The Challenge of Stereotyping: Who do you see when you see me?

Challenge of Stereotyping - Flemming Christensen

Stereotyping is like excess fat, very easy to acquire, not so easy to cast away!

The aim of Enneagram teaching

One of the fundamental aims of Enneagram teachings is to liberate individuals from the confines of their personality templates. Rather than boxing people, ourselves included, into rigid categories with fixed descriptions and traits, the Enneagram encourages a more nuanced understanding, and promotes a more flexible and open-minded exploration of human nature, steering clear of strict molds while encouraging a dynamic exploration of human nature.


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On the other hand, as human beings, we are wired to categorize.


Categorization is a cognitive process our brains use to organize information. It becomes a natural tendency to categorize everything we learn about life, people, and ourselves,


We instinctively create mental stereotypes to make sense of the world, simplifying complexities and providing a reference point to navigate life more smoothly. So, when exploring the Enneagram, our brains tend to fall back into this habit of categorizing through stereotyping, making it a convenient method to organize and file the information we receive or acquire in order to have a reference to fall back on when dealing with situations that will require such information in the future.


These stereotypes serve as a handy tool, giving a sense of clarity and guidance in an otherwise chaotic sea of changes and challenges that is our daily life and relationships. But unfortunately, as much as this inclination to categorize can be beneficial, it carries with it some serious drawbacks, especially in dealing with other people. It often hinders rather than helps us, as stereotyping represents an oversimplified view of our authentic human nature and who we truly are.


Drawback of stereotyping

The drawbacks of this tendency to categorize and oversimplify can be seen in the Enneagram. Like any other wisdom in the world, when it is transmitted from one person to the next, its essence can easily be lost in translation, and the once rich wisdom can become a hollowed-out shell. If and when that happens, descriptions of types calcify into rigid stereotypical 2D yardsticks against which we can “measure up” other people. And even the slightest diversion in the path, when compounded from one generation of teachers to the next, eventually leads us astray.


Another drawback (which can also be an extension of the one mentioned above) is that we lose touch with our humanity, and tend to view people through the lens of these stereotypes, responding based on preconceived notions rather than the truth of the person in front of us. This lack of presence, mindfulness, and curiosity leads to a judgmental, inconsiderate, and self-centered attitude. Even in our personal journey of self-discovery, we may find ourselves leaning on this crutch of stereotyping instead of embracing the exploration of our shared human nature with love and kindness.


To overcome these undesirable, and potentially harmful, blind spots, it is better to shed light on it and bring it to the forefront of our awareness, so we can catch it when it starts to happen. And from my point of view, these undesirable effects of stereotyping and misconceptions can be spotted in 2 main areas:


  • On each person’s path of self-discovery
  • Dealing with those around us


On each person’s path of self-discovery

Initially when we are first introduced to the Enneagram, we try to corelate what we know about ourselves with what we learn about the types.  But if what we learn is a stereotype that describes the behavioral demeanor, and labels each type with certain overgeneralized labels, then we get lost and it becomes very difficult for us to find our type. I have encountered, on many occasions, people wondering whether their Enneagram type is theirs or not.  What is causing their confusion is that they don’t fit the stereotypical description of the type; a type nine who is “active” and feels that this contradicts the “sleepy & slow” description; a type 7 who doesn’t always feel “cheerful and bubbly”; or a type 3 who can shed tears and get emotional.

When we stereotype, we think there’s a specific way all Ones, Threes, or Fives “should” act. So, without realizing it, we try hard to fit into that description. It’s like we force ourselves to match those expectations, just to make sure we really belong to that category or “type.”


Dealing with those around us

We often expect individuals of a particular Enneagram type to conform to specific behaviors. In our quest for self-understanding and liberation from judgments, paradoxically, we sometimes prefer to maintain stereotypes. It’s more convenient for us to interact with others based on the stereotype we know, and any deviation surprises us. For instance, if you’re a type 4, you can’t possibly be “happy”.


