Children are great observers but often terrible interpreters.
As children, we were observing every interaction through the lens of our personality Type. This began to shape us into the adults we are today. Many will ask, “This is great information but how much of this was learned vs. inherent?” Then they will proceed to explain a situation in their childhood that “made them” who they are now. My answer to that is the situation did not make you who you are, your interpretation of the situation made you who you are. Think back to an incident or event in your childhood that you believe “shaped” you. This can be positive or negative. Try to remember what this event taught you or how it affected your mindset.
While you are thinking about your event I will share an event that forever shaped who I am and reinforced my "Childhood Message”. I have never shared this story in such a public way. Stay with me and keep in mind, I was interpreting these events through the lens and belief that “It's not ok to trust or be vulnerable with anyone.”
Growing up I was mostly raised by my dad and step-mother. When they met my dad had me and a much older sister and she had a son and daughter who were close to my age. They got married and had two more children together. My older sister did not live with us so that meant we had five children and two adults in our household. I was the only child that belonged to my dad or the only child that did NOT belong to my step-mother, and she didn’t let me forget it. My dad was my best friend and even though my step-mother was not physically abusive I did not like it when my dad was away. I would count down the minutes until he would get home so I wouldn’t have to deal with the tyranny of my step-mother. I will admit she wasn’t that bad, but this is how I saw her. When I was in seventh grade my step-mother decided she wanted to divorce my dad and take her kids with her. She had made up her mind and even though my dad was sad he was hopeful that it would work out. I was confident it would work out, I had just gained my dad's full attention now that the rest of them were gone. The night before they were supposed to leave my dad had ingested a large amount of prescription medication, we believe he was trying to take his life, thankfully he wasn’t successful. Looking back I think he may have been trying to keep her from leaving, but she left anyway. My step-mother told us she would be moving to Colorado, only five hours away, to live with her family. A few days later we found out they moved to Alabama and she was reconnecting with my oldest step-brother's father. My dad was devastated in a way I had not noticed before. I tried to talk to him but he wouldn’t share much except for the fact that he thought he would never see my brothers and sisters again. Knowing what he had done with the medication a few weeks earlier I was keeping a careful eye on him as I feared he was going to try and end his life again. I became annoyingly observant to the point of knocking on the bathroom door and asking him if he was ok if he had been in there for too long. He would become angry with me and I finally told him I was checking on him because I was afraid he was going to try and leave me again. He expressed his regret for what he had done with the pills and told me he would never do that to me. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I began to believe him and finally began to trust him again. My older sister lived across the street from us at this time and she shared in my worries that my dad would try to hurt himself again so she would check on us from time to time. Since it was just us in our single-wide trailer in Clayton, New Mexico we decided to sleep in the living room most nights. My dad did not want to stay in his room as it reminded him of his ex-wife and I didn’t want to leave him alone so he would sleep on one couch in the living room and I on the other. I remember falling asleep while watching a documentary about the Arizona Cardinals' new football stadium, we enjoyed anything that had to do with football. Especially our Dallas Cowboys! I was violently awakened by my older sister who was shaking me and saying, “Bubba, bubba, get up, you have to leave! You have to go!” (Bubba was my childhood nickname, if you would have seen me then you would know it was a fitting nickname.) I jumped to my feet and started looking for my dad. He wasn’t on the couch. “Where’s dad?!” I yelled as I felt tears welling in my eyes, fearing the worst. “Where is he?!” “Go to my house, you have to get out of here!” She said as she guided me to the door. I ran across the street halfway crying halfway telling myself, “No, no, please, no.” I made it into her house and watched from the dark as an ambulance arrived. I saw EMT’s rush in with a gurney and a few minutes later make their way back out with a sheet draped over my dad. I noticed the sheet was covering an object that seemed to be sticking out of his abdomen. I was trying to make sense of what I was seeing when the ambulance sped off and my sister stepped into the house to console me. “I got off work and came to check on you guys when I found dad in your bedroom. He stabbed himself in the stomach and was laying on your bed.” To this day I respect my sister for her transparency and for treating me like an adult in this moment. I was “wise beyond my years” as many adults would tell me and I didn't like being treated like a kid. The police came and took a report from my sister then we rushed to the hospital to check on my dad. He was in stable condition but would have to undergo surgery. Thankfully he survived and for the next two weeks, I lived at the hospital with him. My greatest fears had come true. He left me. Even though he had failed his attempt it didn’t change the fact that he had abandoned me. I remember telling myself, “I knew I couldn’t trust him. I knew he would leave me. Everyone leaves.” This thought process shaped every interaction and relationship for many years. What made it worse was the fact that since my dad had been so “weak” I needed to be strong. I never expressed how much he hurt me that night. I knew he was hurting and he couldn’t be the adult so I had to be. “Stay strong, Keanu, dad needs you.” “If he sees how upset you are, he will be saddened and try to leave you again.” I know now this is common for Type 8, Challengers. We grow up far too early.
