Let’s Go: Enneagram Type One

Number One

Before we get into a specific Enneagram Type, I want to make a clarification. My long-time friend Greg R. asked me some great questions about my last post that helped me see how some of what I said either could be misconstrued or was not fully thought out, so I wanted to quickly set the record straight. First, I don’t think that we are born perfect and then become tainted by the world. I believe in The Fall. Second, the personality and the true self are not as separated as I made it sound; they are distinct but connected in some metaphysical way that I don’t think anyone fully understands! If you do, please let me know in the comments below. And if anything else I wrote confused or angered you, please let me know that, too.

Now, let’s take a look at the Enneagram’s Type One. This personality type is called by a variety of names: The Reformer, The Perfectionist, The Legalist, The Crusader and so on. You get the idea. Richard Rohr, who has a Type One personality, identifies Ones with “the need to be perfect.” Ones are located in the anger triad of 8-9-1, as discussed earlier. What are Ones angry about? They are angry at themselves and at the world for being imperfect.

This anger spurs the Gut-centered Ones to action. They want to perfect what is imperfect, both within themselves and in the world. Now, this does not mean that Ones are particularly saintly; I have several Ones in my life, and none of them are in danger of sprouting wings. Ones adhere strictly to the unique moral code that they themselves have developed over the years. Yes, there are Ones in Christianity, as there are in every religion and outside of religious faith. But there are also One mob bosses.

The defining feature of Ones is that they try really hard, and they are irritated most of the time. That’s because they are constantly arguing with reality. Instead of being able to accept their own flaws, and others’—in fact, instead of being able to accept that being flawed is part of being human— they work tirelessly within a strict set of rules that they assume everyone should adhere to. It is totally clear to them what SHOULD be done. “Should” is a One word; so is “good.” A One I know will often say, when seeing a behavior deemed appropriate, “You’re so good.”

Ones are not good with gray areas; they tend to be black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinkers. The Pharisees started out with the good intention of following God’s law to the letter. But somewhere along the line, they got so wrapped in the letter that they forgot the spirit (love). Instead of keeping God’s law as an act of love, it became a way to earn God’s love and therefore be self-righteous and arrogant about what good rule-obeyers they were. This is the low side of One.

But Ones can also transform the world. The Apostle Paul was a One. It makes sense now that he started out as a Pharisee, right? He talks in one of his letters about how, when it came to observing the law, he was flawless. I bet he was. In fact, it had to have been correct, because Ones don’t exaggerate! After his conversion, he became exactly as determined to spread the Gospel and he had previously been to wipe it out. A One is a One! But the difference after his conversion was that he got the love part of the equation. He understood that there was no way people could possibly earn God’s love; they could never be good enough. That is a major revelation for a One, and that’s why Paul spends so much time in his epistles talking about grace vs. works.

Ones can be a bit grating, as they may appear sanctimonious and can be relentless in pointing out your “wrong” behavior. It can also wear on the nerves to hear a One constantly critique themselves. And as for trying to point out to a One that they might not be right about a certain thing? Forget it. Ones put so much energy into being good and right that to have to admit that they were wrong about anything is just too devastating to handle. You will likely get the cold shoulder (and One anger is usually ice cold), and possibly an excoriating dressing down before the cold sets in.

What helps us to have compassion for Ones is to realize that for every finger they point at you, they are pointing nine more back at themselves. The voice in their head telling them to do this and not that (called the Super Ego or Inner Critic) is huge and relentless. It tells Ones that they are only good or okay if they do what is right. They are driven by the unconscious fear that they are inherently evil and flawed and must fix themselves. Pretty sad, huh?

However, being or knowing a One is not all doom and gloom! I know several funny, witty Ones whom I enjoy spending time with. There is a ton more to be known about the One personality, but not enough room in this blog! If you want to know more, get one of the books I’ve recommended and/or come to one of my trainings. If, while reading this post, you have identified someone in your life as a possible One, I hope you have a better understanding of what they are going through. Perhaps while reading this post, you have discovered that you identify strongly with the One characteristics. If so, please let me know in the comments.




  1. Greg on August 16, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    I was thinking more like “unclear”, but “confused” hits the mark pretty well. (Definitely not angry, though!)


  2. Heath on August 17, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Honesty is always welcomed here, Greg! But I am glad “angry” wasn’t the answer. 🙂

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