What’s up with the enneagram?

I love a good personality profile! Back in a college psychology class we had to take a Myers-Briggs test, and I absolutely obsessed over my results (INFJ) learning everything there was to know about the theory behind it, what it supposedly meant for…or about…my daily living and habits, and what it suggested about future career paths and relationship styles. The thing that sucked me in was how perfectly the Myers-Briggs had nailed down my inner motivations and longings. At some point amidst my reading and research, I found this description of INFJ types:

[INFJ]s have an inborn sense of idealism and morality, but what sets them apart is that they are not idle dreamers, but people capable of taking concrete steps to realize their goals and make a lasting positive impact. They tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.

As I had just changed my major from English/pre-law to English/education with the explanation that by the time a young adult showed up in the courtroom I’d be fighting an uphill battle to get his/her life back on track, so I’d be better served getting into education where I could help stop kids from making those choices in the first place, the fact that a series of personality questions had so clearly discerned that out of me was mind boggling.

Image result for myers briggs

Or maybe it was a self fulfilling prophecy that because I had just made that choice, I answered the questions in a way that reflected it? Either way, since that day in class, I’ve moved through the world with a happy acceptance that I am an INFJ, keen to chat about it with any other personality theory lovers…of which I don’t know many!

More recently, however, a different personality profile has been making its rounds through pop culture and social media. It seems everyone is talking about the enneagram. Like Myers-Briggs, the enneagram is a system of categories which “types” your personality. However, the enneagram is different in that it’s much older, much more rooted in spirituality, and can actually take you to the darker side of yourself, as each type is built on the idea that we all have a personal story of struggle, and our personality is rooted in a shortcoming or fear that we’re constantly striving to overcome.

Image result for enneagramIt was at a dinner probably seven or eight years ago when I first heard about the enneagram. A woman at the table was absolutely passionate about it, and upon learning that I had never heard of it, immediately started trying to explain its basic premise and fit me into a “type.” In truth, it sounded complicated, and as she went through each of the numbers and what they meant, asking each time if I thought I could be “a one” or “a four,” I had no idea how to probe into this darker, needier, somewhat lacking part of my personality. I mean…which number goes with not wanting to feel like you have a brokenness about you, and immediately wanting to fix it if you do?

Turns out, that’s a number one!

At the time I did not dive into the enneagram, but fast forward seven or eight years, and here I am with three books on my coffee table, three sets of enneagram test results (because I had to take one, then check and double check to see if it came out right), and an absolute rabbit hole of self exploration ahead of me. The enneagram goes WAY back, so there is literally a trove of information tying it to major religions/spiritual philosophies, relationship styles, work habits, parenting, personal growth, interpersonal development, etc. etc. etc. There are also, like, 1000 podcasts on the subject. It’s a big deal, and a hot topic!

So what is it? Well, this is the enneagram in a picture:

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Here’s an abbreviated explanation of what you’re seeing!

The nine numbers around the outside of the circle are the nine types. We each come out of childhood as one of the nine types based on our experiences and how we developed based on the feedback (or lack there of) that we received, and what we believe to be fundamentally good or bad about ourselves. The green lines through the middle of the circle, break the enneagram into three triads. 8-9-1 is the intuitive triad, which instinctually represses or battles against anger. 2-3-4 is the heart triad, which instinctually represses or battles against the need to perpetuate a certain self image. 5-6-7 is the thinking triad, which instinctually repressed or battles against inner fears.

Each number also has two arrows coming or going from it. That’s because while we all have one base number, in times of health/relaxation and times of stress, we move towards the best and worst qualities of other types. These are the security and stress types. For example, the nine at the top of the enneagram, moves towards the qualities of a six during stress (stress type). But, if the nine is healthy, balanced, and relaxed, and nines are all about balance, they move towards the three (security type). Though you can’t change your base number, which makes sense as we can’t change our childhood experiences and how we developed from them, personal growth and self actualization are based on “integration,” that is moving away from our original number, and towards those healthy qualities we see on the path towards our security type.

You can’t simply look at an explanation of each of the types and pick which one you are. In fact, I thought for certain I knew what I was from a one sentence description in a table of contents, but upon further review, that probably wasn’t accurate. It’s also important to note that a lot of people aren’t necessarily thrilled when they learn their enneagram number. A lot of times it points to something we don’t necessarily love about ourselves, something we thought we were doing a better job of hiding or repressing that’s actually quite obvious and driving a lot of our behavior. That said, don’t let these descriptions be the way you type yourself, just let them pique your interest. As summarized from The Essential Enneagram by David Daniels, M.D. and Virginia Price, PH.D.

One – The Reformer/Perfectionist: Believe that love and self esteem are gained by doing the “right” thing. Conscientious, responsible, consistent, self-controlled, precise, inflexible, opinionated, judgmental, resentful, self-judging.

Two – The Helper/Giver: Believe that the needs and wants of others must always come before their own, and that they “need” to be “needed” to find love. Caring, helpful, supportive, relationship-oriented, generous, likable, nurturing, intrusive, dramatic, unable to say no, indirect, over-accommodating.

