The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
If you’re someone who enjoys taking personality tests you might have heard of enneagrams. If you’re not familiar, enneagrams are models of the human psyche that are based around nine intertwining personality archetypes. This week I’m joined by Chichi Agorom, a Certified Enneagram Teacher & Practitioner and the Author of The Enneagram for Black Liberation to chat all about it. During our conversation we chatted about the history of the enneagram, differentiating between the nine personality types, and how the enneagram can be used as a tool for black resistance and liberation.
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Session 270: What You Need to Know About Enneagrams
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 270 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: If you're someone who enjoys taking personality tests, you might have heard of enneagrams. If you're not familiar, enneagrams are models of the human psyche that are based around nine intertwining personality archetypes. This week, I'm joined by Chichi Agorom, a certified enneagram teacher & practitioner and the author of The Enneagram for Black Liberation, to chat all about it. Our conversation explores the history of the Enneagram, differentiating between the nine personality types, and how the Enneagram can be used as a tool for black resistance and liberation. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in-depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining me today, Chichi.
Chichi: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited for this conversation.
Dr. Joy: Likewise. We are going to talk a little bit about your new book, The Enneagram for Black Liberation, which I'm very excited to get into. But before we get into that, can you tell me about the history of the Enneagram? What is it and how is it used?
Chichi: The Enneagram has been around in some form since the 13th century so it's been around for a long time. It has roots that go back to different wisdom traditions across the world, there are some roots that go back to the Sufis, a lot of different religious groups from back in the day. But what we call today the modern Enneagram, which is like the circle, the diagram that most people see now, the beginnings of that started in the 13th century and have since then been melded, if you will, with some psychology. It was brought to the United States back in the 70s and the founders of the Narrative Enneagram (which is where I got trained), David Daniels and Helen Palmer... David Daniels, he's no longer living, but he was a psychologist and so he added the element of psychology with the spiritual tradition that really looked at people's core selves, true selves, and then these other personality aspects that we take on to navigate the world. And all of that combined together now gives us those nine types that we talk about today, and use as the Enneagram of personality.
Dr. Joy: How did you become interested in the Enneagram to get the further training that you did?
Chichi: I was in grad school studying to be a therapist, and one of my friends at school mentioned the Enneagram. I wasn't really interested because I felt like I had other tools that were working well and I didn't really feel like it made any sense. The diagram seemed weird, I wasn't interested, but then it kept coming back up in conversations from different people that I did actually respect. And so I thought, okay, I'm gonna give it a try and see what this thing is about. And for me, it felt like somebody finally gave language to aspects of the way that I experienced the world or experienced myself, that I had not gotten language for before. There were many ways before I found the Enneagram that I felt like, it must just be me, I must be the lone person in the world who has these thoughts or struggles with these things or sees the world this way. One of the most distinct feelings I remember when I came to the Enneagram for myself was, oh, it's not just me. This is a common way of viewing the world and I could explore other ways of being, I don't have to be stuck in this one point of view. That's what drew me in.
And then after I finished grad school, began pursuing training and certification with the Narrative Enneagram, I was drawn to the way they talk about the Enneagram because it's very narrative based, it's very much about storytelling. We prioritized the lived experiences of the people in the courses and the classes. For as much as I know about the Enneagram, and I've written a book about it, if we were talking about what potentially your Enneagram type was, I would be relying on the stories you tell me about yourself, about how you experience the world, about how you respond to certain things, as a way to piece together core motivation across time. And I love narrative, I love stories. I think people's stories are beautiful and I think the way people talk about their stories offers more information than like a multiple choice test so I was very drawn to that format, too, with the Narrative Enneagram.
Dr. Joy: Talk to me more about the book. You called the book The Enneagram for Black Liberation and I always think it's really interesting how we come to these... like you said, this has been around since the 13th century and so black people were likely not a part of bringing this to the forefront. But you have put your own spin on it and really are talking about it in terms of black people and the black community. Can you talk about the inspiration for the book?
