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the enneagram: what it is and why i love it

the enneagram: what it is and why i love it

If you follow me on Instagram or have spoken with me in the last 7 months, you've probably heard me mention the Enneagram - a "personality test" of 9 "Types". (Like, you know that 16 personalities/Myer's Briggs/"INTJ" one? Yeah kinda like that but 9 types and not 16 personalities. With me so far?)

I stumbled upon it sometime last year when podcasts I was listening to talked about it and when one of my favourite musicians, Sleeping at Last, started producing a series on each of the 9 Enneagram types. It sounded like an interesting personality typing system but I didn't look into it any further... until January of this year. 

As I've shared previously here, I chose the word "embrace" as my word for the year (check out the post here). My aim with this word as "my word" for the year was simply to learn to figure out more about who I am and to embrace myself at least a little more. To come into my greater wholeness and authenticity (I also talked more about this in my last post: Steps of growth for my 23rd year). It's easy for me to feel lost as soon as I'm around people - like I no longer have my own thoughts, ideas, and identity. Like I leave a party and wonder, "Was I even myself? Could I have spoken up there? Did I even connect with anyone? Who am I?" So, I want to know myself and be free in my identity. 

A few days after deciding that this was my aim for the year, I was chatting with a friend about it and decided it was time to take the online Enneagram test to figure out my type. I went straight for the official paid test (which is $12 USD and you can find it here) and skipped all the free ones because I wanted the official down-low from the professionals. 

Long story short: I took the test, I got my result, it broke me down and changed my life. Let me tell you why I love it and what it's done for me. But let's start with this: What the heck is the Enneagram?

Disclaimer: I'm no expert, but hopefully I can teach you a little something today!

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What is the Enneagram?

The Basics

Basically, it's a personality typing system with 9 different fundamental personalities of human nature (called "Types" and numbered from 1 to 9). But it's a lot more. It's a tool for personal growth. It's a path to spiritual unity. It's a means to greater grace. 

I think calling it a "personality test" is cheap because it goes so much beyond our personality (which is something our ego puts on) and looks deeper into our motivations and fears, the fundamental building blocks of who we are deep within. It doesn't looks so closely at what we do but more at why we do it and who we are beneath what we do

The goal of the Enneagram (from my point of view) is this: to learn about both your beautiful value and great potential AND your dark depths and inner shit - and to use that knowledge to propel you into emotional and spiritual wholeness. Bonus: to learn about the inner workings of those around you and grow in abounding grace for them. As Richard Rohr said, it is not a complete spiritual path - but it does have an element that is essential to all paths: self-knowledge.

The Types

The Enneagram is based around 9 key "Types". There are a ton of complexities and details beyond these 9 types but for today I'll simply outline a few short details about each of the types. If you want to read the details more in depth, check out the Enneagram Institute or read Sacred Enneagram (top recommendation so far).

ONE - "The Reformer"

  • Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
  • Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced
  • Principled and Idealistic. Ethical and conscientious with a strong sense of right and wrong.
  • Teachers and Crusaders. Always striving to improve things but afraid of making mistakes.
  • Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious. They try to maintain high standards but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. 
  • At their best: wise, discerning, realistic, noble, and morally heroic.

TWO - "The Helper"

  • Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved
  • Basic Desire: To feel loved
  • Caring and Interpersonal. Empathic, sincere, and warm-hearted.
  • Friendly, generous, self-sacrificing, sentimental, flattering, people-pleasing, possessive.
  • Driven to be close to others and often do things for others in order to be needed but have problems taking care of themselves and acknowledging their own needs.
  • At their best: unselfish, altruistic, unconditional love for self and others.

THREE - "The Achiever"

  • Basic Fear: Of being worthless
  • Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile
  • Adaptable and Success-oriented. Self-assured, attractive, and charming.
  • Ambitious, competent, energetic, status-conscious and highly driven for personal advancement. Concerned about their image and what others think of them.
  • Problems with workaholism and competitiveness.
  • At their best: self-accepting, authentic, everything they seem to be. Role models who inspire others.

FOUR - "The Individualist"

  • Basic Fear: That they have no identity or personal significance
  • Basic Desire: To find themselves and their significance (to create an
       identity)
  • Romantic and introspective. Self-aware, sensitive, reserved, quiet.
  • Self-revealing, emotionally honest, but can be moody and self-conscious. 
  • Withold themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective. Feel exempt from ordinary living and feel special. Problems of self-indulgence and self-pity.
  • At their best: inspired and highly creative, able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.

