Surviving Narcissistic Abuse with the Enneagram

When Mayla began to wake up
to the narcissism in her family of origin, 
she was excited to share with her siblings,
but it backfired and they made her the scapegoat
because no one else was awake.

enneagram, narcissism, narcissistic abuse, self-care, self-worth, recovery,
Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash

They weren’t ready to see it, so the more she shared, the more defensive they became in their protection of the narcissist. Her entire family had been programmed to stick together and never discuss the family secrets. Her family wanted to punish her for breaking the family rules, so they made her the scapegoat. She was called a liar, disloyal, evil and lost. All for what? Telling the truth about the lies and physical abuse she and her siblings had endured. Why couldn’t her family see it? They just weren’t awake yet.

There are three kinds of people in the world,
those who are asleep,
those who are stirring, and those who are awake.
If you try to wake up the sleeping,
he will just mumble and go back to sleep.
If you wake up the stirring,
he will wake up just long enough to curse you
and then go back to sleep.
Instead of trying to wake them up,
if you come across someone who is asleep
or stirring what you should do is,
fluff their pillow, tuck them in,
and kiss them on the forehead.
The important joy for those who are awake
is to seek each other out,
connect with others who are awake,
talk, sing and celebrate together.
This will create a groundswell of awareness.
As this groundswell increases and spreads out,
it will awaken the stirring
and will begin to stir those who are still sleeping.
-Buckminster Fuller

Many survivors refer to the day they discovered what narcissism is as the day they woke up. For some people, this took longer than others. We might even say there are different stages of awakening. There is the awakening to the fact that you’ve been abused. Then there is the discovery there’s a name for what we have endured. Next, there’s an analysis of what we can do to cope with it. During this stage, we think if only others can see this, everything will be fine, but we forget each person has to find their own awakening.

I think about two friends who knew my family’s stories and told me about a support group for Adult Children of Narcissists, but I wasn’t yet awake, so I ignored their invitations. After I woke up, people in the family complained or started to discuss the things that happened, but they were only stirring, so when I tried to share my own discoveries with them, they woke up just long enough to curse me and go back to sleep. We can’t force an awakening on people who aren’t ready the way some people pick forsythia in winter to force the blooms. People are not flowers; they are much more complex and we cannot judge them for not being awake.

I love books. Often when I’m talking to my closest friends, if a certain subject comes up, I might send them a book I’ve read on the topic. This goes beyond narcissism and covers a broad band of topics from memoirs to art to spiritual topics. This week I have a friend going through a hard time and I wanted to encourage her by sending a book. I went to look up her name on my Amazon past orders to make sure I hadn’t already sent it to her. Then I noticed how many books I’ve sent to my sisters. These books range from Memoirs to Henry Cloud, to Katie Daisy’s How to be a Wildflower to books on the Enneagram. These books were an offering–a way to share and build our sister connections, but alas all I have gotten back is public accusations and abuse. I am forced to accept the fact that they are not awake.

There comes a point when flying monkeys become abusers. I would say when people lie about your book before they’ve even read it, they aren’t your friends. It’s been nine years since the great divorce and I have finally decided to go no contact with my immediate family–not because I rejected any of them, but because they are not awake. They are like the dull step-sisters in Cinderella who have no clue they are rude and ignorant and missing out on a loving and fun relationship with their sister, but their sleeping is someone else’s gain because I now have many sisters and each one is beautiful and gracious and a valuable place to spend my time and energy. I had to realize that not even something as innocent and beautiful as Katie Daisy’s beautiful book can wake up the selfish and stony-hearted.

Waking up to the way the narcissist and flying monkeys have treated us was only the first glimmer of waking up–there is a greater awakening. When we wake up to ourselves—our psyches and bodies—all the parts of ourselves we neglected while trying to please, win, and negotiate with the narcissist. This is where the real healing begins. This last stage is our true awakening because, in those first stages, we measured ourselves in relation to other people, but as long as we measured ourselves by our proximity to the narcissist, we were still dealing with the narc fallout and we missed the value of knowing ourselves.

This greater awakening brings us to realize that not only is it NOT our job to wake up the rest of the sleeping family, we deserve to spend our time with those who are awake. We don’t hate those who are asleep, we just assess their true condition, then walk out the door to enjoy the beauty of the dawn and all the new day has to bring with those who are already awake.

For Adult Children of Narcissists (ACoNs) who have struggled to understand themselves because of past emotional abuse, there is a great tool to help us awaken and live our lives more fully awake—it’s called the Enneagram. Here are three ways knowing your type can help you thrive:

1. It Helps You Reclaim Who You Are

The Enneagram enables you to understand your losses. Some teachers of the Enneagram believe knowing your type might point to perceived injuries in childhood. Everyone has had some damage in childhood because we live in an imperfect world, but this has never been truer than for those who survive narcissistic abuse.

