True Self vs. Personality

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Note: This post is a longish one for me, and it contains some information that may seem a bit heady. I promise you, though, that learning this critical information is worth the effort.

Before I move on to detail each of the nine Enneagram personality Types, I want to lay a foundation of understanding about what personality is. Otherwise, it would be easy to confuse personality with a person’s actual being. That is the key error of most humans: to assume that they are their personality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people excuse themselves or others in saying, “That’s just the way I am/she is.” No; that is an inaccurate assessment of a person’s habitual patterns of behavior. A more accurate statement is, “That is just the way my/her personality operates.”

Riso & Hudson explain it this way:

“The core truth that the Enneagram conveys to us is that we are much more than our personality. Our personalities are not more than the familiar, conditioned parts of a much wider range of potentials that we all possess. Beyond the limitations of our personalities, each of us exists as a vast, largely unrecognized quality of Being or Presence – what is called our Essence. In spiritual language, we could say that within each person is an individual spark of the Divine, although we have forgotten this fundamental truth because we have fallen asleep to our true nature.”

That falling asleep occurs early on in our development outside the womb. No one knows for sure how or when this occurs, and it is experienced in a particular way for each type. Psychologists vary in their theories, but somewhere from the ages of three to seven, the personality is initially set.

Author A. H. Almaas says:

“Essence is the real person, the real and true self. The personality is called false because it is attempting to take the place of essence…The personality and the ego identity develop to fill the void resulting in the loss of essence in childhood. So it is really an impostor, trying to pretend it is the real thing.

In my very first post, I wrote that you are not your emotions, your passions, your impulses or talents or dreams. You are not your past. You are not what you think about yourself, or what others think about you. This is what I meant: you are not your personality. However, your personality has been running the show for so long that you have mistakenly identified with it and assume that’s just who you are.

Who you actually are is still inside you. It cannot be harmed or removed, because it is your actual self. It is the you that God caused to be created. As a little child, you experienced loss or hurt or some other traumatic thing that caused you to forget your Essence. That is when the personality began to form. That’s what Almaas means about it being an impostor. It was a survival mechanism to try to reconstruct what was lost, but it is a pitiful substitute compared to the real thing.

In thinking about the triune body/soul/spirit construction of humans, I understand the soul to be the mind, will and emotions (if you’ve read the fabulous Watchman Nee, you know what I mean). The spirit is the part that is eternal, the part that God restores in salvation. That is where your Essence resides. However, that is not where most of us reside! We operate from our souls, our minds. That is where the personality lives and thrives.

The reason that most of us love the lofty ideals of love, patience and so on of Christianity yet find them so hard to live out is that they smack up against our personalities. Thus we end up with Paul’s classic conundrum in Romans 7 – I don’t do the stuff I want to, and I do the stuff I don’t want to. We’ve all felt that tension, and it comes from living from our souls instead of from our spirits. “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” Paul is detailing the difference between his authentic, redeemed self and his broken-hearted, sin-conditioned personality.

Thomas Merton says in his wonderful little book, Thoughts in Solitude:

“For the sinful self is not my real self, it is not the self You have wanted for me, only the self that I have wanted for myself. And I no longer want this false self.”

It is at this point, at the realization that the false self, the self that sins, the personality, is not who we were meant to be, that the desire for transformation awakens or gains power. This is where we begin to see a glimpse of what the true self is, though we have not seen or experienced it yet. But now we know that it exists, that it is indeed our birthright, and our journey to discover the true self starts.

The journey must take us through an understanding of the personality Types, and that is where we will continue next time. Until then, rest in the knowledge that you are radically beloved.




  1. […] I want to make a clarification. My long-time friend Greg R. asked me some great questions about my last post that helped me see how some of what I said either could be misconstrued or was not fully thought […]

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