Chichi: The inspiration for what became the Enneagram of personality came from communities of color in parts of the world. A lot of communities in the Middle East, for example, were part of the inspiration for this. But to your point, as it became more familiar in the West and as it came over here, black folks were not necessarily a part of those conversations. What led me to write the book was partly my experience as I was being trained in the Narrative tradition and then just the conversations I was having around that. I was often the only or one of very few black people in the space and I had questions about how my lived reality played in with some of what I was learning. For example, when I first started training, there were a lot of components of the work that were stating that the goal for health, the goal for being well, was to be undefended, I think is a good word for it. Because our types are seen as things that maybe we needed when we were kids so we formed these personality traits and habits when we were kids and they offered us help and solution at that point. But as adults today, we don't need them as much so we just need to kind of like let go, release them and enter life in a more undefended state. And I kept thinking, as I would listen to those lectures, that doesn't work for me. That works for some people in this society, to go around undefended, but for a lot of people, that doesn't work. What is my work, then? What does healing and health and wellness look like? What does that look like for somebody who still needs those protective things? And so that's really what began my exploration of how does power and privilege and identity, play in with Enneagram work? What does it look like for us to identify?
I talk about types as armor. We needed in the past these pieces of armor to protect ourselves in the world and for some of us, we still need that armor. And rather than introducing shame, because that's also an undercurrent that I was picking up on in some of those conversations, that if you were too identified, if you were using your armor too much still as an adult, then you're not doing your work. And I felt like that can't be true because I still need my armor, I still need protection in a world that's not safe for me. And that's not a thing of shame. That is a necessity and my work then is to be able to create space between me—my full, true self—and then these protective mechanisms that I use to navigate the world. And be able to have choice, when I lean into that and when I stepped back from it.
Dr. Joy: I'm curious, as you're talking about how you are kind of reimagining what has traditionally been how the Enneagram has been used. What kind of feedback have you gotten from other Enneagram practitioners? Has there been support for the way that you're reimagining it or has there been criticism?
Chichi: I'm sure that there's criticism somewhere. Nobody has said it to my face. They haven't told me. It has received a lot of support even within the Narrative tradition. I was really nervous when I started writing the book because I was like, I'm going to be criticizing some of the ways that I was taught to think about this and I'm not sure how they'll take it. But I think it really worked well with the movements that have been happening since 2020 because there was already a lot of critiquing and shifting and changing that was happening within that culture. So there's been a lot of support and I felt really excited to see how many people are excited about it, resonating with it, and wanting to use this model of thinking about it, especially as it relates to introducing equity and privilege and power into these discussions.
Part of what I wanted to highlight too, with the book was that in the United States (and in a lot of Western cultures) it's very individualistic so even when we approach healing work and wellness work, it's me-centered. That's what I was noticing in a lot of Enneagram conversations, Enneagram communities, is how do I become my best self? What do I need to do to be a shinier version of whatever type I lead with? But I really wanted to draw our attention to how our armor and our types impact and influence the people around us and the communities around us. I might need my armor to protect myself but sometimes my armor can unconsciously be weaponized against other people, making it less safe for them to put down their armor. And that's also part of my responsibility if our freedom is interconnected. And so really wanting to expand the conversation from “this is just about you and you being the best version of you.” But to really think about, how does this impact us all? How can this help free us all?
Dr. Joy: I love that. You mentioned that there are nine different personality types that are classified via the Enneagram. Can you talk about those for us and kind of break down what each of them is?
Chichi: Yes, I can give you a quick overview. There are nine types and the idea here is that one of them is your primary type throughout the course of your life, it's kind of like home base. There might be a few different types that you maybe feel like, oh, I could be that or it could be that, but our types don't change over time because the Enneagram is more about core motivation and less about behavior. Your behavior will shift and change over time but the core motivation, the core story never really shifts.
They're numbered one through nine, which is easy. I'll start with Type One. Type One is known as the perfectionist. The core story for Type One is that they have to be good and do the right thing in a world where you are punished for being bad, for making mistakes, for showing up and doing the wrong thing. So there's a lot of energy and effort with Type Ones to live up to their own standard of what it means to be a good person, what it means to be perfect. Type Twos, they're known as the givers and the story here is that the only way that I am valuable and therefore loved is if I show up for people and help other people. They spend a lot of their effort and energy anticipating other people's needs, showing up for other people, taking care of other people, in an effort to be valuable and to be lovable.
Type Threes, they are called the performers and Threes believe that to be valuable and to be lovable, you have to be seen as successful, you have to be seen as accomplished and capable. They spend a lot of their energy and a lot of their time pursuing things that they can succeed at, pursuing things that they can shine at, in an effort to feel valuable and loved. Sidenote—the US is often referred to as a Three culture, so we all kind of have this overlay that says “no matter what field you're in, you have to be seen as capable and successful, and that applause is what communicates that you have value.” Then we have Type Four known as the romantic or the individualist. Fours believe that to have value and to be loved, you have to offer something that's unique, something that's different, something that nobody else is bringing to the table, to prove that you have enough value to be loved and to belong. They tend to be creative, they tend to try to think about new and interesting ways to present things, all in an effort to be seen as valuable and deserving of love.