How many times has the narcissist tried to tell you what to feel or remember? Were you accused of wearing your heart on your sleeve or called mentally ill because you viewed life differently? If you’ve been gaslighted or pushed down and berated by the narcissist, the Enneagram can help you rediscover the lens you use to view the world and this, in turn, will help you know yourself better. The better you know yourself, the less the narcissist and flying monkeys will have any effect on you.

Sometimes we can’t access our memories or struggle to find the cause of our triggers. People often say, “If only I had a guidebook to avoid this in the future.” No one wants to repeat the damaging patterns of the past. Your memories and emotions all point to something. The Enneagram helps find subconscious clues to explain you feel the way you do. It might even reveal why you’ve allowed others to use and abuse you. It can help you understand and reinforce your boundaries.

As a writer of memoir, I have found the Enneagram to be a reassuring resource. A memoir is about understanding ourselves and the events of our lives. Those events become even more obvious when we understand our motivations and possibly gain a window into the personalities of our closest friends and family.

This above all: to thine own self, be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
-Wm. Shakespeare

The Bard had it right. If you know yourself and live an honest life, no one–not even a revengeful narcissist can make you doubt yourself or be untrue to your calling. It takes courage to know yourself and stand up for yourself, and we often have to stand alone against what Brené Brown calls the wilderness because we have detractors and flying monkeys coming at us from all sides.

Your level of true belonging can
never be greater than your willingness to
be brave and stand by yourself.

-Brené Brown

The Enneagram makes it easier for us to stand alone against the wilderness.

2. It Breathes Life into Your Loyal Relationships
The secret to a healthy relationship is to keep growing together in authenticity. It’s good to know yourself and even better when your partner cares to know you, and you take the time to know them too. And this works for friends too. Together, we can have a lot of fun learning more about each other.

When both partners understand their type, it adds a new dimension to the relationship. My husband and I have discovered things we never knew about each other in almost thirty years of knowing each other. The Enneagram can lead to hours of profound and scintillating discussion and makes for fascinating dinner conversation when you have friends who understand their types too.

One bonus of understanding your motives and the motives of your beloved is that you can take this information into account—not to abuse as the narc would do, but to facilitate better communication and meet each other’s needs.

3. It Helps You Avoid Feeling Like a Victim

No survivor wants to be re-victimized. We grow cautious about giving gifts to users and haters. We might avoid any situation where we could get burned again. Sometimes these reactions alter the way we manifest our personalities because we haven’t forgotten the two-faced family members who betrayed us. Past abuse doesn’t have to change us. We can learn who to avoid and how to invest with healthy people in the future by understanding the Enneagram.

We should never sacrifice who we are because someone has a problem with us. The Enneagram gives us the freedom to be ourselves and ignore what others say about us. It gives us tools to see into our relationships and understand why we were motivated to invest in destructive patterns.

When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change.
-Wayne Dwyer

One of the best ways to know yourself is to understand the Enneagram. Once you’ve realized the way the narcissist behaves has nothing to do with you, you can let go of trying to prove anything to the narc or their flying monkeys. When you know yourself, it will be impossible for the narcissist to ensnare you or into their petty battles.

The Enneagram is much more than a test, the test is merely the beginning of discovery. The Enneagram provides an ongoing study of who you are and how you interact with the most important relationships in your life. Understand just yourself will take time–let alone the many others who are significant in your life. The Enneagram teaches you how to make your life better–so much better that you won’t have time to think about the narc or flying monkeys because you’ll be enjoying a better life without them.

If you don’t know your Enneagram type, or if you’ve taken a test and still can’t figure it out, I can give you some clues on another blog. For now, you can take a test online for free.

1. Figure out your number by taking an online test, then read the “types” pages that correspond to your highest scoring numbers.

2. Read up on the type descriptions online at

3. If your partner knows their type, you can discover combos for relationships

4. If you think you know your number, you can sign up for the daily Enneagram thought here. (If you think it might be one of two numbers, you can sign up for two enneagram thoughts and that might help you decide.)

5. There are lots of thick and fascinating books on the Enneagram, but if you haven’t read any yet, I suggest the primer called The Road Back to You. It’s an easy read and should help you define your type.

If you are new to the Enneagram, try to not get too attached to the number until you’ve given yourself time to try it on. Remember the Enneagram is NOT a personality box to define you, it’s about going on a journey to wake up and discover who you were before the narcissist told you who to be.

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