One of the markers that we live in an awakening world is the heed that so many people are paying to the call for an authentic life. More of us are seeking meaningful careers and work. We want relationships that transcend old roles and that are emotionally and spiritually fulfilling. We question voices of so-called ‘authority’ that appear shallow, and look for new ways of creating community. We want to be and be with authentic leaders. The word “authenticity” pervades the vast majority of self-help and inspirational media.

Yet, what does it mean to be authentic? How do you discern ‘which voice’ to listen to? And what are you being authentic to? The word “authentic” is defined as: genuine or true. What is your true self?

One of the challenges to being authentic is there are so many familiar, yet false voices that are easy to take as the “real thing.” How many times have you tried to follow a particular thread in your life, thinking or hoping it would connect you with your ‘real self’ only to be disappointed, stressed, fragmented, or having other negative experiences? The Enneagram can point out the patterns we are trapped in and keep repeating. It is particularly beneficial in gaining insight into these questions and providing direction to our Essential (Authentic) Nature.

All of us have a “sense of self” that is based upon being identified with our particular personality. That is, our sense of self is “who we think we are”. Here’s a very brief statement of the sense of identity for each of the dominant Enneagram personality types:

Type One I am conscientious, reasonable and rationale.
Type Two I am helpful, caring and generous.
Type Three I am adaptable, accomplished and goal-oriented.
Type Four I am emotionally sensitive, deep, and unique.
Type Five I am intelligent, perceptive and objective.
Type Six I am responsible, trustworthy and loyal.
Type Seven I am spontaneous, quick-witted and freedom-loving.
Type Eight I am strong, in control and dominant.
Type Nine I am calm, responsive and harmonious.

While each of these statements may be true for the person with that personality type, a primary teaching of the Enneagram is that the personality is only a small part of our more expansive nature. In other words, this sense of self is far too limiting. It is not who we truly are.

The Enneagram explains the mental, emotional, somatic and behavioral patterns that are based on these limited self-concepts so that we might eventually come into deeper contact with what is more true about us. Here’s the catch: these patterns feel like the ‘authentic me’ because they are so familiar to us. Perhaps a few examples of how the ego tries to define what is authentic in life.

A leader, dominant in Type Two, felt that he had to shoulder many of the responsibilities
of his team so that they wouldn’t have to carry such heavy burdens themselves. He felt that he would be an inauthentic leader if he didn’t continue this practice, even though he was becoming exhausted.

A young entrepreneur, dominant in Type Three, felt it was ‘inauthentic’ to enjoy even the ‘relaxed’ parts \of his life without having goals. Goals had always seemingly defined his approach to life, even though they didn’t leave much for pure enjoyment.
A free-spirited young woman, dominant in Type Seven, thought it would be inauthentic to stay in a career position once she gave it a short try. She felt that she needed to move from one experience to another to be true to herself and her search for freedom.

A midlife professional who is dominant in Type Nine thought that to be True to herself meant that she should ‘wait and see’ what opportunities came along. It didn’t feel ‘authentic to go out into the world and take initiative on what she really wanted to do in the second half of life.

Of course, there are many examples that could be given for each of the types.

Here are a few recommendations to guide you in discerning the path of authenticity:

1) If you haven’t already done so, begin the process of identifying your dominant Enneagram type.
2) The Enneagram helps us recognize HOW and WHY we do what we do. Being authentic can be confused with ‘doing the things I do the same way I’ve always done them.’ This is not authenticity---this is simply a habitual pattern.
3) As you are discerning which inner voice to listen to, notice if you feel the “sense of compulsion’ to follow a particular way of doing things. Authenticity is not compulsive.
4) Practice Presence. When you come to this present moment, to being in contact with the sensation of your body, to contact with your breath, and to relaxing into yourself, you are on your way to connecting with what is true about you. Your authentic self emerges from Presence.

Author's Bio: 

Howe-Murphy earned her doctorate from the University of San Francisco, her M.A. from San Jose State University, and her B.A. from the University of Iowa. She is certified as a coach and Riso-Hudson Enneagram teacher. She directs the Enneagram Institute of the San Francisco Bay Area, an affiliate of the acclaimed Enneagram Institute, a global leader in Enneagram studies. She is among the first generation of teachers authorized to offer workshops created by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, preeminent Enneagram teachers and authors.