the house, you want to get to your number, you need to go hear Suzanne talk, to describe numbers, or to other teachers who can orally transmit it, hopefully, by story, which is where people really get it.
SS: I would add to that that when we’re teaching together, and when we were working on the book together, we’re different numbers on the Enneagram. We do a lot of the same things, we’re both in the Heart Triad, and we behave kind of in tandem with one another, very often. Our satisfaction rate with experiences that we’ve had is completely different because our motivation going in was different. So motivation not only works on the front side, but it also works at the end of an encounter, or an event, or a project, so that we might go into an interview, like this one, both coming in with the same hope and dreams for how that might go and how we might be helpful to other people, but because our motivation is different in terms of what it gives back to us, we might come away from it, one of us feeling like it was a great experience, and the other one feeling that we didn’t do our best or we weren’t quite up to it and it didn’t go exactly like we wanted it to. Does that make sense?
CS: Beyond discovering your own type, what is the importance of learning about all of the Enneagram types?
IMC: Oh, that’s a great question. I would say that human beings never learn about who they are in isolation, they always learn, always always learn who they are in relation to other human beings and things, right? So, actually, if you think about the universe, I think that is actually just a fact, everything exists in relationship to something else. Nothing exists unto itself everything is in relationship to its function or its reason for being. So, really, it’s important to know all of the Enneagram types if you want to really know yourself. Also remember that we, all of us, are all these numbers really. I have access to all of the traits of these and the energies, if you will, of each of these numbers. In a given day, I’ll maybe access all of them, depending on circumstances. Now, of course, there’s one to which I will gravitate or default to more than any other, and that’ll be my number. So I’m going to want to know all of those other types, not only because I want to know other people, which is terribly important, and develop compassion for other people and their underlying motivations and what’s best about them but also where their wounds lie. I want to know that so I can live more compassionately and to help them grow as human beings. But again, in isolation you are unable to see how your person affects, influences, and is interrelating with the world. So that’s critical.
SS: Also, one of the things that we talk about quite a bit is, you should never use your number as an excuse for your behavior, and when you only know your number, you tend to limit your scope of what other people are dealing with, and trying to overcome, in order to have meaningful connections with others and in order to know when to step forward and when to step back and what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate. And the final thing I would say is that when were not aware of all nine numbers and how they see, it further limits our understanding of what’s really happening around us. Without being able to see the way they see, we’re still seeing only a ninth at best of what’s happening. There’s a great story that Ian and I talk about that happened to a friend of mine that has to do with glasses, nine pairs of glasses. She teaches in the Dallas Independent School District, children who are visually impaired. An optician in town told her that he would be able to make glasses for the parents of the children to try on so they would know exactly how their children see, what they can and can’t see. My friend reported back to me that when that happened with 19 kids and their parents there was not a dry eye in the room, because the parents really had no idea what the children were seeing and what they were missing, and the children were so thankful to be known by what they could really see and for the understanding that came from that. So one of our dreams would be, and it’s never going to come true, but we’re going to keep dreaming it anyway, would be if we could have 9 pairs of glasses that represent how each Enneagram number sees and then you could just try on the other eight pairs. I think it would be astonishing for persons to find out how differently the world is being experienced by people who are not their number.
CS: How has both of your work with the Enneagram affected your faith, and your relationships with yourselves and with others?
SS: Wow. That is a big question. I am by nature an extroverted people person and so my journey toward anything is relational. My journey toward God, my journey in parenting, my journey in my work, it always for me has to do with the other people who are involved. My understanding of the creativity of God, in the way that we are all made, In God’s image, has been so enlightened by recognizing the giftedness that we each have that is uniquely ours. I think it’s easier, for me, to have a growing depth to my faith life if I have the opportunity to grow in my understanding of the unending, manifold difference in flowers, and trees, and people, and personalities in children, and relationships. And so, my faith life is enhanced by the Enneagram in that it just shows me ways to see God as bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.
IMC: For me, I would say that it revolutionized my marriage and my relationships with my children, for all the reasons that we’ve already mentioned. In terms of developing compassion and empathy and insight, patience with my children, to lead more wisely, and more effectively with my wife, to love her as she is and not for the person I want her to become. I would say that in terms of my relationship with God, one of the great discoveries for me, in writing the book and working with Suzanne, is understanding that each number really actually represents a characteristic of God’s nature, if you think about it. One’s are perfection, so we think about perfection of God. Two would be the love of God, Three the glory, Four that beautiful creativity. I could go on through the numbers. Each has a characteristic of God. Now the problem in our fallen world is that it appears to me, and this is all speculative on my part, that each of us grabs one of these characteristics and exaggerates it, you know, inflates it, becomes attached to it, and when that happens it becomes sort of a grotesque cartoon of itself, like a caricature. It becomes not something beautiful now, it becomes something rather ugly, at times. I think what happens, in my own relationship with God in the middle of this, I’ve learned that if I can let go of the one thing that I hold onto, that one personality, or that one set of strategies, that one aspect of God’s character, then I open my hands, and let that go, now my hands are open to all nine, to receive wisdom and the advantages of all the characteristics that are enumerated in the Enneagram. Now I’m not saying that the Enneagram captures and explains every characteristic of God, I’m just saying it lays out nine important ones and I’m glad it’s that simple because I’m that simple.
CS: You refer to your book at an Enneagram primer, and so after finishing your book, I can imagine that many of our listeners are going to want recommendations for where to go next. Do you have some favorites that you’d like to recommend?
SS: Well, we would recommend Riso and Hudson, Wisdom of the Enneagram. Hurley and Dobson, What’s My Type We don’t, either one, do very well with boundaries, so a non-Enneagram book that we really like, which is by James Hollis is Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life.
IMC: I would add Lynette Sheppard, The Everyday Enneagram. And also, there’s a book called The Everything Enneagram Book, which comes at it from a Jungian perspective, that sounds daunting, but it’s actually written in a very accessible way, and I like that book a lot too.
SS: There’s also some recorded material available on the Enneagram, where Enneagram teachers have recorded workshops that they’ve given.
IMC: Like yours!
SS: I have a few of those, yes. So those can be found on our website, but that’s a good way to learn, too. MP3’s while you’re driving to work, about the Enneagram and work, for example.
IMC: We can’t forget Richard’s book, Richard Rohr’s book on the Enneagram was so formative for both of us.
SS: It’s a foundational book for both of us, I think. It’s The Enneagram: a Christian Perspective.
CS: What are both of your hopes for this book as you prepare to send it out into the world?
SS: When Ian called, he specifically said, ‘you know I think we can contribute to making the world a better place, if we write this book. I think we can help people be more compassionate, and I think we can find a way to help people in intergenerational conversations. Explain the differences in how the younger generation sees the world as compared to how their parents see the world. So that maybe young adults might want to go off in a different direction from their parents in terms of their faith journey or their spiritual practices, but still want to be very respectful of the traditions where they began.’ It’s hard to turn down an invitation to try to make the world a better place, with the gifts that we have combined. My hope is that we’ve done that.
IMC: I think the world, if we could just move the needle a little bit, in the world, among a group of people, toward becoming more compassionate, toward being gentled toward one another. I think that you can’t really love anyone without understanding them, and if you try to, in fact, your love, though well-intentioned, may be misapplied, like the right medicine for the wrong patient, and you could end up hurting them with love. I’d love it if the book, not only increased a culture and an atmosphere of compassion, among friends, and families, and schools, but also if it would help people learn to love in a more, I hate to use the word efficient, but in a more customized, targeted, effective way, with different types of people. I think if that were an outcome, I’d be delighted.