Then we have Type Five and Fives are known as the observers. They believe that in a world that can be overwhelming, demanding, where people ask for a lot and take a lot but don't give enough, they have to protect themselves from being depleted by gathering enough knowledge to stay self-sufficient. They spend a lot of time gathering information, knowledge. Knowledge is safety for Fives as a way to keep themselves safe and as a way to make sure that they have what they need so that they don't have to be dependent on other people and then have to engage with other people's demands. Type Sixes are known as the loyal skeptics. For Sixes, the world can be a dangerous threatening place and the best way to protect yourself in that scenario is both to find something or someone or a belief system to be loyal to, as a way to find safety. So if you think about like the pack animal mentality where if you're a part of the group, then you're safe, you're not easy prey for the predator. But if you're on your own, you're more likely to get eaten, so finding something outside of self to be loyal to. But also, there's a level of skepticism because they don't tend to trust easily and so there's, “I want to be loyal, but are you telling the truth? Are you who you say you are?” So they might push back, they might test, they want to make sure that the person or the institution or the group that they're giving their loyalty to really is trustworthy. They're the loyal skeptics and this is how they believe they keep themselves safe.
And then we have Type Seven. Sevens also believe that the world could be a place in which there's a lot of unnecessary suffering and so for them, the best way to keep themselves safe from unnecessary suffering and pain is to plan, to make sure that they are thinking of possibilities and options. And they spend a lot of time in the future kind of imagining what could be as a way to protect or insulate or avoid whatever is happening in the present that might be difficult or painful. They're called the epicures or the optimists. They spend a lot of time imagining possibilities and take on an optimistic view of the world, but to the detriment of being present with what else might be going on.
And then we have Type Eight. Eights are known as the protectors on the Enneagram and Eights believe that the world is a place where, unfortunately, people are out to get you. And the world is a place where you're either in power or you're powerless. You either take charge or someone else will take charge of you. And so because of that, they bring a lot of their energy to being strong, to being powerful, to being in charge, in an effort to not be taken advantage of, controlled, or left feeling powerless. This doesn't necessarily have to be in physical strength necessarily, but just this sense of I have to show up as strong and powerful and capable in order to protect myself in a world where I might be taken advantage of otherwise.
And then finally, we have Type Nine known as the mediator or the peacemaker. Nines believe that to have access to worth and belonging, they have to be easygoing and adaptable and they have to go with the flow. They tend to be people who avoid conflict, who don't want to ruffle any feathers, who go with what's expected of them, just so that they do not get kicked out of connection, just so that they are still seen as worthy. They tend to diminish what they feel, what they need, what they want, in favor of responding to what the people around them need from them. So that's all of them in the shortest, quickest overview, I could give.
Dr. Joy: Beautiful. Beautiful examples. I appreciate you going through that both quickly and very early. I think that will be great. As you were talking, I'm thinking about all of the different cultures and just even situations that I think we've seen in the past couple of years, like oh, this is what it feels like you're speaking to here. So I would love a little bit more background around how these personality types then develop. Is this a theory kind of based in, like childhood experiences develop and that's what leads us to our personality style? Because you said it doesn't change so we are kind of always driven by whatever our core personality style is. Tell me a little bit about the theory behind it.
Chichi: There are actually multiple different theories about this in particular. But generally, what I have come to believe is that, yes, the personality type, the core story doesn't change over time and often is formed and shaped in childhood in response to what we experienced. Let's use Type Three as an example. Helen Palmer, one of the founders of the Narrative Enneagram, talks about how when we first come into the world, we're in this untouched state. And I think of it as like we have access to this part of ourselves that knows without a doubt that I am deserving of love without effort, that I am deserving of safety, of belonging, of connection. But using Type Three, the performer as an example. Let's say, maybe at four or five or whenever you start going to school, you notice that your parents seem most excited and most proud of you when you come back with like the best grades in the class or when you scored the winning goal at soccer. Like these things, that’s when you get attention, that's when you get validation, that's when you feel really loved. And then it starts to wire that story in that this is what I have to do to get attention and love and validation. And if that continues, if that pattern continues, then it kind of becomes hardwired, it's a survival strategy and then that's what carries through adulthood, this underlying story of, “if I'm just being, if I'm just being still and not doing anything, that's not enough for love.” That's not enough to be seen as valuable and worthy of attention. I have to do something and I have to shine, I have to be the best at it in order to be seen.
