Full Title: The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
Authors: Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile teach the Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery and spiritual growth.
The Road Back to You (2016) is a popular introduction to the Enneagram. Superficially similar to Myers-Briggs and other personality typing models, the Enneagram is touted as a tool for self-discovery that can lead to meaningful spiritual formation and improved relationships.
As a semi-spiritual counseling tool that has flourished among Catholics, the Enneagram is low-hanging fruit for fundamentalist critics. But many Christians of all streams have found it to be a meaningful model for describing personality. You may find it be a helpful model of patterns in human behavior; but you also may find it reductionist, like the many personality tools that came before it.
The Enneagram is a model of human personality. It divides people into nine distinct but interconnected personality types. As it is explained in The Road Back to You, our enneagram types are “masks” that we create to protect ourselves after we begin to experience hurt as a child.
The strength of the Enneagram is in how it deals with sin by bringing personal awareness. Many of our interpersonal problems (sin or not) are rooted in our own insecurities, often related to our core needs. “The true purpose of the Enneagram is to reveal to you your shadow side and offer spiritual counsel on how to open it to the transformative light of grace.” (p. 31) The book ties our “shadow sides” and core needs to the nine Enneagram types.
As the Gospel Coalition (predictably) points out, the weakness of the Enneagram is also in how it deals with sin. We are frequently reminded Though Carl Jung is not mentioned in the book, the phrase “shadow side” which they adopt is a term from Jungian psychology. In The Road Back to You, we are told that we have “a shadow side they need to guard against.” (p. 191) But in Jungian psychology, the “shadow side” is a subconscious element to be released, not guarded against. Jung wrote, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” The Enneagram literature thus muddles together the frameworks of Jungian psychology with Christian theology. I believe the authors would freely admit that it doesn’t have grounding in any academic field.
The very idea that people have “personality types” that are permanent is an idea grounded in Jungian psychology, though perhaps it has an ancient analogue in astrology. There is nothing in the Bible to make us think that we fall into any finite set of “types”, or that our personality does not change.
I also don’t think that the Enneagram should be considered a tool for “spiritual growth”. The self-affirming and therapeutic message found in The Road Back to You seems like it may improve self-esteem and interpersonal relations; self-esteem is not spiritual formation. Making better decisions because you have learned something about yourself is not spiritual growth.
In my opinion, it is more helpful to think of the Enneagram as one of several “models”—rather than a “hypothesis” or “theory” that explains the way the world works. A dictum in science is, “some models are useful.” Models may lack explanatory power, but they could still be useful in elucidating patterns. Maybe the patterns are not the whole, but we know more than we did before we started. We can also accept that in many instances, the model is not useful. In the case of the Enneagram, its limitations need to be stated more explicitly.
Reading about one specific number may resonate with you. In the complex lore of the Enneagram, though, a person of type 4 (a “Four”, an “Individualist”) may have a type 5 (“Investigator”) or type 3 (“Achiever”) “wing”. And this type 4 person takes on characteristics of a type 2 (“Helper”) when stressed, and a type 1 (“Perfectionist”) when secure. So a person of one type can share the characteristics of four of the nine types. At that point, I feel that the Enneagram is quite overdescribed. The writers could just as easily have tried to convince me that a “Individualist” becomes a “Perfectionist” when stressed and a “Helper” when secure. The goal here doesn’t seem to be realistic counseling; it seems to become a Theory of the Universe. This, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the Enneagram. It is overextended in its uses. Like other psychological tools, it can make it easy to try to “explain” someone to himself or herself, rather than letting them tell you who they are and want to be. If at all, it should be taught with caveats and in conjunction with other balancing ideas.
Lastly, I should point out, Ian Cron has a finely honed writing style, even if this book has been somewhat overproduced. These writers have given us an admirable introduction with which to begin to explore the concept. They begin from a viewpoint of skepticism about the beginnings of the Enneagram, which adds plausibility to their arguments. Cron tells memorable stories and anecdotes with zest and snarky humor. The book has been written for a modern audience. I felt that the authors sympathized with my short attention span. In my opinion, that is what makes this book so popular, as much as the persuasiveness of the Enneagram.