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How to Get the Most Out of The Enneagram

How to Get the Most Out of The Enneagram

If you’ve been in the Christian circle for the last few years, chances are you’ve encountered something about the Enneagram. The Enneagram itself is a helpful took that’s been around for a long time, designed to help us better understand ourselves and others.

The Enneagram has taken on a shape of its own, which means that some people have a misguided view of it. But there are experts in the field who know just how helpful the Enneagram can be.

Two of those experts are husband and wife duo, Jeff and Beth McCord. Together, they run Your Enneagram Coach and instruct thousands of people daily on how to get the most out of the Enneagram. Ahead of the release of their latest book, More Than Your Number, we sat down with the McCords to find out more on how we can ensure we’re using the Enneagram to its best ability.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

How can Christians use the Enneagram as a tool in their life for growth? 

Jeff: Yeah. I’m appreciative of people informing themselves on the history of the Enneagram. Certainly, we don’t agree with the worldviews of many of its earlier contributors, but the Enneagram is not some authoritative tool. It actually gets translated into a variety of different worldviews. For us, we distinctly bring an Orthodox Christian worldview to our use of the Enneagram. We use a variety of different tools, whether it be for a marriage and parenting. As a matter of fact, in church history, many different teachers have used a variety of different pastor world tools. The Lectio Divina is a way of engaging with the scriptures; that is a tool. The Bible doesn’t actually teach it, it’s just a good practice. The Enneagram actually becomes a helpful resource for us because it gives insight into how we relate to others that’s unique from other personality tools.

That’s why you’re hearing many people share their own stories about how the Enneagram really helped them in this area of their life. It really helped me in my relationships. It helped me in my relationship with myself and understanding myself and how I relate to others. It can be used for a wide variety of things, whether it be leadership development within the church, spiritual formation within the local church, leadership within small groups, or even in your businesses. Enneagram has a number of applications. Wherever people are involved, the Enneagram has something to say about it.

Beth: Really, if we get to the core of why we use it formally as a pastor and pastor’s wife, and now as owners of Your Enneagram Coach, is the Enneagram really shows us our current heart condition. That’s really hard for a lot of us to know just on our own. A lot of times, actually, we live in misalignment with the gospel, but we don’t even know it because we’ve done it our whole life. A lot of times we think, “No, we’re right,” in the way we’re thinking. But the Enneagram helps us to go, “Oh, you know what? That’s actually an unhealthy pattern of relating or reacting to life.” It helps us to know when we’re aligned or misaligned with the truth of the gospel.

Now, it can’t do anything beyond that. It gives us the information. It’s like an X-ray. When you go get an X-ray, it’s going to tell you what’s broken and what’s not broken, but it cannot heal you. That’s what the gospel does. The gospel is what heals and transforms our lives. I think that’s where people get scared, is they think that we or those that use the Enneagram are saying that the Enneagram itself is the transformation or the healing component, but it can’t. It just describes things.

It’s when we use that in combination with the gospel and the truth of the gospel that our heart transforms because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our life. Therefore, if we take that view, just like we use any tool that’s out there, we know that it is God that’s doing the transformation, not this tool. We don’t want to elevate it to that level.

Could you give a practical example of how you can use the Enneagram to maybe solve a problem in life?

Beth: With the Enneagram, the main type shows you why you think, feel, and behave in particular ways based on your four core motivations. It is the driving force of what’s going on inside you and why you are propelled in a certain way.

That is true, that reigns supreme, but you’re not just one number. You actually have other numbers that highly influence you on an hourly, daily basis. Those are your connecting types. Those are your two wings, and your two Enneagram paths are the lines that are connected to two other Enneagram types that we call the Enneagram paths. Those four types make up your Enneagram Internal Profile, along with your main type, which has two parts in it. Your main type has a wounded child and a beloved child. Now, the wounded child, when we talk about that, we’re really talking about the flesh. We’re talking about the old self. 

Within us, we have these two parts, the wounded and the beloved child. Now, our wounded child was with us from obviously a very young age. It did its best that it could to protect us from our core fears and to get what we felt that we needed. But it’s ill equipped and it’s young.

