Freud's Raindance: Enneagrams, Acronyms, and a Life That's Off the Chart
There are rustlings. The masses are growing suspicious, and reporters are sniffing out a new trend on the pop-psychology front. If you type the terms "introvert" or "extrovert" into the search bar at the top of any of the East coast, cerebral magazine websites, you’ll find a small smattering of articles pushing back against the tidal wave of personality info that has saturated our screens and selves over the last five years.
It wasn’t until about 2011 that search trends on Google started skyrocketing regarding the two terms. Suddenly, the world divided itself into two camps based on the answer to a compelling question: how do you recharge? Is it by spending time alone or by being around people?
A swift scroll of the page and a couple personality quizzes later, you too could command mastery over the inner workings of your personage, as well as the habits of your coworkers and friends. And then in 2012, Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was published, and the pendulum swung the other way. The Internet gave a platform to the murmurs of this oppressed minority, and all the introverts of the world banded together (independently) (from their own homes) to (serenely) shout their disdain for how their kind have been treated.
Pegging persons as introverted or extroverted was only the beginning. If we admit it, there’s something behind all this quiz taking, all this surmising and assessing. When it comes to the Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder, Enneagram, or any such test, I request that we pause and go a little deeper down the rabbit hole. My question to you is this: why does it matter so much to us?
Now, I’m not here to bash personality tests. In fact, you won’t find a more ardent follower than myself, and even after this article, you’ll still find me waving my Myers-Briggs flag proudly. As a former Psychology major and lover of all things personality and people, no one could have polled more friends, family, or complete strangers about the different facets of temperament than I over the last five years. I had a talent for remembering them all, too, and with each discovery, I felt something enchanting—a little slice of holiness.
There was something enticing to knowing and being known. I made connections between similar types, categorized parallels, and knew which verts/types/numbers I got along with and which I butted heads with. Someone probably should have put me on a world-renowned research team in a lab somewhere, but alas, no one saw my true potential.
Just as alluring as it was for me to discover your type, I found it incredibly captivating to make sense of my own type. You should know, "my type" values growth as a person, so the search for my true self quickly became my anthem. Once I discovered all my varieties and categories, I felt satisfied. Like I’d arrived, in one sense or another. I knew who I was.
A problem arose, though, once I graduated from college: I changed. And then I kept changing. Like all sojourning twenty-somethings, I found myself thrust into life in a new way: I cycled through a couple different jobs, I got married, and I took on different roles. I was flexing and growing, just as all humans do throughout life. The snag, though, was that this evolving me started feeling a little like she was having an identity crisis. Sometimes I wanted to be with people, and sometimes I wanted to be alone. Sometimes I felt outgoing, and other days, I felt locked inside myself. No longer did I fit into my neatly categorized letters. Who am I? I began to wonder.
I found small comforts in articles that shook things up by arguing that both extroverts and introverts need time alone. A friend of mine spoke some honest truth about his journey with the subject: “It’s hard to distinguish loneliness from a genuine need for companionship. It’s hard to know which needs are normal psychology and which are unhealthy dependence. Maybe we as humans have the tendency to juggle as many of our heart’s desires as we can, with no regard for emotional health.”
What if we are fascinated by our classifications because they actually quench a deeper thirst we have? What if they serve as a pathway to something more intimate: a desire to understand others and ourselves—to know and be known? I wonder if instead of bundling all that we are into an admittedly helpful device that designates and explains many of our qualities, we might acknowledge that with every season, our hearts require different things.
Still, this doesn’t change the burning desire we have to understand people, as well as be understood. So what’s the answer? I suspect it all boils down to connection and control. The two get a little mixed up sometimes. As humans, we desire true attachment—that familiarity that comes from knowing someone deeply. But we were made to survive, which positions us to want control over situations and relationships. Perhaps if we can predict how someone will react, maybe we can predict the outcome of our relationships favorably or even steer them in the direction we desire.
And if we can classify how we’ll react, perhaps we’re answering an even bigger question: Am I okay in this world? Do I respond normally? Are my traits acceptable? We are looking for a key to the enigma, the solution to the puzzle that is both self and relationship. No one wants to feel like he or she is crazy, alone, or chiefly different. If we can make it a formula, then, essentially, we’re in control. We don’t have to be afraid of how others act or what their response means because we’ll have a blueprint that will explain it.
One of the best metaphors I can think of for this concept is this gorgeous commercial by Audi titled “Rainmaker,” which features a condensed history of how mankind has forever tried to predict and sway the weather, from tribal dances to shamans to advanced technology. We’ve danced for rain, read the stars, constructed towers, listened to frogs. We’ve done everything within our power to control the weather—but seriously…why?
Relationships are, in a lot of ways, like the ever-shifting temperatures and climates we live in. We ache for control as humans, but just like the weather, aren’t life and relationships rather unpredictable? Instead of trying to steer the heat, the downpours, doesn’t it make more sense--and wouldn’t it be less exhausting--to adapt to them? Even if we know our types, circumstances can change us. Whether you’re gazing into the mirror of your own soul or contemplating those in your immediate circle of friends, consider this: what if we loosened our grip a little?
I find it’s consistently easier when I simply allow people—as well as myself—to be who they are, just as they are, during each juncture of time. It’s healthier when we accept ourselves where we’re at instead of trying to explain our whims and changes away. Trying to get back to who we used to be isn’t the point, and constantly searching for our past selves dampens the brilliance of the work presently arising within us.
Knowing how one’s personality sometimes operates can be helpful, but it’s not the end-all determiner of how we should try and love each other. In Western culture, we place a lot of value on knowing and having the answers, whereas an Eastern philosophy might suggest that both the answers and the mystery of the process are of equal importance. There is a balance subsisting in both, a tension to being who we are and existing peacefully within the process of becoming who we will be.
So whether you find yourself far on one side of the introversion-extroversion spectrum, or you identify with both, remember that your shifting temperament may refashion itself. Same with your best friend, your brother, your wife. And that’s okay. Instead of clinging tightly to our modes of control, let’s alternatively attune our ears to the soul, to the active questions, to the whispers that signal what we need—and what others need—in each season.
Let’s feel it, name it, and then -- let’s carry on.