True to Type: The Enneagram Identifies Basic Coping Strategies

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There are nine basic types that describe personal motivation.

When no one else is around, who are you?  In a world where curated online presence dominates our presentation of ourselves, we sometimes remain ignorant of our real inner landscape. But for more than 50 years, there’s been a well-thought-out and carefully tested tradition of identifying human types based on the coping style we’ve been employing since childhood. The Enneagram, a term that combines the Greek words for nine and something written or drawn, identifies nine distinct types of people based on their deeply-held motivations.

There’s been a surge in interest in this topic, something Hayley Tompkins, branch manager of the Crozet Library, did not fail to notice. She keeps an eye on what kinds of books are in demand, not only to plan future acquisitions but to gauge the interests of the Crozet community. “That’s one way to figure out what programs we should be presenting,” she said. She’d offered a program on meditation in June, and was following up. “I was looking for other community resources on meditation when I came across the Hodges,” she said. Robert Hodge offers weekly meditation practice at White Hall Meditation, but what caught Tompkins’ eye in this case was that both Robert and Sandy Hodge are certified Enneagram instructors who have presented many national and international workshops on the topic.

“I didn’t know much about the Enneagram, except that the books were popular,” Tompkins said, “but I was fascinated, and delighted to find we had experts in our own community.” Sure enough, the Enneagram presentation at the library by the Hodges in early July drew an enthusiastic audience. “There was a really good mix of ages, including millennials,” Tompkins said; “And men as well as women.”

Bob and Sandy Hodge will conduct a workshop on the Enneagram. Photo: Theresa Curry.

In the library presentation, the Hodges explained that each type has a set of habits, formed by how we saw the world as children. Without knowing it, we all developed a strategy to deal with life. Over time, our strategy is well incorporated, acting as a kind of filter. “If you think of how you were in your 20s, your type will be a little more apparent than it is as an older adult,” Robert said. ‘That’s because we modify our behavior according to the results we’re getting.”

In a later interview, the Hodges explained that people in each type may not seem similar at first notice. That’s because––unlike other personality typing tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator––the Enneagram is not based on outcome, said Sandy, who has been a certified instructor for decades. Instead, the types are based on what each individual thinks and feels. Those who identify themselves according to their behavior can expect their coping strategies to change over the years as they mature, but their Enneagram type never changes. 

What’s the point in finding out your type if you can’t change what you don’t like about it? “This doesn’t mean you can’t change some of the things you do that don’t work out so well,” Sandy said. In fact, this bit of self-knowledge can lead you to question patterns that have not been helpful in your career and relationships. “Once you know your motivations, you can observe how they influence your choices and how they work in your life, and have more freedom to adjust your behavior,” Robert said.

Still, the basic types remain, and they’re not attached to any judgement, Sandy said. “You may not like the type that seems to fit you the best, but they are neither good nor bad.” She noted that types are not the same within families, suggesting that each person finds strategies early in life that are quite different from even those in similar circumstances. Enneagram training includes learning what strategies you tend to fall back on in both stressful and secure situations.

And despite the long experience of the Hodges as instructors, they don’t decide the types for their students. “There’s only one person who can determine what type you are, and that’s you,” Sandy said. The Hodges were trained in the oral, or narrative, tradition by Helen Palmer. This tradition includes helping people learn their type by having groups of people who share a type talk about their experiences and habits. “It’s interesting to see people who may at first seem wildly different come together and talk about the very basic strategies they share,” Robert said. “This in turn, helps listeners learn their own motivations.”

Based on the response from people at the library session, the Hodges have scheduled an Enneagram workshop for Saturday, September 14. Register by email, [email protected] 

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