According to Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, authors of “The Wisdom of the Enneagram,” there is a unconscious childhood message each of us received growing up. For some, the message was to trust others but not yourself. For others, the message was not to assert yourself or “get in the way.” These unconscious messages have a significant influence on how you cope with life, relate to others, and present yourself to the world. The message you desperately wished to hear is what we’ll be exploring today. How do you think your life would have panned out differently if you’d gotten this message?
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
Does this mean your parents were “bad”?
Parenting is hard work. It’s impossible to be perfect. Unless you are extraordinarily evolved and never slip up at all, chances are you’ll deliver some unconscious message to your child. I’m a parent of five children, so believe me, I’m not judging any parents here by creating this article. For some children, being taught to put others before yourself could have given them the impression that their needs didn’t matter. For other children, being taught to tone themselves down might have given them the idea that they should fade into the background. Children are sensitive beings, and sometimes the messages they receive during childhood were never intended to be given in the first place. But it happens nonetheless. So parents, if you’re reading this, don’t fall into a cycle of despair and rumination. We do the best we can do. As long as your child knew they were loved and you did your best, that’s the most important thing.
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The Childhood Message You Needed to Hear, Based On Your Enneagram Type
Enneagram 1 – “It’s okay to make mistakes”
Also: “You are good”
As a One, you strived to be perfect to prove to yourself and others that you had integrity. You worked hard to be reliable, responsible, and mature. You wouldn’t be the one who shirked their duties or turned in shoddy homework. You’d be the child your parents could be proud of and lean on if life got hard.
While you have so many admirable qualities, the unconscious message you received was that it was not okay to make mistakes. You absorbed the idea that perfection was the goal, not learning or growing at your own pace. Because of this, you would beat yourself up over your perceived failures or the failures of others. You’ve become fixated on details that might be wrong or imperfect. You might exhaust yourself aiming for a standard of perfection that is unattainable.
So dear One, take a moment to breathe deeply. Take a moment to recognize that nobody can be perfect and that mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth. Find joy in the journey of your life instead of always trying to climb to a higher standard of perfection.
Find out more about your type here: The Enneagram Type One – The Perfectionist
Enneagram 2 – “It’s okay to have your own needs”
Also: “You are wanted for who you are”
As a Two, you learned early on that you gained the approval you craved by putting others first. You loved the way your parents would light up when you did something to help them or gave them a gift. You learned to navigate the social world adeptly and recognize the kinds of compliments that made people beam with happiness. While many of your qualities are admirable, you have a tendency to work yourself to a stage of burnout. Putting others first all the time can mean that you build up resentment and exhaustion inside yourself. It can also mean that you struggle to set healthy boundaries.
So beloved Two, take a moment to think about your life right now. Are you sabotaging your needs? Are you resentful of people but failing to tell them what you want from them? Vulnerability is hard work, and it can feel scary, but it is so worth it in the long run. Your needs matter. It’s okay to ask for things – in fact, it’s good to ask for what you need. It’s also healthy to practice saying no and setting up boundaries that allow you to take care of yourself better.
Enneagram 3 – “It’s okay to have your own feelings and identity”
Also: “You are loved for yourself”
As a Three, you got the message early on that your achievements were what gave you value. Even if your parents loved you for who you were, you really saw them light up when you made the grade, got a trophy, styled your hair perfectly, or otherwise showed that you were a success. Because of this, you started gathering symbols of success to prove your worth. And as much as you’d like to believe you’re achievements have given you security, you still worry that without them you’d be nothing. Achievement becomes a way that you offset painful feelings. As a result, you chase after benchmarks and successes as a way to drown out your pain.
So dear Three, take a moment to quiet your mind and get in touch with yourself. “Ugh,” you might be thinking, “who has time for that?” Keep in mind that you might have been running away from painful feelings for so long that facing them can be overwhelming. In order to experience them without feeling like you’re drowning, try to take some time to just gently meditate. Listen to a song you love. Practice deep breathing. When you find yourself chasing a goal, stop and ask yourself what you might be running away from. Another important part of growing is being able to open up to someone that you trust. Do you have a friend you could really talk to and be vulnerable with without feeling like you’ll be betrayed? Confide in them. Practice being authentic with someone you value.