And so it's formed in childhood and it's that core story that doesn't change but the behavior around it might change. The activities you're pursuing might change and some of it might soften over time. You might not be as obvious as when you were a teenager. We often say that, for most people (not everybody), you can see most clearly in the teenage years, like 17 through 21, you can see the type structure most clearly. Because usually, for most people, after you've lived a little, done some work, gone to therapy, some of the behaviors might soften. And so I often hear people say, oh, this type sounds true of me when I was younger but maybe not so much right now. And I would say go with that one that sounds true of you when you were younger. Because it's probably still true but our types get sneaky the more work we do. My question that I love to ask is, how is it showing up today? In what part of my life is it showing up? As opposed to, oh, I used to do that but I don't do it anymore.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Chichi after the break.
Dr. Joy: Tell me how Enneagram compares to other popular personality tests. Like the MBTI, I think is probably the most popular one. Tell me how this compares to that.
Chichi: That is the most popular one. The biggest difference with the MBTI and the Enneagram is that the MBTI focuses on behavior, like whether you're introverted or extroverted, those sorts of things. Whether you like structure. But the Enneagram focuses on core motivation which is not easily observed from the outside. Which is why a lot of this work is about self-observation, it's why I don't tell people what type that they lead with or who they are. Because really, the work is founded upon an ability to observe yourself, to notice what are the patterns. How am I showing up in this moment?
I would say that's the biggest difference—core motivation as opposed to behavior. And by that also, I will say that you and I could have very different core motivations but show up in the world in the same behavioral way. And so from the outside, people might be like, oh, they're probably the same Enneagram type, but you might be approaching whatever it is you're doing for a completely different motivation than I am approaching it. And that's why the work of like paying attention to what's the motivation behind the way that I show up, behind this request I’m making, behind this activity I'm choosing to do? I would say that that's the biggest difference.
Dr. Joy: How do we find out our Enneagram type? Is there an online test that you take or is this done with a practitioner? How do you find out your type?
Chichi: My favorite way is when it's done with a practitioner. In the Narrative, we do typing interviews, so it's a conversation about 45 minutes long and I ask a series of questions, just open-ended questions. Things like, what does success mean to you? What's your relationship with anger like? How do you make decisions? And I'm listening for common threads of core motivation throughout your answers as you talk about yourself and give me examples. And then reflect back and say, this is what I heard, it could be either this or this. We always give you options because it's about self-observation, so kind of going home and holding those options and seeing what fits best. There's also a test on the Narrative Enneagram website that you can take. It's reading through descriptions, like short paragraph descriptions of all the nine types, ranking your top three, and then doing a little further exploration of those three and observing to see which one feels most true of you over time.
Dr. Joy: It seems like I've seen more people recently talk about their Enneagram type, whereas before, it was like, oh, I'm an ENFP. It definitely feels like the Enneagram is the new thing that people are excited about. It's having a moment and I want to hear you talk a little bit about why we are so drawn to things like this. People love, it feels like, to figure out their type. Can you talk about why personality tests like this are so popular?
Chichi: I feel like this is actually a great question to highlight the difference in core motivation because I feel like that answer is probably different for each person. Like I love personality tests and things like this because it helps me understand myself better and then it helps me communicate about myself better so that other people will understand me better. My motivation is to feel seen and understood and part of the way I do that is to develop good language around myself and how I work. I know for some other people, it's interesting and appealing because it can create predictable boxes that you can put other people in. So it's like, if I know this person is a type this, then I know XYZ about them so I know what to expect and I know how to engage with them. And that maybe gives you a sense of safety or control.
I think that there are various reasons that people approach it but I do think in general, it helps us. The more language, the more understanding that we have about why we do what we do and about who we are, I think that kind of self-awareness is always a good thing. It helps us show up in more grounded ways and in more real ways in our conversations and in our communities. In that way, I think it's a great thing. I think the caution is to not use it as a way to put people in boxes. That's what I see most often and that's not how you're supposed to use the Enneagram. It's not about putting people in boxes. It's about identifying the stories or the boxes that we've already kind of been locked in for so long subconsciously and exploring paths out of that. Exploring what else could be true, in addition to our original stories.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I think the caution too, what I think I see most often is people then putting limits on themselves because of whatever they feel their type is. I'm a Two and so that means I can't change this behavior, this is kind of just who I am. I often see that and I think that that's something to be aware of.
