Nature or nurture?

December 5, 2019

I used to think that our formation as humans was maybe 20% nature and 80% nurture. Then I had kids. And now I think I had it backward, or close to it. Nature has the majority share.

That isn’t to say that our roles as parents or mentors or family members or friends isn’t important. But we’re influencing within a more narrow spectrum.

Most enneagram experts agree that your number is set very early in life — that you’re born with a predisposition toward your number and the experiences of your early life serve as confirmation bias of that number. What changes over time is where you find yourself on the spectrum of your number — in healthy, average, unhealthy, or pathological space — and which subtype you identify with most strongly.

This makes sense when you look at families where all the children have different numbers. But when you have a family where multiple children identify as the same number — or numbers that are connected to each other — it makes me wonder.

Did that family have some kind of genetic mojo that predisposed all the kids to the same number? Or is our predisposition less exact?

Maybe we’re predisposed to a stance, but our triad is learned. We’re born with a reference point (oriented to the past, present, or future; withdrawing, dependent, or aggressive stance), but we practiced different ways to respond (with thinking, feeling, or doing) around our family of origin and, within a few months or a few years, settled into one of those as our chosen method of survival.

That could be why it’s usually easier to identify your stance even if it’s tricky to nail down your number. It feels instinctive, obvious, simply the way you move in the world. Our thinking and feeling and doing sometimes feel like coping mechanisms — and maybe sometimes they are.