Humans are confusing. I’m confusing. You’re confusing. We’re this vast network of cells and bones and fears and desires and it can be beautiful and frustrating all at the same time. That’s why I think figuring out your personality can be a helpful tool when navigating the world.
If you are wondering, "What is the Enneagram?" then this deep dive into the Enneagram will help you understand the liberating power of this personality typing system. The Enneagram theorizes that there are 9 different personality types in the world and that each type has underlying motivations that drive them.
Nobody really knows where the Enneagram came from. (We do know it's definitely older than the bag of spinach that’s been in the back of my fridge forever.) Some say the Christian monk Evagrius created the Seven Deadly Sins which later stemmed into the core weaknesses of each Enneagram type. Others look to the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Fourth Century. Unlike personality typing systems like MBTI which has a clear origin story, the Enneagram’s history is complex and varied.
Enneagram teacher Tyler Zach notes, “The first mention of the Enneagram was by Russian Philosopher P. D. Ouspensky, who attributed it to his teacher Greek American Philosopher Georges I. Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff considered the Enneagram a symbol of the cosmos (oneness) but made no connection with it to personality types. It's been said that he learned the Enneagram from a group of Sufis (Muslim mystics) he encountered.”
The first person to connect the Enneagram to personality types was Óscar Ichazo. Bolivian-born Ichazo taught his theories to student Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychiatrist. Naranjo brought those teachings to America in the 1960s, the first to connect the Enneagram to nine distinct personality types.
It was Naranjo who introduced the Enneagram to Catholic Jesuit priest, Father Robert Ochs who began teaching the concepts at the Jesuit School of Theology. One of his students, Franciscan Richard Rohr, heard the Enneagram teachings and felt “something like scales fall from my eyes” in one of the three greatest spiritual experiences of his life.
Many psychologists, pastors, priests, and educators adopted the Enneagram and added their own teachings and meaning to the system. At the end of the day, the Enneagram is an amalgamation of many different people, beliefs, and studies who have all felt the life-changing power of this tool and decided to share it with others.
What is the point of the Enneagram? One mistake that sometimes happens when discovering the Enneagram is using it to judge others. I get it; it’s tempting to use what you’ve learned as a weapon.
“Oh, she’s just a competitive 3.”
“Ugh, I hate when 2s stick their nose in other people’s business.”
Instead, I encourage you to use the Enneagram as a helpful tool to understand yourself in a deeper way. Think of it as a personal guide to your heart.
Why does the Enneagram use a pagan-looking symbol? The way that the Enneagram is visualized is through a nine-pointed geometric symbol. The Greek origins of the word Enneagram is: Ennea means 9 and Grammos means something that is drawn or written. There are 9 types around the circle.
You’ll notice that each number is connected to two others by lines across the circle. This is important! These lines indicate a relationship with other numbers on the Enneagram. This is something I love about the Enneagram: our personalities are not set in stone. They’re fluid! Though our core number stays the same, meaning you still have the same core motivations, you can access the traits of the types you’re connected to depending on whether you’re in stress or in growth.
For example, an Enneagram 4 moves towards the traits of an average to unhealthy Type 2 when they’re feeling stressed. They can become codependent and possessive in relationships. On the other hand, when they’re in alignment, an Enneagram 4 moves along the lines towards the healthy side of a Type 1! They will become more balanced and grounded, with a better focus on their day to day tasks.
I also want to note that there's two more paths your Enneagram number can take along those lines and that's the blind spot path and the converging path. The blind spot is where you go in stress when you're around people that you feel super comfortable with, like your childhood best friend or your spouse. The converging path is where you go in growth when you're accessing the healthiest qualities of all your connecting numbers. Basically, it’s where you go when you're killing it.