Enneagram 4 – “It’s okay to be happy and functional”
Also: “I see you for who you are”
As a Four, you experienced a deep sense of abandonment early in life. It could have been unintentional – perhaps another sibling was born, and your closest parent had to devote a lot of time to them. Maybe it was more apparent – a parent died, or there was a divorce, and you lost the closeness of a parent. This abandonment gave you the sense that you shouldn’t ever get too excited about anything – that you should never expect great things. This combined with your sense of “differentness,” made you feel misunderstood, melancholy, and unseen for your true self.
So to the Four reading this, I want to encourage you to see all the ways you are affirmed and loved. Look at what’s real, rather than what’s imagined. Notice the friends and family members who are there for you. Reach out to them and acknowledge what they mean to you. On top of that, set up positive, creative routines for yourself. End your day by writing down five things you’re grateful for. Start your day by repeating an affirming quote (there are plenty online). Take a walk in nature regularly while listening to calming or joyful music. Infusing your life with these positive routines will help spark joy inside you that you can learn to depend on.
Read This Next: Seven Struggles of the Enneagram Four Type
Enneagram 5 – “It’s okay to be comfortable in the world”
Also: “Your needs are not a problem.”
As a young Five, you got the unconscious message that the outer world either (A) didn’t accept you as one of their own, or (B) would completely overwhelm you. This could have happened because you weren’t nurtured in the way you craved, nobody understood you in a way that felt authentic, you were neglected, you had an overbearing parent or some other reason. Because you felt that you had no place in the family system, you learned to become ambivalent towards the world outside. You went inwards and connected with your thoughts, trying to detach from your feelings and intellectualize things rather than feel them. Keeping people at arm’s length is a way that you guard yourself against getting too comfortable and possibly getting overwhelmed or hurt.
Five, you are someone with tremendous value and originality. Your thoughts and ideas matter. Don’t withdraw so excessively from the outside world that you don’t have a chance to gain true companionship and real-world experience. Get in touch with your body through yoga, martial arts, walking in nature, or swimming. When you feel vulnerable or afraid, remember that you matter to people and that it’s okay to reach out to others for help. It may seem easier to isolate and detach, but it can actually cause you great harm in the future. Think of a family member, friend, or co-worker who you could reach out to. If you trust them, chances are they’ll appreciate you reaching out to them.
Enneagram Six – “It’s okay to trust yourself”
Also: “You are safe.”
As a young Six, you learned that you were supposed to count on others to guide you, but you also realized that others would let you down. Authorities seemed at times comforting, and at other times insufficient. Sometimes you feared being overwhelmed by an authority. You might have been told to trust an institution or religion and not your own heart or head. You might have had a parent you trusted who would suddenly get angry and startled you with aggression you weren’t expecting. There are many different ways you could have gotten this message.
Everyone has been let down by their parents in some way, even if the parents have done their very best. As a young Six, you got the message that you had to look outside yourself for guidance, nurturance, and closeness. At the same time, you felt like you had to guard yourself from this because you didn’t want to be overwhelmed, betrayed, or controlled. You seem to get stuck in cycles of craving guidance and authority and then fighting against guidance and authority. Deep down, you struggle to trust your own instincts and you look for authorities or “experts” to guide you. You also worry about all that could go wrong and can get lost in the hubbub of competing voices and worries in your mind.
Dear Six, you have so much more wisdom and insight than you realize. But it’s so hard for you to quiet the chaos of doubts in your mind and really listen to your heart. You can get so lost in catastrophizing that you fail to see the beauty of life all around you. Learn to quiet your mind and tune into your heart. Lots of competing voices might be trying to get you to worry, but try to silence them. Set aside quiet time for yourself – take walks outside, meditate, journal, or pray. Connect with your inner voice and try to calm the “inner committee” that wants to whisper doubts and suspicions into your mind.
Read This Next: Seven Struggles of the Enneagram Six Type
Enneagram Seven – “It’s okay to depend on others”
Also: “You will be taken care of.”
