Rage Against the Personality Tool: On the Limits of Self-Growth Tools Like Enneagram

Rage against the personality tool.

When I originally wrote that line, they were the title of a poem. A long, messy and cheesy, but frustrated poem.

I want an easy way to explain why
I want to spill my guts
and gather them all at the same time
Maybe, leave each of my friends with
little pieces of my intestines

like a nice souvenir,
so they know the feeling’s real

I’ve used tools such Myer-Briggs, astrology and the Enneagram over the past couple of years to try to understand myself and why I am the way I am: the shyness, the bursts of unforeseen energy, the constant need to self-protect, my impatience with small-talk, and my love of love (both love with a lowercase and uppercase). The first time I was introduced to the Enneagram, I was 20 years old working on a farm. All of my teammates at the farm were raving about it, eagerly learning and discussing their types. The online test that I took described me as a Type Four, but not only was I assigned a Four, the particular test I took described me as an unhealthy Four. I responded by bursting into tears. The label of “unhealthy” slapped me in the face. I didn’t want to be reminded that I wasn’t well, especially after being sent home from a service year program because they couldn’t provide the mental health support that I needed, despite their best attempts.

Fast forward a few years, I visit a friend in Albany and I’m invited to spectate an Enneagram workshop. I’m curious about my type, but during the process of reassessing my type, I spiral into another fit of tears, bawling in my friends car over how tired I feel of being reminded of how I’m not at my best.

For the record, I live with anxiety and depression. And, I have a history of panic attacks and suicidal ideations. I have probably had depression for a lot longer than I remember, since much of my teenage life, but I was in denial over my depression. I told myself that I couldn’t possibility be depressed because I was loved by God and that love was a genuine source of hope for me. I saw myself as a music-loving ball of sunshine, the embodiment of blue skies– I was so in love with Jesus– guidance counselors and high school librarians suggesting I was depressed would have me laugh in their face! But, I know now that depression has been my reality, and anxiety plagues my body. I don’t know how severe, only that it controls my life in a way that I wish it did not. I didn’t know that I had generalized anxiety until being diagnosed with it in recent years.

Since learning about these diagnosis, I’ve been curious about the story behind my mental illnesses. As I’ve stated before, I’ve been told for most of my life that these could just be innate chemical imbalances in my brain — a notion that I have resisted because of the ways I have felt it as a dismissal of my personal history.

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Admittedly, I am also a struggling perfectionist… I think my perfectionism might be a trauma thing. Like my anxiety, my perfectionism gets in the way of me living my life. That is the part that makes it difficult for me to trust self-growth tools like the Enneagram and how it is currently being taught. As a Four, it is suggested that we look at the positive characteristics of Type Ones for self-growth and integration, to help us with the unhealthy qualities of Type Four. But so much of the current trend and culture of the Enneagram describes Ones as “perfectionists” — something that I am trying to heal from. And so much of this culture also describes Fours as being moody and depressive without necessarily looking into WHY that may be.

There’s so many ways that I don’t resonate with the reductionistic interpretations of the Four Type. For instance: “Fours want to be special, different, to be like no one else. They insist upon telling themselves they are the only one who experiences what they experience.”

But what if you have grown up with a sense that there isn’t anyone around you that you can see yourself in? No one who mirrors you back at yourself? What if it is only in recent years that you’ve started to see yourself reflected a little more in media, at national gatherings, in books, etc? I know so many self-identified Fours who live in between social groups, who don’t fit well into gender binaries or racial assumptions or occupy spaces of social marginalization… they don’t see themselves represented well. I don’t know if it is fair to paint with a wide brush that these Fours necessarily revel and delight in being misunderstood. Rather, speaking for myself, I would say it is my normal or my comfortable place.  The land of “Misunderstood” feels more like a shitty ditch I’m used to being in, as opposed to a place I want to make into my home.

I suppose that my logic for having been so invested in growth and personality tools is the hope that if I can understand myself and what I need to grow, perhaps I can find some direction towards healing from the things that may exacerbate my mental illness. With personal tools like the Enneagram, I wonder how much of my suffering is my own doing? How responsible am I for my constant sense of fear — or the mental health struggles that make it difficult for me to feel like I can pursue the life and love that I want to have?

Maybe the way I come to approach these tools are misguided. But, isn’t that why so many of us approach these tools anyway? That they might help us understand ourselves a little more? That we might make sense of the role that we play in the social problems that keep us up at night?

But, I don’t think that incorporating a little bit more structure into my life is gonna be enough. I don’t know.