Clinging to stereotypes when perceiving others contradicts the essence of healing and transformation. Instead of fostering understanding, it leads to harm and hurt. It’s as if we can not see those around us as human beings, viewing them solely as a category, an abstraction, or a label in our minds, and dealing and interacting with them accordingly.


Common stereotypes and misconceptions


Now, let us highlight some of the most common stereotypes and misconceptions for each type:


Type 1


  • Presumed inability to have fun or enjoy life
  • Assumed to have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) or display similar behavior
  • Believed to strictly adhere to all rules without exception
  • Labeled as rigid, strict, and harsh towards others


But Type 1

  • Can have fun and enjoy themselves (with planning)
  • OCD is a mental disorder and has nothing to do with the type
  • Follow the rules, yet can break some
  • Can be empathetic and kind towards others


Type 2


  • Believed to feed everyone around them
  • Labeled as needy and clingy
  • Stereotyped as giving only with the expectation of receiving in return
  • Unable to initiate a fight


But Type 2

  • Nurture in different ways other than feeding others
  • Can be independent
  • Capable of acting altruistically
  • Can be confrontational


Type 3


  • Often labeled as self-centered and narcissistic
  • Perceived to be in constant competition with others
  • Primary focus on work achievement
  • Stereotyped as unwilling to offer help to others


But Type 3

  • Capable of being compassionate and empathetic
  • Engage in self-competition to improve and better themselves
  • Focus on achieving their goals, whether its work or other aspects
  • Offer help and motivate others without losing self-focus


Type 4


  • Labelled as constantly sad and depressed
  • Presumed inability to be happy or joyful
  • All fours are artists
  • Stereotyped as someone who is constantly whining and complaining


But Type 4

  • Can be happy and cheerful
  • See the beauty and can be creative, but don’t have to be artists
  • In touch with human pain, and comfortable expressing it.


Type 5


  • Stereotyped as having no emotions
  • Often seen as exclusively scientifically oriented
  • Perceived as disliking people
  • Portrayed as serious and lacking the ability to have fun


But Type 5

  • Have feelings and emotions but need time to process them
  • Capable of having multiple interests spanning various disciplines and fields
  • Can seek and enjoy people’s company
  • Capable of having fun and enjoying humor


Type 6


  • Stereotyped as constantly scared and terrified
  • Cannot act courageously
  • Labeled as indecisive or incapable of making moves
  • Perceived as having a weak personality or being a pushover


But Type 6

  • Can be calm and feel secure
  • Capable of acting courageously
  • Can take actions and act confidently
  • Have strong will and defend their beliefs


Type 7


  • Stereotyped as always happy and never feeling sad
  • Labeled as unable to commit to anything
  • Assumed inability to be serious or take things seriously
  • Portrayed as living the life of a party all the time


But Type 7

  • Can experience sadness and have moments of low spirits
  • Capable of committing and focusing when they decide to
  • Can be thoughtful and serious when needed
  • Enjoys having fun and find pleasure in everyday living.


Type 8


  • Labeled as aggressive and rude
  • Perceived as not caring for others
  • Often stereotyped as troublemakers who enjoy fighting
  • Assumed to never shed tears


But Type 8

  • Assertive and speak the truth
  • Care for others and if they don’t care they will not express themselves
  • Don’t mind arguments and conflicts but don’t actively seek fights
  • Can be emotional


Type 9


  • Stereotyped as lazy, slow, and inactive
  • Often perceived as unable to achieve anything
  • Assumed never to get upset
  • Portrayed as carefree and nice all the time


But Type 9

  • Can be active and industrious
  • Capable of achieving
  • Get upset and can display anger
  • May be burdened but show the opposite


In conclusion, despite being a product of a mental shortcut that is sometimes useful, stereotyping can breed judgments, acting as a barrier to cultivating compassion and empathy. It hinders us from perceiving people based on their true nature, rather than the preconceived images we hold. Stereotypes obstruct our path to self-connection, diverting attention from who we are, to the stereotypes we should conform to. To overcome these challenges, it is essential to release mental stereotypes and foster an attitude of presence and openness.


This article is written by Mai Mostafa. Click here to connect with Mai on Facebook.

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