Where do our personalities come from? What function do they serve? And what limitations do they impose?
In her book The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, Sandra Maitri offers some answers. Here's a condensation.
We come into this world at one with Being, with Essence (anyone thinking "pre/trans fallacy," feel free to voice your disagreement in the comments, but it'd be a good idea to read Maitri's book first - I don't pretend to have mastered her complex and nuanced ideas, much less to have given a complete explanation of them in this brief article).
We're born predisposed to develop one personality type. We're not exclusively the product of our environment, although environment is very important.
In this early, undifferentiated state, a part of us understands - on a preverbal level - an essential truth, specific to our type. These truths are called the Holy Ideas.
Over the course of our first four years, we lose contact with Being. It's unclear as to why. But this loss can play out for the rest of our lives.
This makes us see ourselves as distinct from Being. Separate. Lacking something. Our personality develops to cope with this loss, fashioning itself around its conception of Being, referred to as that type's idealized Aspect. Of course, we get it wrong. And our limited view of reality crystallizes into a fixed belief, specific to our Enneagram type. This is known as our type's fixation.
For example, an Enneagram Six's fixation is doubt, worry, anxiety. Sixes look for and idealize the feeling of being supported. They'll strive to feel the inner solidity they lack, displaying rebellious or defensive behaviour, by rushing toward their fears, or by endlessly playing out worst-case scenarios. But no matter how many brave things a Six does, she'll still feel that inner uncertainty. Only contacting the depths of who they really are will give Sixes that feeling of certainty and direction that seems to evade them so relentlessly.
The Holy Idea for Sixes is that Being is our inner foundation, our true support. Lacking this, life seems full of threats and looming disasters. As Maitri says,
"If we knew that we had this inner foundation, we would experience a sense of support, confidence and courage - the qualities of the idealized Aspect. So, the Sixes' attempt to feel courageous and fearless is an attempt to embody experientially what the Holy Idea of Point Six refers to: the fact that Being is what supports our existence."
Each type does this, enacting and embodying their type's idealized Aspect, believing if they did such and such, if they were like so, they'd be complete. Maitri says,
"This state of ego deficiency, which can feel like a sense of being valueless, worthless, small and weak, of feeling complete helplessness, impotent, inadequate, ineffective, and suspended without support, forms the deepest layer and therefore the deepest experience of the personality. It cannot be otherwise, since the personality is a sense of self - lacking its ground - Essence - and so can only feel deficient."
As long as we seek fulfillment through action, through accomplishment, through attainment of the image and qualities we value, we'll keep right on scrambling in our personal hamster wheel, wondering why we aren't getting anywhere. But the Being we seek is already within us, and all around us. It never left. And that subtle and simple experience of genuinely realizing this allows us to transcend the trappings of our personalities and embody the Holy Idea some part of us knew, deep down, was with us the whole time.