Chichi: Absolutely. Your Enneagram type is not an excuse for not doing your work. It's not like, “This is just my type so I guess this is as far as I can go, or this is what I always do.” The invitation is to notice that and then, in that space that you've created, what else would you like to try? Is this story actually true? I have a couple cohorts of black women where we're using the Enneagram to explore our armor and the self beneath the armor. And this is one of the questions that I repeatedly use, both in my life, but with working with other people: Is this my story or is this reality? Is this just a story of me being a Two or is this reality? In reality, does this person need my help or is this my story that I have to be helpful otherwise you won't love me? And then being curious about that allows us to access what's really happening, what's really true, and then we have the option to move forward in a grounded way, as opposed to being limited to just the singular story.
Dr. Joy: What a beautiful segue, Chichi, because as you were reading the types, the first three, I'm thinking like, oh, this is a lot of black women. This perfectionist, giver, and then the performer was three. I'm thinking this is a lot of how we show up. And so your earlier comment around how it isn't always safe for us to give up that armor. We already know the discrepancies and how we are disproportionately impacted in workplaces and things, so a lot of that I think is drilled into us as a survival tactic. I'd love to hear more about how the Enneagram can be helpful for black women and to hear more about how you're using it with black women.
Chichi: There's so much of that that I agree with what you said. That's part of the survival strategy for a lot of black women. I think women, in general, are socialized in our culture to think that Type Two is the right way to be a woman. So you have to kind of be a martyr, make sure everyone else's needs are met before you attend to yourself. Never really ask for too much. Make sure you're always helping and giving and caretaking. But I think that when I think of the Enneagram types as armor, I think of your primary one as like the first layer of armor. Then I think of all of these other elements like culture, racial identity, maybe even experiences with trauma, that create additional layers of armor that we carry. And I think for black women in particular, the additional layers of armor are a lot, they are heavy, in addition to your primary type. I often find that Type Eight actually is one where a lot of black women are mistyped. Because there's this expectation in our culture that you show up as strong, that you show up as being able to handle anything, to some degree untouched by the difficulty and the suffering around you. That energy of like I can power through anything.
Dr. Joy: What's Type Eight again?
Chichi: Type Eight is the protector.
Dr. Joy: Protector. Got it.
Chichi: And Eights are very protective of the people around them that they love, whoever's within their tribe, their circle. And so that part can also feel very familiar as an additional layer of armor. And isn't it true for a lot of black women in this society that in a lot of spaces, if you don't show up in that way, there is actually an attempt to overpower, there is actually an attempt to take advantage of. The story is born from reality. It's not just like, oh, I'm just imagining that the world is a place where people act like this. No, it's born from real experience so that's an additional layer of armor. I think of the Type Six also as an additional layer of armor, I think for black folks. Type Six is a loyal skeptic and one of the primary characteristics of this type is, I call it threat forecasting. So constantly a few steps ahead, thinking through what could go wrong, what are the places where I need to be prepared in case something goes wrong. Sixes tend to have everything with them that they might need in case something goes wrong.
And I even think about just like the conversations that black parents have to have with their kids so young, about how to act when you are around a police officer. It's like all of the “I'm threat forecasting.” I know that there's danger out there so I'm thinking through all the things that could go wrong and trying to prepare myself for that, and carrying that as an additional layer of armor. That's like the Two, that’s the Six. And then my theory around black culture, particularly in the US, is that it's a lot of Sevens. Sevens are the optimists or the epicures, where it feels like the pain and the suffering and the limitation is just so much that I will drown if I actually stay present with this. Like it's too much and it will consume me and so I reach for things that feel fun. I reach for laughter as a way to kind of escape. So we turn up, we have memes, like there's nothing funnier than Black Twitter. Nothing at all. But we use humor and we use lightness and dance. All these things are wonderful coping skills, but in the story of the Seven, it's binary. It's either I'm laughing and I'm focused on what's possible and optimism or I drown. There's no in-between where we can actually pause and hold both things—be present with some of the grief and allow ourselves to feel joy.