Three – The Achiever/Performer: Believe that love and approval are tied to success, achievement, and self image. Industrious, fast paced, goal focused, efficient, confident, ambitious, impatient, competitive, rushed, overextended.

Four – The Individualist/Romantic: Believe that they are isolated because of their individuality and need an ideal circumstance to feel loved. Idealistic, deep feeling, empathetic, intense, authentic to self, expressive, creative, moody, dramatic, unsatisfied, self absorbed.

Five – The Investigator/Observer: Believe in the power of knowledge over all other things. Limits wants and desires through the pursuit and analysis of facts. Self sufficient, quiet, knowledgable, inquisitive, systematic, objective, analytic, thoughtful, withholding, detached, aloof, remote, overly private, miserly.

Six – The Loyalist/Questioner: Believes that the world and the people in it are inherently dangerous, and looks to find security either through a phobic or counter-phobic response. That is, either becoming extremely conflict/danger avoidant, or throwing oneself into conflict and danger to prove it’s not threatening. Trustworthy, loyal, responsible, dutiful, good friend, caring, analytical, overly cautious, anxious, uncertain, skeptical, vigilant, overly cautious OR overly risk taking.

Seven – The Adventurer/Enthusiast: Believes that life is about cramming as many experiences as possible into the present, and imaging many possibilities for the future. Optimistic, upbeat, charming, caring, spontaneous, joyful, versatile, inconsiderate, pain-avoidant, inconsiderate, unfocused, uncommitted, self-serving.

Eight – The Leader/Challenger: Believes in hiding vulnerabilities to protect others and gain respect through forceful, instinctual confrontations. Justice seeking, direct, strong, declarative, assertive, confident, intense, protective, take charge, abrasive, heavy handed, excessive, demanding.

Nine – The Peace Maker/Mediator: Believes that life is a giant balancing act and lost a sense of self in the process of trying to meet and balance everyone else’s needs. Adaptable, harmony-seeking, pleasing, steadfast, comfortable, humble, easy-going, caring, conflict-avoidant, resistant, stubborn, indecisive.

Josh and I took the test one night as an at home date night. Though I think he was skeptical at first, he quickly came around when I started reading the description of his type, the nine, and he realized how accurately “the peacemaker who is go-with-the-flow, non-confrontational, and spiritually driven” described his daily experience.


Yours truly, the one, had to first take a second test to make sure I got the “right” type, then do a whole bunch of reading on the subject trying to justify my answers and making sure I was taking the test objectively, all before settling on the fact that, “ones are people of practical action and objectivity, with a strong sense of purpose who often seek to justify their actions in an effort to be seen as ‘right’ or ‘good,'” was probably pretty spot on!

What’s more, is that is that in relationship nines and ones: “As a couple, are gracious company, hospitable and generous, but they also need time to be alone with each other…Nines soothe Ones, while Ones remind Nines to strive for excellence.” Which is pretty much every dinner table conversation in our house ever, because if we’re not with friends, I’m asking Josh what he’s working on tomorrow, and he’s telling me to calm down over every frenetic thing I’ve done that day! 😅

Of course, all of this amounts to a hill of beans if you don’t do something with it. My new found knowledge of the enneagram is helping me dig deeper into my spirituality and my relationship and it’s COOL and kind of scary how accurate and discerning it is about motivations, habits, and areas for development. If you’re intrigued at all I’d recommend the aforementioned The Essential Enneagram a great little book to get started with. Hannah Passch’s Millenneagram is a just out, cheeky, 30-something’s take on the nine types. It’s not going to be mind blowing in terms of philosophy, but it’s a super funny, sarcastic read. Also recommended to me has been the works of Helen Palmer and Richard Rohr’s work on spirituality and the enneagram.

If you’re an enneagram lover, drop me a comment with your favorite resource, book, podcast, etc. If you want to know more and jump in right now, check out The Enneagram Institute website where you can also get access to the official Riso-Hudson enneagram type finder.



Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She recently completed her master's degree in learning design and technology, and continues to study and advocate for arts integration in the classroom. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate is working to innovate and expand theater opportunities for the students at PIHS. An avid distance runner, concert pianist, and want-to-be wine aficionado, Kate's blog "ink." is a passion project, embodying all the best parts of life: friends, food, wine, thoughtful conversation, style, and sass!

5 thoughts on “What’s up with the enneagram?

  1. What I find interesting about Enneagrams is that one often has several different types blended into their personality. For example, I am a 6 with strong 1 and 3 tendencies. No one is just one thing, so the Enneagram to me is a nice change from the Myers-Briggs in that it allows for complexity of character.


    1. Your 3 tendencies would also make sense as a 6 because the 3 is the 6s security type. The movement along the enneagram model reflects so much more variation and area for integration and growth than more static assessments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, which is why I enjoy it so much. I had all of my siblings and my parents do it. Another plus is that the Enneagram isn’t just a “feel good” assessment. It lays the facts straight.

        Liked by 1 person

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