What Makes Us Tick: The Enneagram
While I don’t like to jump on trendy bandwagons without good reason, I could not be more excited to delve into what everyone is talking about these days: the Enneagram. As we’ll see over the next few weeks, digging into what makes us tick simply makes us better. It allows us to become aware of our weaknesses, while giving us the confidence to lean into our strengths. Just as important, it provides us with a deeper perspective on the people we love and an understanding on how we can love them better.
While the idea of being “labeled” makes many people resistant to anything that threatens to box them in, there is fluidity in each of the three personality and temperament typing systems that we'll be talking about in this series. Hang with me, and you'll see how powerful it is to put the pieces together for a true picture of what makes us who we are.
So, let’s start by talking about one of the coolest personality studies out there - the Enneagram.
What is the Enneagram?
Similar to the old faithful Myers-Briggs test and other personality inventories that you may have done in college or the workplace, the Enneagram teaches that there are nine distinct personality types to which each of us gravitates. As Ian Morgan Cron explains in his book The Road Back to You, "Each type or number has a distinct way of seeing the world and an underlying motivation that powerfully influences how each type thinks, feels and behaves." According to the Enneagram Institute (yes, there is such a thing), while it is common to actually see a little bit of ourselves in each number, everyone ends up falling into one basic personality type. Cron explains it well: Just like you may find 438 shades of red in the paint aisle at Home Depot, they are all variations of the same primary color - red. It is important to look at the Enneagram in the same way. Our primary personality type all comes down to what motivates us to think the way we think, feel what we feel, and do what we do.
Here's a closer look at the nine personality types of the Enneagram (as outlined in The Road Back to You):
The Reformer is motivated by the desire to live life the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.
The Helper is motivated by the need to be loved and needed, and avoid acknowledging their own needs.
The Achiever is motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and avoid failure.
The Individualist is motivated by the need to be understood, experience their feelings, and avoid being ordinary.
The Investigator is motivated by the need to gain knowledge, conserve energy, and avoid relying on others.
The Loyalist is motivated by fear and the need for security.
The Enthusiast is motivated by the need to be happy, plan stimulating experiences, and avoid pain.
The Challenger is motivated by the need to be strong and to avoid being weak and vulnerable.
The Peacemaker is motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others, and avoid conflict.
How Do I Determine My Type?
Most people begin by taking an enneagram test. There are many free tests available with a quick Google search, or you can choose to purchase the Enneagram Institute's online version of the test for $12 (click HERE and go to "Take the RHETI®").
But, please keep this in mind: a test is just the beginning. I've known several people who actually discovered that their number was different from what their tests initially revealed for them. While the test is a launching point and will likely get you into the right ballpark, only after researching and reading further will you really know what number feels the most right to you. Don't be afraid to keep digging until you feel like you are home.
Important Points to Remember.
It really does all come down to your motivation. If you are feeling confused because you identify strongly with two different types, please keep motivation in mind. What is the underlying, core reason for what you think, feel, and do? For example, the behaviors of a 3 and 8 may often seem similar, but one is motivated by the need to avoid failure, while the other is motivated by a need to avoid weakness. There really is a difference.
Your enneagram type is not an excuse for bad behavior. The Enneagram is not a "free pass" to behave in a certain way, just because you may be wired to do so. As a 9, my core motivation is always to achieve peace, which often causes me to go to great lengths to avoid conflict. But, that could send me into very unhealthy territory if I simply used my predisposition as an excuse to crawl into a hole and pretend that uncomfortable things weren't happening around me. The beauty of the Enneagram is that is reveals both our strengths and our weaknesses. Use this as an opportunity to lean into your strengths and work to do better in the areas that may hold you back.
It is important to learn about all the Enneagram numbers, not just your own. Yes it is so beneficial to understand yourself better, but when you begin to recognize the core motivations of the people you love, it's a game changer. Don't just read up on your own Enneagram number; learn about them all! I am so much more patient and understanding with my family and friends now that I better understand the big picture.
There is more to this than meets the eye: keep reading. I don't want to complicate this post for those of you stepping into the Enneagram for the first time, but once you identify your type, it's important to know that there's more to the story. As you keep researching, you'll discover that each person has a "wing" number that complements their enneagram type; you will also learn that each type gravitates to other numbers in strength and weakness. These are just a few examples of what lies under the surface. Go slowly and take one step at a time, but don't be afraid to take a deep dive once you are ready.
Where Can I Find Additional Resources?
The resources on this are truly endless. While I can't begin to count the number of enneagram books on the market, the one that I found most helpful as I got started is the one I've referenced throughout this post: The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron. And, of course, the Enneagram Institute provides a plethora of resources and tools on its website. However, my absolute favorite place for all things Enneagram is Instagram. From heartfelt and thoughtful posts covering every angle of each Enneagram type, to memes that will legitimately make you LOL, Instagram is a goldmine. My absolute favorite Instagrammer on this is Ashton Whitmoyer-Ober of @EnneagramAshton. Her feed is so helpful; start by following her and go from there!
While the Enneagram is not the authority on all things you, nor is it a cult (while some may treat it as one), it is an especially insightful tool. Use it as such. It has been such a gift to me and so many of my friends and family members who have taken the time to learn more about themselves and their loved ones by diving in. Please comment below with any insights or questions you have about the Enneagram. I can't wait to learn more about what you're discovering about yourself!