ENNEAGRAM: The False-Self

Within the narrative framework of the Enneagram typology is this idea that all of us have created and propped up an identity out of a need for survival.

Mystics commonly called this particular identity the “false-self”–an identity born from a combination of internal an external pressures that betrays and undermines who we genuinely are, masking and/or debilitating our healthy and natural characteristics for self-preservation.

It goes that we are exposed to physical and psychological threats from when we are infants. And so, from the beginning, we are always trying to process and defend ourselves from sources of pain and guilt.

For example, when you were younger, you may have heard this from a parent or a friend that “Boys do not cry!” And if you were a person that naturally expresses through emotions, this statement would have induced a sociological and psychological crisis and would become a “threat” to you. Crying has become a vulnerable, weak spot. So, what do you do? You lock away your emotions. And now, you have adopted a false characterization of yourself. If you heard this being a girl, you may have assumed through implication that girls not only can but SHOULD cry, and that wasn’t true of you, you may have struggled with that.

The point is that we all experience significant moments that triggers our need to survive: You will be an “A-Student.” Don’t let them see you sweat. The worst thing you can tell someone is “Good job!” Or you are only loved if you achieve. Winning is everything.

All this amounts to us doing a Dr. Frankenstein and creating our “monster” called the “false-self.” This false-self only desires self-preservation. It uses our natural strengths, propensities, and wirings to maximize safety, minimize pain, and self-justify its existence.

This was never the plan. We were meant for ultimate flourishing and fidelity, not survival.

When our life is bent solely towards survival, we don’t experience creativity, growth, authenticity, and joy. We stay in this perpetual state of desperation, anxiety, attack, and defense. A true monster. To hunt or be hunted, becoming strong to beat the weak.

But we don’t just create a monster, we forfeit dominion and autonomy. We adopt and legitimize this “false self.” 

The most difficult thing about this monster is that it is made in the image of our true self. It uses the same strengths. It knows our language. It retains a version of our motives, dreams, and nightmares.

But that’s not the worst of it. We somehow do something even more debilitating–we bury the truth that this monster exists and then self-induce amnesia.

If this is all true, then for us to regain who we are, we just begin a long and hard journey back into the caverns of our hearts. We need to retrace our story to find where we have buried our true self. And ultimately, we have to discover the monster within us.

I have found that the enneagram is a tremendous tool to help us on this journey of self-discovery and healing.


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