"H ave you heard about the Enneagram?" Nearly every conversation I have had lately has started this way. I would like to take a moment to formally apologize to all of those that came into contact with me during my Enneagram exploration/obsession month(s). I am sure that you did not expect my probing, soul-searching questions when I bumped into you at the grocery store or picked up my coffee through the drive-thru (I kid). My fascination with personality, personality tests, and typing began when I was a preteen, which is one of the main reasons that I decided to get my degree in psychology. Though I am a decently self-aware person (or so I thought), I have sometimes had a hard time "finding myself" in some of the personality typing systems. I have taken all of the tests. No other personality system has ever lead to more practical, applicable growth in my life than the Enneagram. It seems appropriate to start this journey of Exploring Unboring by being a lifelong learner of myself. The Enneagram has given me a vocabulary with which to communicate my inner world and grow as an individual and in my relationships.
Now, the Enneagram is not the Rosetta Stone, which can be used to understand how our traits and quirks fit together to give us a personality. It is a tool and a starting point on a journey to greater self-knowledge, growth, and greater compassion towards others. A central purpose of the Enneagram is to deepen self-awareness and use that to grow beyond our "morning programming." When we were young children, due to numerous factors, both environmental and inherited, we developed specific behaviors, feelings, and patterns of thought to help us survive and get our basic needs met. We had to "amputate" parts of ourselves to fit into our family and survive. As adults, when we fall asleep to ourselves (or go into autopilot), we fall back to these patterns that we developed as children. The Enneagram can help point out our blind spots and show us proven paths for growth. After you find "your number," that is just the beginning. We are not meant to identify with our type forever. As Fr. Richard Rohr explains, the Enneagram does not put us into a box, but shows us from which box to escape. It confronts us with the habitual behaviors under which we live, usually without being aware of them, and invites us to grow beyond them. All nine types are in need of redemption from their own box, and all nine types have unique gifts which only they can fully bring to their community once they break out of their box. The Enneagram invites transformation.
The Enneagram types are understood by looking at basic fears, childhood wounds, key motivations, vice, and virtue. To find your Enneagram type, you must be self-aware enough to understand and tease apart the motivations behind your behavior. For this reason, taking a test is usually insufficient for typing. It is also very difficult to type other people. In fact, in the Enneagram world, it is quite taboo to tell someone their type. It is very possible for two people to behave the same way with very different underlying motivations. Typing is deeply personal and is best done alone through introspection and researching all of the types.
My only beef with the Enneagram is in the way that it is often presented to people the first time. Each archetype comes with some stereotypes and caricatures (some more unflattering than others). In my opinion, this leads to mistyping and confusion. Mistyping is a problem if you are using the Enneagram correctly, because it will give you the wrong starting point on your journey of growth. This can be very confusing. My goal here is to present the nine types in a straightforward way that makes them all appear equal because they are all equal. There is not one that is better than another. Everyone is capable of greatness, intelligence, love, creativity, and happiness.
At first glance, the Enneagram diagram looks a little cultish and strange, don't worry, this isn't witchcraft. The diagram provides a wealth of information about the types. The numbers are arranged around the outside of a circle with lines intersecting within to connect types (more on this later). It is not apparent in the diagram, but the numbers are grouped into triads of intelligence centers. The body center types include 8, 9, and 1. The heart center types include 2, 3, and 4. The head center includes types 5, 6, and 7.
Each of the intelligence centers shares a common motivation, fear, and feeling. Much of the following information about the triads comes from Beatrice Chestnut's, The Complete Enneagram. (Highly recommend this book!)
The three types at the top of the enneagram belong to the "self-forgetting" triad. The body types habitually "forget themselves" regarding their needs and vulnerabilities. Each of these three types is shaped at a basic level by their relationship with anger and control. Eights have easy access to their anger and overdo anger. Eights forget to rest and relax. The Nine has the tendency to underplay anger by quietly and passively resisting control. Nines forget their priorities, preferences, and opinions. The One is in conflict with their anger. Ones follow strict adherence to the rules and always strive to do things the "right" way. Ones forget to play and enjoy simple pleasures.
All of the heart types have core issues related to the unmet need to be seen, accepted, and loved for who they are. The heart types each unconsciously disown their true self to craft a new image. Twos, Threes, and Fours have distinct coping strategies designed to gain approval from other people as a substitute for the love that they seek but fear they can't get as they are. Twos become helpers; Threes become successful; Fours become creative individualists.
Each of the head types had an early experience of fear, which shaped their personality. Fives, Sixes, and Sevens primarily process information from the outside world through thinking and analyzing data from the environment. Fives become withdrawn to protect from fear. Sixes become vigilant, wary, suspicious, and strategic in the face of fear. Sevens overcompensate with the search for stimulating and pleasurable experiences.
Now, let's look at lines of the Enneagram. Typically referred to as lines of integration and disintegration, the lines show the movement of our type in times of growth or stress. Many sources propose that we can take on positive or negative qualities from each of the connecting numbers, which is what I tend to agree with. When trying to find your type, it is very beneficial to take into account the connection lines to see if you can relate to "growing" or "stressing" to look like those types.
Each type pulls qualities from the numbers directly beside it, but typically you will have one side that is much stronger or that you relate to almost as much as your core type. A wing adds a lot of color and flavor to the core type and gives much more information. Carefully consider the numbers on either side when you are typing yourself. Ultimately, each number connects to four other numbers. The fact that there is so much movement, complexity, and diversity possible for each type is one of the reasons I love the Enneagram. Two people of the same core type can look very different depending on their wings, state of growth, stress, or health.
Is your head spinning yet? I know this is a lot of information, but now let's dive into the type descriptions.Head on over to Part 2 to learn about the numbers!
Let go of who you think you are supposed to be and be who you are. - Brene Brown