Community within the Family Using the Enneagram by Lynette Sheppard,
RN, CHT, 1996.
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.
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.
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?".
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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