The state of liminality is often marked by feelings of confusion, disorientation and despair. Psychologically, liminal space can be conceived as a breaking down of the defensive ego structures which had hitherto held the ego together. The insidious or sudden breaking down of these defensive structures – also known as patterns, schemas or fixations – leads to what can be thought of as a trauma response. Trauma being the loss of one’s assumptive world; the lens through which one viewed the world, creating a debilitating disorientation.
When one is disorientated what is most useful is a map – one that shows where one is currently located and in what direction they need to begin heading. Modern psychology is replete with typologies of personality. The problem with most of these typologies is that they are largely descriptive – they focus on traits and observable behaviours, limiting their utility as self-transformational tools– which require deeper insight into the inner motivation for behaviour.
The Enneagram is a symbol of sacred geometry which in modern times has become a psychospiritual map of personality. Thought to have ancient origins, rooted in the mystical traditions of Christianity and Islam, the Enneagram stands unique as a psychological typology because it is the only system, to the author’s knowledge, which answers the question of why we do what we do. In fact, the Enneagram is more accurately conceived as a map of ego-fixations rather than a typology of distinct personality types. It shows us where we are stuck and why, because it cuts to our core fears and the defensive adaptations we have developed to defend against these innermost fears.
As a psychotherapist and coach, I have found the Enneagram to be an immensely useful map to assist someone inhabiting a state of liminality. The proper application of the Enneagram does require a deep understanding of the system’s three centres of intelligence (head, heart and gut), nine core ego fixations and the dynamic movement within each fixation. Otherwise, the Enneagram can be limited to a type of parlor game of clichés used to inaccurately type and misrepresent individuals and their motivations. The individual using the Enneagram to assist others must also have a deep understanding of their own fixation and have embarked on their own inner work. The problem of “mistyping” is also common – a therapist who has not accurately identified their own fixation amongst the nine Enneagram points, will not be able to fully unlock the full potential of the Enneagram.
The power of the Enneagram comes from its universal applicability. It decodes the underlying operating system that undergirds personality structure of ego-fixation, regardless of culture, race or creed. A point 4 on the Enneagram is a point 4, whether in China, Venezuela or Australia. The system provides a great degree of predictive power when it comes to determining the movement of each point or fixation from an integrated toward an increasingly disintegrated state.
Correctly identifying the archetypal point, fixation or ‘type’ on the Enneagram an individual is in can be tricky when the individuals is in a liminal space, because the defensive structures, patterns or fixations have to a large extent, broken down. However, in a therapeutic space where one is held and feels safe, I have been continually amazed by how the underlying ego-fixation starts to become apparent as the person is assisted to create more stability and predictability in their day to day life.
As the fixation begins to show up more clearly, the Enneagram comes to life as a map of where the person has been, where they currently are and the direction, they need to start heading in. The deep understanding the system gives can lead to rapid shifts in self-awareness rooted in self-compassion. Through an understanding of the core fears each archetypal point on the Enneagram embodies, and the resulting defences, satisfying sense can be made of the descent into liminality and a pathway beyond it. What often preceded entry into liminality was the terrifying experience of these core fears being triggered by such an overwhelming event or series of events, that the usual defences could not keep the individual in their usual state of ego functioning.
The Enneagram is a powerful and sophisticated map of human ego-fixation which can be a powerful map of self-transformation, assisting those in liminal space to find their way beyond the wilderness. Studied and applied with the respect it deserves, it can be a treasure. Poorly understood and misused, it is of little value beyond a collection of clichés about seemingly unrelated ‘personality types’.