“What’s your number?”
People, for the most part, like to talk about themselves and what they’re learning.
If you’ve been to a party, corporate retreat, Bible study, or group hangout over the past year or so, odds are pretty good you’ve heard someone talking about the Enneagram, even if you didn’t know what they were talking about.
I briefly touched on the Enneagram and how it affected my marriage in my second year-in-review marriage post. Since then, I’ve had several people tell me that was their first exposure to the Enneagram, and they wanted to know where they could learn more about it.
This post was born out of those conversations. I wanted to create a handy resource for Enneagram first-timers and a place for Enneagram veterans to send first-timers. It includes a Q&A-style introduction to the Enneagram, brief descriptions of each Type and the associated healthy/unhealthy behaviors, and some Other Stuff. At the end of the post, I’ve also included some resources I’ve found helpful.
I hope to see you along on the journey!
The Basics: Q&A
So, what is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a personality typology constructed around nine “Types” that encourages personal development, spiritual growth, and relational capacity.
In The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron writes,
“The Enneagram teaches that there are nine different personality styles in the world, one of which we naturally gravitate toward and adopt in childhood to cope and feel safe.”
The nine Types are conveniently labeled as a number (1 – 9), and each Type features their own unique strengths, weakness, constraints, and contributions. More of a framework than a rigid set of rules, the Enneagram hinges on the idea that your greatest virtues are also your greatest vices.
What makes the Enneagram any different from any other personality typologies (like the Meyers-Briggs)?
While other personality typologies begin and end with you, the Enneagram is all about how you interact with the world and how the world interacts with you.
Like a compass pointing true north, learning your Type is supposed to give you a starting place from which to understand your innate strengths and weaknesses. Your Type is not the end of the journey. It’s the first step.
However, along the way, you’re going to have to confront the darkest and messiest parts of your personality.
The Enneagram wasn’t designed to be reduced to a BuzzFeed-like quiz sprinkled with pop psychology and feel-good vibes. If you start playing with Enneagram for any amount of time, you’ll probably start to feel pretty uncomfortable.
And that’s a good thing.
Is the Enneagram Christian?
This is a very common question with a very complicated answer.
The Christian roots of the Enneagram are extremely suspect. Some Christians have tried to link the Enneagram to the practices of a nomadic sect in the 4th Century. But there’s just as much evidence (which, in this case, means “very little”) connecting to it Sufism and Judaism.
However, the Enneagram as we currently know it didn’t arrive onto the scene until the 1970s when two Chilean psychiatrists introduced it to a Catholic Jesuit priest in California.
The reason the Enneagram has taken root in some (primarily progressive) Christian communities is the emphasis on self-awareness and the redemption of unhealthy behaviors. Therefore, the Enneagram is a very practical resource for discipleship and counseling, while also providing a tool to decipher your role within a spiritual community.
People who aren’t Christian shouldn’t be put off by the spiritual components of the Enneagram. After all, we’re all spiritual and are born with an innate desire to connect with and/or seek value from something outside of ourselves (whatever that may be for you).
How Do I Find My Type?
There are a number of free online Enneagram quizzes available online. However, not all online personality quizzes are created equal. If you’re a first-timer, I highly recommend the assessment available at Your Enneagram Coach (free) or the RHETI at The Enneagram Institute ($12).
But, it’s important to not let a single result of an online quiz determine your Enneagram journey.
We tend to fill out personality quizzes based on who we want to be or how we view ourselves. Whether you have an over-inflated ego or a poor sense of self-worth, we tend to be terrible judges of our own strengths and weaknesses.
With that in mind, here’s my recommendation for figuring out your Type:
- Read the descriptions for each of the nine Types, focusing more on the unhealthy behaviors (what behaviors are you often called out on/create more problems in your life?) than the healthy behaviors. Ask yourself which descriptors sting the worst.
- Keep in my mind that Enneagram Types are determined more by motivation than they are by outward behaviors (Why do you do what you do?).
- Take an online quiz. Hold the results loosely. Read about the various characteristics of the resultant Type.
- Talk to friends and family members who will answer you honestly. Ask them if they recognize any of the healthy/unhealthy behaviors of Type in you. This is very important. You need people in your life who will shoot your straight and cut through the BS.
- Begin to orientate your life around the healthy behaviors of your Type while being aware of the unhealthy behaviors.
Sometimes people choose a Type because they value the traits of the Type. This is not the same as finding your Type. Be wary of self-deception. It does no good to fool yourself into a Type – you’ll set off on the journey toward self-improvement from the wrong perspective.
What is one thing I should definitely know about Enneagram?
Don’t let your Type define who you are. I know this sounds extremely counter-intuitive, given that the Enneagram is a personality typology. But, for real, some people take the Enneagram way too seriously.
At the end of the day, it’s a loose framework for understanding yourself and how you interact with the people around you. It’s not behavioral science. It’s not accredited psychology. And it’s not about putting you (or others) in a box or placing limits on what type of person you can become.
As one of my friends put it, “If each Type is a color, then there is an unlimited amount of color variations within each Type.” Also, if you really need help, a podcast or book about the Enneagram is no substitute for counseling or therapy.
The Enneagram is a tool and, like any tool, it can be misused and abused. And, under no circumstance, should the Enneagram be weaponized to disregard, dismiss, or discriminate against other Types.
One of the most attractive elements of the Enneagram is that each Type encompasses both healthy and unhealthy behaviors.
And this is important because while other personality typologies focus almost exclusively on motive and outward behavior, the Enneagram is just as much as concerned with the perception of motive and behavior.
Ugh, you may be thinking. So, I have to worry about what other people think about me?
Well, kind of.
Humans are masters of self-deception. And we’re also social animals (even the most introverted among us). Therefore, it’s vital for you to work through the Enneagram with people you trust to give you honest feedback.
For example, you may think you’re exhibiting the healthy behaviors of your Type, but it’s actually being perceived as unhealthy behavior by the people around you.
*Note: Don’t get freaked out by the unhealthy behaviors listed for each Type. No one is completely healthy or completely unhealthy. You are not fixed on any one spectrum – different circumstances can trigger different behaviors at any time. Also, everyone is capable of generating the healthy and unhealthy behaviors of each Type.
So, without further adieu, here’s a brief description of each Type and their associated healthy/unhealthy behaviors:
One: The Reformer
Sometimes referred to as “The Perfectionist,” Ones are driven by their strong moral compass and values. They believe there is a way the world should be and they’re the ones who are going to help get it there. Ones are advocates for change, but that change is rooted in their morality. Detail-oriented, there isn’t much that escapes their attention and they think a lot about the potential consequences of their actions. However, their desire for perfection sometimes comes at a debilitating personal cost.
Healthy Behaviors: Gifted in discernment; “Moral centers” in their communities; Strong personal convictions; Fair and objective in their assessments; High sense of personal integrity; Self-disciplined; Value truth, excellence, and balance in life and work.
Unhealthy Behavior: Overtly critical and judgemental; Failure to understand why other people don’t “get it;” Rigid, puritanical values; Moralizing; Self-righteous with an absolute mindset; Internalizes anger and manifests stress and frustration; Can become obsessed with imperfections; Minimizes personal moral failures while maximizing moral failures of others.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Ones gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Fours. When they feel safe, they adopt the healthy behaviors of Sevens.
Two: The Helper
More than anything, Twos want to give love and feel loved in return. Twos are the kinds of people who will drop everything and rush to your side if you’re sick or going through a rough patch. They are the epitome of the word “hospitality.” Twos are the least judgemental of the Types, and will strive to create safe and welcoming places to people of all backgrounds. However, unhealthy Twos can overextend themselves and feel useless if they have no one to “fix.”
Healthy Behaviors: Great listener; Incredibly generous; Very tolerant and gracious; Empathetic; Motivated by a desire to serve; Paragons of humility and self-sacrifice; Calming presence; Receptive to the needs of others; Emphasizes authentic expressions of friendship and romantic love.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Prone to unhealthy co-dependent relationships; Difficulty saying no; Prone to emotional burnout; Possessiveness; Ignores self-care; Intrusive and overly intimate; Motivation for help comes from a need for validation; Values being perceived as helpful over actually being helpful.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Twos gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Eights. When they feel safe, they adopt the healthy behaviors of Fours.
*Note: Depending on your cultural/religious background, some women may feel pressured to adopt the role of a Two at the expense of their ‘True’ Type. Also, men can definitely be Twos.
Three: The Achiever
Sometimes referred to as “The Performer,” Threes are driven by a desire to feel valuable. They are ambitious, confident, and efficient. Threes are very image-conscious, and always strive to put their best face forward and make great first impressions. They are extremely competitive and often have a very pragmatic outlook on life. Threes set goals and meet them. Because they often intertwine their self-worth with the recognition of a job well done, Threes are prone to workaholicism.
Healthy Behaviors: Great multitaskers; Ambitious; Problem-solving; Dedicated to self-awareness and self-improvement; Self-disciplined; Reliable and effective worker; Persuasive and articulate; Entrepreneur mindset; Goal setting; Self-confident and charming.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Prone to physical burnout; Failure to admit mistakes; Self-obsession; Promotes a curated/filtered perception of their life; Prone to “backstabbing” and other “cutthroat” tactics to come out on top; Treats people like “stepping stones;” Narcissism; Constantly talks about themselves; Easily disconnect and burn bridges.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Threes gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Nines. When they feel safe, they adopt the healthy behaviors of Sixes.
Four: The Dreamer
Alternatively referred to as “The Romantic” or “The Individualists,” Fours are the most emotionally complex Type on the Enneagram. Fours are extremely creative and expressive, and they tend to make for great artists. Fours see themselves as unique and unconventional, and they value those traits in others (and will seek them out). Very sensitive to criticism, Fours struggle with shame and inferiority. Often in a state of perpetual melancholy, the peaks and valleys of their emotional range are thrilling to some and exhausting to others.
Healthy Behaviors: Self-creative and inspiring; Sensitive to the needs of others and their own bodies; Honest and vulnerable; Imaginative and often trailblazers in creative industries; Empathetic to the physical and emotional plights of others; Very self-aware and perceptive.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Prone to grudges; “Suffering artist” mentality; “Go away/Don’t leave me” relationship dynamic; Overreliance on emotional reasoning; Easily triggered into spirals of self-doubt/depression; victim mentality; Repeatedly retreats to dreams/fantasy to escape reality; Self-hatred.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Fours gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Twos. When they feel safe, they adopt the healthy behaviors of Ones.
Five: The Observer
Of all the Types, Fives probably speak the least, but when they do, it’s often profound and deep. They’re excellent conversationalists. Fives are sometimes referred to as “The Investigator,” because they tend to value facts over feelings. Very intuitive and insatiably curious, Fives prefer to sit back and observe human behavior and their environment. They’re constantly searching for and testing “the truth.” They can come off as awkward, elitist, or anti-social at public gatherings.
Healthy Behaviors: Visionaries; open-minded and receptive to new information; Very perceptive and insightful; Focused and attentive; Very knowledgable on a variety of topics; Good listener; Slow and rational decision-making; Values minimalism and simplicity; Not easily manipulated.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Cold and indifferent toward the feelings of others; Sarcasm and perpetual cynicism; Attracted to dark or macabre subjects; Can appear detached and aloof; Prone to irrational phobias; Isolationism; Avoidance of anything that makes them feel incompetent or incapable.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Fives gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Sevens. When they feel safe, they adopt the healthy behaviors of Eights.
Six: The Loyalist
The most common type on the Enneagram, Sixes are the integral component of any relationship, community, company, or society. Sixes create stability and security in the world because those values are important to them on a personal level. They are thoughtful and attentive lovers, but prone to catastrophizing and anticipating the worst. Suspicious of authority and “established knowledge,” they are also susceptible to authoritarianism – especially if they can be convinced they’re being marginalized.
