For many of us, it can be difficult to find our Enneagram type accurately. Oftentimes, the biggest mistake is that people will look at the stereotypical behavior of each type and focus on that. For example, "I worry a lot so I must be a six." Or, "I have always been drawn to art, so I'm a four." "I go to a lot of protests, so I've narrowed it down to 8, 9, or 1!" "I love to read and am a deep thinker. I've gotta be a five!"
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The Enneagram is unique in that, unlike other personality typing systems, it is based on motivations, not behaviors. Each type has a specific "Passion" (emotional pattern of suffering) and a specific "Virtue" (emotional gift), a predictable "Fixation" (mental trap of the ego), and a unique "Holy Idea" (the mind's beautiful consciousness when in a grounded and accepting state.) All of these are sooooooo helpful and fascinating, but the part of Enneagram teaching that I resonate with the most is the teaching on each type's "Lost Childhood Message."
Each of us as children, at some point, began to interpret a fundamental flaw about ourselves. The innocence is lost, fear sets in, and we begin basing all our choices around this delusional perception. It isn't necessarily our caregiver's fault, but we may react to their Shadow and interpret it in a certain way as a coping mechanism to feel safe and loved. The messages are called "lost" because we had them at some point. For example, an Enneagram One's lost childhood message is "You are good." When this message gets lost, it becomes the opposite belief that "I am bad/corrupt/evil." As a baby and young child, of course Ones were pure and good. But Ones as children typically feel criticized, not good enough, and punished for mistakes or for expressing emotion, so the ego develops a fixation between right/wrong, good/bad, because she is trying so hard to avoid mistakes and maintain control. Because she has lost touch with the inherent birthright of being good, in the back of her mind, she's always anxious about doing something wrong that would define her as corrupt, bad, or evil. For any Enneagram One to begin her path back toward wholeness and healing, she needs to reclaim the truth that "I am good."
Here is the list of Lost Childhood Messages. Every one of them is a message for all of us, but one of them in particular is at the core of our ego's motivations. This piece of the Enneagram can shine much needed light on our type and on the direction of our growth path.
1- "I am good." - - Interpreted as "I am evil/corrupt/bad. I need to stay on the straight and narrow to avoid
the slippery slope! My moral superiority proves my goodness."
2- "I am lovable" -- Interpreted as "I am only lovable when I'm helping others, when I'm needed. I've gotta
give more to prove my lovability!"
3- "I am capable" -- Interpreted as "I am only lovable and valuable when I'm accomplishing
great things! Proving my capabilities will bring me the love and attention I desire."
4- "I belong" - - Interpreted as "I don't belong. I am different from everyone else and no one understands
me. I will prove that I belong by making myself noticeably special to draw love toward me,
and by withdrawing into my inner world of feelings and fantasy."
5- "I am enough." -- Interpreted as "I am not enough to gain love and security on my own, so I'll spend my
energy gathering knowledge and ideas, and detaching from others and my feelings. This
proves my competence, my enough-ness."
6- "I am safe." - - Interpreted as "I am in danger. Life and people are unpredictable. My defense against
harm is doubting and questioning, even doubting my own instincts and inner guidance. By
preparing for the worst, I will prove that I'm protected."
7- "I am free." - - Interpreted as "I could be trapped! Best to avoid this by becoming self reliant and
focusing on all my positive options and creating pleasurable experiences! Keeping the
Fun-pedal to the metal proves that I am free!!"
8- "I can be vulnerable"- - "I mustn't show weakness, only Power! Emotions, tenderness, and quietness are
weakness and weakness gets you hurt. I'll make myself as big as possible to protect myself
(and others). My strength, productivity, energy, volume, and fast pace prove my Power."
9- "I matter." - - Interpreted as "My presence doesn't matter. My feelings and needs are unimportant, so I'll
keep a low profile and merge with others. I cannot affect change. Making others feel
comfortable and keeping the peace proves that I matter."
Each of these Lost Childhood messages is incredibly heartbreaking, and also incredibly ironic. How could Nines believe they don't matter? We all love them in their natural gifts of sweetness, inclusion, and peacekeeping, and when they are absent we miss them like crazy. How could Threes be worried about proving their capability, when none of the rest of us could ever keep up with their positive energy, confidence, and enthusiasm? Why would eights hide their tender side, when their big hearts are what make them so darn lovable? They don't need to prove they are powerful, because even when sitting in silence we would feel the strength emanating from an Eight!
We are all striving for something we believe is lost about ourselves, but it turns out we have just lost sight of it! It never went anywhere! It was there waiting for us all along, under layers of stories, delusions, fears, greed, and anger. If only we could see ourselves the way our true friends see us, the way our pets see us, the way The Divine sees us. We are seen as good, lovable, capable, belonging, enough, safe, free, with permission to be vulnerable, and that we matter, SO MUCH. Not only are we seen as each of these things, we are each of these things, because they are our birthright.
Now, repeating these messages to ourselves and keeping compassionate eyes on this birthright, we can use the other tools and insights of the Enneagram to carry us back "Home" to our True Selves.
If you know your Enneagram type, I'd love to hear from you, either in the comments below or through a private message, how your Lost Message shows up as a motivator in your life, in either its negative or positive form. What have you done that has been helpful in convincing yourself to reclaim this message?
I just made this painting for my nephew's 4th birthday, to be read to him each night before bed, in the hopes that the lies and delusions won't penetrate so deeply. He will, of course, still develop an Enneagram type (thankfully!) but perhaps this will serve to guide him back Home quicker than would otherwise be the case. Happy Birthday Ethan!!!
P.S. If you would like me to make one of these paintings for a child (or adult!!) that you love, let me know, and I'll pray for them the whole time I'm painting. Also, check out my new Custom Paintings page!
Happy Fall everyone! May this season bring you inspiration, guidance, and time for contemplation!
I'm a Spiritual Director, Enneagram Educator, and Liberationist-Buddhist-Universalist-Mystic-12 step-Queer-Christian. Playing with questions, answers, and surrender.