The Alchemy of the Enneagram in Transforming Addiction… The Introduction


 By meeting people where they are at and treating them like human beings, and not trying to change them, actu[1]ally opens up the possibility of transformation for them. —GABOR MATE, THE WISDOM OF TRAUMA

Each of us has been deeply affected by addiction in our lives. It is rare that this is not the case. Many have experienced the heartrending descent of a loved one into the jaws of addiction; have watched as the loved one has lost jobs, relationships, health, and self-esteem; have observed as, time after time, the loved one has risen and sworn off his addiction only to slip back into the sea of sorrow. Nothing could be more heart-wrenching as we watch him die in slow motion, breath by breath. Many have tirelessly tried to convince their loved one that he has a problem and is destroying his life, only to be told angrily, “I don’t have a problem. What are you talking about? Leave me alone!” while the knife of addiction hangs from his heart and he, oblivious to his impending destruction. Shocked by his denial and powerless to change or save him, we are pierced by his blindness, resignation, willfulness, and hopelessness.

In like manner, those in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have witnessed the many dear individuals who have gotten sober, begun to get healthy, begun to resurrect their shining souls, and then, five years clean and sober—ten, fifteen, twenty years—suddenly disappear like wind and are back into the hell of addiction. We later hear of a suicide or a heart attack or, all too often, nothing at all. Saddened, we face a grim fact: a great many who enter the road of recovery do not succeed. In time, one appreciates the AA and NA acknowledgment that addiction is a cunning and baffling disease of the soul. It can take the best of the best. It is a blinding force that, like a riptide, steals the ground from beneath a dear loved one in a heartbeat.

All of us in the addiction field, whether therapists, counselors, or those in recovery, make tremendous efforts to give men and women the eyes to see their addiction, to observe it and feel it before it strikes, to deepen their awareness so that when the more subtle and powerful aspects of their addiction arise, they can sense, smell, feel, taste, hear, and see it. We give people relapse-trigger lists to memorize, addiction education on the signs and symptoms of addiction and progression of the disease, and twelve-step programs to participate in, and still people relapse routinely. What is the cause of this phenomenon? What inner wall of resistance has not been named and articulated that sends him flying back into the arms of his addictions to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, shopping, or other behaviors? The answers are unique and individual. In my case, serendipity intruded to help me gain sobriety. In 1996, with my heart breaking from the devastating feeling that I would never find myself or my purpose for existence, that there was something essential to my life that I was not grasping, I listened desperately as my therapist, Stephen, a sly, elfin grin on his face, said to me, “Why don’t you read the book Personality Types by Don Riso?  It’s about the nine Enneagram types. Take a look at Type Four.”

Curious, and more than willing to do anything that would end the enduring suffering my fourteen years in recovery had not alleviated, I read about the Type Four. I was horrified at what I found. I discovered that the very characteristics I prided myself on were the exact ones that were causing relentless and repetitious suffering. Regardless of working a program of recovery, in spite of meditating and asking for help, I could not shake them. AA and NA were not designed to touch these features but had provided me a needed foundation of sobriety to confront them. I learned that the unconscious features of my Type Four personality type—the psychic structure that I had inherited and been hardwired with at birth—were still running the show, unbeknownst to me. I was unable to access my true authenticity, where real love, self-worth, meaning, intimacy with others, and clarity about my purpose on earth resided. As I studied the Type Four, a previously unseen door to the treasures of my soul, along with the devils I could not see, was flung open.

I was shocked at what had been hidden and shrouded in my type’s delusion. (I am a unique and misunderstood outsider, more sensitive, emotionally deep, and creative than others, yet not properly seen or understood.) I would soon discover that each type was stuck in a type-specific delusion that causes the type’s deeper suffering and eventual relapse. As a result of the Enneagram and the inner eyes it gave me, this precious journey deepens and expands daily, weekly, yearly, my heart grateful for the real freedom I have been invited to. Instead of relapsing like so many of my compatriots—or rusting and hardening in my recovery positions about life—I began moving into a deeper alignment with my heart’s desire and a deeper capacity to perceive and own, without self-hatred, those areas of my consciousness that still functioned automatically, painfully, and swiftly.  As Riso-Hudson write, “Effective growth approaches must take into account the fact that there are different kinds of people—different personality types. This diversity explains why what is good advice for one person can be disastrous for another. Telling some types that they need to focus more on feelings is like throwing water on a drowning man. Telling other types that they need to assert themselves more is as foolish as putting an anorexic person on a diet.”