In many ways, I think that all of these could be additional layers of armor. And with black women, we know that often black women are at the forefront of fighting for freedom and liberation for themselves and, by that, for everybody else. And so often, I think with our Enneagram types, we tend to confuse the fullness of who we are, the fullness of our identity, with just this one singular story. If over time, I come to really believe that I have to always show up as strong or I have to always show up as caring, or I have to always show up as optimistic, I lose access to the rest of who I ambecause I become so overly identified with this singular story. And I think we can't disengage from the fight for a freer world, but I also believe that the Enneagram can allow us to access more of the fullness of our humanity, even as we engage in the rest of the world that is still not equitable and it's still not just. So we still need the armor, but it's really about creating space so that I know that I have access to Chichi, the rest of myself who can engage in playfulness and curiosity and rest and ease, even while the world is still a raging dumpster fire. That's the invitation I see for black women because I think so often we get so consumed with the fight that we forget that we are more than just the fight. It’s like, what is the thing you're fighting for? How can you experience some of that ease and liberation and freedom and joy and play in your body today? And in order to be able to do that, we have to create space between the armor and the rest of who we are.
Dr. Joy: The title of your book feels like a very bold proclamation. Tell me more about how you think the Enneagram can be used for black liberation.
Chichi: A lot of it is just that last piece I was talking about of really being able to create. I think there's so much power in the space. I think the space is where magic happens and I think the space is where we can practice returning to ourselves. And so I think that because we live in a world where our armor is still very necessary, the work isn't to set it down. The work isn't to go back to the beginning of when I was learning about it. The work isn't to be undefended. That's ridiculous in the world that we live in. I really see the connections with black liberation and the Enneagram as being able to create that space so that we don't get maybe burnt out as easily. So that we don't lose access to our full selves, so that we don't miss out on the opportunity to fully experience some of what it is that we are fighting for today. So that it's not just like this far-off thing, like “when these things happen, then I will be able to access.” But it's like how do we make space to access those things today?
In the work that I have been doing with black women around this, for a lot of people, it's very hard to answer the question, when do you feel most free? What does ease look like or feel like or sound like for you? That's like, oh, I don't know. I don't know if I've ever felt that or I don't know the last time I felt that. And that is what I think the Enneagram can help us with. It is to bring awareness to these mental and emotional and somatic patterns that we have that keep us insulated or separated from our fullest selves. And not with shame, because we know that those patterns have been helpful and can still be helpful in some ways, but to allow us to have the freedom to choose. I can practice being in my body enough to say, “In this conversation with Dr. Joy, I don't need to be defended.” So I can put my armor down and allow myself to experience the ease of a good conversation without anticipating danger or feeling like I have to perform or any of those things. But I know that in certain other spaces, I might need that armor, and that's okay, to put that back up. But if I don't have space to set it down, I also don't get to experience the fullness of maybe the care that's available for me from other people. The love, the assurance, the sense of community, like all of these beautiful things.
The armor is there to theoretically keep out the bad stuff but it also keeps out some of the good stuff. If we use the Two as an example, if the armor is there to keep out this feeling of being rejected because I'm not valuable enough or I'm not doing enough to help people, the armor also keeps out the experience of being held and taken care of. Because you're so committed to not having needs or to not letting people know that you have needs so that you can keep showing up with them, but then you're feeling exhausted and you're feeling resentful because no one's showing up for you. But the armor is the thing in between. It's like there might be people out there who do want to show up for you but you have to put down your armor to be able to experience that. It's that creating space that really helps us, as well as being mindful and conscious of when can I put this down and when do I need to hold it back up? Which space is safe? Which relationship is safe and which one is not? As opposed to the binary of everything is unsafe or all of these bad things will happen if I put down my armor. There's a little bit of “in the moment” curiosity that allows us to act with consciousness.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Chichi after the break.
Dr. Joy: It sounds like you combine this with your therapy practice and so I’d love to hear about what this looks like in therapy. Because it feels like it is a very natural fit, I think, for black people and black women specifically because I think we engage the world often in storytelling. It also feels like the typing of the personality types lends itself to kind of (at first) talking about something outside of you to get to the inner work so there's a little bit of distance that I think sometimes makes it feel a little bit more emotionally safe. Can you talk about how you use this in therapy or how somebody might use this with a therapist? You talked about finding out your type as a part of a Narrative interviewing thing, and once you know your type, then how would you use it in therapy?
