In January I spent a week house sitting for my parents while they were out of town. I slept in their bedroom, so I used their bathroom, too. It’s pretty big — big enough for me to spread all of my getting-ready stuff everywhere and make a mess that made it seem like it was my permanent residence. My mom told me I could use the tub. I think she knows I delight in the simple joy of a dimly lit bath and some singalong tunes on a weeknight. I took full advantage.
Since I can remember, my mom has always used some type of makeup mirror. When I was little, she had one with wings that flipped out on the sides and different lighting options to choose from: cool, warm, daytime, evening. Before I knew anything about makeup or cared about my appearance whatsoever, I thought ladies might just want to look at the variety of pretty pastel lights while they got ready. Now that I’ve experienced the horror of seeing my makeupless face in a movie theatre bathroom mirror under harsh fluorescent lighting, I can only laugh at how naïve I once was.
Her current makeup mirror is modern, sleek, and round, attached to a chrome base. When you sit down in front of it, it turns on automatically. THE MIRROR KNOWS. I discovered this when I got too close to it by accident, and the ring of light around its perimeter turned on all by itself, and I immediately thought: Ghost? I don’t use a makeup mirror at home, but after Ghost? my second thought was When in Rome! and I sat down to start making myself presentable.
Have you ever used a magnifying mirror? It always takes my eyes a second to adjust to what I’m seeing, which is mostly pores, zits, patches of dry skin, under-eye circles, random hairs, sun damage, and wrinkles. I don’t know what the magnification level is on this particular mirror, but my guess is it’s anywhere from 1zillionX to 7zillionX. Honestly, if my reflection were zoomed in any more, I’m pretty sure I’d have seen colonies of dust mites just casually living their lives on my nose.
With my face illuminated by the Ghost Ring of Light™ and eyes focused on the unavoidable imperfections before me, I reached for my only defense: a tube of concealer. Painting over areas of skin, dabbing it in, and smoothing it out as best I could, my next thought was: I hope no one ever gets close enough to me to see any of this.
And that thought — that supersonic, echoing, reverberating thought, louder than anything good or true — began to repeat itself in slightly different iterations that had nothing to do with my physical reflection.
I hope no one ever gets close enough to me to see how messed up I am.
I hope no one ever gets close enough to me to see how much shame I carry.
I hope no one ever gets close enough to me to see how broken my heart is.
It was like the ocean I had been swimming in had instantly dried up, and all the things I had ever tied anchors to, thrown in, and prayed would be lost at the bottom forever were suddenly the only ones I could see:
Fear. Weakness. Defeat. Resignation. Isolation. Vulnerability. Shame.
I mean, honestly. I was just trying to do my makeup.
I first heard about the Enneagram nearly 8 years ago from some friends who invited me to their weekly “community dinners.” It seemed like the core group had their own language about who was which type. They made jokes about someone being “such a 7.” Curious, I took a short test to determine my type, but the results were inconclusive, and I didn’t dive in any deeper for a long, long time.
Over the past few years, I’ve continued to hear more about it and learn how it has positively affected the lives of a bunch of people I love a lot, so I decided to sip of the Kool-Aid. And now I’m in the full-on throes of Enneagram illumination. Once you know, you can’t un-know.
The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system with 9 main types that are all interconnected. The point is to learn more about yourself and also more about the other 8 types you will undoubtedly interact with in your life. Unlike any other personality assessment I’ve ever taken, this one has a) made me cry like 500 times, b) been the source of countless healthy conversations about self and purpose and relationships, and c) helped me understand myself as well as some of my closest friends & family more than ever before.
My dominant Enneagram type is 2, followed just a couple points behind by 4. (I’ve been saying I’m a 2 with lots of 4 flavor.) In The Road Back to You by Ian Cron, he calls type Two “The Helper.” BORING. Just kidding, helping is nice! That’s what I wanted to read in this book. I wanted to read that I’m a great human being who helps people selflessly and is everyone’s favorite person. But that’s not what I got. The thing about the Enneagram is that it’s super straightforward about your flaws, unhealthy coping systems, ulterior motives, and masks, like in a pretty cringey way — kind of like seeing your face zoomed in 7zillionX.*
Here are some not-so-fun truth bombs about Twos that I identify with so strongly that it made me weep through the entire chapter:
Because their self-worth depends on the response they receive from others, Twos always end up giving away too much power to other people.
You don’t have to tell Twos what you require; they just know. The problem is they assume everyone has the same ability to sense other people’s inner life as well.
Unusually sensitive, (Two) children wear their hearts on their sleeves. Sometime there’s a hint of sadness about them because they don’t see themselves as lovable.
