Reflections from an Enneagram One: Learning to Live in Grace
It’s exhausting to know me.
I talk really fast; I’m constantly doing too much. Every cause is my cause. I want to know your pain, listen to your pain, and then come up with a solution. I am hypercritical of every situation, and I focus most of that criticism on myself. As my husband says, “You’re exhausting!”
I am a One on the Enneagram, often called “the Perfectionist.” As The Enneagram Institute website explains, Ones are “conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong.” When we are healthy, we are committed to living a life that is both ethical and devoted to service. Healthy Ones are also responsible and can offer grace both to themselves and others when something is not perfect. Ones are committed to making the world a better place.
However, when Ones are unhealthy, we tend to become hypercritical. Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile explain in their book, The Road Back to You, “They chase perfection because they have this vague, unsettling feeling that if they make a mistake someone is going to jump out to blame, criticize or punish them.” The compulsive need to fix what is broken causes anger—the deadly sin of the One—to raise its ugly head. “Ones stuff their anger until it sits right below the surface, where it expresses itself to everyone as smoldering resentment,” Cron and Stabile write.
Ones’ criticism of the outside world is magnified when turned inward. Their inner critic can point out every misspoken word and every misplaced look and act, causing them to freeze up in fear of failing. But when Ones begin to befriend their inner critic by responding to the critical voice with, “It’s okay; I am a One on the Enneagram. Even if I’m not perfect, I am still good, and people will still love me,” we can lean into our naturally joyful selves.
Ones are also sometimes called “the Reformer.” As a reformer, I am constantly wondering how I can make the world around me better. I can express righteous anger and am quick to come up with solutions to move to a more just world.
This past year I’ve been struck by the injustice that women face in ministry. My desire to advocate has caused me to raise my voice for others and given a voice to some significant problems that women face in ministry. I’ve been able to see policies change to better equip and serve women in ministry. But, I’ve also seen my self-righteous side in conversations. When I’m not careful, I can internally judge men for their treatment of women and sometimes doubt some of my brothers’ commitments to their fellow sisters and me.
Ones’ desire to see God’s kingdom come can create a self-righteous attitude. As The Road Back to You says, “Because they believe they occupy the superior moral, ethical and spiritual high ground, Ones believe their way is the only right way of seeing and doing things and therefore feel justified in being judgmental and critical of others.” Our principled desire to make the world a better place can allow us to make an impact in bringing God’s kingdom here. However, we have to be careful to remember grace when dealing with ourselves and others.
Connecting with God
Early on in my faith, I believed that to be a good Christian you had to spend an hour with God every day. I was able to open my Bible daily for the first week. However, it didn’t take long before I was trying to “prove” I was a good enough Christian. I made being “good enough” an idol.
Accepting God’s grace is hard. Because of all of my flaws, I feel unworthy of Christ’s love. Learning to accept God’s grace and acceptance is a constant journey. And as I grow in my relationship with Jesus, I have to remind myself that he chose me because of who he is.
Being a One means that my personality wants to please God. However, it also means that I am constantly struggling against perfectionism, which keeps me from connecting with God and others. When I notice that I’m holding people at a distance so that they don’t see the hot mess that I am, I’ve started to imagine myself physically laying down the image I have of a perfect Christian. This practice—known as detachment—helps me find freedom from perfectionism.
Connecting with Others
Often my perfectionism can be a shield I use to protect myself from getting to know others. I have a hard time letting my guard down, terrified that if someone sees the real me, they will run away. This often stops me from connecting with others emotionally.
I hosted a Business and Faith Panel for fraternity men. After spending 500 dollars on promotions, bringing in five business leaders, and working for hours to host the panel, only two fraternity men showed up. I was devastated. I tried to hide my pain from the panelist. However, one of the men said, “It’s okay to be upset.” As I broke down in sobs, the men joined me in praying over the brokenness of our campus and praying for revival among fraternity men. I was afraid that letting them see my pain would be proof that I didn’t belong on InterVarsity staff. Instead, my pain and imperfection gave the five men a chance to minister to me and to remind me that it was God who is the worker.
While I might not be warm and fuzzy, I will always take care of those I love. Cron and Stabile write, “Ones say I love you by being responsible and doing what’s expected of them to make the world a better, more secure place for you.” This makes me the perfect person to be your bridesmaid, but not always the one to go to for a hug.
As a One, I have a hard time naming my anger and my emotions. Knowing my Enneagram type has helped me label how I feel so that I can catch my frustration. I struggle with feeling resentful toward others whose work ethic is different than mine. However, understanding where that anger comes from helps me recognize that emotion, name it, and address my criticism without exploding at other people.
That has also been true about my perfectionism. During a writing course I once took, the teacher kept calling me a perfectionist. I was stunned because all I see are my flaws. When I realized that that view is actually proof of my perfectionism, I was able to see that I’m not perfect, but I’m okay. It also helped me to walk into the truth that sometimes I have to let my image of the perfect person go.
The act of naming my emotions has also given me the freedom to experience a healthier expression of my personality. I’m able to be joyful and silly. When I’m healthy, I can be self-accepting of my flaws and of the flaws of the world around me. I still want to address the needs around me; however, I do it with a smile when I’m healthy.
Ones see in the world an invitation to fix its problems. And while that may be exhausting for you, just imagine what it’s like inside our heads. When we are healthy, we are a force for the kingdom. Just help us by showing us a little encouragement and a whole lot of grace.
Image designed by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.
As I’ve learned more about Eights I’ve realized that they are generally self-confident, confrontational, strong, assertive, honest (sometimes brutally), and decisive people. When I read that description now I feel like it pretty accurately describes me.
Spiritual director (and former InterVarsity staff member) Alice Fryling introduces the Enneagram with questions and meditations to lead you into deeper self-awareness. You'll learn how you can experience God's love more abundantly and extend God's grace to others more fully.