The Enneagram: A Complete Guide to the Basics
So, you’ve heard about the Enneagram of personality types. Maybe you came across a quiz online and became intrigued. Maybe a friend is driving you crazy talking about it non-stop. Maybe a fellow Christian is worried that it’s…umm…evil.
Well, this guide was created to give you an overview of all the basics to get you started. And to set the record straight about that “evil” thing.
Some people are hesitant to learn the Enneagram because they’ve heard it’s complicated. It’s true that the Enneagram isn’t easy. It is a complex model of human behavior, but that’s necessarily so because humans are, well, complex. You could actually spend the rest of your life learning about the Enneagram. But you only need to know a few, foundational things to start benefiting from its wisdom. I’ve outlined them below.
Where Does the Enneagram Come From?
The Best Enneagram Test
The Centers of Intelligence
Nine Enneagram Types
The Enneagram Wings
Stress and Security in the Enneagram
Enneagram Vices and Virtues
Where Does the Enneagram Come From?
The origins of the Enneagram are diverse and ancient. Some of those origins are Christian, but that does not make the Enneagram a “Christian” model, any more than the fact that other aspects of its origins are not Christian makes it “unChristian.” The truth is always true, and all truth is God’s truth. Meaning that if something is true, it’s because God made it to be so. So, no need to be alarmed. There’s nothing occultic or blasphemous going on here. The Enneagram is just a description of how our personality works, really. It provides information we need to help us overcome the unhealthy, autopilot patterns dictated by the personality so we can be who God made us to be.
However, the Enneagram of personality types is not ancient. Some of the ideas that floated around in the idea ether and contributed to what we now call the Enneagram of personality go back thousands of years, but it was only in the 1950s that a man named Oscar Ichazo put these ideas together. Another man, a psychiatrist named Claudio Naranjo, added modern psychology – how the personality works – to the mix. Since then, Enneagram researchers have grown in their understanding of human behavior and have added to the literature on this amazing tool for personal and spiritual transformation.
For a deeper look at where the Enneagram comes from, check out The Enneagram: What it Is, What it Isn’t and Where it Takes You.
The Best Enneagram Test
I get asked a lot which Enneagram test to take. This sort of makes me chuckle, since it reveals the underlying Western, right-brain assumption that a test is the best way to find out your Enneagram type. I discovered my type while reading a book on the Enneagram – I recognized my patterns immediately. But I know that for others, it isn’t that easy.
Still, there are other ways to find out which of the nine personality types is yours besides taking a test. You could read a book, or several books, as I did. You could attend an Enneagram workshop or class, especially one that features panels for people of each type. If there is a local Enneagram group, you can learn that way and interact with various types to help you learn.
And yes, you can take a test. Many people want this option because they think of it as the fastest way to find out. Well, if it’s a poorly designed test, you could get an inaccurate result, which then ends up taking more of your time. You’ll start down the wrong path and then have to start over. So, take a test that has been validated and widely used. I recommend taking the test at The Enneagram Institute. Yes, it costs money, but you get what you pay for – a validated test and a huge chunk of information on your type once the test is done. (And I don’t get paid to promote this test – wish I did!)
The Centers of Intelligence
There are nine basic personality types, and each of those personalities rests within one of three Centers of Intelligence. The word “intelligence” is used here to describe how a person processes or filters information.
Each Center has one emotion that predominates and is associated with an area of the body. The 8-9-1 group is the Instinctive or Gut center, and its primary emotion is rage. The 2-3-4 group belongs to the Feeling or Heart center, and its primary emotion is shame. Finally, the 5-6-7 group is the Thinking or Head center, and its primary emotion is fear.
The Heart center types are very concerned with self-image and have trouble telling the difference between what they believe about themselves and who they actually are. This is because, underneath all those self-stories, they are dealing with a great deal of shame.
The Gut/Body types maintain resistance to reality and have trouble with aggression and repression. Each of the Types handles its rage differently.
The Head types are anxious because they have lost their connection to a sense of guidance and security. They spend their time doing things that they believe (often wrongly) will make them safer.
I recommend Riso & Hudson’s The Wisdom of the Enneagram for a more in-depth yet very readable discussion of the Centers.
Nine Enneagram Types
It may be strange to think that all people who are alive now, have ever lived or will ever live can only be one of nine personality types. We all have experienced such a variety of human expression among the people we know; how could there only be nine types?
Well, think of each type as a “home base.” Each of us has all nine personality types in us, but one is our default setting, the familiar patterns of thought and behavior that cause us to show up in the world as we currently do.
However, within each type, there is room for a lot of variation. We’ll talk about that in the next two sections.
So, with that, here are links to descriptions of the Enneagram types. There are many places you can learn the Enneagram these days, but I have been certified as a teacher by the Enneagram Institute, so I will always use their names and descriptors for each type.
