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Cautions Concerning Enneagram Literature

As I delve into Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson's The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types, I'm beginning to see several patterns that I've also seen in other Enneagram literature. Here are some of the common ideas that seem like trip wire to me.

Enneagram literature uses various terms to talk about the two sides of ourselves: the true self versus the adapted self, our essence versus our personality, the real self versus the pretend self. I like to think of this as the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit. The use of the terms is not the problem here but rather the explanations of their origins and the methods by which we move from one form to the other.

1) Don Riso talks about how he had a vision that showed how humans are all "beings of light". Riso and Hudson call it the "spark of Divinity in us" (Hudson and Riso, 36). This kind of talk seems dangerous to me. I don't understand why they don't say that this light is the image of God in us. Perhaps they're trying to write for a larger audience than Christians. It is my conviction that we can be sources of light, but only with Christ in us. He shines out of us to display a unique, valuable, and good person. If we have no faith in the Lord, this light will not be in us, only the potential for that light.

2) Riso and Hudson talk about how we have "fallen asleep to our true nature" (Hudson & Riso, 27). An awakening of ourselves can transform us back into our true selves. This doesn't seem true to me. Even when I know what I ought to do, that doesn't mean I will do it for the right reasons (Rms: 7:21-24). We need supernatural power to love others, ourselves, and God rightly. Transformation is God doing something in us, not us realizing we were great all along. Perhaps that is what they mean, but their vagueness seems to leave God out of it.

3) Riso and Hudson also explain how our pretend selves came to be. They state that our parents' or caretakers' inability to meet all our needs caused us to develop these coping mechanisms that eventually became our pretend selves. If this were entirely true, then Jesus would've developed a false self too because his parents were imperfect. And Adam and Eve wouldn't have developed false selves because they had the perfect "parent." We develop false selves because we are born out of relationship with God not because our parents failed.

4) Riso and Hudson explain how each Enneagram type has a way of distorting the Divine attributes within them. They claim that this is the "root of our imbalance" (Hudson & Riso, 22). However, I think the root is much deeper. Sloth, anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, fear, gluttony, and lust are indeed deep within us, but there is something deeper still. Why are we slothful? Why are we angry? I think it's because we are trying to meet our own needs. We believe we must control our fate, earn our value, and plan our future. Essentially, we are trying to do God's job, i.e. trying to be God. This is at the root of our problems.

5) Riso and Hudson list all the Enneagram numbers' lost childhood messages on page 34. These are supposedly things that we stopped believing in childhood due to parents who couldn't meet our needs. "You are good," "You are wanted," "You are loved for who you are," etc. I like to think of these as the truths we doubt from birth because we were born out of a relationship with God. Riso and Hudson say that when we claim these truths, we can then return to our Essence. However, I find it impossible to believe that I am good unless someone who knows me entirely and knows what goodness is says that I am good.  In other words, unless God says I am good, I can't believe it. The same could be said of all the other lost childhood messages. I can't believe this stuff without irrefutable evidence.

6) Riso and Hudson talk about observing ourselves, understanding what we do, and letting old ways go. Marilyn Vancil talks about this in similar terms in her book Self to Lose - Self to Find. (See Applications for Self to Lose - Self to Find). "When we trust in the process and give ourselves over to it, however, our true natures comes forth" (Hudson & Riso, 35). As a Christian, I know that the only one to trust and give myself over to is God. Yes, this process is a great one, but transformation comes when I surrender and trust in the Lord's protection, goodness, and power instead of my own.

I want to give Riso and Hudson the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they're leaving their language vague on purpose. Perhaps they're writing for a broader audience than Bible-believing followers of Christ. In any case, what they're saying feels like giving someone a treasure map with the entire route charted out, but not giving them the key to the treasure chest. Seems like a major strike against them if you ask me.

Hudson, Russ and Riso, Don Richard. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. New York: Bantam, 1999.

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