FIVE - "The Investigator"

  • Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless, or incapable
  • Basic Desire: To be capable and competent
  • Intense and cerebral. Alert, insightful, curious.
  • Able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills.
  • Independent and innovative, can become preoccupied with thoughts. Become detached, yet high-strung and intense. Problems with isolation, eccentricity, and nihilism.
  • At their best: visionary pioneers, ahead of their time and able to see the world in an entirely new way.

SIX - "The Loyalist"

  • Basic Fear: Of being without support and guidance
  • Basic Desire: To have security and support
  • Commited and security-oriented. Reliable, hardworking, responsible.
  • Cautious and indecisive but can be reactive, defiant, and rebellious.
  • Problems with self-doubt and anxiety.
  • At their best: internally stable, self-confident, and self-reliant, courageously supporting the weak and powerless.

SEVEN - "The Enthusiast"

  • Basic Fear: Of being deprived and in pain
  • Basic Desire: To be satisfied and content—to have their needs fulfilled
  • Busy and productive. Versatile, optimistic, spontaneous. 
  • Playful, high-spirited, and practical, but can be overextended, scattered, and undisciplined. 
  • Always seeking new and exciting experiences. Can be distracted and exhausted. 
  • Problems with superficiality and impulsiveness.
  • At their best: focus their talents on worthwhile goals, becoming joyous, highly accomplished, and full of gratitude.

EIGHT - "The Challenger"

  • Basic Fear: Of being harmed or controlled by others
  • Basic Desire: To protect themselves (to be in control of their own life
        and destiny)
  • Powerful and dominating. Self-confident, strong, assertive. 
  • Protective, resourceful, decisive. Can also be proud and confrontational.
  • Problems with allowing themselves to be close to others.
  • At their best: self-mastering, use their strength to improve other’s lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and historically sometimes great.

NINE - "The Peacemaker"

  • Basic Fear: Of loss and separation
  • Basic Desire: To have inner stability "peace of mind"
  • Easy-going and self-effacing. Accepting, trusting, and stable. 
  • Good-natured, kind-hearted, easy-going and supportive but can be too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. Can be complacent and minimize anything upsetting.
  • Have problems with passivity and stubbornness.
  • At their best: indomitable and all-embracing, they are able to bring people together and heal conflicts.

How to find your type:

  1. READ! Check out the enneagram institute website and start reading. Maybe a few of those descriptions above sounded like they could be describing you? Head over here and start reading a little more about them! Learning about the types and the key motivations and fears is a great start to figuring out your type (and arguably the best way). Some people take months to dig deep and get introspective to discover their type, and sometimes it can be discovered almost immediately. On the website you'll discover details like how numbers react in stress and in growth, what numbers look like at differing levels of health, and basic fears and motivation for each type. Recommended reading for discovering your type: Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz or The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. From personal experience, the number that makes you feel the most convicted and gross (like it revealed the darkest part of your soul) is probably your number, ha!
  2. Take a test. Tests are much less reliable than reading and introspection, but they're definitely another way to go. There are a bunch of free ones around (this is the best one) but I'd recommend taking the paid test here for a few reasons. First, it's more difficult to skew your results on the paid version by the way the questions are worded - which means a more authentic answer and result. Second, you get your top THREE scored numbers with in depth descriptions so that you can take your results and learn from there which is most likely your type. I'm just saying, the free version got me wrong and the paid version got me right (and I'm not the only one). Just saying.

Reasons you maybe shouldn't discover your type:

  1. If you aren't ready to be introspective, face your garbage, and dig deep into some personal growth, then skip the Enneagram. Seriously, you might not be ready to look within and that's okay. Wait.
  2. If you want to use it to put yourself (or other) in a box and justify your behaviour because "this is my number, it's just the way I am", then the Enneagram also isn't for you. It's not about finding your box it's about getting out of your box.
  3. If you want to use the Enneagram flippantly and "type" people at parties based on their behaviour and tell them who they are, this isn't for you. The enneagram is for self-discovery, not for judgement.

Why I love the Enneagram

1. It helps me make sense of myself.

I discovered pretty quickly that I'm an Enneagram Type 3, which I really didn't want to be. Type 2 and 7 definitely looked like my types, but at closer inspection they only looked like me on the surface level and not so much in the inner depths and motivations. The basic fear says it all: I'm terrified of being worthless.  

I'll get into what it's like being an Enneagram 3 some day soon, but for now, here are a few things about myself that make more sense to me now:

  • Feeling lost from myself in a group of people. Type 3s are really adaptable and sensitive to the expectations of other's. We do this because we want to be worth something - and we learn how to be what other's want us to be so that we can be valuable and appreciated. So that we can be accepted. I've left so many parties/gatherings feeling completely disconnected from myself, and this is why.
  • Loss of touch with my feelings. I've lived a pretty feeling-less life for the most part. Not super high highs, not super low lows. Usually coasting somewhere on the positive side of the middle. I don't really get stressed or anxious (though it's changed a bit more recently). This is super common for 3s to have no awareness of their feelings. I've had the feelings somewhere within me, but I've pushed them aside because they get in the way of what I want to do.
  • I can't really shut off. Although I've been learning to set up work boundaries and keeping my weekends and evenings mostly work-free, I still generally have to be doing something I consider productive OR multi-tasking. Reading and writing are things that aren't work related, but I do in my spare time because I consider them valuable and productive. Watching TV feels in no way productive to me (but I'm learning to value the "break" that it gives) and so I generally multi-task in some way while doing it. 3s believe they'll find value in what they do and accomplish - so this adds up.

2. It helps me make sense of others.

You know, sometimes people just don't make sense. Right? People don't react to situations the way we would, they don't respond to comments the way we would, they don't act in public the way we would, they don't value what we do... on and on and on. The Enneagram has absolutely helped me come to terms with the fact that people don't always make sense to me because we all think differently. There are fundamental differences in the way we process things, think about things, and react to things. It's helped me understand why people are so different and helped me grow in grace and understanding in those differences. It's okay and good that we're different. 

Here's the thing: I don't need to know someone's number to have grace for them. Could I guess or have an idea? Sure. But I don't know for sure unless they tell me. And I don't need to know. Having a general knowledge of all the numbers has opened my eyes in general to the fact that we all see the world differently, we all react differently, we all hurt differently. I don't need to know what someone's number is to know that they deserve my grace.

3. It shows me how I suck (and also how I could be great). 

Sometimes it's hard to know what we need to work on, or why we suck, or how we can love ourselves and the people around us better. The Enneagram is a great tool to start uncovering some of this stuff and discover the way out. 

But it's not just here to point out our garbage, it's here to show us our great and beautiful potential. Every number has something called "Levels of Development" from 1-3 (healthy), 4-6 (average), and 7-9 (unhealthy), and these are so helpful for showing you where you are now and showing you how to become healthier, whole, and more authentically yourself. To live at your greatest potential (and keep going).

4. It doesn't put us in a box.

Okay, maybe it sounds like it puts you in a box just like every other personality system. It doesn't! There are so many intricacies to the system, and as Richard Rohr says, the point of the enneagram is not to put yourself into a box but to discover your box and find your way out of it! It's not about staying where you are, but growing and understanding yourself better.

Some additional details that pull you out of the box:

  • Wings: Every person is influenced by the number(s) beside their primary type. Since I'm a 3, I can also be influenced be the numbers 2 and 4. If you're a 6, you can have a 5 or 7 wings. This just means your draw characteristics from the numbers beside you. Generally one of these is stronger than the other, and this one would be called your "wing". I'm a 3w2. (It's a common misconception that your "next highest ranking" number is your wing. You can't actually be a 1w7 or 5w2, etc! Your wings can only be numbers directly beside your primary type.)
  • Levels of Development: This is so different to me than other personality systems because it shows you what people can behave like and feel like at different levels of health. We fluctuate between these levels throughout our life, which means how we react to our personality changes all the time depending on our level of health. It shows us too that there are great qualities and negative qualities about every number - no number is better than the other! 
  • Integration/Disintegration: If you ever take a look at the enneagram symbol, you'll see 2 lines/arrows coming out of each number - these are the directions of integration and disintegration (or health and stress). Each number responds differently in growth and stress, and takes on characteristics of different numbers. For example, when a 3 gets healthy, they become more committed, free of the expectations of others, and dedicated to a cause/people. And when they get stressed, they become slothful and more self-erasing. It's been helpful for me to see this in my life and be able to identify better when I'm stressed! 

Although I'm not Enneagram expert, I hope you learned something today and decided if this would be a useful addition into your life! Have questions about it or wanna chat about your number? Let's talk on Instagram!

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