Chichi: Yeah, so I'm not practicing currently, but when I was working with people, I find that it's really helpful to... When I think of working as a therapist, I think of listening to what people are not saying and I think the Enneagram is such a great tool for that specific thing. Because it's so subconscious that we often don't recognize, oh, the armor is up or I'm doing the thing, or I'm performing. But when you're able to see that in the other person and then you know what the core story is there, you know what the core fear is and the core motivation, it allows you to speak to that part with gentleness and with kindness. Each of the nine types has a core fear that motivates this story that they have. I've been using the Two as the example so I'll just stick with that. The core fear there is rejection. That if you don't see me as indispensable and the most helpful person in your life, you're gonna get rid of me. You're gonna throw me out and discard me and find somebody else who meets your needs better.
If I'm listening to someone who identifies as a Two talk about all the ways they're showing up for the people in their community, either with excitement or with some exhaustion, I might then be curious and ask. Is there any part of you that's afraid that if you didn't do all these things for this person, or for this group of people, that they wouldn't need you anymore, and they wouldn't want to be in relationship with you anymore? So we can get to the core piece I think faster because we are conscious of it. We've named it and it's not just like, oh, she's helping or they're just natural givers. Like “that's true, and where's the core fear showing up right now?” How can we be present with that fear of rejection? How can we learn to soothe it? Then we can tie that to inner child work. Where did this come from? What were the early experiences of this? How can we go back and honor the experiences and soothe, as a way to lessen the hold of the fear? It doesn't go away but now I know what it is and I can name it. I think that that's one of the most helpful ways that it can be used in therapy. And then also just kind of bringing awareness, like naming out loud those patterns and habits that otherwise are just autopilot. Being able to be curious about it, having someone ask questions about it so that you can begin to notice and observe yourself in that way, I think is helpful as well. There are many other ways, but that's what comes up first.
Dr. Joy: The way that you have laid out the typing, it doesn't sound like there's a hierarchy. Like it's just different. It's not like Type One is ideal and we don't want to be a Nine. Like they are just different so the goal is not to move between types, and you've already said that that's not possible anyway. So when you refer to the work that people need to do, it sounds like it is about recognizing what your pattern is and like what may be this core fear. And then just kind of figuring out how it shows up and how it may not be something that you want, and how do you kind of minimize some of that?
Chichi: And what else is true, outside of that core story? I lead with Type Four, the romantic or the individualist, and the core fear here is abandonment. If I don't stand out in some way that causes you to think, okay, she has something to say or she has something interesting to offer, then you will leave me and go find something more interesting. It's very similar to the Two but we go about it right... So this is the core motivation piece. Both of these types don't want to feel like they're not enough and that you're gonna go out there and find somebody else, but the Two tries to minimize the possibility of that happening by being super helpful and generous and the Four tries to minimize the possibility of that happening by offering something unique and authentic and creative.
But in addition to naming my core fear and understanding my patterns and my habits, the part of me that's able to observe those patterns in action is not as identified with them, so my inner observer can allow for more space. And then within that space, I get to be curious about what else is true about me. If I don't have to be exceptional and unique in this moment, who would I be free to be? What do I actually want to do? If I don't have to be seen as helpful all of the time, who would I be free to be? If I don't have to be seen as strong all the time, who would I be free to be? And it allows for a more expansiveness, where our types are more about contraction. We contract into the singular stories of I must be this way in order to be okay. And doing the work allows for more expansion to say, sometimes I need to be this way to be okay, but what else is true? Who else am I free to be if I expand beyond this one story?
Dr. Joy: And so how have you seen people change or expand (since that's a great word that you keep using) by using the Enneagram in their lives?
Chichi: I have seen people get more access to parts of themselves that maybe they forgot about, that they haven't allowed themselves to be present with. When I was doing individual work, I had a lot of people I worked with who were Type Eights, so the protectors. And getting to watch them become more in contact, have more access to the softer parts of themselves, the more vulnerable parts of themselves that they usually avoid, and supporting them in learning to be with the discomforts long enough so that they can continue to build a relationship with that soft vulnerable side, was always such a beautiful thing. Because then it's like watching a person realize, oh, I can be this thing about myself I've been trying to avoid, I can be that thing and still be okay, I can be soft and vulnerable and not completely dissolve. I can be boring and inadequate and still be deserving of love. I can speak up and say this is what I need and engage in conflict and not be discarded. And so really watching people step into and own those parts of themselves that their types have told them that they have to avoid in order to keep up with the one story, has been a really beautiful, rewarding part of watching people expand. It's like really taking ownership over all of who we are, rather than just the parts that we think will make us more worthy or deserving of love or safe.