Twos live in service to the lie that the only way to win love is through hiding the screwed-up, vulnerable people they really are behind the appearance and activity of a cheerful, selfless helper.
(The Road Back to You)
So, what I’ve realized is that I am pretty good at giving love, but a lot of times I give expectantly and selfishly.
Great! AND I’m pretty terrible at receiving love because I don’t truly believe that I deserve it. Even better! The basic fear of a 2 is “being unwanted and unworthy of love,” and the basic desire is to “feel loved.” (Enneagram Institute) EXCUSE ME WHILE MY ENTIRE LIFE FLASHES BEFORE MY EYES.
Fours are “The Individualist.” So sprinkle all of that Two stuff with these nuggets of Four-ness, and everything gets a little heavier:
Fours feel something important is missing from their essential makeup. The result is that they feel “different,” ashamed, uncertain about who they are, and ill at ease in the world.
Fours are prone to melancholy.
When (Fours) aren’t fantasizing about the past, they’re imagining a future when they’ll live in the perfect place, have the ideal job, have the right set of friends, or finally be completed by their soul mate.
Fours are the most complex of all the types on the Enneagram; what you see is never what you get. There are always more layers of things going on underneath the surface. Who am I? What’s my purpose? How does the narrative of my life fit into the grand scheme of things?
(The Road Back to You)
It’s not that I never knew these things about myself. If you read anything I’ve ever written, it’s pretty obvious that these descriptions aren’t brand new information to me. What’s new is that now I have access to language that articulates and identifies these parts of my truest, deep-down self that I’ve never known how to put into words or even think about coherently. What’s new is that I was able to read something and immediately identify with it and say “that’s me!” for the first time. And most importantly, what’s new is that I finally realize that much of what I do in the name of pursing my “truest desire” (love) actually keeps me from experiencing it fully, especially when it comes to romantic relationships.
I desire love more than anything, but my fear and insecurity keep it at arm’s length. I desire true, authentic connection, but those things at the bottom of the dried-up pool — weakness, defeat, resignation, isolation, vulnerability, shame — for as much as I say that I want to be free from them, I repeatedly give them power that keeps anyone from getting close enough.
When I entered therapy 5 months ago, I had no idea what to expect. I wanna get better repeated in my head (Thank you, Bleachers.), but I didn’t know what “getting better” would look like. I didn’t know enough about myself to see to the core of my issues. How can a human being walk around this earth for over 3 decades and struggle so much with self knowledge? Like, how am I even a functioning person?
(Side note: I bawled through the entire 200 question Enneagram assessment because choosing definitive statements about myself was so difficult. Deep down, I knew how to answer. But I so rarely pay attention to my needs that claiming any applicable self descriptions became an overwhelming emotional and spiritual experience. Yikes.)
You know those brain teaser toys that have multiple intertwined pieces, and the goal is to figure out how to separate them? My grandparents had one that consisted of horse shoes, metal chain links, and a metal ring. I used to mess with it when I went to their house, but I never figured out how to get the ring off. I’d jiggle it around for a while and then give up because my brain couldn’t comprehend that it was possible to separate the pieces. That’s kind of how I felt going into therapy. I had an idea of the elements in front of me, but everything was jumbled and confusing and seemed impossible. I couldn’t foresee how any of it would come info focus, make any kind of sense.
There is no magnifying mirror more terrifying than therapy. Talking about myself for an hour every week is basically like zooming in on a molecular level, and I’m consistently confused / surprised / horrified by what I see. It’s been easier to look away for 33 years, but that’s just not an option anymore.
Slowly but surely, I’m fixing my gaze on myself for longer periods of time and finding comfort in finally understanding the person I was created to be. It’s a new kind of freedom that takes hard work and practice to feel, believe, and live into, but it’s there, and I’m reaching for it.
The walls still exist. I still have a deeply-rooted fear of letting anyone close enough to me to see what’s behind them. But the difference is, now I know why, so there’s hope that it won’t be this way forever.
You know, when I think about it, all of this feels a little bit like meeting myself for the first time.
Hi, self. You’re gonna get better.
*The Enneagram doesn’t just point out your flaws. It also showcases your strengths so you can celebrate the things that make you wonderfully, uniquely YOU in the best ways. But for the purpose of detailing my own personal journey in this post, I chose to focus on some of the less glamorous discoveries I made about myself from the Enneagram. The entire spectrum of self discovery I’ve experienced has truly changed my life, so don’t let the “negative” stuff deter you from exploring the Enneagram if you’re interested. ♥