If we’ve ever met in person, there is a strong chance that I have brought up the Enneagram in conversation. It is one of my favorite things to study and discuss.
The Enneagram has become very popular over the last several years, so I’m assuming that you have probably heard of it. If you haven’t, though, I like to think of it as a tool for personal growth and for empathy. Some call it a personality test, but it doesn’t focus so much on your behaviors and tendencies. Instead, the Enneagram helps each person identify their core motivations.
There are 9 Enneagram types, and the best way to determine your type is to read and learn about all of the types. This way, you can get a good sense of which types there are and then choose the one that describes you best. You determine your Enneagram type because you are the only one who knows your true motivations.
Notice I said one—that’s right, you can only be one! The idea is that we all have one persistent motivation driving our decisions that remains consistent throughout our lifetime.
You can also take a quiz if you’re short on time or if that is helpful for you. I like this one from Your Enneagram Coach. She teaches the Enneagram from a gospel-centered perspective, and I especially like the quiz because it narrows down to your two most prominent types at the end and has you choose between them.
I will say that the very first time I took a quiz, I scored highest on a number that was not my Enneagram type. I ended up being my 2nd or 3rd highest score. With that being said, I would use a quiz to help narrow down your type, but it’s still a good idea to read up on at least the few you’ve scored highly in.
Anyway! See? I just went right into teaching mode. I love this stuff.
I want to tell a little bit about why I think this tool is so beneficial and distinct from personality tests or other methods of personal growth.
1) It describes each type at their best and at their worst.
There are people out there who don’t like personality tests or personal growth tools. I am not one of those people. I’ve always loved learning about why people are the way that they are.
One of the most common criticisms I hear about personality assessments is something like this: People use personality tests to explain away their behavior. They say, “Oh, I’m a _____ so I can’t help it” when they’ve been rude, selfish, etc.
I can appreciate this reasoning. If the Enneagram is used correctly, however, I think it provides a way of avoiding this issue. On The Enneagram Institute’s website and in many other resources, each type is described from their unhealthiest state to their best and healthiest state. The Enneagram does not shy away from pinpointing the downfalls of each type that could lead to hurting others or themselves.
Leaning more toward the negative aspects of each type could lead to decreased satisfaction for the individual and for their relationships. Leaning into their positive motivations, however, helps them operate at their best.
Basically, I like that the Enneagram doesn’t give an easy out and points each person toward the healthiest version of themselves.
2) Even though each person has one type, there are several nuances that allow for further understanding.
Without getting into the weeds too much, there are seemingly endless aspects of the Enneagram to learn about.
For example, each type can have a “wing” type as well. Your wing can be either type next to your number. I am a 4 which means I could have either a 3 wing or a 5 wing. I am personally a 4 wing 5, which means that while I only have one type (4) I also have some characteristics of one of the types next to mine (5).
Another nuance I think is interesting is that each type takes on characteristics of another type when they are in growth or in stress. Using my type as an example again, 4s take on characteristics of a 1 in growth and characteristics of a 2 in stress.
So far, we’ve covered that I am a type 4. But I also have characteristics of a type 5. When I’m doing well and growing, I take on traits of a 1. When I am not doing well, I start to act like the unhealthy parts of a 2.
Without knowing the types, that means nothing of course. I spell it out in that way because I think it shows how, even though you have one primary type, you are not boxed into just one motivation or one set of characteristics.
3) Each core motivation doesn’t necessarily gravitate toward the same behaviors, thoughts, and habits.
With other personality systems and tools, the primary focus is on behavior and thought patterns.
Are you friendly or reserved? Upbeat or melancholy? Detail-oriented or go-with-the-flow?
Even though each type does usually gravitate toward a similar personality style, an individual can have the same type as someone else but have a distinct personality. Two people with the same core motivations could very well act differently.
Again, I think this is another way that the Enneagram does not end up boxing a personality in as much as other tools.
4) For believers, it can be used to discover how to best serve the Body of Christ.
I used to think that becoming more like Jesus meant becoming “better” in every aspect of my personality. I felt like it wasn’t enough to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, and the other fruits of the spirit. It seemed like, in order to truly serve God well, I needed to change my personality.
Over the course of the last few years, however, I learned that the aspects of my personality that seem burdensome are actually gifts to be used for God’s glory. Becoming more like Jesus meant using what I’ve got for the good of others and for His glory more and more.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Romans 12:4-5 (ESV)
The Enneagram helped me determine which “member” I am. I now have a better understanding of how I can personally serve others and serve God. I do not have to serve the same function as the person next to me, and that’s okay.
5) It makes it easy to learn about and understand others.
I described the Enneagram as a tool for empathy earlier.
If we take the time to learn about each type, we learn about the motivations behind behavior. Behaviors that once rubbed us the wrong way can be understood in a new light.
We aren’t just reading a personality trait profile and moving on while thinking, “Yeah, this is the type of person I have an impossible time getting along with.”
We’re studying their core motivations instead. Their healthiest and unhealthiest states. Their mindsets in growth and in stress.
Once you’ve spent time (really spent time) reading about all of those things, it becomes much easier to see where others are coming from. I’ll admit that I have had a change of heart toward a couple of types that I previously did not naturally get along with.
It can be humbling, and it also is another way in which we can walk in the way of Jesus.
All in all, I think that the Enneagram is an incredible tool. I am currently an amateur expert but hope to one day become a certified coach. When I work as a marriage and family counselor, I plan to use it to help couples understand one another more fully.
In the meantime, I’m mostly just reading up on it for fun and talking about it with my friends. This past fall, my dad asked me to teach an Enneagram session for him and his coworkers, and that was my first “Enneagram gig.” It was a great time, and it makes me look forward to how I will get to continue using it in the future.
What is your Enneagram type? What are your thoughts on this tool? I’d love to hear in the comments below!