The Importance Of Knowing Your Enneagram In Midlife

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You’ve likely already heard of your star sign, and you might have even taken your Myers-Briggs personality test to figure out your type (hi, INFP here). But how much do you know about your Enneagram type? 

The Enneagram of Personality refers to nine distinct ways of thinking, feeling, and acting in the world, which are represented by numbers one through nine. The nine enneagram types are organized around three centers: the body (Types 8, 9, and 1), heart (Types 2, 3, and 4), and mind (Types 5, 6, and 7). 

The Enneagram can help us better understand our subconscious selves, which can be especially useful when navigating midlife. However, finding your Enneagram type may be a bit more nuanced than any free online quiz might lead you to believe. 

So, I sat down with Enneagram professional Jim Gum to dive into what the Enneagram is and why finding your type can be so beneficial.

First, What Is An Enneagram?

Gum, who has been an Enneagram practitioner for over 30 years, said the Enneagram reveals our “unconscious ways—patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior.”

“At its simplest, the Enneagram is this: how people think, feel, and behave,” Gum continued. “Some people think [or feel or act] too much, some people don’t think [or feel or act] enough, and some people are out of touch with what they think [or feel or do].” 

“Imagine a lighthouse. It has a beam of light, and it rotates. If my beam of light is rotating, I can see everything. The Enneagram would teach my beam of light that it’s gotten stuck and is no longer rotating. What I pay attention to is a narrow slice of reality. The Enneagram describes nine distinct slices of reality. 

“And because we all look at a narrow slice of reality, we make two mistakes. One, we think our light’s going around, and we see everything. And secondly, we believe everybody sees things exactly as we do. It also describes why we have a shadow self because there are things that we’re blind to or we choose not to look at.”

Midlife Personality Shifts

The unrest many people feel in midlife often has to do with our battling selves, Gum explained.

“You have to develop a personality to survive the first part of your life. It got you through surviving your family, picking some direction in life—that’s the first half of life. But by your late 20s, early 30s, all that strategy [you used] to make your way through the world—your way of being—is limiting. It’s not sufficient.”

Thus, the question of midlife becomes: do I continue to be the automatic self that brought me far enough to survive childhood, find a partner, and maybe have kids? Or do I recognize that my automatic self is no longer sufficient or not as fulfilling as I once thought?

Gum quoted Carl Jung: “‘We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning.’ That’s the two halves of life.”

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Midlife is a time for figuring out what parts of our distinct ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving are working for us and, more importantly, which ones aren’t.

“That work is really hard work. We have to be honest with the things that aren’t great,” Gum said. The Enneagram provides us with a framework for this type of self-reflection.

Learning To Embrace Light And Dark

“For every type, there are some really great things about that type. Then, there’s a whole page of crappy stuff,” Gum said. “Some people don’t like to focus on their weaknesses; some people focus on it too much—which is a function of type. I think the second half of life is [about] embracing the light and dark within myself.

“The work of midlife is to embrace the light, hug the darkness, and own it. Don’t let it control you because if you deny it, it just gets stronger.”

Gum uses Type 2 (the helper or female archetype) as an example. “What happens so often is they overhelp. That’s their strategy.

“But it can be invasive and obtrusive, and people say, ‘Hey, back off.’ But all they want to do is be seen by being helpful. That’s a huge emotional crisis. It’s not ‘do I help or not,’ which would be easy to solve. It’s, ‘when is helping coming from a healthy place—a good heart,’ and ‘when is it me needing to be needed?’ Every type has one of those dilemmas.”

Finding Your True Enneagram Type

When we are familiar with our Enneagram type, we can identify these urges and desires so we can control them accordingly, as opposed to them controlling us.

But unlike your run-of-the-mill online personality quiz, your Enneagram type delves deep into your unconscious motivations. For this reason, it can be difficult to determine your type without a deeper understanding or competent guide.

“The Enneagram is hard to figure out because there’s not a definitive test [like with the Meyers Briggs’ personality types],” Gum said. “It’s about shadow work, which is hard for everybody. How can you own the things you don’t see or want to see?”

An Enneagram practitioner helps reveal your inner shadow self more clearly. 

“As an Enneagram professional, I can make a lot of progress with someone over the core issues that keep tripping them up but they don’t know what’s behind it,” Gum explained. “It’s just hard to look at that stuff. You have to be both open to looking at it, and you have to be kind to yourself and others. But the amount of insight in a short amount of time is huge.” 

RELATED: What Is Shadow Work? How To Dig Deeper Into Your Emotional Graves

“The Enneagram is about our automatic routines. It’s how we do our life,” Gum said. “The work of consciousness or being aware of that. The Enneagram is a shortcut to understand both what motivates us and where we get stuck.” 

In addition to Enneagram coaching, Jim Gum hosts Story Enneagram, a podcast featuring stories, interviews, and reflections, and pens the Story Enneagram blog.

Each of these online resources provides valuable information on finding and understanding your enneagram type so that you can navigate midlife and beyond more thoughtfully, positively, and successfully. 

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