Swiss therapist Marie Louise Von Franz was once lecturing about applications of Jungian psychology. She was saying that most women have an imaginary little devil that sits on their right shoulder and talks to them all day long in a negative way. Whenever the woman tries to take action, to assert herself, or do something new, the little devil says, “You can’t do that, you’re only a woman. You’ll never make it, you’re only a woman.”
When Von Franz told this story, an agitated young woman in the audience raised her hand and said, “It’s absolutely true! I have a little devil that always says that; I hate it! Is there a therapeutic technique you can give me that will kill it?”
Von Franz replied, “No, no, no, you misunderstand! It’s impossible to kill it. This is a part of you. None of us can kill our little devils – all we can do is educate them.”
In many ways the Enneagram challenges us to educate our “little storytellers.” It asks the question, “How do we update our version of the world and begin to live a new story?” This may mean learning to become less defended, to open more fully to the present, to let reality narrate its larger story within which our own true story is still unfolding.
People new to the Enneagram often wonder if it’s possible to completely change from one Enneagram style to another. They’ll ask, “I know I’m a Seven but can I someday change into a Two?”
Just as you can’t change your true nationality, your core Enneagram style stays the same. You don’t stop perceiving the world through the same basic filter; your physiology and body chemistry will express one Enneagram style over the others. Your thoughts will incline in a specific direction and your strengths and talents will arise from that fact.
When the poet Robert Frost was asked why he still rhymed his poetry when rhyming had gone out of fashion, he replied that writing unstructured poetry felt “like playing tennis without a net.” Frost added that “freedom means being easy in your harness.” When he embraced the constraint of rhyming, Frost found great freedom.
Even as you successfully work on the excesses of your Enneagram style, there’s no escaping your personality entirely. There is little point in my trying to get over being an American or “curing” my friend Werner of being Swiss, but we both can become much more than our nationalities.
If you work at it, you can transform your Enneagram style from a restrictive cage into a flexible harness. The gifts and resources locked inside your most dysfunctional behavior can be freed and used to improve life today. As you loosen your personality defenses, you will develop a wider range of behavior and become less compulsive, defensive and “nationalistic” in your responses.
As you waken from the bad – or even good – dream of being only your self-image, you can shed old roles and identities that have little to do with who you are now. As you grow easy in your personality harness, the essential “you” will have more room to express itself. Your true individuality and a sense of your own soulfulness will emerge and thrive.
There are even resources you’ll develop because of your defenses, capacities that naturally arise from working on the neurotic tendencies of your Enneagram style. Threes who are prone to deceit come to especially value honesty. Frightened Sixes learn more than others do about the value of courage. Dissatisfied Fours discover the most about contentment. Warrior Eights come to love making peace.