Reflections from an Enneagram Six: Learning to Trust That God Will Never Leave Me
When I started working with InterVarsity in 2014, I realized how little I actually knew myself. Through all the reflection, personality, and emotional health tools that I became aware of, I always proceeded with caution and excitement. Caution because I was afraid of what would be exposed. Excited because I knew, even when I didn’t want to admit it, that this was an opportunity to know God more intimately.
As I’ve explored the Enneagram, I’ve seen this also as a tool: to sharpen and deepen my understanding of myself, and to encounter God with greater vulnerability and trust. When I first heard other staff talk about “their numbers,” however, I assumed the numbers represented worth, and that some numbers were greater than others (I mean, that’s usually what numbers represent). So I hesitated for a long time to read into anything related to the Enneagram. But as I heard people whom I deeply trusted talk about how understanding their number was impacting their spiritual formation, I decided to try it out.
As I read the names of each number, I tried to guess intuitively which one I’d be; perfectionist seemed to make the most sense. But then I read descriptions and scenarios for each number, and realized I was very wrong. I even cross-checked with my wife, and she confirmed. I was a Six, a Loyalist.
The Enneagram Institute defines Loyalists as “the committed, security-oriented type. Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy. Excellent ‘troubleshooters,’ they foresee problems and foster cooperation, but can also become defensive, evasive, and anxious—running on stress while complaining about it. They can be cautious and indecisive, but also reactive, defiant and rebellious. They typically have problems with self-doubt and suspicion. At their Best: internally stable and self-reliant, courageously championing themselves and others.” As I wrestled with both the positive and negative characteristics of a Loyalist, I realized that there is much to embrace about how I am wired, and there is much to pray and repent for. But both the positive and negative are opportunities for me to seek Jesus in a deeply transformative way.
The Positive Characteristics of Loyalists
I have always been loyal to the activities and communities I’ve been a part of. Loyalists get their name because they are most loyal to their friends and their values. It is this type of personality that has the ability to strengthen my faith as a Christian, my commitment as a husband, and my compassion as a friend. It is the loyal nature of my character that also drives discontent for injustice, righteous indignation in ministry, and anger toward manipulation. It is the Loyalist in me that helps make me a great ally, and a committed defender.
When I am healthy, I find that I am not only able to remain faithful to the people and communities around me, but I am also able to easily build trust that pushes the whole team/community forward. In ministry, this means I am able to build trust with students in ways that point them to Jesus. I am able to challenge and redirect students when we need to make a shift. I am also able to encourage and empower them when they are faithfully taking risks. Because they know I am on their side, building a team to pursue mission is fun and faith-building. I am also able to develop strong trust with peers and superiors. I am able to develop influence in a way that builds momentum for my teammates, and in a way that could healthily challenge us to consider direction that we weren’t before. This makes me a great team player, and a useful influencer. In relationships, this makes me a good partner and friend.
The Negative Characteristics of Loyalists
My biggest fear is detachment. I fear being abandoned by others and remaining alone. This fear makes my strength as a Loyalist also a weakness. Because I fear losing affection, value, and self-worth, often my motivation to commit, and to remain loyal to people, communities, and beliefs, is rooted in fear. This leads to anxiety and stress. In stress, I overperform and overcommit to compensate for my fear (which is probably why I initially thought I’d be a perfectionist). Often, my self-confidence and self-worth come from the affirmation of others, which means if I don’t have that, then I tend to struggle with self-doubt.
This impacts my relationship with God because I will often project a lack of public affirmation onto him. So if I am not feeling affirmed by the community around me, I can assume God also isn’t affirming me. In this way, relationships take the place of God in my life and can easily become an idol. Supervisors, friends, and family can all sound like the voice of God in my ear. This cripples my ability to actually hear from God, and shifts my faithfulness to people and communities, who, being sinful and part of a fallen world, will ultimately fail me. This type of inferiority complex could impact my ability to seek opportunities to grow. I often find myself only taking a growth opportunity when it is directed to me by someone else. This makes it hard for me to identify gifts that I have that haven’t already been affirmed by others, and avoid seeking opportunities to grow in those gifts (which has been true for me in my church participation). It also could impact my ability to embrace the identity that God has given me and exchange that with false half-truths that damage the view I have of myself. As a college student, though I showed very clear leadership skills and potential, I never viewed myself as a leader because of lies that were told to me in the beginning of my discipleship as a Christian.
Growing as a Loyalist
Understanding how I am tempted to believe lies about myself, others, and God; where those lies come from; and the truth about myself, others, and God has all been helpful in my journey of growing as a Loyalist. Having consistent space to reflect on my day, my emotions, and my reactions has been helpful for me to both proactively catch moments I am likely to lean into the negative characteristics of a Loyalist and willingly choose to respond differently, and reactively catch moments that I failed in avoiding the critical characteristics, and faithfully confess and repent before God and others. Every morning this looks like a care-casting exercise. Every afternoon this looks like a midday reflection where I stop, journal, and pray. Every evening, this looks like an Examen.
Since my fear of abandonment causes me to believe lies about myself, I’ve also learned to hold a few images and phrases during different seasons to remind myself about the truth of who I am daily. For example, during this season, I spend my morning prayer time reflecting on the truth that I am God’s son, and he is my Father. I look through my schedule for the day to anticipate the moments I may be tempted to believe otherwise, and declare God’s truth over those moments in faith. This has helped me not only increase my personal awareness, but also grow in emotional health.
I’m learning how to embrace both the strengths of being a Loyalist, thanking God for how I can be a gift to my communities, and how this strengthens my faith in Jesus. I’m also learning how to acknowledge the weaknesses of being a Loyalist, confessing to God where I often fall short, and diligently working on turning those weaknesses into opportunities to grow more faithful to Jesus.
Image designed by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.
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.