What is the Enneagram?
You keep hearing the word “Enneagram” and wonder if you should check it out. Then maybe all the Instagram memes might make some sense, right?
But what the hell is the Enneagram?
A new social app? A demonic symbol? A religion?
Nope, nope, and nope.
The Enneagram is geometry used to make sense of all processes and universal laws. The concept is thousands of years old with roots in mysticism, Sufism, and esoteric Christianity. The symbol possibly even dates back to the mysteries of ancient Egypt, according to some anecdotes about Armenian philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff.
But since the 70s, thanks to a couple of brilliant psychotherapists, people have been insanely interested in applying the Enneagram to the typology of personality.
And so, it’s likely that if your friend is talking about the Enneagram they are referring to it as a map of the human psyche—a process of personality.
Why a map?
Let’s think about the Enneagram like a prism, separating out nine different perspectives on reality. When light enters a prism, it looks unified and whole, but once the light passes through a prism, it looks as if it’s separated out into various waves (which create color).
When we enter the world as cute little plump babies, we recognize ourselves as part of a unified experience (like white light). Babies literally think we and our mothers are one and the same and it takes months for us to even learn that we’re in separate bodies.
And so it’s part of our human experience that during childhood things happen—real or experienced traumas—that take us from experiencing oneness to separateness (like the waves). And in that process, personality forms.
It’s the disposition we enter the world with and our early life experiences that will determine the lens through which we’ll see everything.
Experts are pretty clear that after about 7 years old our personality type is set and never changes. But how we experience our type, how conscious of our fixations we are, and how we befriend our type to grow beyond it—those can change.
The human experience is calling us back to metaphorically integrate again with that cohesive white light as if it never went through the prism. Even though we see ourselves as color waves, the goal is to understand our oneness in the whole light. But, how do we do that?
A map becomes pretty helpful at this point. We can’t go back and change our childhood development to avoid separation. But we can navigate our type with the Enneagram and grow in and through our type. This is called integration.
What’s my Enneagram type?
You probably want me to point you towards some quick online test so you can find out right now what your Enneagram type is, but I’m not actually going to do that. Sorry ’bout your luck.
Online tests are only a starting point. They can give you an idea of which type you might be, depending on your current mood, the environment you’re answering questions in, and what life stage you’re currently living through.
But to actually discover your Enneagram type, the best path to take is to learn about all of the types and then type yourself.
You can also work with Enneagram experts who know what’s up and are trained in giving Typing Interviews, which are 60 to 90 minutes long to dig deep into your core motivations and lived experience. In my opinion, this is the best way to get to the heart of your personality type.
But just for funsies, let’s do a quick overview of each of the nine Enneagram types:
Eights value strength and power. They’re comfortable with confrontation and readily access anger — in both negative and positive ways. This type has a noticeable energy about them that fills up the room. An Eight will focus their attention on the big picture to create order from disorder. They’re justice warriors—protecting others and working towards making things right. They’re the mama bears of the world.
Nines feel motivated to reduce conflict and create harmony. Although Nines are body types, they tend to be out of touch with their own anger and can ignore their own wants and needs in favor of getting along with others, but not really in a longsuffering sort of way. They may not always know what they want, but a Nine can usually tell you what they don’t want right away. They’re nature-lovers and experts at living the Hygge life.
Ethical, responsible, and quality-oriented. Ones see the world in terms of what can be improved and perfected. They’re honest, reliable, and hardworking. Ones have high standards for themselves and others. They may often have an “inner critic” and fear being judged. They’re big on process, order, and structure.
Twos find comfort in being valued and needed by others. They sometimes experience a lack of getting what they need early in life, and so adopt an unconscious strategy of being supportive of others as a way of inducing reciprocal support from others. They’re sensitive to criticism and empathize easily. Twos embody anima energy, which is so necessary in today’s world—across the gender spectrum.
Threes tend to focus on goals, achievement, and cultural ideals of success. They can get caught up in doing instead of being—and at the expense of feeling. Threes are the workaholics of the world, but they’re also incredibly driven leaders. Threes are considered to be naturally competitive and focused on how others perceive them, but deep down that’s a quest for love and acceptance.
Naturally artistic and emotionally intuitive, Fours are drawn to doing work that has meaning and purpose. Fours are comfortable with paradox, have creative vision, and connect with others heart-to-heart. They often sense what’s happening on a deeper level than most. Fours value depth and the genuine expression of feeling, but can sometimes get caught up in longing or melancholy.
Fives tend to be introverted and shy, but they’re often incredible researchers and excel in academics or expertise in their field. They’re possibly the least emotionally expressive of all types. Fives go through life with a sense that their energy and time are limited, so they’re cognizant of others’ demands that may drain them of resources.
Sixes focus their attention around concepts of authority—both because they want trusted authorities in their lives, but also because they’re skeptical of authority too. They can be pretty contrarian in their thinking. Sixes spend their brain-power on detecting threats to their safety and they prepare for possible dangerous situations. Due to their self-deprecating nature, they’re often the funniest people in the room.
Sevens are the life of the party. They’re energetic, positive, and fast-paced. Sevens like to have many options available to them and they usually have an exit plan handy. Sevens try to avoid uncomfortable feelings by rationalizing and reframing negatives into positives. These are the multi-passionate people of the world.
Where to go next…
If you’re thinking this quick overview isn’t possibly enough information, you’re right! Here are some of my favorite resources:
- The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut is pretty much the Enneagram Bible.
- goconscious.com is an excellent resource for Enneagram knowledge.
- A quick easy introduction to the Enneagram is The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile. Just keep in mind that this is a Christian perspective.
- My 2019 Enneagram Gift Guide includes helpful tidbits about each type.
If you want to dig even further, let’s do a Typing Interview to hone in on your type and your unique inner flow map.