Dr. Joy: Are you aware of any research that has been done that talks about how we fall into personality types based on race or culture? I know we anecdotally talked about, oh, this sounds a lot like a lot of black women, but are you aware of any studies or things that have been done that talk about us falling into certain personality styles?
Chichi: I am not. This answer could be wrong but I don't think that it exists. And it's something that I have been in conversation with some other black immigrant teachers and immigrant teachers of color, who we want to explore this, basically. We want to have more definitive, more than just anecdotal stories around it, of what that looks like for black folks. But as of now, I don't think that exists. If I'm wrong... I hope I'm wrong.
Dr. Joy: Well, you've written a book, so surely this would have come up in your preparation for the book. It sounds like there are different ways to kind of get your Enneagram. You've talked about having a more Narrative approach but I imagine that there are other ways to get your type so that probably is a limitation also, in that there are different ways to identify what your Enneagram type is.
Chichi: Yeah, the most popular one online is called the RHETI and it's a series of questions that you answer and then it kind of gives you at the end what your primary type might be and then some options. I think that in either direction, my encouragement to people is to not take whatever the test says or whatever a practitioner says immediately as true of you. You still have to practice self-observation. Even if the test comes back and says you’re a Type Six, sit with that, explore it. Think through. Is this actually true of me over time? What questions do I have about this type? And let me look at the other types and see if that's also true. So that's really the heart of what we encourage of the narrative. I've met and worked with a lot of people who will say, oh yeah, I took the test and it said I was a Seven so I just went with it. And it's like, well, the actual growth and work happens when you practice self-observation. It's not about if the test says you're Seven. It's, have you noticed in your regular life, that you are constantly planning for the future? Have you noticed that you have difficulty being with uncomfortable feelings? What are you noticing about your actual lived experience and does it match up with what the test said? And if it doesn't, explore other options.
Dr. Joy: Got it. Are there other resources that you would suggest for anybody who wants to learn more? Besides your beautiful book, are there other places that people can check to learn more about Enneagrams?
Chichi: Yeah. You can read about the types more in-depth, and even like the types in relationship and those sorts of things, on either NarrativeEnneagram.org or TheEnneagramInstitute.com. Those are like the two primary Enneagram programs in the US. I would recommend either of those in terms of language. There are also other books that I think do a good job of talking about the Enneagram. One of them is The Essential Enneagram, it's a little tiny, yellow book. It also has the Narratives typing test in it as well, where you read through the paragraphs, and then it'll give you information about lookalike types. There are some types that look a lot alike so it will give you some ways to identify: if you connect with like
Two and Nine, this is what to look for to help you make the difference between which one is your primary.
And for the people who like to go in-depth, there is The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut which talks about our subtypes, which is also really helpful information but definitely too much information at the beginning. So if you are just getting involved with Enneagram, don't jump into subtypes yet, but I think The Complete Enneagram is a great resource for really getting to understand the 27 subtypes and noticing how that impacts where your energy goes on a day-to-day basis. There are so many other books. Those are the ones that come to mind first. My learning style is a lot more around conversations or workshops or things like that. I love to read, but I also find that, for example with the Narrative, we teach through panels. So I am not the only one talking about what this type looks like; we have a panel of people who identify as this type and they get to share too from their experience. And I think that's such a powerful way to learn because you're getting to understand how this can show up differently in different bodies with different forms of identity. So, getting in a workshop, learning with people, I think is also great. Other people can hold up a mirror to things that you might have a hard time seeing alone.
Dr. Joy: Indeed. Well, tell us where we can stay connected with you, Chichi. What is your website as well as any social media channels you'd like to share?
Chichi: My website is ChichiAgorom.com and it's probably the best place to keep in contact with me. You can find my email on there, information about workshops and things like that. And then on Instagram, I'm @TheEnneagramForBlackLiberation.
Dr. Joy: Perfect, we will be sure to include all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Chichi, I appreciate it.
Chichi: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Chichi was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her or to grab a copy of her book, visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session270. And be sure to text two of your girls right now and tell them to check out the episode as well. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet design just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis and Gabby Gladney, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.