The Enneagram Wings
The Enneagram, as I mentioned earlier, has nine home bases but also recognizes a great deal of variability from there. The wings account for some of this variation. A wing is the number on either side of your home base Enneagram type. So, for instance, I have a Type Seven personality. That means that I have two wing options: Type Six and Type Eight.
You can see that the Seven has lines reaching to Types Five and One, but those aren’t wings; I’ll talk about what these lines mean in the next section. So, think about standing on your number and flapping your “wings” (arms); the two numbers you would hit with your arms are your possible wings.
The wings exert more influence than you might imagine, and they can really help you understand why you do what you do. They might even help you discover your type if you don’t know it yet.
So, let’s explore! To give credit where credit is due, I am using the names for the wing types created by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson of The Enneagram Institute (Copyright 1999 The Enneagram Institute, All Rights Reserved). I’ll arrange the type pairing next to each other so you can more easily see the difference between, for instance, a Nine with a One wing (which you may see written as 9w1) and a One with a Nine wing (1w9).
It’s helpful to discuss the wings by Center of Intelligence, starting with the Instinctive Center. As a quick recap, this Center includes Types Eight, Nine and One. The dominant emotion for this Center is anger or rage.
Eight with a Seven wing: The Independent. Adventurous risk-takers with big plans, Independents are more openly aggressive and confrontational than Eights with a Nine wing. They are less likely to back down from a fight. They are both more pragmatic and efficient and more easily swayed by their feelings.
Eight with a Nine wing: The Bear. These Eights are steadier, less aggressive and less easily irritated than those with a Seven wing. They have a quiet groundedness and “laid-back” air that comes from the Nine’s Peacemaker influence. Bears are warmer, more family-oriented and protective – sort of bear-like.
Nine with an Eight wing: The Referee. These Nines have trouble staying focused on goals because they like to socialize and find comfort. Nine stubbornness can kick into overdrive due to the strong Eight influence, and many Referees have explosive bad tempers.
Nine with a One wing: The Dreamer. These Nines have trouble focusing on goals because they get caught up in busywork that is not essential. They are less adventurous and more reserved than other Nines (below). The One influence causes their anger to come out as restrained indignation.
One with a Nine wing: The Idealist. Though full of high ideals, these Ones typically don’t want to dirty their hands with politics, likely due to the Nine influence that desires harmony. That influence extends to the Idealist’s desire to be alone; they may be more remote, aloof and impersonal.
One with a Two wing: The Advocate. These Ones also have ideals, but they are willing to actively and forcefully pursue—“advocate” for—the reforms they desire. Rather than wanting to withdraw, they get energized by being with people. These traits make them good at politics. They can become irritated and highly vocal when irritated.
On to the Heart or Feeling Center:
Two with a One wing: The Servant. These Twos feel responsible for others’ welfare and war against their own needs and feelings, which they regard as selfish. They may be extremely self-critical and ignore their health as they work in the background to serve other and thus feel significant.
Two with a Three wing: The Host/Hostess. These Twos are more good-humored and friendly, less self-critical and more ambitious and task-oriented. They are more direct about what they want as they focus on the quality of their relationships; they can be high-handed and arrogant at times.
Three with a Two wing: The Charmer. Wanting others to like and admire them, Charmers try to hide anything that would interfere with their desirability. They know how to dazzle and impress people, but they may have that slick, artificial manner that repels rather than attracts. They are covertly competitive.
Three with a Four wing: The Professional. These Threes struggle with a mixture of ambition and self-doubt as they strive to embody perfection to avoid the shame of inferiority. They are more private socially than outgoing Charmers and may display both arrogance and self-contempt.
Four with a Three wing: The Aristocrat. The Three influence causes Aristocrats to focus on their self-worth and how they appear to others. They usually put a lot of effort into their self-presentation and their work, desiring recognition. They love culture and sophistication (hence “Aristocrat”) and are sometimes competitive, disdainful of others and narcissistic.
Four with a Five wing: The Bohemian. Fours are a withdrawn type (in the Hornevian Groups), and Bohemians are influenced by Five, which is also withdrawn. So, they are more introverted than Aristocrats and dwell mainly in their imaginations. They are drawn to the exotic and the mysterious (hence “Bohemian”), adopt a minimalist lifestyle—again, the Five influence—and often see themselves as rebellious outsiders.
And finally, we arrive at the Thinking or Head Center:
Five with a Four wing: The Iconoclast. Due to the Four’s Feeling Center influence, this type of Five struggles with intense emotions, creating a kind of mythic battle between head and heart. This battle sends them into the realm of wild, fantastic imagination and may be the reason they are more independent and less grounded than the other type of Five.
