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How the Enneagram can help you to build your self-esteem

By Anna-Rosa le Roux | 1 June 2023 |
How the Enneagram can help you to build your self-esteem


Have you ever caught yourself thinking: "If you like me, then I am okay" or "If I am good enough for you, I am also good enough for me"? This chatter in our minds is evidence that we need approval from others to feel good about ourselves. But the opinions of others are exactly that - opinions, and what is true for others is not necessarily true for us. When we accept and learn to love ourselves, not only do we not need the approval of others to feel okay, we can hear what others say without their words hurting us. Why? Because in accepting ourselves for who we are, we develop healthy levels of self-esteem.

What exactly is self-esteem?

Self-esteem (or self-respect) can play an important part in our motivation and success. Having a realistic, positive view of ourselves is generally considered the ideal and will help us to navigate life with a positive, assertive attitude and the belief that we are capable of accomplishing our life goals. A healthy self-concept will impact all areas of our life: our careers, our parenting, our relationships, our sporting endeavours, our interaction with our friends and, importantly, our relationship with ourselves.

A number of factors can impact self-esteem, including how we compare ourselves to others and how others respond to us. When people respond positively to our behaviour, we are more likely to develop positive self-esteem. When we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking, it can have a negative impact on our self-esteem. Other factors influencing our self-esteem negatively are, for example, setting unrealistic goals, guilt about previous choices, negative relationships and negative authority figures. We give a lot of power away to these factors, and in so doing we only re-affirm our negative self-beliefs. We are waiting for approval from others without realising that they might project their own needs, fears or aspirations onto us. As human beings we exist in social systems, so fitting in and being accepted is not only genuinely important to us, it's needed for survival.

Sometimes, and for a variety of reasons, our level of self-esteem doesn't match reality. We might believe that we are better at things than we really are, which can cause problems in our personal, social, and professional lives. We may take on projects that we lack the skills to complete, not take on projects because they seem too easy or beneath our abilities, or alienate our friends by coming across as arrogant. At the other end of the scale, we might we believe that we are not as good at things as we really are and are therefore much less likely to engage positively with our real potential. Having low self-esteem can significantly hold us back from succeeding in all areas of our lives.

Self-esteem develops over time, and is particularly influenced by the interactions that we have with people who play important roles in our lives. As young children, we learn a set of feelings, thoughts and behaviours that protect us. Over time, these automatic responses became the filters through which we judge not only ourselves, but also others. These filters then become the unspoken ideals that we hold about ourselves and the world. We believe that we are not good enough until we meet the conditions that are inherently typical to our type. If your self-esteem is low, you tend to have a negative view of yourself. You often take experiences personally and react in ways that are self-defeating. On an emotional level you might feel blocked or upset

The aim, of course, is to work towards a realistic view of ourselves that is congruent with the reality.

Overcoming low self-esteem

Working with the Enneagram can help us to make these 'automatic' responses more conscious. As we become more aware of them, we can move into a space where we identify with them less and less and will experience more freedom to realise our potential. The Enneagram helps us to get unstuck by identifying these hidden patterns that keep repeating themselves and hold us back from becoming the true, authentic versions of ourselves.

1 Enneagram 1 - Strict Perfectionist

As an Enneagram One, your self-esteem depends on you being viewed as a good person. Failing to portray this image of self-control and integrity leads you to believe that you're not good enough. You play into the 'good boy, good girl' drama and fear being wrong or imperfect, as then you will be unworthy of love. You might project what is not good or right onto others and then criticise them and become a slave driver, forever trapped in a cycle that may never be resolved. You are especially vulnerable to criticism because it challenges your need to be good or right.
The task for you as an Enneagram One is to accept the world as it is, especially yourself, instead of standing against it. You then no longer need to correct yourself (and others) and always be 'the good boy or girl'.

2 Enneagram 2 - Considerate Helper

Your self-esteem may be conditional on you being liked and appreciated by others. Ennea Twos often measure their worth by how kind, generous, and self-sacrificing they are and how pleased others are as a result. Hiding your own real, deeper needs or projecting your own needs onto others keeps you trapped in a cycle of dependence, giving tirelessly in order to get love, but it may never be enough. As an Ennea Two, you likely equate being unneeded, unwanted, or rejected with being unloved, secretly believing you are unworthy of love and will be abandoned.
As an Enneagram Two, your task is to recognise that you have value beyond what you give to others. Look for your source of value and self-esteem within you and give to others as you choose, in line with your own true beliefs.

3 Enneagram 3 - Competitive Achiever

For Enneagram Threes, self-esteem may depend on your ability to outshine others and be the best. As an Enneagram Three, you might fear that without proving your worth, listing your successes, contributions and accomplishments, you will be unloved and alone. Because Threes measure their worth by how much they are regarded and respected by others, they equate their self-worth with their achievements, image, work, projects and successes. They become what they do and what they have achieved. They are often trapped in a cycle to avoid failure to keep their self-worth intact.
The task for you as an Enneagram Three is to realise that you can present yourself to the world as you are. You don't need to appear competent and successful to be accepted.

