The Enneagram: An Introduction
Friends, family, and foes who know me well know that I am deeply obsessed with the magic and mysticism that is the Enneagram. Since being introduced to this psychological tool a few years ago, it has completely changed the way I approach professional, romantic, and platonic relationships. Most importantly, it's provided me with honest reflections of my emotional and mental states, helping me grow and understand the intricate facets of my own personality.
For those who aren't familiar, I will try to explain it as best as I can, but I would advise checking out the Enneagram Institute for a thorough understanding of its methodology.
Similar to other personality tests like Myers-Briggs or Strengthsfinder, the Enneagram is a tool that helps people understand their motivations, fears, and relationships to themselves and others. Supposedly, the Enneagram has been orally passed down for centuries, however, there is no research to prove this. It came to Western fruition in the 1960s when Oscar Ichazo began forming a methodology for self-realization. While in South America, he taught this tool/chart/wisdom to a group of American psychologists and writers and, alas, prominent religious groups made it their own, setting off a ripple effect into the rising millennial craze for deeper understanding and connection.
The Enneagram visual aid consists of 9 numbers that correlate to a dominant personality 'type' (see image below). On the Enneagram Institute website, extensive descriptions of these types hash out the core depths of each number (would highly recommend). The 'brief' overview of each description will give you that numbers' basic fears, basic desires, their wings (described below), their motivations, and examples of historical people who might have identified as this number.
Wings are the numbers on either side of your own number. So, a 3 can have a 2 wing or a 4 wing. If a 3 has a 2 wing, they will generally be the ambitious type with a very nurturing edge (the helper). If the 3 has a 4 wing, they will generally possess deep emotional and artistic traits (the artist). Not all people have wings, but it is very common, especially in certain phases of life or outstanding circumstances.
What makes the Enneagram so unique is that it is a dynamic, living tool. Depending on your environment and level of overall health, you might display attitudes or behaviors of other numbers. The Enneagram uses the language of disintegration (stress) and integration (growth) to track this phenomenon. This might be best explained in an example:
If you you are a 3 and you are experiencing challenge, adversity, or having a rough day, your number disintegrates into a 9, so you might notice that you become complacent, resigned, or repressed, which are key struggles of the 9 (the peacemaker). Alternatively, if you're really healthy and having a great day, you might feel cooperative, trusting, and lovable because 3s integrate into a 6 (the loyalist). Your dominant type grounds you so that you may better understand how you change, grow, and adapt throughout life's ups and downs.
Once you have identified your number, you can read about how your number interacts with other numbers in the circle. We all possess different parts of each number, but some characteristics are stronger than others, leading us to our dominant type. After you get a hunch about which number you might identify with, you can then read into how your type moves, shifts, and interacts with other numbers. However, if you are new, I would suggest sticking to the basics before diving too deep.
The other thing that makes this tool unique is that it isn't a test. Sure, you could pay money and take the test online, but many professionals highly advise against it. The Enneagram was created for self discernment, meaning you will get the most accurate answer by closely reading each description and mulling it over for a few weeks, months, and sometimes years. Your number does not change; you can only further discover and discern what your true number may be. I usually tell people to read the sections about areas of stress and improvement. You will be quick to place yourself into the number that describes all of your positive qualities. Let yourself swallow the more difficult traits of each number and you'll probably get a clearer answer.
Knowing the ins and outs of my number has been an extremely helpful tool in self-improvement and learning where other people are coming from. The Enneagram helps me understand myself and what motivates me on a day-to-day basis. This is particularly useful knowledge when I encounter conflict because it allows me to see my blind spots and helps me understand what might be motivating the other parties involved.
For example, I identify as a 4: The Artist/Individualist. When I lived in an intentional community I would often get extremely frustrated by regular meetings and scheduled events, feeling like I had no time for myself. As I let conflict brew about, I realized that my personal agenda, as a 4, is driven by the need to feel free and expressive. We (the 4s) often feel constrained even by the tiniest bit of structure. Realizing that some of my housemates' motivations were very goal and schedule driven, I backed off and asked for clarity about 'time off' from community-related events so that I could give myself plenty of 'me' time. Furthermore, the Enneagram helped me notice when I was stressed and disintegrated. Often times, I hardly notice that I'm pushed to my limits until I'm already past them. With the knowledge of how 4s respond to stress, I am more able to control my thoughts and emotions (like reciting the mantra, "feelings are not facts"!).
For me, the Enneagram becomes increasingly fascinating when someone wants to explore the dynamics between two numbers. I will admit that I have done this many-a-time in romantic relationships, which can lead to a dark rabbit hole of generalizations and prescriptive projections. However, I find this tool most helpful in navigating day-to-day friendships.
Many of my friends identify as 2s (The Caregiver/Helper). Knowing this, I have learned that in our friendships I tend to overstep emotional boundaries because their deepest desires is to be a part of my life (so, yes, usually they want to hear about every part of my day). However, when 2s are unhealthy or deeply stressed, they throw themselves into other people's lives to distract from their own. Because of this, I've learned to do small things like ask if I can emotionally dump before sending 875,000 paragraphs of shower thoughts (s/o to my many 2 friends who keep me alive). This small act helps me reign in my emotions and helps our friendship by creating space for my 2 friends to equally dump and share.
On a larger level, noticing the number types of people you choose to surround yourself with can also tell you a lot about yourself. I have always been very, very close to many 2s and over the years I've recognized that it's because I yearn for care giving, embracing, generous people. Alternatively, one of the 4s greatest weaknesses is indecision and impracticality. Knowing this, I can choose to surround myself with active types like 1s or 8s, who might motivate me to think in action steps or ground my many fantasies in reality. Hot tip: this is significantly helpful when choosing partners for professional endeavors or creative projects.
As an introductory post, I will spare you all screen time and save the intricacies for another post. In the meantime, I would be more than happy to have a chat with you about number discernment, or how the Enneagram might fit into your life. Feel free to hit me up via email or DMs.
For more information on the Enneagram check out the official website (as linked above).
You can also hit up these IG accounts and podcasts if you're really hungry for emotional wisdom.
The Liturgist Podcast - they have a few great episodes on the spirituality of the Enneagram
Sleeping At Last - podcast and musician - they write songs about each number type
IG: @enneagramandcoffee - an account devoted to the Enneagram IRL. Sometimes they're serious and sometimes they type Jane the Virgin characters . It's also a lovely aesthetic experience.
Peace for now,
Cover image by Ashley Batz on Unsplash