I’m so, so excited to share this series with you. We will be walking through the basics of the personality typing system, the Enneagram. Today is all about getting an overview of what the Enneagram is and how it works. For the rest of the series, we’ll focus on each of the nine types. While I can’t even begin to share everything there is to know about the Enneagram, I hope to give you a little flavor to savor, to decide if you want to dive deeper into this tool. The best part of this series is that, for many of the types, I am featuring a guest author who identifies with the type and can explain their self-discovery journey through their particular personality lens.
What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a tool that can be used to help us humans better understand our own personalities. It describes human personalities as falling into one of nine general categories, with nuances to each category. The Enneagram focuses not just on traits, but on inner motivations, weaknesses, and fixations that affect our worldviews. The Enneagram has a diagram, which can be used for all kinds of different things within the system. It looks like this…
And another one, that adds different nuances to the diagram...
I would not say that it is a psychological typing system, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Big Five, or the Strengths Finder (all of which have specific purposes and strengths). The Enneagram is actually a very ancient tool, and no one really knows where it came from, other than that it has popped up in numerous belief systems, including Sufism, Buddhism, and Christian mysticism. It started entering modern society when a guy named Oscar Ichazo started gathering knowledge about it from Asia, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, synthesized it into a more cohesive system, and started teaching it in the 1960s. He took his research into the United States in the 1970s. Today, the Enneagram is ever growing in popularity, with books, teachers, workshops, websites, and classes galore.
Each of the nine Enneagram types are named simply by the number, but they are often given nicknames to give you a quick idea of that type’s primary description. In addition, each type has a generally agreed-upon key virtue: a character quality that each type is especially gifted with when they are in a healthy level of development. Conversely, each type has a vice, a negative quality that the ego of each type tends to fall into without pursuit of growth, and a fixation, or the particular way in which they most often exhibit or feed into their vice.You’ll notice that each type’s virtue is often the antidote for their vice.
One- The Reformer or Perfectionist
Two- The Helper or Giver
Three- The Achiever or Performer
Four- The Individualist or Romantic
Five- The Investigator or Observer
Six- The Loyalist or Loyal Skeptic
Seven- The Epicure or Enthusiast
Eight- The Challenger or Protector
Vice: Lust (Forcefulness)
Nine- The Peacemaker or Mediator
In addition, each type is connected to other numbers through the diagram above. Each type has two “wings,” secondary types they likely take on traits of, and each type’s wings are the two numbers on each side of the type itself. Example: a Two’s wings are Three and One. A One’s wings are Nine and Two.
Beyond wings, there are arrows, which you can see in the first diagram. The arrows connect each type to two other types, and they’re typically called the arrows of “disintegration” and “integration.” They show you two more types which you are more closely connected to, and may take on traits of in certain situations. Typically, each type takes on traits of the type on the end of the arrow of integration (the black arrow in the diagram) when they are healthy and secure, and traits of the arrow of disintegration (the red arrow) when they are under stress.
Sound a little complicated? Yeah… it definitely can be. But that’s what I love about the Enneagram! It shows me so much about my behaviors, perceptions, and underlying motivations. And it doesn’t just stop at giving me a static, unchangeable type. All of these arrows and wings allow for more nuances, which is something really beautiful about the Enneagram. It doesn’t put you into a personality “box” at all.
How do I find my type?
There are a few different ways. There are online tests, and some of them are free. I don’t really endorse any of them. The reason why is because the tests can only capture your behaviors, and only the behaviors that you are willing to self-report. Therefore, the tests are often not accurate! I was actually mis-typed for years because of a test, and almost gave up on the Enneagram because it didn’t make any sense to me. But it didn’t make sense because I was trying to fit myself into a type that was completely wrong!
If you want to take a test, go for it. It can be a good starting place, and is good for ruling out what you’re definitely not. But after that, you need to read about all nine types. The Enneagram Institute has a lot of great information, including descriptions about each type. Read through the types, and simply see what you identify with. Ultimately, you have to OWN your type. And hint… it’s usually the one that makes you feel the most icky or embarrassed. Why? Because the type description will describe weaknesses and motivations that you like to keep hidden. That’s ok. After all, the point of the Enneagram is to transform your self-awareness. You can’t do that if you’re not being honest with yourself. The book The Road Back to You, by Ian Cron, is another great starting point. I also love Understanding the Enneagram, by Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. It’s another level deeper and has been really helpful.
Why/how can it be useful to me?
The Enneagram can reveal a lot of things about yourself that you may know, but didn’t know how to put words to. Ultimately, I think human souls are too complex to be described with words. But I think Enneagram teachers acknowledge that, and they provide as best a description as they can.
But simply understanding why you do what you do isn’t enough. The Enneagram also shows pathways for growing into a more whole, integrated person. See, each type isn’t a description of your true self. Your personality is a collection of all the ways you figured out how to survive in life as a kid. It’s the mask you learned to wear. But the things that saved us in childhood may kill us as adults. The Enneagram teaches how to move past your type, into being whole. The ultimate goal would be, I suppose, to exhibit characteristics of all nine types equally and healthily (although I don’t think we imperfect humans can reach that!).