I didn’t address what happened until approximately ten years later. I was a police officer in another city and we had encountered much loss in a week. A homicide and multiple suicides took me back to that trailer that night. I got off shift and finally broke. I called my mom sobbing uncontrollably trying to piece the words together. She feared something had happened to me or one of my partners on duty. I finally got the words out, “How could he leave me? Why didn’t he care enough to stay? Everyone leaves mom, why did my dad leave me?” The phone went silent for a moment as I heard my mom take a sigh of relief knowing I wasn’t physically harmed but she knew I was mentally and emotionally struggling. “Oh honey, I always wondered when this would come back up. You never wanted to talk about it and I feared this would happen.” You see, I had interpreted the world through my childhood message that I must stay strong and not be vulnerable which led to even greater pain because we never truly “get over” anything we only suppress it in deep dark places until it is eventually released in an eruption.
Two years after I finally discussed the incident with my mom I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I finally had an answer to my question, “Why would my dad leave me like that?” When I accepted Jesus, I discovered my Father never left me. My Father was always there and he not only rescued me from that house that night but He also rescued my earthly father. Keep in mind, the Enneagram is a helpful tool but it is ultimately Jesus that saves and the Holy Spirit that brings true growth and transformation. More on that later.
The Enneagram sheds a lot of light on my childhood perspectives. When my father tried to take his life I felt betrayed, one of the greatest fears of Type 8's, this also reinforced the Type 8-Challenger childhood message, “It’s not okay to trust or be vulnerable with anyone.”
I have to honestly say that if it wasn’t for the understanding that the Enneagram has given me I would not be writing this right now. Do you think a person whose inner self tells them, "It’s not ok to trust or be vulnerable with anyone!” Would share such a story? I share because of my hope that it will help you to address those deep dark places with a new lens of understanding to leverage them for your growth and development moving forward. It's not enough to know the information of the Enneagram but to use it as a tool for growth and transformation.
Now that you have had plenty of time to think about childhood traumas or incidents that may have “shaped” you here are the “Childhood Messages” for each type:
Type 1 Perfectionist: “It’s not okay to be wrong or make mistakes.”
Type 2 Helper: “It’s not okay to have needs of your own.”
Type 3 Achiever: “It’s not okay to have your own feelings or identity.”
Type 4 Individualist: “It’s not okay to be too much or not enough.”
Type 5 Investigator: “It’s not okay to be comfortable in the world.”
Type 6 Loyalist: “It’s not okay to trust or depend on yourself.”
Type 7 Enthusiast: “It’s not okay to depend on others for anything.”
Type 8 Challenger: “It’s not okay to trust or be vulnerable with anyone.”
Type 9 Peacemaker: “It’s not okay to assert yourself or think much of yourself.”
Spend some time with your childhood message. Let it sink in and then explore the situations that "shaped" you with this new understanding of why they had a certain effect on you. Are you holding onto something that you can begin to move past today? Is there something that you have suppressed that is too painful to face? I promise, there is healing in understanding the situation through the lens of your childhood message. We have all believed our lies for too long, you can end that cycle now. Even though this is our "Childhood Message" we are still interpreting the world through this lens. I hope to break the cycle by bringing a whole new level of understanding and empathy.
If you do not know your Enneagram Type I would love to hear which message resonates with you most and why. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your story!