Just be yourself! is a pep talk many of us have given or received at some point in our lives. And yet, we can all think of situations that were made worse by whatever response or behavior came naturally to us in the moment. Unfortunately, our knee-jerk reactions to problems can sometimes create an even bigger mess. So how do we remain authentically us while unraveling decades of destructive patterns?
The answers become clearer when we turn to a unique personality tool called the Enneagram to help us understand why we behave the way we do, and to identify the strengths and soft skills that are common for our specific Enneagram type.
As we light up the world with these supercharged skill sets, the Enneagram teaches us to also be aware of the shadows they can cast when we lean too hard into the habits created by these singular strengths.
Seth Abram, host of the Enneagram-focused Fathoms podcast, explains how all of us come into the world with a specific sensitivity or gift, represented by each Enneagram type, and that we form our personalities around this gift in order to highlight our strengths.
“Personality in any Enneagram type is what has split us off from the rest of who we are,” Abram says. “It’s a mask we wear that helps us get our needs met.”
This strategic use of our skills to get what we want out of the world sounds prudent, but Abram advises that zeroing in on a specific aspect of who we are can cause us to reject the rest of ourselves. So that whenever a challenge arises, we end up forcing our “gift” onto the world through a set of unhealthy patterns of behavior, even if our gift isn’t the right response or solution to the problem.
“It’s like the old saying, If all you have is a hammer, then all you’ll see is nails,” Abram says. “Our personalities become problematic when our view is so rigid that we can’t engage issues in a different way than we always have.”
If we can recognize our propensity to repeat the same flawed patterns—the ones we have trained ourselves to turn to again and again when under stress—we can identify the ways that we use our strengths to actually hold us back. What’s more, we’ll be able to access the resources we already possess, but typically deny ourselves in order to keep the disguise of personality firmly in place.
Uncover your own success-sabotaging patterns by reading excerpts from our interviews with people from each Enneagram type below, and expose the toxic rhythms that might be manifesting when you allow your strengths to overrun and mask your most authentic self.
Type 1 – The Perfectionist
Strength: Integrity and goodness
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Legalistic perfection
“When I over function, I usually don’t trust anyone to accomplish tasks as well as I do—no one will help me like I need them to, and I take on more than I can handle. This produces a lot of loneliness but also a self-righteous feeling of ‘I’m the only one who can do it; I have to show them I can do it.’” — English E., Type 1
Ones often feel personally obligated to be the “fixer” who swoops in to perfect everyone else’s mistakes. When they step away from their resentment, they can see how this sense of compulsion is actually voluntary, and that they—and the people and corporate structures around them—are free to be content with good enough.
Type 2 – The Helper
Strength: Empathy and intuiting the needs of others
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Attempting to buy relationship with service
“When I notice that I’m altering my own needs in order to soothe or change someone else’s feelings, it’s a sign that I need to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with my ego. I’ll ask myself, ‘Does devaluing yourself make you or anyone else feel better about you?’ It helps me stay true to who I am.” —Earlene F., Type 2
If people don’t like them, Twos can often believe they’re unlovable. By breaking their routine of frantic people pleasing, Twos can discover their value exists even if they aren’t providing profit, pleasure or emotional stability for someone else.
Type 3 – The Achiever
Strength: Ambition and winning drive
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Confusing success with dignity
“One of my strongest superpowers is the ability to work efficiently and multitask like a champ. The flip side of that, unfortunately, is that I also expect the same of others—wanting 10 jobs done at once and turned in yesterday, or it’s too slow. I can lose patience quickly.” — Marilee T., Type 3
Their success screams Look at me! so the spotlight of the podium is a comfortable place for Threes. When they pause to acknowledge that their climb may have come at a relational or corporate cost, they can see their success at face value and realize their true worth (and the worth of those around them) exists whether they cross the finish line first or never start at all.