So you may be wondering, what makes the Enneagram different from all the other personality assessments out there? Well, the Enneagram focuses less on external behavioral outcomes and more on internal motivations. For example, if you’re weeping uncontrollably after dropping your lovingly-made lasagna on the kitchen floor, you could use the Enneagram to ask, “Why am I feeling this devastated?” Now, I bet a big reason was that the lasagna was delicious, but it could also be linked to your desire to be loved and appreciated or your fear of being incompetent. By looking at your core fear, desire, weakness, and longing, the Enneagram helps uncover what drives you to think, feel, and behave the way you do.
Each type employs their strengths and skills to fulfill their inner desires while also trying their best to avoid their core fears and hide their weaknesses. So I’m going to briefly take you through the 9 different personality types so that you can get a better idea of which type you might be. This is not a comprehensive view of each number so I encourage you to dive deeper into the types that resonate most with you.
The basic desire of the Enneagram Type 1 is to have integrity and to be good. They strive for perfection in all things and are afraid of making a mistake because they have this strict inner critic telling them they need to do better. 1s are ethical and conscientious people who approach the world saying: “Things must be improved, and I can improve them!” That’s why their core fear is being wrong or evil. Their core weakness is resentment, meaning their dissatisfaction with the world can lead to simmering anger towards themselves and others.
Type 2s approach life with a core desire to be loved, wanted, and appreciated with a core fear of being rejected. They are thoughtful and generous people with an eerily accurate way of guessing what your needs might be. When they are feeling stressed, Type 2s can struggle with being overly people-pleasing, ignoring their own needs in exchange for others. Their core weakness is pride which I know sounds crazy because 2s seem so selfless! But the pride of the 2 comes into play when they believe that others are more needy than they are and that they alone know what's best. Twos struggle with believing that they are enough just the way they are.
Type 3s are motivated by the desire to be admired and successful. Because of this, they value productivity and efficiency. They go after goals with a drive akin to your dog jumping in a mud puddle right after a bath. (I get it. Puddles are fun.) When Type 3s are not doing well, they can be impatient and frustrated.. An unhealthy 3 will also have trouble processing and discussing what's going on emotionally. But they won’t show you that. Oh no. Because a 3s core weakness is deceit. This means they will hide their true self for the world, while performing the song and dance that they are happy, successful, and admirable. An Enneagram 3's core longing is the thing they have been striving to hear their entire life. Somewhere along the way, when they were a child, they received the message that they are only worthy of love based on their achievements.
Type 4s approach life creatively with a core desire of being unique and authentic. They value the ability to connect on deeper levels and have the unique ability to see beauty in the world. Discovering and staying true to their self-expression and identity is extremely important to a 4. This is why their core fear- being insignificant and fundamentally flawed- is so scary to a Type 4. They don’t want to fade from the world having left no impact. A Type 4s core weakness is envy. They constantly desire others who have a better house, a cooler job, a happier family. This envy, paired with the feeling that they are inherently flawed, makes 4s go on a never-ending quest to fill the missing piece in themselves.
Type 5s desire to be knowledgeable and competent. They have an insatiable thirst for learning that stems from their core fear of being ignorant. That’s why they spend so much time and energy collecting knowledge and making sure they are self-sufficient! This ties back to their core fear which is being afraid that they will be thought incapable or ignorant. Their core weakness is avarice meaning they struggle with believing that they have enough inner resources to take on the outside world. So they tend to hoard their energy like a dragon hoards treasure.
As the Loyalist, Type 6s are responsible, methodical, and faithful people. They are the people still using Grandma’s old recipes because “it’s tradition!” Their core desire is to have security and guidance in their life. Their core fear is actually feeling fear itself. They fear that being without support or guidance will completely destroy their wellbeing. 6s are labeled the Loyalist because they excel at supporting others. But most of the time, the one person that the Six is not supporting is themselves. They don’t trust themselves, they don’t believe in themselves, they think poorly of themselves. This ties into their core weakness which is anxiety. When they are met with stressful challenges, 6s can feel incredibly anxious as they anticipate possible worst-case scenarios.