 

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Our world today is cruel and tiring because of the large and constant presence of violent forces like capitalism and white supremacy. The values of white supremacy and capitalism are constantly imposed on me: homophobia and queer erasure in my daily interactions and on TV screens; rampant anti-blackness in my government, the Church, schools I’ve attended; rape culture in the dating world. A lot of us are lacking resources and access to that which could heal us because of these forces. Even then, our attempts to heal ourselves may get thwarted by the relentless evils that surround those of us marginalized by race, gender, class, ability, you name it. I may heal myself, but then, if the rest of the world isn’t healing with me, I’m at risk of being re-traumatized. My own attempts at self-growth and self-responsibility isn’t enough. My environment is toxic so often. We are trying to make small oases of peace, rest and pleasure despite.

I rage against these personality tools and tests, but maybe I rage more because of the ways they they are taught and presented as life-changing. So many of these tools don’t account for the world we live in, a world filled with normalized systematic and cultural injustices. A personality tool may tell me that I am self-absorbed with no context. But after years of having to deny my own personhood and individuality in my formative years- in the name of representing la raza, in the name of making white supremacy and white people comfortable, in the name of protecting myself from my the violence of my parents– why would I not be a little bit self-concerned or self-absorbed, as the Enneagram suggests Fours are? A personality tool may suggest that what I need to heal from my personal delusions may be a little more structure and distraction in my life, but what if some of the inner demons that I am suffering from — what if they are not personal delusions? What if they come from all of the violence in my environments that I’ve been taught to internalize?

I rage against personality tools, because I am trying to resist internalizing that I am the only thing standing in the way of my growth and healing. It gets hard to resist all the time. Self-growth tools become seductive to me. And, I can’t deny that I need and crave structure in my life. But, I rage against how we hold these tools without a critical analysis because I am tired of feeling like my sensitivities to an unjust world are something that I must manage in order to make others comfortable. What if my sensitivity and darkness is a gift? What if my “self-absorption” is my body and brain begging me to pay attention to what’s going on in my life, in a world where I am taught as a queer black woman and a survivor, to focus on serving and fighting for everyone else?

Enneagram Institute
Please don’t explain away my pain
Like so many other institutions have


A note:

(I anticipate receiving unsolicited advice about how I ought to get a coach. I also anticipate a response to this along the lines of “you don’t understand the enneagram!” Maybe I don’t. But, I have tried to for several years now, and it still stresses me out. However, I’m seeing black women like Mickey Scottbey Jones and Leanette Pokuwaah bring forward POC-centered approaches to the enneagram. And Hannah Paasch, a white queer person, is exploring context and personal history in her enneagram work. This makes me hopeful, but it’s very important for me to share my story of struggle. I am tired of skipping straight to the resolution, to the tidy neat bow).


All of the photos used in this blog post were created by me. If you want to support my writing and my photography, consider becoming my patron on Patreon! 

What Beauty Means Now.

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In my 25 years of living and in the year 2018 I have found that

now, in our world, beauty means

hiding from people that your family didn’t love you well

hiding that your family growing up isn’t kind, a safe place and put together

hiding that things in your family have still not gotten much better

and hiding that this pain has shaped a part of your brain and body.

Now, in our world, beauty means

not being dark

of mind,

of story,

or skin,

not being sad

or moody

not struggling with confidence

or having to be reassured.

In our world beauty means

not telling the truth of how everything is hurting

and not telling how you feel about those who perpetuate the hurt.

It means to be silent about your pain

your anger,

and your questions.

Beauty means you must always be smiling

You must never show fear

never show doubt

never need

and cry

and ask

and hope for help.

In our world, beauty is confidence

and not having to consider that the world gives you this thing called “confidence”.

(What is confidence, now, in this world, except being affirmed by the powers that be?

In our world, beauty means

that those who are ugly,

those who are dark,

and bent,

and gnarled,

must find their significance elsewhere

in another world

in order to survive.

My hope:  in order to survive the world

where being ugly

and being dark

is not desired

or welcomed

or necessary,

we must find our desire for another place

where being ugly is magnificent,

is nothing to fear.

Isaiah 53:1-3

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Inspired by queer, disabled, transnational and transracial adoptee, Mia Mingus.

#BlackGirlPsalms: Psalm 55 — Who Is My Friend?

If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God,
as we walked about
    among the worshipers.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
    let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
    for evil finds lodging among them.

