H ave you ever taken one of those personality quizzes to find out what animal you would be or which Harry Potter character you’re most like? Questionnaires like these may seem entertaining at best or trivial at worst, but they actually tap into a deep human desire—a fascination with gaining a better understanding of who we are. Over the years, I’ve used all kinds of tools and models of human personality, both in public ministry and in my personal quest for greater self-awareness and spiritual formation. But one of the most helpful models that I’ve used is an ancient tool called the Enneagram. The name “Enneagram” is a Greek word that literally means “nine” (ennea) and something “written” or “drawn” (gram).
The nine Enneagram types
The nine types on the Enneagram—identified as One through Nine—not only reflect the different patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting, but also reveal our strengths, weaknesses, motives, and blind spots as well as provide a pathway for personal growth and leadership development. When used well, the Enneagram can provide insight into who you are and the way you relate to others, giving you tools to love your neighbor as yourself.
The nine types are complex and worth exploring deeply, but here are brief descriptions of each, to give you a sense of them. These descriptions summarize each type’s specific core needs and motivations and are adapted from the Integrative Enneagram Certification Course:
- The Strict Perfectionist (One) needs to be good and perfect by avoiding mistakes and following the rules.
- The Considerate Helper (Two) needs to be liked and appreciated by providing reliable help and support to others.
- The Competitive Achiever (Three) needs to be successful by being the best and winning at all costs.
- The Intense Creative (Four) needs to be unique and authentic by being attuned to their emotions and connected to some larger sense of beauty and meaning.
- The Quiet Specialist (Five) needs to understand and make sense of the world by gaining knowledge and maintaining boundaries.
- The Loyal Skeptic (Six) needs to be safe and feel protected by being on the lookout for threats and questioning hidden intentions.
- The Enthusiastic Visionary (Seven) needs to be free and avoid pain by looking forward to future possibilities and pursuing what they want or need.
- The Active Controller (Eight) needs to be strong and avoid vulnerability by maintaining control over people and situations.
- The Adaptive Peacemaker (Nine) needs to be settled and in harmony with the world by making sure that everybody is being heard, respected, and considered.
Do you recognize your Enneagram type? Some find it easy to recognize their type while others may take a while longer to figure it out. If you’re not certain at first glance, don’t worry! Not everything in the description may apply to you all the time, or there may be two or three that really resonate with you.
The Enneagram won’t put you into a box
Some people may resist being labeled or “put into a box.” That’s understandable. But rather than telling us who we are or how we should act, the Enneagram provides deeper insight into our deepest desires, core motivations, hidden fears, and limiting beliefs. We often tell ourselves stories about how the world is and how we should show up, but these stories are not the whole truth. Rather than putting us into a box, the Enneagram shows us how small we have made our own box and invites us to “see” our box and then step outside its limits. Scary? It can be, but it can also be profound and very powerful.
If the Enneagram still sounds too simple, in one sense, you’re right. People cannot be divided into nine distinct types. We humans are complicated creatures, full of paradox and contradictions with many “in-betweens” within us. But the simplicity of the Enneagram is part of its genius. Lest we forget, simple is not the same as simplistic. Like in a close relationship, where you’re continually uncovering layers of nuances and distinctions in each other, the Enneagram is an adaptive tool that provides layers of insight and engagement. In fact, after fifteen years, I’m still uncovering new discoveries about who I am and how that shapes the way I live, love, and lead.
Why the Enneagram is different
While no model is perfect, the Enneagram has been one of the most profoundly enlightening and deeply disruptive tools for personal growth I’ve come across. Most models of human personality (such as the Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths assessment) do an effective job of describing your behavioral tendencies or social preferences, but those can shift and change depending on context or circumstance. The Enneagram, on the other hand, dives deeper to identify your core motivation or internal drive, which remain the same no matter the context or circumstance.
Don’t get me wrong! The other models of human personality can be helpful. But no other tool has been more helpful in identifying my unexpressed motives and unconscious behaviors that I instinctively knew were true of me but didn’t know how to articulate. It gave me words to articulate some of my deepest desires, expose my greatest fears, and transformed the way I see and understand people—beginning with myself!
John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” is quoted as saying, “Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard echoed the same sentiment in his journals: “Now with God’s help I shall become myself.” May you become the person God created you to be!
Find your type
Do you want help figuring out who you are and why you’re stuck in the same rut? Join the upcoming online course Enneagram Made Simple: Transforming the Way You Live, Love, and Lead. This eight-session course is for anyone who wants to use the Enneagram to know yourself better, improve the quality of your relationships, and discover more fully the person God created you to be.