4 Enneagram 4 - Intense Creative

Your self-esteem is likely conditional on you being unique and authentic. Fours tend to define themselves by the losses, experiences or sadness that they have internalised, often over-identifying with these. Unable to 'let go' of these experiences, which keep them trapped, they become these experiences or failures. As an Enneagram Four, you might fear that you are rather ordinary and nothing special, and continually strive to be more unique and more authentic as this is your path towards self-worth.
As an Enneagram Four, your task is to see both your positive and negative qualities in equal measure. You will then stop comparing yourself to others, nullifying envy and the fundamental belief that what other people have is better.

5 Enneagram 5 - Quiet Specialist

As an Enneagram Five, your self-esteem may rely on your ability to understand and make sense of the world around you. Fives measures their worth by how much they know. Objectivity and knowledge are paramount. You are probably afraid being foolish and will do your best to avoid feeling or looking like you do not know or understand, and will avoid being surprised by or dependant on others.
The task for you as an Enneagram Five is to realise that you don't have to know it all and be prepared with all the answers. It's ok not to always know. You need to value yourself as you are. To understand the world better then becomes a choice that naturally unfolds and a not a condition for your self-esteem.

6 Enneagram 6 - Loyal Sceptic

Your sense of safety in the world and need to belong drive you and are how you measure your worth. Kindness, loyalty and trust are important to you. Sixes are often trapped in a cycle that allows them to avoid risks and keep them feeling safe, and therefore maintain their self-worth. As a Six, you may fear finding yourself alone and unprepared in a threatening world that will leave you unloved and unable to survive.
The task for you as an Enneagram Six is to recognise that your safety and security fears are largely self-conceived. Not limited by these fears, you will become confident that you can take care of things and trust your inner self.

7 Enneagram 7 - Enthusiastic Visionary

If you are a Seven, your self-esteem may be dependent on your ability to be okay and avoid pain. Enneagram Sevens measure their self-worth by how many positive experiences they can create, along with their freedom and optimism. They are often trapped by these, as they are so focused on avoiding pain and suffering by turning negative experiences into something interesting, pleasant and good in order to receive love. While you may want to feel accepting of yourself, by rationalising mistakes and moving toward positive emotions, you prevent yourself from feeling complete and whole and from experiencing love in dark moments too.
As an Enneagram Seven, you need to moderate yourself by slowing down and anchoring yourself in the here and now, realising that you have value even if you are not always positive. You would then be able to accept the paradox of joy and suffering.

8 Enneagram 8 - Active Controller

Your self-esteem is likely conditional on you being strong. You measure your self-worth by how much you can control and by not being vulnerable. Avoiding weakness by denying feelings that seem to make you more vulnerable, such as guilt, remorse, doubt, and fear only keeps you trapped: "If I don't like it, I don't hear it, I don't admit it or apologise for it." You may fear vulnerability itself, needing to feel strong rather than helpless or powerless and avoid being controlled by others.
The task for you as an Enneagram Eight is to recognise that you will be valued even if you are vulnerable. You need to give yourself permission to fail and become more open-hearted. You will then be able to appreciate and experience the nuances of life, in touch with your tender, compassionate side.

9 Enneagram 9 - Adaptive Peacemaker

Your self-esteem may be conditional on you being settled and in harmony with the world. Prone to 'numbing out' and going into 'cruise control' in order to avoid internal and external conflict, you tend to ignore your own desires, wishes, preferences, needs and feelings. As a Nine, you dislike the chaos, turmoil and hurt feelings that tend to follow conflict, and will go to great lengths to avoid it, believing that you will be unloved when there is conflict.
The task for you as an Enneagram Nine is to realise that you can have a voice in the world that might sometimes cause conflict. Discovering your own intention and purpose and acting on it will free you to think and feel authentically and live more for yourself, without the need to appear to be in harmony with everyone else.

Where will good self-esteem take us?

In psychology, self-actualisation is achieved when you're able to reach your full potential. Being truly self-actualised is considered the exception rather than the rule. To work on ourselves is difficult; however, the rewards can be great and full of promise. Low self-concept or esteem often hampers our ability to reach our full potential because we experience thinking and behavioural patterns that keep us stuck and entrap us.

Using the Enneagram, we are able to explore the pieces of our personality that inhibit us and learn to live a more authentic life, true to who we really are. It teaches us not only to become aware of our blind spots, but also to develop more compassion for ourselves, accepting ourselves for who and what we are, freeing up energy and courage to grow and learn.

When we have a healthy level of self-esteem, we are able to escape some of the fixations of our type and a host of benefits come our way, such as:

  • Greater levels of confidence
  • The ability to say 'no'
  • A more positive outlook on life
  • The ability to see our overall strengths and weaknesses and accept them
  • Negative experiences do not impact our overall perspective
  • The ability to express our true feelings and wishes
  • Feelings of happiness, fulfilment, and contentment
  • Realistic beliefs in our own abilities
  • The ability to accept positive feedback and integrate negative feedback in a balanced way

Summing up

Knowing ourselves and becoming aware of what is holding us back are both critical stepping stones for increasing our self-esteem and transforming our lives. The Enneagram can help overcome the self-sabotaging behaviour and patterns that keep us trapped, allowing us to 'bust' myths about ourselves that are untrue and replace them with thoughts that are not influenced or biased by our core fears. Our responses will then no longer be reactive, but will be framed through a lens that is healthier, more balanced and realistic.

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