As a Seven, you learned that people, particularly your nurturing parent, could be fickle and that you had to find an escape from pain by looking to “substitutes” and distractions. Parents of the Seven may not have meant to be fickle or disconnected – perhaps another child was born who required a lot of attention, perhaps the nurturing figure had to work long hours. There are many reasons, often unintentional, that children get these unconscious messages. Either way, the young Seven looked for distractions, games, or activities that could tone down the inner pain they felt inside. They learned to depend on activities and objects to nurture them instead of people. Only through a great deal of maturity do they let go of this unconscious belief.
Dear Seven, you bring so much enthusiasm, creativity, and energy into the world. I can’t imagine how dull this planet would be without you. Take some time to get in touch with your heart today – don’t look for a distraction, even if you feel bored. Meditate, quiet your soul, and don’t try to distract yourself with ideas of other experiences. You won’t want to sit still for this long period of time – your mind will try to pull you out of it. But let yourself rest with the discomfort. What thoughts come to your mind? Notice how much mental chatter you’ve been stifling in your search for distractions. Try to relax and breathe deeply. You can start small and do this for just a few minutes, but try to increase that time as the days go on. What ideas and revelations come to you during this time?
Enneagram Eight – “It’s okay to be vulnerable and to trust others”
Also: “You will not be betrayed.”
As a young Eight, you learned that you had to be the tough, decisive, strong one in the family. You may have had a parent who depended on you, a missing parent, or some other situation that made you feel like you couldn’t show weakness, vulnerability, or ineptitude. You developed an “every man for himself” kind of attitude and felt that you had to fight to survive. Because of this, you struggle to be vulnerable – especially when you’re at a lower level of maturity. It’s also difficult for you to feel out of control or under the authority of others. In careers, this can show up as you wanting to be your own boss or taking on independent work.
Dear Eight, it’s so tempting to hide under a tough outer shell and never share your grief or vulnerabilities. But it can be a problem when it destroys relationships or you inevitably distrust people and keep them at arm’s length. Find people you’ve developed a higher level of trust with (I know. Trust is hard), and talk to them about the things that really matter to you. Share your deeper feelings. I know it sounds cringy and scary at first. But as you do it, you’ll feel the burdens you’ve been carrying around get lighter. You’ll also realize that your friends appreciate it when you reach out to them. It makes them feel valued and they are able to be a better friend because they know you more intimately. As you do this, you’ll learn the value of friendship and intimacy and you’ll also learn how to be a better friend yourself.
Enneagram Nine – “It’s okay to stand up for yourself.”
Also: “Your presence matters”
As a young Nine, you got the impression that life would be better if you didn’t assert yourself. This could have happened during times when there was tension at home and you repressed the pain by imagining something pleasant in your mind. It could have happened when you noticed that life got easier if you didn’t ask for things or get angry and show it. Many children are told to “calm down” or “stop whining” and, while it’s inevitable to hear that at some point as a child, you took it especially to heart. As a result, you struggle to state your needs, express your anger, or fully reveal your true self. If you’re at a higher level of maturity you may have learned the importance and value of healthy anger and have practiced asserting your needs. But you still wish you’d realized this as a young child and had the opportunity to be more present with yourself and more kind to your inner wishes.
Dear Nine, you are one of the most open-minded, accepting Enneagram types. People know that they can be themselves around you without feeling judged or criticized. But how about turning some of that compassion and open-mindedness towards yourself? Take some time to tap into your inner feelings – good and bad. Anger isn’t always something to repress and distract yourself from – it can be a sign that you need to stand up for yourself and set a healthy boundary. It’s okay to assert yourself. It will do great damage to numb yourself to your true feelings and identity. Practice meditation, journaling, or quiet self-reflection. Practice saying exactly what you want when someone asks for your preference on something (for example, stating where you want to eat when your partner asks you).
Read This Next: Seven Struggles of the Enneagram Nine Type
What Are Your Thoughts?
Did you enjoy this article? Do you have any insights or suggestions? Let us know in the comments! Find out more about your Enneagram type in The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types.