The Enneagram is enjoying a resurgence of interest today. What is it about this ancient personality type system that is so helpful – and how could it serve you and those you love in the journey of self-awareness?
What’s In A Number?
The other evening my wife came to me and said, “I’m pretty sure you’re a 4. Maybe a 4 with a 5 wing. Yeah, probably. No, definitely. Definitely a 4 with a 5 wing.” At first, I wasn’t sure what psychedelic mushroom she had eaten to precipitate such mystical speech.
Then I recalled all the years my friends have been telling me their “numbers,” their “wings” – and that the Enneagram is one of the most helpful tools for self-awareness they’ve experienced. Hmmm. I was intrigued.
My reluctance to use the tool myself has had only to do with time, energy, and a general distaste for categories that confine and limit how we ourselves or others. I’m also sensitive to how the journey to self-awareness (central to healthy spirituality and formation) can easily turn toward self-absorption (staring at the mirror in an endless pursuit of self-discovery).
The journey into self-awareness starts in front of a burning bush – not a mirror.
However, after a bit of research and a few tests down the hatch, I believe the Enneagram is far superior to some other ways of understanding our inner motivations than many other tools I’ve experienced to date.
What Is The Enneagram?
First of all, let me say this. The Enneagram is one helpful tool for people wanting to grow in self-awareness and emotional wholeness. Add it to the list of approaches to personality, and stay 10 steps away from deifying it as “the test” to end all tests, and you’ll be fine.
But having said that, the Enneagram is the single most helpful personality approach my wife and I have ever experienced toward our own self-discovery, and self-awareness. It is an incredibly helpful tool with a complex historical origin, yet with an equally compelling impact on the many lives who have learned from it.
I, for one, am incredibly grateful for the tool.
Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile, authors of The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, put this way:
“Ignorance is bliss – except in self-awareness. What you don’t know about yourself can hurt you and your relationships – and even keep you in the shallows with God. Do you want help figuring out who you are and why you’re stuck in the same ruts? The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how human beings are wired, both positively and negatively.”
Richard Rohr, author of The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective explains it further:
“The Enneagram is old. It has roots in several wisdom traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Seven of the nine Enneagram types are associated with the “capital” or “deadly” sins which originated with the Desert Fathers. But it was not until the late 1960s that Oscar Ichazo began teaching the Enneagram as we know it today. From Ichazo’s school in South America, a group of Jesuits learned the system and brought it back with them to the United States. Richard Rohr learned about the Enneagram from this group and was one of the first people to publish a book about it in English.
The Enneagram gained popularity as a tool within spiritual direction. Today it is widely taught as a way of understanding personality, addiction, relationships, and vocation. …The Enneagram is a dynamic system. It was developed primarily in an oral tradition, in the context of relationships between students and teachers. A ‘dynamic system’ is one that recognizes that humans are far too complex and nuanced to fit easily into simple categories; it supports the evolving, maturing human journey.”
How The Enneagram Can Help You
In my view, the Enneagram is one of the most helpful ways of understanding personality – and particularly what motivates us – I’ve experienced to date.
I’ve come to believe it can help anyone who is serious about growing in the kind of self-awareness it takes to live from who God designed you to be, rather than from the accumulated self-protection habits and mechanisms that shroud and confuse our purest identity as a child of God.
“The Enneagram’s real strength is in telling you who you are not – the immature self that must go.”
The Enneagram’s real strength, I found, is in telling you who you are not – the false and immature self that seeks to overtake who God has designed you to be. For that reason alone, I’d do the Enneagram in addition to the Meyers-Briggs (knowing I’m an INFP has sorted out a few marital issues with my ISTJ wife) and other tests like it.
The 9 Enneagram Types
As Ian Cron has helpfully said on The Road Back To You Podcast, that the 9 Enneagram Types listed below are more like “colors” than “categories.”
In other words, there are potentially an infinite number of types of “blue” in the world, and thus there are shades and hues that make each blue quite unique. Calling ourselves “blue” then is a starting point for understanding rather than a confining box.
Here are the 9 Enneagram Types, with the different titles associated with them.