Type 4 – The Individualist
Strength: Intensely in tune with authenticity and truth
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Always esteeming emotion over logic
“I have an abiding sense that something is wrong with the world and, if I’m honest, with me, so I seek to fill the void by receiving affirmation for my uniqueness. This lack of fulfillment can propel me to create—music, art, writing—in hopes of expressing myself, but can also lead to me be emotionally needy and have trouble maintaining emotional boundaries.”— Jeremy H., Type 4
Heart over head and feelings over facts, Fours intuitively gravitate toward whatever stirs their emotion and sense of individuality. Acknowledging that their specialness isn’t dependent on their peculiarity will allow them to find contentment even when uniformity is required, and to offer romantic or friendly advances that reflect the other person’s interests, rather than their own need for grand and dramatic gestures.
Type 5 – The Thinker
Strength: Gathering and synthesizing information
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Denying emotions and connections
“Because I want to feel like an expert in whatever I do or talk about, I will often avoid trying new things or certain situations. This results in me missing out on a lot of opportunities.” — Holly P., Type 5
When Fives feel disconnected from the security of their logic or expertise, it can send them into a scarcity mindset tailspin that requires them to pull away until they feel equipped for the moment. When they open themselves to connection, they can grasp that engaging with the world (and the people in it) is often the best teacher.
Type 6 – The Guardian
Strength: Discernment for who or what can be trusted
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Looking to others for security and reassurance
“I tend to be very loyal, and so I’m the friend who is always there and the customer who sticks to certain brands because they’ve ‘earned my trust.’ Sometimes this can lead to one-sided friendships, not trusting new things or questioning my own voice. It’s hard to make decisions without the impact of others because I really care about what they think and I want to remain loyal to them to maintain my sense of security.” — Katie M., Type 6
Safety and security are a Six’s top priority, which can lead them to turn to harmful relationships or entities if they believe they can provide refuge. If a Six forces their racing mind to pause, they will realize their own inner voice is the most reliable guide and authority they can turn to.
Type 7 – The Enthusiast
Strength: Fast-paced optimism
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Not slowing down for pain or sadness
“When I’m faced with difficult emotions or situations, I can seek ways to escape pain by trying to look on the bright side or plan for a future that is pain free. That’s when I realize that I am confusing happiness with joy. In doing so, I not only deny myself the fullness of life that comes with experiencing all of my emotions, but I can also minimize others’ need to grieve.” — Denee K., Type 7
Habitually bouncing from one thing to the next may prevent FOMO for a fun-loving Seven, but it simultaneously traps them in a limiting world that prevents them from truly connecting to the people and things they desperately want to experience. Sadness can’t be rushed, and sometimes processing failure is an integral part of success.
Type 8 – The Boss
Strength: Confidence in the face of challenges
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Using control to avoid vulnerability
“One of my superpowers as an Enneagram Eight is the ease with which I can harness my abundant energy and drive to get things done. In excess, I can move too fast and fail to listen to others. Even though my goal might be accomplished, the relationship can be irreparably damaged. Every day I have to ask myself, ‘Who and what am I not listening to?’”— Heather H., Type 8
Rushing to take charge is so natural for Eights that relationship damage is inevitable if they don’t know how to catch themselves. Harnessing their powerful energy to create sustainable success will mean learning to temper it with both patience and vulnerability. True authority can only be given to you, not taken by force.
Type Nine – The Peacemaker
Strength: Unifying, easygoing presence that sees all sides
Success-Sabotaging Pattern: Stifling personal opinions to avoid disruption
“I hear alarm bells when I realize I’m doing menial tasks that have no immediate importance. Sometimes I’ll stick to these activities to the point of physical pain just to avoid a conversation that I am sure will result in conflict. If I will just engage in that conversation, the relationship usually improves instead of disintegrating.” — Rhesa H., Type 9
Nines are not only harmonious, they are masters of deception—signaling their agreement to the world when, in reality, they are quieting their own hearty dissent. To remain true to themselves will require realizing when “productivity” is simply a disguise for passivity.
How do we fix these success-sabotaging patterns? Knowing what to look for is the first step. From there, Abram recommends creating a physical replacement habit, like breathing or tapping yourself on the hand, that reconnects you to the present moment and prevents you from slipping into autopilot.
“When I notice a pattern in myself, I take a few really deep breaths so I can ground myself in the present moment,” he says. “Our Enneagram type is what shows up when we don’t. The more you notice your patterns and return to the present, the more you can cultivate your capacity for response, rather than relying on your regular reactive patterns.”
Photo by @esspeshal/Twenty20.com