16 As for me, I call to God,
    and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
    because they have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
    he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
    yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
    yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
    into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
    will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.


Who can I call “friend” when friends begin to feel like enemies?

If the neo-Nazis out in the streets were to insult me, I could endure it, for I already know that the unabashed white supremacists who have shown their faces in Charlottesville, in Durham, and in the Bay Area despise me and my people whom have darker skin.

If a man were threatening to strike me with his hands or with dehumanizing words because of his fear of me and my love of self, I could hide because I have endured this violence before and have come to expect it. I am used to men’s misdirected and uncontrolled anger, whether in my family or in public spaces, like the streets, at university or in my inbox.

But it is you, someone who is supposed to be like me — someone who professes to be on my side– who is starting to appear to me like an enemy.  You seem to prefer your own comfort than to make sure I can live free from fear of state sanctioned violence. How can I call you a friend? How am I supposed to take seriously the claims you make that you love me?

You who claim to be my friend. You who I had used to go to church with: Remember when I used to go to church with you? And we would eat lunch or dinner after service? And you told me that you believed in my leadership, that I am powerful? That I reflect the image of God?

In the fellowship hall, you would say that you were happy to see me, we would laugh together among our peers who also profess to love God, too.

But now in your silence you go about carefree with your white life, your white problems and your carefree dates at the local brewery. You tell me that there are better ways to fight white supremacists than what I have asked the ministers to offer to our parish. You tell me there are better ways, because you do not trust what those who are ACTUALLY affected by white supremacist violence are telling you to do. You continue to choose “studying” James Cone, Michelle Alexander, mujerista theology and womanist theology in your white small groups because you’d rather tell me “not yet” and that there is a purpose for your studying. You’d rather keep “studying” forever than to eventually change policies that hurt the people of color that you call Sibling in Christ. As if “studying” keeps you from taking concrete actions. You continue to start your own organizations with your blind-spots than to take the leadership of immigrants, Black Lives Matter organizers, and trans women who are fighting for their lives and know about their own needs better than you do. You believe that you know better. You refuse to acknowledge that your “knowing” better than the least of these is what got us to this dangerous political climate.

I see evil living in your home, in your homogeneous, fake-progressive places of worship– this evil of complacency. I see you enabling white supremacy and patriarchy, because you are too afraid to confront the injustice and patterns of dominance in your sphere of influence. You think that the problem of white supremacy is only the problem of of Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and Skinheads in Berkeley. You think the only misogynist to worry about is Trump. You excuse the misogynistic “jokes” from your pastor and friends. You cannot see the ways that you hurt me and my peers on the margins of society and neither do you care enough to see.

You shut yourself out from a healthy communion with me and those who suffer from state and policy violence, and it makes me wonder if you want to shut yourself out from the Kin-dom of God? Are you choosing to live in the realm of the dead? Or are you willing to sell yourself to the devil for the fleeting and empty promises that whiteness and patriarchy offers? Don’t you know that your silence and inaction in the face of injustice is killing your soul?

God! I cannot depend on those who say with their lips that they love me! So, I must call upon God for who else is there to turn to? Every single day, I feel afraid. I have too much anxiety to leave my home. Too much anxiety to face the world and to do my daily tasks. Sometimes too anxious and too depressed to eat, because the world around me despises and fears my existence. But I praise God, because God has brought me this far despite the violence of the white and patriarchal Church.

God saves me because the ways of  dominance and the promises of Empire never will.

There are too many who say that they love God, but they unknowingly hate the marginalized. They hate those who are crushed by the weight of Empire. They do trust the instruction and wisdom of the poor, the trans person, the black woman, and all those who are hated by society, because they do not fear God. They continue to elevate and center the powerful of this earth instead.

My fellow Christians attack me and those on the margins whom they claim to love and wish to protect. They silence us, because the truth of our lives and our pain sound too harsh to them. They use words that are smooth like butter, writing declarations of their condemnation of white supremacy for their organizational and church websites. But their words feel like swords — they inflict wounds on me when their smooth words are followed by no commitment to me and those others among me who are suffering.

God will show them how wicked all of this posturing, apathy and inaction is. God will show that there are consequences to their lack of humanity towards the marginalized of this world. Those who turn their backs on the undocumented immigrant, the trans person, the black woman — they have blood on their hands and cannot be called friends. They are thirsty for blood, though their smooth words would say otherwise. In this way, they prove that they are deceitful and cannot be trusted.

I trust that God will take care of this wickedness. And I trust that God will help me through another day, for God is my friend when the Church is not.