Type 1: The Perfectionist (Cron/Stabile), The Reformer (Rohr)
The Need To Be Perfect (Rohr)
Type 2: The Helper (Cron/Stabile/Rohr)
The Need To Be Needed (Rohr)
Type 3: The Performer (Cron/Stabile), The Achiever (Rohr)
The Need To Succeed (Rohr)
Type 4: The Romantic (Cron/Stabile), The Individualist (Rohr)
The Need To Be Special (Rohr)
Type 5: The Investigator (Cron/Stabile/Rohr)
The Need To Perceive (Rohr)
Type 6: The Loyalist (Cron/Stabile/Rohr)
The Need For Security (Rohr)
Type 7: The Enthusiast (Cron/Stabile/Rohr)
The Need To Avoid Pain (Rohr)
Type 8: The Challenger (Cron/Stabile/Rohr)
The Need To Be Against (Rohr)
Type 9: The Peacemaker (Cron/Stabile/Rohr)
The Need To Avoid (Rohr)
A “wing” is an Enneagram term used to nuance the system to say that no one person is just one of the 9 types, but rather leans toward one of the adjacent types. For example, I’m most probably a 4w5, i.e. a four with a five wing, and so on.
Example – My Own Discoveries As A 4, With a 3 wing and a 5 wing
Before I give a few steps for starting the Enneagram process yourself, I’ll show you a few things I discovered about myself that I’m finding helpful. The nuanced ideas in The Road Back To You give far more helpful details. I’ll note a few of my encouraging revelations below.
I come out as a 4 the more we read and do tests. I’m specifically noting my motivations, and the hard heart work I must do with the Spirit to overcome my most challenging vices.
From The Road Back To You:
“Healthy Fours have a considerable emotional range, and they manage it by not speaking or acting on every feeling they have. They know they don’t have to be special to win God’s unconditional love. These Fours have found a way to live, for the most part, outside the pattern of shame and inferiority. They are deeply creative, emotionally honest and connected, and attuned to beauty.”
From Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation):
4 Role: The Individualist (or The Romantic)
Virtue: Equanimity (appreciating life just as it is)
Basic Desire: To be uniquely themselves
Further Reading: The essence of the 4 is the mystery of our true identity. It feels oceanic, deep, unfathomable, mysterious. 4s live for beauty, intimacy, and depth.
Then, following threads, I came upon a site that seemed helpful while lacking visual credibility, Personality Cafe. This site offered a very helpful listing of qualities of 4s as children. To a word, the page described my entire childhood experience.
Now, having explored the 4 space with which I identify, in the heart (feelings) triad of the Enneagram, I add my “wings” to get to know my responses to life and feelings even better.
Wing 3: The Performer (Cron/Stabile), The Achiever (Rohr)
The Need To Succeed (Rohr)
Wing 5: The Investigator (Cron/Stabile/Rohr)
The Need To Perceive (Rohr)
Here, I see my tendency to like stages, and my tendency to be heady in my approach to life and learning.
What Enneagram Number Are You?
If you already know your Enneagram Type, let me know what it is in the comments below. I’m fascinated by what others have discovered about themselves. If you haven’t explored the Enneagram and want to use it to enter into greater self-awareness, I would encourage you to consider the following steps.
- STEP 1: Read The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery to familiarize yourself with the Enneagram.
- STEP 2: Do a basic, free online test (but it may not be exact), either here (Ian Cron) or here (a little more detailed one a friend referenced). (Or, you can do a $12 paid test at The Enneagram Institute).
- STEP 3: Discuss your perceived type with someone who knows you very well to help you tweak what you’ve learned so far.
You may want to consider doing a seminar or hosting one in your church. Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile do them, and they can be found here.
Also, you can receive a daily Enneagram thought for the day from The Enneagram Institute – sign up here.
I’d love to hear what Enneagram type you are, and how the test has served you as you grow in your self-awareness.
As Augustine said, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know Thee.”
Question: What Enneagram number are you, and how has the system helped you in your journey?
The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey To Self-Discovery
Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile
This approach to the Enneagram is clear, concise, and enjoyable to read. My wife and I are using this as a personal study to help us better understand ourselves and our children.