How the Enneagram Helps You Recognize Your Mental Health Red Flags

I said that the next time I posted, I would talk about some of the things I find helpful when I’m in a mental health slump. But as I thought more about it, I wanted to be sure to first talk more about how to recognize your own mental health red flags. Before you can get help, you have to realize that you need it.

On my resources page, there are two different infographics that can offer some insight regarding this. One is from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) titled My Mental Health: Do I Need Help? The other is from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and is called Common Warning Signs of Mental Illness.

Those infographics are a great place to start, but I also think each person has their own unique red flags and triggers when it comes to mental health issues. And learning what your own unique red flags are will be immensely helpful in making sure you don’t go too far down the path towards a mental health crisis before intervening. 

Another really amazing resource for identifying your own personal red flags is the Enneagram. 

I have found the Enneagram to be an absolutely amazing tool for helping me learn more about myself and try to grow into a healthier version of myself.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, I recommend checking out the Enneagram Institute. Essentially, the Enneagram helps you to find your basic personality type out of 9 different options. Once you know your type, you can really start digging in to all the resources the Enneagram has to offer!

Enneagram chart with types listed

Each Enneagram type is associated with a basic set of general traits that describe them, and each type also has unique traits that they exhibit when they are in times of stress (disintegration) and times of growth (integration). 

I am an Enneagram type 1 – which is known as the Reformer (or Perfectionist). When Ones are in a healthy place, their growth arrow moves them towards the healthy traits of a Seven (the Enthusiast), which means they become “more spontaneous and joyful” (often hard for Ones who like having control of all situations.) But when Ones are in a state of stress, or disintegration, their arrow points them towards a Four (the Individualist), which means they might become a bit more “moody, irrational, or dramatic” (some of the less-healthy traits an Enneagram Four might exhibit.)

Over the years, I’ve started paying attention to myself more, and have discovered a few telling signs when I’m under stress. One of the big ones for me is that my tolerance for mess and clutter goes to zero. I like things to be neat and tidy on my best days, but when I’m under stress, every little pile of papers and dirty dish just grates on me like nothing else! So I find myself spending all my free time cleaning, and it’s never good enough. And then I see my family members doing things they enjoy, like playing games or relaxing on the couch, and I start to get angry that no one is helping me with all the chores.

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Anger² – Being an Enneagram Type 1

How did I know I was an Enneagram type One? A single word: anger.

Many people after initially meeting me will tell me that I seem like such a laid-back, easy-going person – that they couldn’t imagine what I would look like angry. What they don’t know is that anger is second nature to me, it’s frequently raging under the surface while on the outside I’m trying to appear calm and collected.

I guess that’s pretty textbook for type Ones. Here’s an excerpt about Ones from The Enneagram Institute:
“In the effort to stay true to their principles, Ones resist being affected by their instinctual drives, consciously not giving in to them or expressing them too freely. The result is a personality type that has problems with repression, resistance, and aggression. They are usually seen by others as highly self- controlled, even rigid, although this is not how Ones experience themselves.”

When I learned that type Ones are in the “Anger triad” and that they also have their “passion/drive” as anger, I thought to myself, “that’s double anger… must be me.”

So how does this anger manifest itself for me? If I’m honest, many times it comes out as anger or annoyance with other people. A lot of Ones have an “inner critic” that they can’t get out of their head, and it’s constantly telling them that they could have done better. It’s easy to see why Ones are labeled the “Perfectionist.” My inner critic is there, but it is more outwardly focused. I notice when things are out of place in my environment, when there’s too much clutter for example. I also notice when other people aren’t following the rules – I’m a BIG rule-follower, which I think is also pretty typical for Ones.

I have a hard time when things are not fair – it makes me angry (go figure.) I prefer for most things to be done in a structured and orderly manner, and when things are too chaotic or by-the-seat-of-your-pants, I tend to think they could have been done better with a little more planning and effort. I hold myself to high standards and want others to do the same.

But the reality is most people don’t have the same standards I do… so I end up setting myself up for a lot of disappointment (or anger – are you catching on?… literally everything has the potential to make me angry.)

5 years ago – my husband and I dressed up as Inside Out characters for Halloween – ironically he was “Anger”

It’s a bit embarrassing to say that I struggle so much with anger. I frequently find myself wishing to be a person who can just play it cool, that lets things roll off of them, and is care-free most of the time. (That is pretty much my husband – he’s a Type 9.)

But the Enneagram’s purpose is not to compare yourself to others, or to wish that you were a “better” number. There’s no “better” or “best” number, they all have strengths and weaknesses.

The Enneagram is a helpful tool to discover more about yourself, and then accept what you’ve learned with self-compassion. Accepting yourself doesn’t mean you find excuses to be the worst version of yourself (like for example: “I’m a One so I guess I deserve to be angry all the time!”) With self-awareness and acceptance, you can move forward to growing into the best version of yourself – which is really the heart of why the Enneagram is so valuable.

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Hitting Your “Save Point”

Another video game related post?

Not really – this one doesn’t have much to do with video games, it’s mostly just a play on words. I was scrolling through my social media feed, wasting time… and I came across a post that said:

Reaching 30 is like making it to a save point

I don’t know who to credit this quote to – it was one of those posts that had been shared and reshared/recreated many times. The context of the post was debating which years/decade were supposed to be the best time of your life. I think one cliché is that high school or college is the best time of your life, and then after that your life slowly gets worse and worse, or at least busier or more stressful. #adulting

If you’ve played a variety of video games, you are probably already familiar with save points. They are in games that don’t automatically save as you go, but instead you have to reach a certain point before it saves your progress. Sometimes it can be really hard to get to the save point (you may end up dying multiple times) so when you finally reach it, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

Right before I turned 30, a good friend of mine (who was a year or so older) told me that your 30s are so much better than your 20s. Despite some skepticism on my part, I have (so far) found this to be a true statement.

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