No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth

Soul in Bondage

Spirituality for Ministry (1998)

The way we express who we are, the way we live out our spirituality, will depend, to a considerable extent, on personality structure.

No two individuals are identical. We are each unique. However, this uniqueness is not so extreme as to rule out similarities, or clusters of similarities.

To illustrate the way in which personality influences the way our spirituality is expressed I have chosen to focus on Jung’s understanding of personality structure and on the nine types posited by the Enneagram. While it is recognized that there are those who are dismissive of Jung and others who are critical of trait psychology, reflected in the Enneagram, I am using both approaches because I find them insightful and helpful.

Jung, himself, argued that psychological theories reflect the personal struggles, pathologies and personalities of those who generate them. This is unavoidable. They emerge out of the need for self-healing.

Those who are dismissive of psychology argue that differences between psychological paradigms and treatment modalities cancel out the legitimacy of the entire exercise. Wilber, on the other hand, contends that differences between paradigms and modalities can be explained on the basis of the level of personality structure that they address. According to Wilber, Jungian psychology addresses the first of the transpersonal bands between the total organism, or what I have called the body/self, and unity consciousness.1

I also suspect that different individuals will be drawn to different psychological theories because their personality structure is reflected in the presuppositions of a particular theory, because that theory offers them healing, or because it justifies their blocking further development by authenticating the defensive stand they are taking. Like attracts like.

All such theories offer us a handle on reality, in this case, our own reality. The theories, however, are not the reality. The reality itself is far more subtle and complex. There is a sense in which we need a range of paradigms and treatment modalities to compensate for omissions and to offset exaggerations. Ultimately, we need to discern and follow our own insights and guidance.

The fact that I find Jung’s Analytical Psychology helpful says a lot about me. It also reflects recent developments in my journey, as well as methodologies I find helpful. Furthermore, it has afforded valuable insight into the relationship between unconscious motivation and what theologians talk about as human sinfulness. [29]

Reaction to trait psychology has been generated by a range of motivations. Some react to any form of stereotyping, or classification. Others react because they are uncomfortable confronting aspects of themselves reflected in different typologies. Responses to the Enneagram are usually either wildly enthusiastic or angrily dismissive.

If it is recognized that the Enneagram is a tool to help us understand ourselves, and to bring us to a point of repentance and conversion, it can be helpful. Whatever factors contribute to making us who we are–genetic, hormonal, environmental–the clustering of similar characteristics in certain individuals is so conspicuous as to allow us to legitimately conclude that certain people are very much alike. If the Enneagram is used, not as a procrustean bed, a prison, or a definitive straight jacket, but as a means of our exploring our enthusiasms and the reactions we have on others, it can help us mature in self-understanding, wisdom and compassion.

The following chapters, on Jung and on the Enneagram, should help you appreciate that one of the reasons we express our spirituality differently from each other is related to our different personalities. If you do not find these chapters helpful, I suggest you explore alternative paradigms. [29]

1 K. Wilber, No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, Boston and London, Shambhala, 1981, 11-12