Have you ever thought that if anyone knew the real you…the person you want to be…your identity and community would cease to exist? Me too. This is something I have wondered about repeatedly, a topic which I want to invite you in to consider with me. Let me start with an illustration.
In 2005, Warner Brothers released a film called V for Vendetta. It tells the fictional story of one man named V who sought revenge against Adam Sutler, the story’s villain, an oppressive English prime minister. Throughout the entire movie, V wore a mask due to the severe burns he received from Sutler’s henchmen years earlier. For this reason, viewers never saw V’s face, but V introduced himself in the beginning moments of the movie by stating the following: “who is but the form of what, and what I am is a man wearing a mask.”
V implied that his identity was in his mask. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever thought that in order to overcome your painful past and pursue a healthy future, a disguise is required?
Why we wear the mask
That mask is what psychologists dating back to Carl Jung and beyond have called our false self, an illusion we create to make ourselves acceptable to others. We wear the mask to protect ourselves from pain associated with rejection by those we care about most. You see, people expect us to behave in ways that jive with our family and cultural values. These values, mostly chosen for us, were taught to us at an early age. We learned that, in order to survive, we must accept the values passed onto us. Our false self is the mask we created within that value system to find love, affection, and acceptance. Sadly, it also covered our beautiful, true identities underneath. How does that happen?
Biology and masks
It began with genetics. Personality specialists Riso and Hudson (1) comment that all of us are born with certain traits that lead to a predominant type of personality. These traits come from the combination of genes passed onto us by our biological parents. In the context of this blog, that means we have DNA inside us that help determine which mask we wear in life. This does not suggest the mask is solely determined by our biology. New research around epigenetics (2), or how our DNA “listen to our environment” as we grow, means that nurture is just as important as nature. Some studies showcase that two people with similar genes can have different personalities due to their experiences (2).
The role of the village
This is why our families and friends are so significant. You may have heard the common phrase: it takes a village to raise a child. There is no doubt that, after genetics, we continue our journey toward identity by receiving feedback from those we care about most. In our early years, loved ones tell us to “be this, but not that” and “do this, but not that.” In many cases, their intentions were most likely pure. They wanted us to gain the social skills needed to fit in and become productive members of society. However, this further added to the process of funneling us into prescribed false selves or masks. Over time, the masks went from being helpful to horribly restrictive.
The Enneagram: A search for more
One of my favorite tools for helping others understand their masks is called the Enneagram. Before telling you more, let me share a little history. The Enneagram is “an ancient personality typing system that identifies nine types of people and how they relate to one another and the world” (3). Many present-day Enneagram users might not know that the Enneagram dates back to 300 A.D., originally used by Christian mystics known as Desert Fathers (4). Throughout the millennia, the Enneagram was passed on orally by the Desert Fathers to those under the mentorship of practiced spiritual guides. It has now been unearthed so we might all benefit from it.
Why use the Enneagram?
Now onto how the Enneagram can help you understand your mask. In Enneagram language, a mask is called a type. Any more, psychological types are just as likely to be the topic of dinner conversation as last night’s NFL football game. This is both a wonderful and dangerous thing. It is wonderful that we have access to resources like the Enneagram that provide tremendous self-awareness, but it is dangerous because so many Enneagram users find out their type and stop the process there, leaving themselves no better off. Even worse, they use their type as justification for unhealthy behaviors, or they weaponize someone’s else type in a manipulative way.
The benefits for those who continue past this point with the Enneagram are many. Among the top advantages to fully understanding one’s type is freedom. Through intense but painful self-reflection, many Enneagram users find tremendous relief from the anxiety and depression involved in acting out their type every day, but not knowing why. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from twentieth century counseling guru, Carl Rogers. He stated, “the incredible paradox of humanity is that when we accept ourselves just as we are, we change.” The Enneagram brings us to this tipping point.
This three-part blog series will include two more posts; part two will overview how to utilize the Enneagram practically to uncover your type. Part three will discuss what to do with your results once you have them. I highly encourage you to read all three parts; otherwise, you may fall into the hazardous trap of stopping the discovery process too early. I look forward to taking this Enneagram adventure with you, and cheers to finding a truer, more authentic you.
(1) The Enneagram Institute. (2017). How the Enneagram system works. EnneagramInstitute.com. Retrieved from https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/how-the-enneagram-system-works
(2) Moore, T., Arefadib, N., Deery, A., Keyes, M., & West, S. (2017). The first thousand days: An evidence paper – summary. Parkville, Victoria: Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
(3) Cron, I. M. (2019). About. Iancron.com. Retrieved from https://iancron.com/about/
(4) Rohr, R., & Ebert, A. (2018). The Enneagram: A Christian perspective. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing.