While there is no simple explanation to describe humans, we are all drawn to certain personality tests in an attempt to figure it out. From Myers-Briggs to StrengthsFinder to DiSC, it seems that the one thing we all have in common is a search for Identity. These tests have the capability to draw insight into our deeper selves and help us pursue our inborn gifts. They are a way of predicting why certain behaviors occur and give us language to determine what drives us. Through understanding ourselves and others, we are given an appreciation for our differences and the unique ways we contribute to the world.
The Enneagram is perhaps the most ancient of personality tests, passed along orally within the mystic traditions of the world’s religions. The official origins of the Enneagram are highly contested; some believe it showed up over 6,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, while others say the Enneagram was developed among the monastic community in the fourth century. The modern Enneagram model was developed in 1954 by Oscar Ichazo, who used it as a tool to bring healing to people wanting to undergo psychological and spiritual work. Since then, it has made appearances in many cultural traditions and has recently received a lot of attention from popular publications as a time-tested universal theory of human nature begging the question: why do we do what we do?
What makes the Enneagram Different?
The Enneagram is more than a personality test; it is a map to our soul. It searches deep into the layers of our key motivations and how they drive the ways we learn, think, behave and evolve. It examines our flaws, fears and needs. It also illuminates our strengths and gifts. The Enneagram identifies how we emerge from childhood with a certain disposition that forms how we interact and adapt to our environment and relationships as we grow. While the Enneagram may provide helpful insights into our personalities, it is first and foremost a measure of our key fears and impulses, essentially showing us how our ego distorts our identity and forms our responses to the world.
The word “Enneagram” stems from the Greek words ennea meaning “nine” and gramma meaning a sign “drawn” or “written.” In this way, it categorizes human behavior into nine types represented in the symbol of a circle. These nine basic types outline how we each see and interact with the world. Each type is known by a basic fear and a basic motivation, which drives our actions and reactions to the world. It is important to know that although a little of ourselves exists within each type, you will identify most strongly with only one type. This is known as your “dominant type.” Your dominant type is the truest representation of your deeper self. We fluctuate as we grow, so not every aspect within the type will consistently apply to us at all times. However, we do not change from one type to another; the basic core of the type remains true for us throughout our life. The goal of the Enneagram is to help us evolve into our best selves by evaluating what truly drives us. In this way, it is a great tool for self-reflection and personal growth.
Each type is distinct yet interconnected. We exist in association with other types, either growing toward them in “integration,” or behaving like them under stress in “disintegration.” Depending on which type you are, you may also have aspects of the type that is nearest you on either side, called “wings.” For example, Type Six may display aspects of Type Five or Type Seven, giving them a “wing” in either number. When your type combines with a wing, it actually creates a new type. For this reason, you might know someone who is the same type as you, but you are actually quite different.
How do I determine my type?
Each type is layered and multi-faceted; it contains a spectrum of ways in which it reveals itself depending on whether the person is in a state of health or anxiety. The following is adapted from The Enneagram Institute to help distinguish between the types:
Type One: The Reformer
Principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionistic
- Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
- Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced
Ones have a strong sense of right and wrong and an internal drive to be perfect. They advocate for justice and change. They strive to improve the way things are done as an example of moral perfection. Ones are well-organized and orderly. They maintain high standards but can also be critical and perfectionistic. At their best, ones are discerning, realistic and noble.
Type Two: The Helper
Generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing and possessive
- Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved
- Basic Desire: To feel loved
Twos are known to be empathetic, sincere and warm-hearted. They are well-meaning and desire to be close to others. They are self-sacrificial, but it is often driven from a place of needing to be needed. They struggle with acknowledging their own needs.
Type Three: The Achiever
Adaptable, excelling, driven and image-conscious
- Basic Fear: Of being worthless
- Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile
Threes are ambitious, energetic, self-assured and energetic. While they are quite driven, they are also focused on their image, status and advancement. Threes worry about how others perceive them, which can detract from their authenticity.
Type Four: The Individualist
Expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed and temperamental
- Basic Fear: Conforming; that they have no identity or personal significance
- Basic Desire: To find themselves and their significance (to create an identity)
Fours are self-aware and sensitive, but they can also be moody and self-conscious. They may withhold themselves from others out of feeling vulnerable and they may also feel exempt from ordinary ways of living.
Type Five: The Investigator
Perceptive, innovative, secretive and isolated
- Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless or incapable
- Basic Desire: To be capable and competent
Fives are innovative, insightful and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Fives always need more information before making a decision and can be preoccupied in their thoughts and imagination.
Type Six: The Loyalist
Engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious
- Basic Fear: Of being without support and guidance
- Basic Desire: To have security and support
Sixes are committed and trustworthy, but can also be cautious and indecisive. Sixes have excellent troubleshooting skills and the ability to foresee problems, yet can also be defensive and anxious. They struggle with self-doubt and suspicion but can also courageously champion themselves and others.
Type Seven: The Enthusiast
Spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive and scattered
- Basic Fear: Of being deprived and in pain
- Basic Desire: To be satisfied and content – to have their needs fulfilled
Sevens are known to be spontaneous, extroverted and optimistic. Sevens do not like to miss out on social events, which can often lead them to become over-extended, scattered and undisciplined. They constantly seek new exciting experiences, but this can be a way of avoiding intimacy and emotions.
Type Eight: The Challenger
Self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational
- Basic Fear: Of being harmed and controlled by others
- Basic Desire: To protect themselves (to be in control of their own life and destiny)
Eights are assertive, strong and decisive. Eights may become confrontational and intimidating in a situation where they feel others are more dominant than them, but they can also use their strength to improve others’ lives.
Type Nine: The Peacemaker
Receptive, reassuring, complacent and resigned
- Basic Fear: Of loss and separation
- Basic Desire: To have inner stability and “peace of mind”
Nines are agreeable, accepting and supportive. Nines have a strong need to keep the peace, but this may result in them neglecting their own opinions or needs. They fear conflict, which can lead them to being complacent or minimizing anything upsetting. Nines can bring others together and heal conflicts, but can also be too willing to “go with the flow” in order to avoid confrontation.
Identifying Your Type
There are a few ways to identify which type is most true of you. You can do personal research, meet with a specialist or take an online test. If you do an online test, I recommend the paid quizzes because they are most accurate. Perhaps you just read the above types and had an adverse reaction to one of them – that might be the type you are! We often mistype ourselves with the type we want to be instead of the type we are at our core. Be aware that this work may take some time. Don’t be afraid to “try-on” a type for a bit and see if it feels like you!
If you are interested in learning more about the Enneagram, visit https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/
Rebecca Knisely is a Chicago native who has found a home in San Diego with her husband and baby. She is a professor at a local university in the field of human development. She loves traveling abroad, training for half marathons, and is a self-proclaimed cookie connoisseur.
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