Local psychologist shares the self-revealing, relationship-building powers of the Enneagram.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Frank De Luca’s Carmel cottage is pretty much perfect. Designed in comforting earth tones, with stone and wood accents and a dollhouse fireplace, the studio invites visitors to curl up on the couch with some tea – he produces a selection of herbal blends from the kitchenette – and confide in him.
The East-West psychologist, who uses the cottage for his family therapy practice, seems pretty perfect, too, with his shiny tasseled loafers and soft, accepting gaze.
As it turns out, he is a perfectionist. After taking the two-page Enneagram test, I learn that I am, too (though not nearly as meticulous).
De Luca describes the Enneagram as a “tool for understanding what gets in our way of living a truly happy life,” a key to our deepest fears and motivations. The system maps out nine personality types, or “filters we use to see reality,” each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Type 1, “the perfectionist” is idealistic and principled at the high point, resentful and critical at the low.
While not the only tool out there, De Luca says, the Enneagram helps foster both personal and interpersonal growth. He encourages “absorption over time” through lectures, reading, listening, self-observation and group discussions.
The Enneagram (pronounced “any-a-gram”) – based on the Greek ennea, or nine – was popularized by Chilean-American psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo in the ’70s in Berkeley. De Luca has a shelf full of books on the evolving subject, including The Enneagram by Helen Palmer and The Essential Enneagram by David Daniels. “And that’s only about a third,” he says. “It’s really a jewel box.”
After attending De Luca’s Ennea-gram intro class with his wife several years ago, Jerry Takigawa of Cannery Row-based Takigawa Design began to understand that not everyone sees the world as he does.
“You learn a lot of compassion and patience for people, because you have a broader understanding of human nature,” he says. “You see they’re doing the best they can based on the experiences they had in early life.”
The Enneagram also inspired Takigawa to balance his own Type-5 (“the observer”) behavior. “Your strengths, when overdone, become your weaknesses,” he says.
Another of De Luca’s workshop participants, Monterey career expert Mary Jeanne Vincent, says understanding her own and her husband’s personality types has strengthened their relationship. “He has a different view of the world,” she says. “It’s like wearing a new pair of glasses.”
But self-typing isn’t a clear-cut process. While I identify most with Type 1, I can relate to some parts of eight types – and am reluctant to pick just one.
“That’s normal,” De Luca says. “When you get below the personality types, the Enneagram is saying, ‘You are all of these; however, in this life, you seem to have fixed to a dominant type.’ I call it your ‘default setting.’”
The system isn’t foolproof, he adds. Validation studies have shown the Enneagram to be about 65 percent reliable. And it’s not for everyone: “The Enneagram doesn’t flatter the ego. It does burden some people with information about themselves they may not be ready for.”
De Luca is a student of myriad psychology typing systems, including those embodied in the teachings of Hippocrates, Vedantic philosophy and Aruvedic medicine. But after two decades studying the Enneagram, he says, “it hasn’t worn thin. It only provides more insight through the years.”
Unlike astrology, which De Luca appreciates, the Enneagram doesn’t sentence anyone to fate. Instead, he says, it empowers us not to let our unconscious selves run amok. “The Enneagram produces a lot more laughter in people’s lives because it lets you see yourself,” he says. “It is a gift. I watch people and I see the lights go on. What would take years of therapy – it’s not a replacement for therapy, but what it would take years to work on – this accelerates it.”
His workshop attendees can expect videos explaining the system and illustrating the types, a guided imagery session and meditation, and finally, a sharing session by type.
It’s uncanny how much each type has in common, he says; “oh my God, that is so true” is a common utterance among newfound tribe members.
“You just feel the energy of these people,” he says. “It’s really live theater.”