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Enneagram Type ONE: The Need to Be Perfect Sets a Template for Transformation

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Enneagram: Week 1

Type ONE: The Need to Be Perfect
Wednesday, April 27, 2016

For the rest of this week and the next, we will explore each of the nine individual Enneagram types. We’ll see how all of us begin life in union with God, as our True Self, totally in Love. Each Enneagram type has a uniquely gifted way of being connected with the Real. It reveals our original “soul space.”

Our Enneagram passions or sins come from the suffering and agitation caused by the perception that we’ve been torn from the womb of Love. The ego creates a false self, trying to recreate the original positive soul experience. Eventually, as Russ Hudson says, “The healing of the passion comes through turning back toward the grace. Allowing grace to work us over a long period develops our virtue.” [1] Thus, the issues of the false self are only resolved by experiencing our forgotten but real connection with God.

I’m going to start with the ONE because it’s the type I understand best, and I hope it will give us a template for the process of transformation in all the types. The primal knowing of ONEs is that the world and we are deeply good. ONEs are originally joyfully enthralled with the goodness and perfection of the Really Real. My mother told me I was so excited all the time as a boy; I would just squeal with delight and dance and sing. It was just a wonderful world, and I was a part of it, and I was happy to be a part of it!

But then the wound came. I don’t know what it was, but somewhere along the way I realized it isn’t a perfect world. No childhood is ever perfect. No longer able to rest in our original “home,” the ego tries to manufacture perfection. ONEs like me move into overdrive to protect ourselves from our deep disappointment. “I will make it perfect anyway. I’m going to find a way to make it the way I want it!” But good intentions can only take us so far when we are not connected to Real Power. Here is where evil disguises itself as good, and the natural knowing of the True Self gets twisted into the false self.

ONEs become hyper-sensitive to anything we perceive as wrong or ugly. Hence we become critical, judgmental, and moralistic. This focus sent me off to a seminary at a young age. We are even more critical of ourselves than we are of everything else. Our root sin is anger or resentment—resentment that things are not the way they should be. We’re perfectionists, and we’re never satisfied with what we could always improve. This is my fallenness, my strategy for surviving. It’s been my way of getting energy for so long that I cannot change it entirely. All I can do, by God’s grace, is move toward some form of transformation that will allow me to fall and rest in my True Self.

The gift or virtue that marks mature persons of any type is always the reverse of the root sin, for it is the overcoming of your sin that becomes your greatest gift. For the ONE, this gift or virtue is serenity, meaning a nonreactive heart. Serenity holds the world with compassion and patience. As Russ Hudson puts it, “Serenity allows ONEs to be of service. Instead of reacting in anger and irritation, serenity lets ONEs show up in the face of difficulty, conflict, and suffering and see what’s actually needed, what will be most helpful, and what will open things to the good. Serenity can trust the goodness, blessedness, and dignity that’s in me and trust that same goodness, blessedness, and dignity is there somehow in the situation or person in front of me.” [4]

How do we get from our root sin to this gift? First, for any type, it usually takes the major humiliation of seeing our root sin for what it is. I remember the day when my ONEness became obvious to me during a spiritual direction session in Cincinnati. I was in a daze of humiliating recognitions. “My God, I became a Franciscan for the wrong reason, I became celibate for the wrong reason, I became a priest for the wrong reason. Oh God, did I do anything right?” I realized that I wasn’t right at all. My very best efforts stemmed from mixed motives, to make myself look good. This insight was the initial death of the false self. It also set me on a course that has become one of my central themes: the understanding of reality as paradox, reality as a seeming contradiction that in a bigger frame is not a contradiction at all.

From our earliest years, we ONEs have lived with our unacknowledged and repressed anger. When we discover it, we can eventually get so fed up with being angry that, through the grace of God, we finally learn to deal with it better and more constructively than others! It’s still in us just as much as ever, and it won’t go away. But it no longer needs to be taken so seriously. Instead, as Hudson says, “the behaviors and reactions of our Enneagram type . . . [can serve as] reminders that we’ve forgotten what we love and what’s most important. . . . This is how we turn our ego into a friend rather than an enemy.” [5]

Many integrated ONEs say that three things help them: prayer, love, and nature. When I pray I can increasingly let go of the voices of duty and responsibility and let myself drop down into God, into Love. Love is “the perfect bond,” as Paul says (Colossians 3:14). That is why I have to fall in love with somebody or something every day, even if it’s only a tree or the wonderful turquoise sky over New Mexico. When I don’t love, the negative voices immediately get the upper hand. Finally, nature helps me discover and accept perfection in the flux and chaos of creative evolution. God, love, and nature are perfect precisely because they include and incorporate imperfection. This is important! Without these three experiences, ONEs can scarcely imagine cheerful serenity and patience, but remain aggressive idealists and ideologues.

Hudson describes ONEs’ unique gift: “ONEs begin life with a sense of the goodness, dignity, and blessedness of all creation. . . . The special mission of the ONE is to invite everyone into that fundamental truth by reflecting that face of God in the world.” [6] I hope I am doing that somehow for you.

Gateway to Silence:
Open me to Presence.

[1] Russ Hudson, The Enneagram as a Tool for Your Spiritual Journey (CAC: 2009), disc 2 (CD, DVD, MP3 download).

[2] Ibid., disc 3.

[3] Ibid., disc 4.

[4] Ibid., disc 3.

[5] Ibid., disc 2.

[6] Ibid., disc 3.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: The Discernment of Spirits (CAC: 2004), disc 2 (CD, DVD, MP3 download); and

Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2001), 45, 54-55.

Is the Enneagram new to you? Are you wondering, what is the Enneagram? How can the Enneagram help me? Which number on the Enneagram am I? Does the Enneagram work? This is just one post in a two-week series about the Enneagram. Click here for an introduction to the Enneagram and links to additional reflections and resources on the topic.

The Enneagram Diagram. CAC archives.
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