Personality Ping Pong

life is like a game of ping pong

A few weeks ago, I was journaling about the Enneagram (what, like you weren’t?) and made a list of how it is like ping pong. Personality ping pong. Each one of us has a certain something we express in the world – a ping. And we get something back – a pong. Actually, there are millions of things we put out in the world (ping ping ping!!!) and at least as many pongs coming back at us.

personality ping pong
I got schooled. It was fun.

But, we all have filters: our personalities. You might see all those balls flying at you and think: what fun! Or, how terrible! You might have forgotten that you sent that ping out in the first place, so why now are these pongs showing up at your door? Or you’ve being pinging desperately and not finding any pongs.

You never really forget how to play

This weekend, I got to play ping pong for the first time in ages. It took me a minute to get up to speed with my opponent – but just a minute. Then I felt the old conditioning kick in. I spent hours of my childhood in my best friend’s basement, playing ping pong against her and her older brother. I learned to flick my wrist to give the ball a little spin, to watch for opportunities to knock a high ball down hard and fast. Aware of it or not, I carry within me some strangely specific skills and pattern recognition software.

But my skill or habits are only half the equation. The person across the table has their own habits, their own strategies. My friend wanted to keep our volleys going. She also wanted to have fun – so any chance she had to turn up the speed, she took. When I played against her husband, our tempo was more lackadaisical. Same game, same me: different experience.

The idea of personality ping pong is silly, I know. It is also easy to understand and therefore useful as a metaphor. Ping pong is an individual sport (game? I don’t know. I was sweating by the time we were done.) A fun game of ping pong also requires two players who have, if not the same skill level, enough overlap so as to keep the ball in play. It is also pretty easy to see where your skill or lack thereof interrupts the game and sends you crawling under the table to find the missing ball. You can alter where you stand, how you shift your weight, etc.

Personality Ping Pong by Enneagram Type

So, here is my assessment of what each Enneagram type pings, and the pongs they receive back, which serve to reinforce their existing world view. It is how each of us end up believing that our reality is the same as Reality. I love how the Enneagram illustrates how we create our lives – even if we think the idea of “creating our own reality” is woo-woo nonsense.

Public Art in San Francisco.

Feeling/Heart Types:

2: Twos have learned that self-worth comes from helping people. When others refuse their help or assert their independence, the Two fear of not being lovable is triggered, which makes them try harder to prove how essential they are.

3: Threes are out of touch with their feelings, but reflexively know how to present themselves in the best possible light. They mistake the trappings of success for the real thing, then assume they’ll stop feeling empty and dissatisfied when they achieve their *next* goal.

4: Fours get caught up in their emotions to the point that it doesn’t matter what people pong their way – they only see the negative. Eventually, people give up … and Fours take this as more proof that they are different and flawed, just like they feel.

Sculpture by Robert Arneson, San Francisco MoMA.

Thinking/Head Types:

5: Fives like to figure things out. The world looks crazier every damn day, so back into their minds they go. Fives withdraw to analyze, but it is impossible to amass enough knowledge. Meanwhile, Fives miss out on the experiences that would give them confidence in their ability to thrive.

6: Sixes are aware of all contingencies and possible problems. When others don’t share their level of concern, Sixes become even more hyper-vigilant since obviously, the rest of us flakes can’t be trusted.

7: Sevens only want to feel positive emotions – and genuinely see happy possibilities everywhere – but even their greatest plans don’t satisfy them. They are already (mentally) off planning the next one instead of experiencing the present moment. Panic sets in – but that’s a negative feeling, so Sevens spin it as more, better, faster, instead.

The Salvador Dali Museum.

Instinct/Body Types:

8: Eights are so determined to make sure that they are never at another’s mercy that they make everything a battle…which pisses people off, and proves to Eights that their aggressive behavior was necessary. Good thing they are tough: it is the only way to be in a dog-eat-dog world.

9: Nines tend to check out and merge with others. It is easier than getting mad or fighting for their way, since what does it really matter at the end of the day? Their own thoughts and feelings are less real than those of other people … so of course Nines don’t feel like anyone special or important. They barely exist.

1: Ones see all the ways that things could be better, or how they really should be. However: people don’t like being criticized (shocker, eh?) and most people don’t share Ones attention to detail. This makes Ones angry – they know they are right! Their anger turns inwards and they resent having their perfect plans foiled.

One giant personality ping pong game

All nine Enneagram Types fail to see the whole picture. These short descriptions are meant to help illustrate the patterns of how we do so, not to define or limit anyone. We are all just doing the best we can at this crazy game of life. You hold your own paddle. When you learn to use it wisely, personality ping pong becomes a lot more fun!

Don’t know your Enneagram Type? Start figuring out what kind of player you are at The Enneagram Institute.