Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?

May 7th, 2016 | By | Category: Articles, Eric Foggitt, O Books, Psyche Books, Psychology, Spirituality

by Eric Foggitt

Teacher and therapist Eric Foggitt works with individuals, groups and churches to promote spiritual insight and development, using the wisdom of the Bible and the Enneagram. He lives in Amsterdam.

He is the author of Nine lives – The Enneagram in life stories


Why do we make the same mistakes over and over? Why do people make crazy choices? Can we change and grow up or are we like the proverbial leopard with his spots?

In these nine short stories you’ll meet Tim, who’s deeply into how things work; Grace, who really needs to be needed; Graham, whose priority is his image and a whole cast of others who find out – eventually – that it is possible to change and grow.

Each of the main characters is a different Enneagram type – if you know nothing about the Enneagram it doesn’t matter; but you’ll probably become fascinated by how true to life and helpful it is.The Bible, the Church and God come into the picture quite a lot – not always with good results. Organised religion may sometimes be more of a problem than a solution.

Nine Lives is all about understanding what makes people tick, developing a spiritual life and being truly alive to each moment.


Blog Post: May 2016

Some years ago – back in 1975 – John Powell’s book wrote about emotional honesty and authenticity. It was and is a classic of the genre, along with its companion “Why am I afraid to love?” and millions of people have taken on board Powell’s ideas, tried out some of the self-help strategies he suggests and sought to stop playing the games people often play to avoid honest self-disclosure.

There are lots of deep and clever answers to the question in the book’s title: “because I am afraid”; “because I’m worried people won’t like me”; “because I never learnt how to be honest this way”; “because I’m scared of being hurt”  and so on. Powell deals with these kinds of concerns sensitively and helpfully. He has a gentleness and grace which puts hurting people at their ease and builds trust.

But the deepest answer to the book’s title question is one which Powell doesn’t properly address: “because I don’t know who I really am.”

Powell’s central idea is about communication: be open, let people know how you feel, what you think. And this is still a vital message, perhaps today even more than ever, despite us living in the social media age where everyone can create their own internet persona and image. (Millions of us create online versions of ourselves that are full of our successes, parties and promotions but devoid of failures, worries and setbacks.)

But do we really know ourselves? Do we truly know what makes us tick? Do we always have the answer to the question: “Why did I do that?” One of the fundamental notions in Enneagram thinking about personality is that in fact we don’t – and it is really our biggest problem.

It’s a phenomenon which people working with the Enneagram with others know only too well: he/she comes back for the next session convinced that type 2 best describes them. From what you’ve learnt so far, not only is the person not a heart type, but type 2 behaviour (loving, caring, counselling) is hardly to be seen. They’re way off the mark.

Many of us have a very strange view of ourselves – insofar as we think about ourselves at all – and rare are those individuals with an accurate and deep self-understanding. I’m not just afraid to tell you who I am; who I say I am may be very wide of the mark.

And then there’s the impact of morality and culture: “Yuck, I don’t want to be like that type 8!” or even “Who wants to be a thinker? I want to be a type 3, an achiever.” Some types, in some cultures, are less “popular” and “cool” than others. And there seems to be a common belief that we can be whomever we want to be. But we can’t; we are who we are, and you can learn to be the person that you are, rather than the one you or  others want you to be.

Because of this I confess to being a sceptic sometimes when it comes to counselling. Talking therapies have been shown to be as effective as medicines in common forms of depression and anxiety and they are also cost-effective (1) and there’s clearly a group of patients for whom talking things through with a trained counsellor is helpful. But what if, contrary to Carl Rogers’ thesis, we aren’t “the best experts on ourselves”? What if the “vast resources for self-understanding” (2) cannot be tapped, even in a helpful therapeutic climate? Over the past ten years or so that I have been working with the Enneagram, these two questions have popped up again and again with people who have had some sort of person-centred counselling before landing up with me. This is in no way to disparage or diminish the importance of counselling, but it is to identify some of its limits.

I confess: I am sceptical about how much any of us truly understand our deepest motives, desires and drives. I would be the first to answer Powell’s question: “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?” with the answer: because I don’t know who I am. This scepticism comes not from a theory – that the ego protects and hides itself even from the individual – but from listening to people telling me their experiences of sometimes very good “in-depth” counselling and recounting their personal stories. So much of what I hear is shallow: “I guess I need to be loved” and “I try and impress people that I meet” or “I don’t like people seeing me fail.” These observations may be insightful for the people concerned, but they come nowhere near explaining the depths of the human psyche, any more than the book cover describes its contents. Most of us feel that we need to be loved and not many people like their failures to be seen. I think it is simply wrong to be palmed off with this trivial self-view as if it were the real, deep, living thing. In other words, people are so much more than this; they are glorious, messy, complex, frightening creatures who defy simplistic analysis.

Even if we try to tell others who we really are, the stories we create about ourselves are often no more than the tip of the iceberg; we’re far more than we dare to imagine. I cannot begin to tell you who I am because understanding myself is such a complex and demanding task. I identify again and again with the powerful and haunting words of the Apostle Paul: I do not understand what I do… (Romans 7:15) and I do stupid, sometimes sinful things, because of that. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18) This is so much deeper than Carl Rogers: it’s like there’s this other me inside me who’s hiding himself even from me and as a result I find myself doing what he wants rather than what I want.

Modern psychology has come to call that “other me” the “ego”. But – and this is the rub – the resources which the ego has to defend and hide itself are very much greater than those which my conscious has ready to hand to discover and understand it.

Perhaps this is why so many of us give up trying: the task is too great. And perhaps it’s why we satisfy ourselves with simple, if not simplistic versions of ourselves rather than get to the root, where it may be much more messy and difficult.

I loved John Powell’s books and I’m sure they helped lots of people. But I got frustrated with them because they took me so far and no further: it was like getting halfway to some famous landmark but having to stop and turn back before I got there. Sometimes his writing invited me to communicate with others things which I didn’t really understand at all, so how could I speak of them? How could I share with others what I couldn’t make out for myself? So I plucked up the courage to delve into the depths, rather than accept the surfaces. It’s dark, murky and sometimes scary down there; but truly, it’s the only way I’ll ever be able to tell you who I really am.

(1)    Chilvers, C., Dewey, M., Fielding, K., et al. (2001) Antidepressant drugs and generic counselling for treatment of major depression in primary care: randomised trial with patient preference arm” in British Medical Journal, 322, 1-5 and Miller, P., C. Chilvers, et al. (2003). “Counseling versus antidepressant therapy for the treatment of mild to moderate depression in primary care – Economic analysis” inInternational Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care 19(1): 80-90


(2)    Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable and Rogers, C. (1959). “A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework” iIn (ed.) S. Koch,Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill.




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One Comment to “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?”

  1. Caroline says:

    Hey Eric….this is an interesting subject. I work in counselling/couching and use psychometric personality testing. I think that counselling at it’s most fundamental level is about self awareness…In a protected place the client is invited to be honest with themselves and to look at the challenges they face,and because the client is talking it through and maybe trying out different ways of thinking/behaving change/ growth occurs. The limit I see with psychometric personality tests is that it boxes people into certain categories and tells the individual …this is how you are. The fact that the client fills out the questionnaire with no input from others usually also means that their blind spots remain exactly that.Counselling or Spiritual Direction offers more of a revelation by the individual, as long as the therapist is self aware enough not to be directive…and as long as the therapist remains engaged in the relationship…..on saying all that…I use the NEO regularly and see it as a good baseline tool in conversations with my clients.
    Also have to say have never done the Enneagram….sounds interesting!☺️

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