by Michael Roth, C.Ad, SRC
Trauma occurs when someone has an experience that they are unable to cope with mentally or emotionally. The feelings that arise from the situation are internalized in the form of trauma, and these feelings must be dealt with at a later time once the individual has developed the skills necessary to cope with them.
There’s no doubt that trauma is prevalent in our society. The majority of adults have at least some degree of trauma that they’ve held onto since childhood. Domestic violence, bullying, and emotional neglect are, unfortunately, fairly common problems that can have a lasting impact.
One of the most intriguing tools for helping people work through their trauma is known as the Enneagram of Personality, or simply the enneagram. The enneagram is a model of the human psyche which describes a network of 9 interrelated personality types.
By understanding your own personality type and learning about the personality types which relate to it, you can identify an appropriate path of personal growth that can help you work through emotional issues such as trauma.
What Is the Enneagram?
In short, the enneagram is a model of the human psyche. There are three main aspects of the enneagram:
- Basic personality type. There are 9 basic personality types. Your basic personality type provides a detailed outline of your character. Understanding your personality type will help you to have a concrete idea of your strongest traits, as well as areas that you may struggle with or need to work on at some point during your life.
For example, type 9 is known as the Peacemaker. Peacemakers are highly agreeable, willing to compromise, and generally hoping to achieve the best for everyone in all situations. However, they can also be complacent and struggle to achieve their own personal goals, preferring to self-sacrifice instead of dedicating time and energy to themselves.
A good example of a famous type 9 personality would be the Dalai Lama.
- Path of growth. Each personality type has a path of growth. This is a path ‘towards’ a different personality type, one which personifies the traits and ideals that a person may need to develop throughout the course of their life. Following the path of growth provides an individual with a solid framework that they can use to direct their personal growth.
I will continue to use the example of type 9, the Peacemaker. The path of growth for a Peacemaker takes them towards personality type 3: the Achiever. Traits of the Achiever include motivation, determination, and pragmatism – all traits which can help the Peacemaker maintain balance and achieve their own goals without relenting their desire to help others.
- Path of stress. The path of stress is basically the opposite of the path of growth. This is a path towards a different personality type which embodies traits which could create discord in an individual.
The path of stress for a Peacemaker takes them towards personality type 6: the Loyalist. Loyalists are committed and responsible, but can also be evasive and anxious. These traits can make it even more difficult for a Peacemaker to achieve their personal goals, and can push them into responsibilities that may lead them to self-neglect.
Using the Enneagram to Manage Trauma
The enneagram can be a very versatile tool for helping people to manage trauma.
One of the most valuable aspects of the enneagram is that it is relentlessly blunt: it describes both the positive and negative aspects of each personality type with equal vigor. This can help to develop an unbiased understanding of the self, which is invaluable for anyone hoping to overcome trauma.
Having a complete understanding of your positive traits, for example, can help encourage you to work through a trauma by utilizing basic skills that you already possess. Understanding your flaws, on the other hand, can help you to be better prepared for any triggers, behavior patterns, or habits that you may fall into that could hinder your progress.
Two of the most important aspects of the enneagram, however, are the path of growth and the path of stress. Understanding these paths can help direct you on the road to immense personal growth, while discouraging you from treading a path towards imbalance or destructive tendencies.
Following your path of growth will help you to discern the tools and behaviors that you need to utilize to overcome trauma. Let’s use a different example: type 5, the investigator.
Type 5 is a highly cerebral, intellectual personality type that excels in their cognitive abilities. They may be fantastic logical thinkers and mathematicians. However, they often become isolated and secretive – even going so far as to keep secrets withheld from themselves.
A type 5 who was traumatized at an early age may be unwilling to acknowledge or accept this trauma. Instead, they may rationalize any behaviors that result from it. For example, a type 5 who was traumatized by a public humiliation or bullying during school may rationalize, later in life, that they simply ‘prefer to be alone,’ rather than socialize. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying solitude, this could present a problem if someone were to isolate themselves rather than acknowledge the trauma that hinders their social life.
The path of stress for a type 5 is towards type 7: the Enthusiast. Enthusiasts are fun-loving but easily distracted and scatterbrained. This could lead the Investigator to using their intellect to pursue distracting but ultimately unfulfilling activities, preventing themselves from pursuing emotional concerns, such as trauma.
The path of growth for a type 5 is towards type 8: the Challenger. Challengers are decisive, willful, self-confident, and straight-talking. These traits can encourage the Investigator to be more honest with themselves, identifying issues such as trauma that may hinder their overall growth as an individual.
As you can see, the enneagram is very versatile, and this is but one example of the many ways that it can be used as a model to help encourage personal growth. If you or a loved one are struggling with trauma, get in touch with me today. Together we can use the enneagram to help you deal with past traumas in your life.