The Essential Enneagram, Lynette Sheppard
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Creating
Community within the Family Using the Enneagram by Lynette Sheppard,
RN, CHT, 1996.

The following article was first published in Quest, the newsletter of the Spirituality Track of the Association of Enneagram Teachers in the Oral Tradition with Helen Palmer.

Spirituality begins at home - in every day life. Although I knew I would use the Enneagram with my children, I never dreamed it would become the unifying force in creating a small intentional community - our family. Four members made up this tiny community at its inception: Dad, a 43 year old Three; Stepmom (me), a 31 year old Seven; Brian, a 9 year old Nine; and Deanna, a 5 year old , Enneagram type unknown.

We never set out to teach our children the Enneagram. But since we were often engaged in "numberspeak", it came as little surprise that they would ask about the Enneagram. About the time they were asking "Where do babies come from", they were also asking "What's a Three again?" and "Where does Dad move to when he's stressed?".

We answered the questions specific to their age group. We always started with a short answer and only gave more information if they asked for it. Initially, we thought the kids would tire of the Enneagram and move on to something else. Surprisingly, they didn't. Dewitt and I shared what we noticed about ourselves as a Three and a Seven to illustrate self-observation. We still weren't sure this would be useful to our children or helpful to the family as a community.

Then came the day 8 year old Deanna discovered she was a One. We were painting tee-shirts with the kids and their friends. Everyone was painting with great gusto except Deanna, who was frozen in front of a blank white shirt. She kept asking "What should I paint? I don't want to paint the wrong thing."

We began working with a simple body based practice. I had her close her eyes and paint to music, expressing with her body and paint how the music felt to her. Even her inner critic was pleased when she opened her eyes to the free flowing designs she'd painted.

>We emphasized the positives of Brian and Deanna's points early on. Of course, that's the natural bent for a Three and a Seven. But we consciously focused on the gifts because these were our children. We wanted them to like themselves, to grow up with healthy self esteem. No different than parents who aren't using the Enneagram. After a few years, the kids began asking about the downsides of their types. Only then did we present the pitfalls, with an emphasis on just noticing and observing our habits.

Along with their improving their skills of self-observation, came the more irritating ability of parent-observation. One day Deanna observed that I had not only cleaned all the kitchen cupboards, but that I was lining up the sponge equidistant between the two faucets on the sink. "You look like a One today, are you stressed?" she asked. Then she went on "Maybe I can help you, so you won't feel so stressed." That set the overall tone of our small community. We observed ourselves. We observed each other and offered gentle feedback, when we saw the habits playing themselves out. We learned together about honoring one another without trying to change each other. Each of us had to do our own work; all of us practiced noticing.

The system probably wouldn't have worked so well if we hadn't continued to put in it context. We emphasized that the Enneagram was not for stereotyping or belittling, but for taking small, sacred steps to understanding, acceptance, and growth. Brian was 14 the first time he tried "I can't help it; I'm a Nine" as a way of shirking his responsibilities. We clarified that the Enneagram was not a 'cop-out' , but gave him credit for creativity. Then we sent him off to do his homework.

The Enneagram gave us a common language to discuss feelings, without judgement or emotional charge. 14 year old Deanna noticed that she was having trouble feeling her feelings. "I'm a One," she said. "I need to move to Four more, I think." Brian watched his own difficulty with feeling his anger and began to notice that it came out weeks later at an unrelated person or event. He worked on feeling anger in the moment. One day he was fighting with his dad. Suddenly, he screamed an obscenity, ran into his room and slammed the door. When he emerged, we all sat down to work it out. The initial disagreement was easily managed. But, Brian was amazed at the feeling of expressing anger in the moment and that became the focal point of our discussion.

Self-disclosure was as important to our family Enneagram dynamic as self observation. Dewitt and I shared our inner dialogue and feelings, hoping to model non-judgement and open disclosure. It wasn't easy. Deanna and Brian followed suit. We shared our best and our worst. We began to see one another as fellow beings just doing our best to observe and interrupt habits. This opened us to new levels of learning and acceptance.

I don't mean to create the impression that we were paragons of Enneagram virtue. Far from it. We had blind spots, and some of our learning was painful. We just had to be present with all of it. As an Enneagram teacher, I felt I applied the system well to my daily life. Yet, Brian was 16 years old when I realized I had forgotten him. I forgot the Nine! I spent so much time "making up" for Deanna being the second child, and compensating her for Brian's strong connection to his dad, that I simply forgot him. We spent family time together, but never had I made an effort to spend one-on-one time with our son. Like most Nines, he was easy to be around and all-accepting. He never made any demands. I could have spent years of self-recrimination, but chose to begin from where we were and take the next small sacred step. I suggested we take an aikido class together. He jumped at it so eagerly that it nearly broke my heart. Now Brian and I consciously make the time to go out to breakfast, make art, or just talk. Though I missed time that I can never regain, I'm grateful that we have now.

Deanna noticed that her father had a hard time with the low side of Four. She internalized that as "Four is a bad place" and simply denied any movement there. She proudly announced to us one day, "I never move to Four. I only go to One and Seven." Another "Oops"! We slowly began looking at the gifts of Four and encouraging her to watch for her own deep emotional connection. She eventually came home one day and told us in a wondering tone, "I'm in Four a lot! And I like it!" The judgement had let go.

The Enneagram has been a precious gift, contributing to the psychological health of our family community in many ways. Although we haven't discussed the spirituality of the Enneagram per se with our kids, together we've learned about "waking up" by using it everyday as a map and a practical guide for our journey. Most of all, the Enneagram has taught us about love. Perhaps love is what spirituality is all about.

Lynette Sheppard, RN, CHT; 1996
Adapted from material presented at the 2nd annual meeting of the Association of Enneagram Teachers in the Oral Tradition with Helen Palmer, 1995

 

 

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