This weekend, my husband and I attended a rather tongue-in-cheek “Hollywood’ party where costumes were encouraged. We decided to go for it, and assumed the identities of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. We had a great time meeting other movie characters in their regalia.
What made some of the characters more believable was not only the costumes, but for the more dramatic partiers, it was their mannerisms. From the sultry voice and seductive looks of Marilyn Monroe to the unassuming and modest Maria of Sound of Music fame, we have come to know these movie icons through what we call their personalities. We come to know (or think we know) each character by certain traits.
The term ‘personality’ has many usages and connotations in daily life. The Enneagram offers a riveting and profoundly different explanation of the personality and its relationship to our true nature than you may have been introduced to previously.
Before reading further, consider the following questions: How would you describe yourself? How do you know yourself?
Many of us are tempted to describe ourselves by the qualities we think we display, such as being creative, bold, fun, emotionally sensitive, stoic, responsible, quiet, caring, calm, or smart, to name a few. And it is through these qualities that we come to define ourselves. It’s true….we all have a particular personality, and will have it until our last breath. But that personality is a part of—not all of—who we are.
Being identified with the personality—mistaking your personality for who you are—is the source of great difficulty in life. To the degree that you are identified with the personality, the content of your day-to-day life takes center stage. There is no “I” outside of that experience.
Being identified becomes quite tricky in daily living because having a certain kind of identifiable personality is considered an admirable trait in different environments. For example, being visionary is a respected leadership trait, while being caring is a desirable characteristic for capable health professionals. Children who are shy sometimes discover that outgoing children receive more favorable feedback. Motivational speakers are expected to be energetic, upbeat, and, well, motivating. In some religious communities, expressing humility and piety is a prized social norm. In most cultures, it is the personality that receives attention and even adulation, so this is further reinforcement of the idea that personality is the basis for who we think we are.
At different times in your life, your own personality characteristics have been encouraged, critiqued, and commented on by family members, friends, and co-workers, which has given even more credence to the idea that you are your personality.
It feels completely natural to think of ourselves as the personality, that is, to be identified with it. It feels exactly right.
The experience of “being identified with” means that your self-concepts, ideas, feelings, behaviors, qualities, reactions, fears, defenses, discomforts—any experiences that you might have—are so intricately tied into your day-to-day experience, that they are unquestioned. These make up the stories of your life, and you believe them. They feel like who you really are, as if they’re a reflection of the authentic self. They are not.
It is that identification with the personality that creates so many of life’s struggles and challenges. Developing a more expansive understanding of what it means to be human creates a welcome shift in how you relate to yourself, those you interact with, and your whole environment.
Have you ever heard yourself say something like this: “Of course, I worry [or get mad, or look for a new adventure, or demand perfection of myself, or want full control, for example]. That’s just who I am. I can’t help it.” This conviction creates an inner prison.
At the end of the party, I was happy to take off my queenly robes. Now—who is it that is here?
The question we must ask ourselves—who am I, if I am not my personality? How would I know myself if it wasn’t for these personality characteristics? It’s a worthy inquiry!