Of Apple Pies and Personalities

With much joy and gratitude to Hashem, I am awaiting the publication of my new book, Out of the Box, which is scheduled to be available in stores within the week. In this book, I explore the Enneagram personality system and how it can be used as a self-growth tool.

Most people have very strong opinions about personality systems. They either love them or hate them. I believe that, ironically, only by acknowledging and understanding the concerns of those strongly opposed to personality systems can personality lovers ensure that we don’t misuse this brilliant self-growth tool.

Those opposed to systems like the Enneagram believe that they are little more than stereotypes that restrict people’s growth by putting them into boxes. These are indeed valid concerns. After all, why study a system that will limit your personality and potential? Are their assumptions correct?

The short answer is this: yes, the Enneagram does use a bunch of stereotypes, but no, it does not put you in a box.

Allow me to explain.

If you would want to describe an apple to someone who has never seen one before, you would have to provide vivid descriptions. “An apple is round and often red,” you might say. “It is about the size of a tennis ball. Its skin is smooth and shiny and the flesh is white and crispy, with a sweet, juicy taste.”

In truth, the above explanation is little more than a list of “stereotypes” that will allow the person to recognize an apple. However, this explanation in no way limits the “potential” of an apple, but simply describes it in its simplest form. That apple can still be grated, squeezed, baked, or mixed with dozens of other ingredients, like flour, sugar, and eggs. The end result would be a more developed, sophisticated form of the apple, such as applesauce, apple juice, baked apple, or apple pie.

In the same way, personality systems use stereotypes to describe specific personalities in their simplest form. The Enneagram can help us understand the type’s inherent desires and fears and the behaviors that emerge as a result. Those who read these descriptions and use them as an excuse to perpetuate unhealthy behaviors (“What can I do? I am naturally disorganized!” Or, “I can’t help it. I’m an opinionated person!”) are essentially keeping themselves confined to their specific “box” and committing themselves to serving as the stereotype, or poster child, of that type.

However, those committed to personal growth and development will use their newfound awareness to learn how to “squeeze” and “bake” themselves, and how to add “ingredients” to bring balance to their identity. They will use their new insights to help guide them out of the box to become the most developed, sophisticated version of themselves!

Indeed, such individuals are often misidentified by others, who don’t understand the essence of each type. After all, the more evolved the apple becomes, the less it resembles its original form. Thus, the Enneagram is little more than a tool, used by some to excuse their behavior and resist growth, and by others, as a personal map of transformation.

How have you used insights about your personality to make excuses and avoid self-growth? How have these same insights led to personal transformation?

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