Healthy Behaviors: Reliable; Fiercely loyal; Dependable through thick and thin; Great romantic partners; Cooperative and responsible; Effective employees and team members; Hard working; Dedicated to people, movements, and beliefs; Rigid moral compass.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Easily manipulated by authority; Persecution complex; prone to conspiracy theories; Internalized anxiety; Passive-aggressive; Constantly anticipating “worst-case scenario;” Seeks to manipulate through victimhood mentality; Intolerant/fearful of “outsiders;” Most comfortable in homogenous company; Suspicious of change or innovation.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Sixes gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Threes. When they feel safe, they adopt the healthy behaviors of Nines.
Seven: The Enthusiast
Sevens are the people you call to get the party started. Filled with energy and enthusiasm, Sevens can either fire you up or wear you down. They’re the types of people who “light up a room” when they walk through the door. Sevens are on a never-ending hunt for the newest experience. They can be a bit scatter-brained, and always seem to have a lot going on.
Healthy Behaviors: Filled with awe and wonder; Spontaneous and cheerful; Easily lift others up; Multi-talented; Resilient in the face of hardship; Adventurous and inspirational; Great in groups and teams; Sees the “Big Picture;” Magnetic personalities; Great storytellers.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Self-centered; greedy; Prone to excess and addiction; Values breadth of experience over depth of experience; Commitment phobic; Pushes unnecessary boundaries; Crude, crass, and insensitive; Covers up anxieties with impulsive behaviors; Consistently unsatisfied; Unreliable; Bad with money.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Sevens gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Ones. When they feel safe, they adopt the healthy behaviors of Fives.
Eight: The Challenger
Eights are the most passionate number on the Enneagram. Distrustful of authority, they see the world as a battle between Right and Wrong. Eights can come off as intimidating to other people, and their confrontational nature can earn them just as many enemies as it does friends. They always have an opinion and don’t want to appear weak. Suspicious of other’s motives, they fear betrayal by someone they trust more than anything.
Healthy Behaviors: Quick to stand up for the rights of others; an innate desire for justice; Courageous in the face of opposition; Initiator; Natural leader; Pushes and inspires others to greatness; Resourceful and self-confident; Independent and decisive.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Black/white thinking; Treating people like objects; Intolerant of other’s opinions; Overinflated ego; Impatience; Emotionally withdrawn; Combative, argumentative, and intentionally intimidating; Aversion to vulnerability; Desire to “win” at all costs; Physically and emotionally abusive; Loss of empathy.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Eights will gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Fives. When they feel safe, they’ll adopt the healthy behaviors of Twos.
*Note: Depending on your cultural/religious background, men may feel pressured to adopt the role of an Eight at the expense of their ‘true’ Type. Also, women can definitely be Eights.
Nine: The Peacemaker
Don’t let the name fool you. Nines aren’t passive. Peacemaking is an active process. Nines are all about unity and presence. They’re deep thinkers and can cut to the heart of a conflict with ease and finesse. They’re often described as laid back and they’re excellent as diffusing the tension in a room. However, their desire to resolve conflict can easily evolve into conflict avoidance, willful ignorance, and personal apathy.
Healthy Behavior: Develops deep and meaningful relationships across religious, racial, political, and cultural divides; Emotionally stable; Content in most circumstances; Calming and soothing presence; Great communication skills and mediator; Good listener; Slow to anger.
Unhealthy Behavior: Easily overwhelmed; Minimizing other’s problems to a fault; Avoiding conflict necessary for growth; Poor self-esteem; Laziness; Fatalistic attitude; Complacent; Low self-respect; Spiritual apathy; Low drive for new experiences and challenges.
Stress & Security: When stressed, Nines will gravitate toward the unhealthy behaviors of Sixes. When they feel safe, they’ll adopt the healthy behaviors of Threes.
Wait, there’s more?
Yep, the Enneagram is a fairly complex system, but we’re only going to hone in on two concepts you’re going to run into pretty quickly if you begin delving into the Enneagram – Wings, Triads, and sub-Types.
A Wing is a number on either side of your Type that you happen to share some characteristics, inclinations, and traits.
Therefore, you may see people refer to their Enneagram number as “[Type]w[Wing].”