Really, as we’ve gotten older, and especially as a believer, we are given the resources of Christ and maturity. We need that beloved part to lead from that spirit-led self to lead the rest of our parts into wholeness, into the truth of the gospel, so that we can actually radiate the way that God has created us uniquely.

What happens is, on any given day, we can get activated into our wounded self and we start to act out in misaligned ways. Well, when we’re misaligned in that wounded child state, our connecting parts, again, those wings and Enneagram paths, will follow whoever’s in the lead. Your wings and your Enneagram paths will start to act out in less healthy misaligned ways when the wounded child is, let’s say, driving the bus. Everyone’s on the bus. We’re now in chaos and turmoil. That’s what’s going to happen. But, if the beloved child wakes up and takes over the wheel like we want them to, then everyone’s like, “Oh great, the mature, well intended, well knowledgeable, beloved self is driving the bus and everyone can calm down,” just like you would if you were in a bus with a equipped driver. You’re like, “Okay, good, we’re going to get there safely. Everything is going to be okay.”

Then those parts of you also will follow that and they will actually act in an aligned way. What we want people to recognize is that your wings and your Enneagram paths are a part of you. They’re actually interacting with you way more than you realize. But what we want you to do is to recognize when they are misaligned and when they are aligned. Not to shame or condemn when they’re misaligned, but how can we come alongside them with compassion and care from that beloved part and lead them from the spirit self, lead them back into truth with kindness?

What are a few practical ways someone can engage with the Enneagram and grow with it without shaming themselves?

Jeff: It breaks our heart because sometimes the Enneagram does get translated to a shameful tool. Sometimes, it’s according to their type. That’s just the way in which they relate to the world, is that they then take it internal and begin condemning themselves. All of us battle with, the way that Dan Allender calls it, is either others centered contempt or personal or self contempt. We weaponize these things because we think, and this is why Jesus was so articulate in regards to understanding grace versus the law. There’s a phrase in seminary that I learned: “grace works, but guilt works faster.” We will guilt, we could shame, we could fear ourselves thinking it will change us, but one of the unique insights of the Enneagram is that we will approach growth through the lens of our type, but when we do that, we actually sabotage growth because we’re using the same strategies, but not getting the results that we desire.

That’s why the gospel is so clear and why Paul writes about it. The gospel is the power of God under salvation. That our minds need to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This idea that we need to get out of ourselves in order to see who we are. Because here’s the thing, God knit us together in a mother’s womb, gives us life and breath, chooses the seasons where we live, and prepares good works in advance for us to do so. He’s not ashamed or embarrassed by any of it.

He’s not surprised by any of it. The real gem is here — don’t condemn what God has blessed, what God has named as good. This exercise isn’t something of self-fulfillment. The real gem of the Enneagram is just simply being able to name what awesome thing God has made.

How can the Enneagram be used to strengthen relationships with one another?

Beth: We operate out of our core motivations. That’s why we think, feel and behave in particular ways. When you understand someone’s main type, you want to look past the behaviors. You want to look past the unhealthy strategies that they have. You want to understand why it’s happening, and to have compassion and empathy to extend care and love in a healthy way. We don’t want to be codependent and all that kind of stuff, but in a healthy way.

The Enneagram can be so helpful because I can now see through your lens. I can understand your perspective, even if it’s not to the nth degree. It just helps me to move towards you and for you to be seen, heard and cared for.

Just being curious and allowing the other person to share and but being at curiosity just helps people to go, “Oh, you really, you’re attuned to me? You see this?” will really shape so much of the conversation and the relationships.

Jeff: One thing that comes to mind for me when I think about the New Testament and how it speaks of love is that we love because Christ has first loved us. Whenever I have experienced compassion, kindness, and mercy and forgiveness, I’m able to extend that to others. The Enneagram becomes helpful because it helps me to understand what areas where I need the presence of Jesus by the Spirit in my life, but it also gives me insight to be able to extend that to other people in relationships. The Enneagram gives us language for understanding it, but then it’s through the lens of the gospel and our experience of the gospel that actually translate to changing how I relate to others.

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