Type 7s, The Enthusiast, desire to be fully satisfied and happy. In their pursuit of this, they jump from one fun experience to the next in the hopes that they will finally feel content. They tend to be joyful people with the ability to lift others up. The biggest fear of a 7 is being deprived and in pain so 7s avoid boredom at all costs because it can cause them to look deeper into uncomfortable feelings that they don’t want to deal with.
Type 8s desire to protect themselves and their loved ones. They may come off as a fierce warrior at first, but get to know them, and you’ll find that they have the biggest heart of anyone you’ll ever meet. The core fear of an 8 is to be weak, powerless, or manipulated. This means that, in relationships, they often cover up their weaknesses so nothing can be used against them. When a Type 8 is in peak form, however, they are decisive advocates for justice.
Enneagram Type 9s, The Peacemaker, desire to have inner stability and peace of mind. Type 9s have the unique ability to bring people with different perspectives and worldviews together. The core fear of enneagram 9 is being in conflict and losing connection with others. The core weakness of a 9 is sloth, but that does not mean lazy. It means that they are falling asleep to their passions and feel overwhelmed by the energy needed for them to exist in the world.
After you figure out your main type, you can find what your distinct type flavoring is by looking at your wings.
So what's a wing? Basically, your number has a relationship with the two numbers that are by your side. So if you're a type 3, your wing options are Type 2 and Type 4.
When you figure out your wing, this means that you tend to lean more heavily towards that wing number, but the characteristics of both your wings are easily accessible to you. Everyone uses their wings differently depending on their level of health and their circumstances.
Within the Enneagram, there are also things called triads and stances. These are groupings of Enneagram numbers that have core things in common like how they process feelings or how their first relationships in life form the expectations of their adult relationships.
The triads within the Enneagram are The Interpersonal Coping Styles. These include:
How has the Enneagram improved my life? When I first discovered my Enneagram number (for the record, I'm an Enneagram 3w4), so many confusing things about my life started to make sense.
Richard Rohr describes his first time learning about his Enneagram type, “It was one of the three great overwhelming spiritual experiences of my life. I could literally feel how something like scales fell from my eyes.”
Suddenly things about my life clicked into place. For example, I have always felt this insane drive to make my parents proud of me through my accomplishments. Sure, lots of people want their parents to be proud of them, but, for me, that desire had very high stakes. “If they're not proud of me, if I don't succeed, I am nothing!” And it wasn't just my parents. In college, I was extremely and embarrassingly competitive and this often came out in frankly ugly personality traits. When I read the core motivations of a Type 3, I was like "Ohhhhhhh. Yeah. That's me." And it made me feel less alone to look at my driving motivations and to be able to get some perspective on what it means to be a Type 3 who is growing to a more healthy place.
Relationally, the Enneagram has helped me and my family to understand each other better. And my husband and I use it often as a tool for better communication!
First and foremost, when you're trying to discover your main Enneagram number, it's best to just learn about the Enneagram. Read about all the numbers and see which ones resonate with you.
After that, take an online test! These are not 100% effective and are best used as a loose guideline of which numbers you might be. I recommend the Truity quiz but there are many others out there as well.
Next, look at your interpersonal coping style or stances. The three coping styles are Assertive, Dutiful, and Withdrawn. They show us how people get their needs met by others. As an Enneagram coach, I find narrowing down your coping style really helps my clients discover their true type.
So take a look at the three stances and ask yourself, "When I want something, do I move against others, towards others, or away from others?"
I have a free typing guide you can sign up for here. In this guide, I will show you a simple 5-Step Process to finding your Enneagram type, as well as the ins and outs of my favorite online Enneagram tests. Plus, you'll gain access to a weekly newsletter with all the Enneagram secrets and tools that will help you along your journey.
I hope that in your journey with the Enneagram, you're empowered to go deeper in understanding what makes you you! Truly understanding your main desire, longing, and fear can help you navigate life with a clearer understanding of why you do the things that you do.