Up Close and Personal with Personality

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made

Psalm 139 13-14a

“It says here that my personality type can make others feel bad about themselves. Is that true?” I asked, looking pointedly at my sister.

“Um, yeah. You make me feel bad about myself all the time.” she said bluntly.

Moments before I had finished taking an Enneagram assessment at the encouragement of my friend Kirsten who was exuberantly insisting that all of the women who had gathered for girls’ night take the free online quiz. Whenever one of us would finish the quiz, she’d exclaim, “You’re a Two! I had a feeling you might be a Two,” or “A Seven! Wow! That explains so much,” and then hand that person an Enneagram book she had brought with her.

The Enneagram is a personality test with 9 distinct types. I find the Enneagram more useful than the Meyers-Briggs because, though there is some variation within each type and some relationship among the types, 9 types is more manageable than 16, and you don’t have to memorize a long list of letters and what they stand for.

But that night, I didn’t know what the heck an Enneagram was. When I finished the online quiz and it told me that I’m a One, it meant nothing to me. But then someone passed me the book, and I began reading the description of Ones. I learned that, on the up side, Ones are principled and purposeful and are often driven by a strong sense of what they believe to be right. Rock on! On the other hand, their determination to be perfect and to hold others to the same impossible standards to which they hold themselves can come off as self-righteous alienating. Ugh.

My face got hot as I thought of all my past experiences that confirmed what the book was saying about Ones, about me. I thought about how I had joined every club in high school and gotten near perfect grades. I thought about how I had joined Teach For America when I learned about educational inequities in the U.S.. I thought about how I had become a vegetarian after learning about the evils of factory farming. And I thought, with a new sense of compassion, about how often I must’ve hurt my sister’s feelings with my criticisms and my attempts at control. It had been less than a year since Carrie had moved to New Orleans to be my roommate, and things between us hadn’t been smooth sailing.

Around the same time, I also discovered my “love language” after being introduced - again by Kirsten - to Gary Chapman’s classic The Five Love Languages. My love languages are Words of Affirmation (not surprising for a writer) and Receiving Gifts (gifts are big in my family). In his book, Chapman argues that one of the barriers to happy relationships is that people with good intentions are not showing love in ways their partners/family/friends can understand - they are not speaking the same love language. He believes the secret to lasting relationships is each person learning the love languages of the other and acting on them.

I’ve grown a lot in the years since learning my Enneagram type and my love language. I’m better able to recognize when my striving toward perfection is unhealthy, and I’ve learned to chill out a bit. (I’m now a flexitarian.)  I’ve also learned how to communicate to my loved ones what I need in order to feel loved in a relationship. And I now know that showing affection to my loved ones in the way they need it isn’t disingenuous, it’s loving. Overall, I’ve become kinder to myself, and I’m more comfortable in my own skin. Also, my relationships have improved and, in some cases, transformed, like my relationship with my sister.

I’ve experienced so many positive benefits from learning more about myself that I’ve tried to bring others along with me on my my journey of self-exploration, much like Kirsten did for me. To that end, this month I’m co-leading a church retreat with my friend Robyn on the Enneagram, and I’m also co-leading a church young adult book study on The Five Love Languages with my friend Carol.

How does the study of personality types fit at church, you may ask? Well, God created all kinds of kinds. There is no personality type or love language that’s superior to the others. We are each “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and I think it honors God when we take the time to explore the unique creation that we are. The language and vocabulary of different personality assessments simply provide a framework through which we can learn about ourselves and reach a higher level of consciousness, a way to measure our growth as we co-create with God to become our highest self.

To learn your Enneagram type, you can take a free sample assessment called the RHETI here or pay $10 for an in-depth assessment here. (This last one was sent to me by Kirsten who just happened to reach out to me as I was writing this post.) You can also learn more about your type for free by checking out the Enneagram Institute. If you want to invest in a book, I recommend this one and this one for beginners. To learn your love language, visit this page and, of course, read The Five Love Languages.

All Saints Day