(Or, written out, it’ll look something like 5w6, 2w1, or 7w8).
It’s important to note that a wing can only be one of the two numbers on either side of their Type.
For example, you can’t be a Seven with a Two wing (7w2). If you’re Seven, you can only have a Six Wing (7w6) or an Eight wing (7w8). So, if someone says they’re a Four with a Seven wing (4w7), they don’t what they’re talking about.
So, once you determine your Type, look at the Types that border your number and determine which one you relate to the most. That’s your Wing.
*Note: Think of the numbers on the Enneagram arranged as a circle. A One can be a Two wing (1w2) or a Nine wing (1w9), and Nine can be an Eight wing (9w8) or One wing (9w1).
Each of the Types is a member of one of three families, or “Triads.” The Triads are arranged by the importance of a particular emotion (Shame/Anger/Fear) is to the Type.
Depending on your source, the Triads will be named different things. I’ve chosen the ones that make the most sense to me.
The Shame/Feeling Triad (2, 3, 4): These Types are driven by feelings of shame. Twos try to solve their shame by helping others, Threes attempt to deny their shame, and Fours wrestle with their shame through outward expression.
The Anger/Gut Triad (8, 9, 1): These Types are driven by anger. Eight expresses anger outward, Nines willfully ignore anger, and Ones internalizes it.
The Fear/Thinking Triad (5, 6, 7): These Types are driven by fear. Fives express fear outward, Sixes internalize their fear, and Sevens willfully ignore it.
Each person naturally falls into one of three instinctual sub-types. The sub-Types are the same for each of the nine Types. We all have three instincts – self-preservation, social, and sexual – that drive a bulk of our behavior. However, one of these three instincts represents your dominant instinct.
Self-Preservation: Those with the self-preservation instinct orientate their behavior around safety, comfort, and health. They are generally more practical, introverted, and concerned with aesthetics.
Social: Those with the social instinct orientate their behavior around community, personal connection, and engagement. They are very aware of the needs of a group and will adjust accordingly.
Sexual: No, the sexual instinct does not mean you’re constantly looking for opportunities to get down. The sexual instinct indicates a strong desire for intimacy, chemistry, and one-on-one relationships. They have intentionally magnetic personalities and are often dismissive of people who don’t energize or interest them.
This post has really on scratched the surface. Here are some resources if you want to dive deeper into the Enneagram.
Ryan O’ Neil of the band Sleeping At Last is working on music project where he creates a song for each number on the Enneagram. The album artwork for each single is also jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
The Songs: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine.
Podcast: For each song, Ryan O’Neil releases an accompanying podcast (also available on the Apple podcast app) explaining his creative process for each track and how he wove the traits of the Type into the recording.
The best one-episode overview of the Enneagram is still The Liturgists’ episode titled “The Enneagram.”
The Enneagram Journey – This ongoing podcast series is primarily focused on how the Enneagram is related to relationships and self-improvement.
Typology – Similar to The Enneagram Journey, Typology features first-class production values, interviews, and Type-specific episodes.
Millienneagram – A bit more irreverent and crass, Millienneagram takes a modern approach to the Enneagram and how it can relate to Millennials in today’s cultural climate.
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective – Richard Rohr
Don’t the subtitle fool you. Richard Rohr is one of the most insightful and profound thinkers out there. Not for beginners, but the wisdom is worth the investment.
The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Crane & Suzanne Stabile
Probably the most recommended introduction to the Enneagram, and for good reason.
The Path Between Us – Suzanne Stabile
The absolute best book on how to use the Enneagram to navigate personal and romantic relationships.
The Sacred Enneagram – Christopher Heuertz
Well-written and accessible, this one is primarily devoted to the “spiritual journey” of the Enneagram.
The Enneagram Institute – A great resource for learning more about individual Types, personal growth strategies, and how they interact with other Types.
So, what’s your number?
I’m an 8w9.
My wife’s a 4w3.
One thought on “The Enneagram For Beginners: A Brief Overview of the Life-Changing Personality Tool”
4w5… Beautiful job of collapsing volumes of information into a useful and coherent few pages.