In my addiction work with recovering folks utilizing the Enneagram, it has become clear to me that the Enneagram is not only pivotal for the maturation and development of an individual’s recovery and capacity to mature but is also necessary for enabling individuals to navigate the incredibly difficult growth transitions necessary to fully actualize oneself and live fully. The Enneagram identifies the nine types of personality and how each type habitually forgets what is important to their growth and transformation in addiction recovery. Unless an individual begins to understand the type-specific way he falls asleep (a process that gets more subtle and more powerful the longer one is clean and sober) and how he forgets what is imminently important to his transformation, sooner or later, relapse will occur. Unwittingly he will pick up the substance behavior of his choice or rust in the grips of a dry drunk, chewing on resentment, meaninglessness, or soul emptiness after years of recovery, seemingly struck blind at a new door of recovery, be it year five, ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty. The Enneagram teaches that each personality type is endowed with specific core psychological and emotional weaknesses as well as strengths that can be matured and celebrated. That is, each type inhabits a different psychological and emotional world with type[1]specific challenges that he will predictably encounter at deeper levels throughout recovery.

Put simply, each type has different psychological, physical, and emotional needs with different psychological, physical, and emotional blind spots and uniquely different paths of recovery. What is similar to all of them is the individual’s need to become present to these type-specific habits, which are developed at a very early age and block his ability to experience and inhabit himself and reside in the here and now—the only place joy, happiness, and peace can be experienced. We see this all the time: a man who is five, ten, fifteen years sober and still unable to be present to this precious moment, who is caught in the machinations of a distracting mind and inhibiting emotional personality habits. Robotically rattling off recovery slogans, judging self and others with recovery opinions, he is unable to reside in his spacious heart. Unable to savor kindness, compassion, or joy in the here and now, he is the antithesis of being happy, joyous, and free.

Every addicted individual has a type-specific blind spot, a psychological prison consisting of a core fear that drives his suffering, a deep wish to return to what is authentic and true within himself, and a fundamental commandment of who he must be to be loved. He has an emotional habit (called a passion, his type-specific emotional reaction to the heartbreaking loss of connection with his true self) and a mental habit (a fixation, his type-specific mental habit that obscures his ability to perceive objective reality), which create the psychological world he lives in. He also has an inner critic who reminds him what he must do to be lovable. These type-specific psychic structures, developed initially to protect an individual from the suffering and confusion of childhood, now inhibit his ability to comprehend reality, transform his addiction, and engage reality in a way that supports his positive growth and unfoldment. In addition, each individual has a type-specific self-image, an idealized self-concept—who he believes he is whether his actions Introduction reflect this or not—that, when under the sway of his addiction or at various stages of his recovery, hypnotizes him. He imagines himself as being his ideal self, but his actions are the antithesis of this. He cannot objectively see how he shows up in the world nor accurately understand what he honestly experiences. It is the combination of these unconscious, often hard-to-see personality habits that keep him trapped at an impenetrable door of emotional and psychological stuckness, which, in turn, set him up for tragic relapse.

Until we address these type-specific differences, our treatment approaches and heartfelt attempts to help the addicted individual will enable only a small fraction of people to get clean and sober and thrive in their recovery. We will continue to have our hearts broken after we have given our very best to our beloved clients and the friends we so wish to serve. The Enneagram is an amazing tool that delivers the individual treatment and recovery plan that we have been seeking. In recovery circles, we say that addiction is a three-fold disease: physical, mental, and emotional. To the extent that the individual heals these three factors within himself is the extent to which his spiritual life thrives and he feels a sense of unity, capability, and confidence. The Enneagram precisely addresses these three factors in each of the nine types, with the explicit goal of bringing unity, awareness, and happiness to the individual. It is my hope and belief that the number of individuals who relapse while struggling with the cunning dynamics of addiction will decrease significantly as a result of the therapist or sponsor who skillfully uses the Enneagram. Those who do find the solid ground of recovery will have a tool at their disposal that allows them to continue to further expand and access the joy, courage, strength, peace, clarity, vision, creativity, and the love their souls yearn for. This is the ultimate goal of addiction recovery: the realization and celebration of the precious gifts spirit has endowed us with.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top