The Enneagram is the latest personality system to catch fire and create chatter and excitement in many corners of the internet. At a cursory glance, one might think the Enneagram is one more passing personality test fad. But in my experience, the Enneagram is so much more than a personality test.
The Enneagram came into my life five years ago when I was struggling to find some breathing room for my soul during my first year of motherhood. It was a time of shattered dreams about motherhood and about the mother I thought I would be. Motherhood demanded so much more of me than I felt I could give and I was left with the understanding that I would need to discard many of my ideals and illusions about motherhood if I was going to survive, let alone thrive as a mom.
The Enneagram came to me unexpectedly at this crucial point of my life. As I was struggling to know who I was, it gave me a mirror to help me see the shadow places of my soul and to help me understand myself more clearly. It became a helpful companion as I stepped into a journey of discovering who I am, not only a mother, but as my true self, that self that God created me to be.
The Unique Gift of the Enneagram
The Enneagram is a framework for understanding the dynamics of the inner life that drive us to do the things we do and how we engage in relationships. It doesn’t necessarily reflect our outward behaviors as the Myers-Briggs or the DISC assessment does, but rather it dives deep within the recesses of our hearts. It asks questions like: What do you fear? What do you long for? What relational games do you play?
But rather than leaving us boxed in or slapping us with a label, the Enneagram prefers to show us who we are not! It shows us that our personalities are simply masks we’ve taken up from childhood in an effort to survive our world and get our needs met. As it exposes our masks, it beckons us to take them off and come out from hiding. It invites us to reach beyond our type and become the child of God self we are meant to be. It offers hope that we don’t have to stay pigeon-holed in our type. Instead it contains a path for each type toward a fuller way of living and being in the world. This is the unique gift of the Enneagram.
How the Enneagram Works
You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are. So the first step on the Enneagram is to find your type. The Enneagram uses the symbol below to illustrate the typology system. The nine points of the Enneagram correspond to a personality type.
The types have various names depending on who you ask, but consistently maintain the same core components. Each type has their own distinct core fear, core need, and core motivation. I’ve listed the types below with a short description. The next several posts offer resources for finding your type and dive more deeply into each type by featuring interviews with people of each type. I have found that hearing people’s stories illustrate the types much more robustly and bring the type descriptions to life. This has helped me immensely in discerning my type. Below are very brief descriptions of each type. Click on the name of each type for a more in-depth look at each type.
Type 1’s have a need to be good, to be right, or to be perfect. They tend to have a harsh inner critic that drives them and keeps them in line. They can see imperfections and how to make something better. Ones tend to be critical and judgmental, but in the spirit of helping people and the world become the best it can be.
Type 2’s have a need to be needed. They want to help you and they do so with the hope that they will earn your love and appreciation in return. They are the nurturers and caretakers of the world, but they can do so at the expense of their own needs.
Type 3’s have a need to succeed. They want to be the best and are often competitive and concerned about their image. They can be chameleon-like in their ability to adapt and fit in with a group.
Type 4: The Individualist
Type 4’s have a need to be special or unique. They often feel that something within them is defective or missing and so they are often envious of the happiness they see in others. They are often very creative and drawn to deeper, darker feelings.
Type 5: The Investigator
Type 5’s have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. They thrive on having information and knowledge, it helps them to feel more secure in the world. They often have a need to keep people at a distance and will retreat often to be alone.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Type 6’s have a need to feel secure. They often are unconsciously driven by their anxiety. They are extremely loyal as their name implies, but also often have an ambivalence towards people in authority.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Type 7’s have a lust for adventure and pleasure. They are always planning for the next thing. These fun-loving types distract themselves from pain by always chasing the next high.
Type 8: The Challenger
Type 8’s have a need to be against. They are the most assertive, and sometimes aggressive people on the Enneagram. They feel that to be vulnerable is to be weak and they have a need to avoid feeling weak so they make themselves appear to the world as strong.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Type 9’s have a need to avoid. They often detach themselves from the world around to keep an inner balance of peace. They are great mediators and can see all sides of an issue, but rarely know where they themselves stand on an issue.
These are very rudimentary descriptions. But they give you the gist of each type. Some find it easy to identify themselves, but for others it takes a longer process of self-investigation. We all share traits of each type and it’s important to keep in mind that the descriptions describe more of an internal reality than external behaviors. This makes it more difficult for some to identify their type because often factors of socialization cause us to exhibit some behaviors more than others. Because of this, it is also important to refrain from typing others based on what you observe of them. A good rule of thumb for the Enneagram is to allow others to determine their own type. They are the only ones who truly know what’s going on inside of them.
Wings & Arrows — The dynamics of the Enneagram
The wings and arrows along the Enneagram show the dynamics and variations within each type and reflect the complexity of real life. There are also three subtypes within each type, but I will not be getting into the subtypes in this discussion. So the Enneagram does not simply have nine static types, but has multiple layers of variance within each type. These elements enrich the Enneagram with their complexity, reflecting the complexity and uniqueness of who we are as human beings.
As the Enneagram forms a circle, each type has two neighbors, called wings. Therefore, each type has two sub-types that corresponds to the wing that shows up more strongly in their personality. So a type 1’s sub-types are a 1-9 and a 1-2. That is, a 1 with a 9 wing, or a 1 with a 2 wing. Some people might display both wing characteristics equally, but usually one wing shows itself to be more prominent than the other. Wings add dimension and diversity to a personality type.
The Enneagram also shows the dynamic movements that take place within our personality frameworks through the lines connecting the types. The Enneagram illustrates that we aren’t locked into to just one way of being, but we take on characteristics of other types when we are in situations of stress, and situations where we are relaxed and feel secure. The arrows in the following diagram show the direction of movement in stress.
Since I am a type 4, I will use my type as a reference point. As a type 4, when I feel stress in my relationships or my life, I exhibit some of the unhealthy traits of a type 2, shown by the arrow pointing from 4 to 2 on the Enneagram. While I’m normally quite content to be in my own world, if I am stressed, I will draw support from others by offering them help and support like a type 2 would.
The arrows in the next image below show the movements of each type when relaxed and feeling secure. As a type 4, when I’m in this space, I exhibit healthy traits of a type 1. While as a type 4 I normally behave according to my feelings and moods, when relaxed and secure a I will become more objective and value-driven much like a type 1.
How the Enneagram Benefits our Souls & our Life with God
Without self-knowledge we are slaves to our own internal coping mechanisms and determined to keep ourselves entrenched in the same patterns of dysfunction. As we come to know ourselves, particularly through the Enneagram, we come face to face with the deepest part of our being: our fears, longings and motivations. Understanding our type allows us to see the things in ourselves that we’d rather hide, and lead us on a path to growth, healing, and wholeness.
This knowledge of ourselves allows us to bring our full selves to Christ so that he can engage and redeem every part of us. In this way the Enneagram can be helpful to our spiritual lives. It gives us a tool we can use to understand the things that keep us stuck in sin that we can’t even see because we are so entrenched in it.
The Enneagram not only helps us see our sin nature, but shows us a path forward that will lead us on the path that Christ already beckons us. It can act like a guide on the road of spiritual formation. Its insights give us a wisdom that we could not gain on our own. As we examine what the Enneagram reveals to us as we sit in the presence of Christ, we will have the ability to become better lovers of our family and better versions of ourselves.
Finding Your Type
By now I hope I’ve peaked your curiosity enough to want to discover your type. In the next post, I’ll share all of the best resources on getting started with the Enneagram and share the best tests and tips for finding your type. To read it, click here.