Five with a Six wing: The Problem-Solver. With an extra dose of Head Center energy, this Five is more focused on theories, data and technology. They are very private about their feelings and more interested in the world around them than their internal world. They tend to be more argumentative, defensive and even antagonistic.
Six with a Five Wing: The Defender. Serious and independent, these Sixes keep their own counsel and rely on systems and beliefs for reassurance – while doubting them, too. They look at the world as a dangerous place and are reactive and aggressive when they feel their safety is threatened.
Six with a Seven Wing: The Buddy. As the name implies, Buddies are people who like to hang out with others and be sociable. They are more distractible than Defenders and can be vocally opinionated while reticent about their own problems. Substance abuse may help quell their anxiety.
Seven with a Six wing: The Entertainer. These Sevens are witting, fast-talking and energetic; they entertain others without trying. They are productive but more distractible than the other type of Seven. Substance abuse can happen here due to anxiety and self-doubt (courtesy of the Six influence).
Seven with an Eight wing: The Realist. With a strong Eightish willpower, Realists can be aggressive multi-taskers who meet their own needs. They can be workaholics in search of possessions and experiences. They would rather do and create than connect with people, and they are more jaded than the ever-hopeful Entertainers.
For a more thorough treatment of the wings, I again recommend The Wisdom of the Enneagram.
Stress and Security in the Enneagram
This is where all those interconnected lines on the Enneagram symbol come into play. Every Enneagram type has its own set of coping mechanisms that it defaults to. When those mechanisms don’t work, the personality becomes stressed in predictable ways. That’s called going to your Stress point.
Conversely, when all is well and the personality feels like its needs are being met, it moves to its Security point. Here’s what these movements look like for three of the types to give you an idea of how it works.
Stress: Ones can begin to feel that no one sees how hard they’re trying and, like the low side of Type Four, get caught up in fantasies of escape and freedom, or even self-indulgence.
Security: They begin to relax and get in touch with their sense of fun and play, like Type 7. They are not so harsh on themselves or others.
Stress: Fours can become worried about their relationships and try too hard, like the low side of Type 2. They may become clingy or overly helpful or flattering, focusing on others and denying their own feelings.
Security: When Fours feel supported and relaxed, they become disciplined and able to focus on a cause outside themselves, like the higher quality of Type One. They emerge from their feelings-fueled fantasy world and truly participate in the real world with expressions of their authentic selves.
Stress: Nines become focused on what they “should” be doing, like Type Six, and can become hyperactive. Their positive demeanor can turn pessimistic, and they become more passive-aggressive.
Security: Nines take on the energy and self-assertion of Type Three and are able to see their own value.
Enneagram Vices and Virtues
I mentioned earlier that the Enneagram contains some Christian ideas. Here’s one of them: A Desert Father, a monk named Evagrius, noticed eight or nine patterns of cognitive or emotional resistance “that assail the mind during practice.” These were later consolidated into nine cardinal sins; it was at an influential Church meeting years later that the nine were whittled down to seven.
Each Enneagram type “gets” a particular aspect of God. It’s actually what we end up fixated on when we are asleep to our true selves. We long for these holy aspects—or virtues—but our personality cannot create them, so we end up with approximations. For instance, a desire for holiness gets transmuted into legalism – the personality’s effort-filled attempt at holiness.
So then, the virtue becomes the vice.
Type Five longs for wisdom but, being cut off from the inner wisdom in her spirit, believes she will find wisdom only through intense, focused study and the acquisition of knowledge. Nines want peace so much that they fear their own desires might disturb it, so they give in to everyone else’s desires.
These areas of focus and their corresponding behavior patterns are what determine, in large part, which sins we struggle with and which are easy for us to overcome. Eights find forgiving personal betrayal almost impossible, for instance. Sixes typically have a hard time trusting God. For the Four, “Love is not envious” feels like an impossible standard.
On the flip side, Twos can love and give with great generosity. Threes can work tirelessly for the sake of the Gospel. Nines lay out the welcome mat of peace and reconciliation wherever they go.
Here’s a handy visual for each type’s virtue and vice.
The Personality Enneagram is an amazing tool of self-discovery, compassion and transformation. But any tool can also be used in ways it wasn’t intended for, including as a weapon. So, here are a few simple recommendations:
1. Don’t tell people their type. First, you may think you know, but what if you’re wrong? Some types look alike on the outside but have quite different motives. You may be judging the person’s behavior, but you can’t see the inner motivations. Second, it’s not your job. Each person needs to take this journey on their own. To tell them what type you think they are may mislead them and certainly short-circuits their self-discovery process.
2. The Enneagram was developed as a way to help people become their true selves – not to be used to “type-shame” others or yourself. You didn’t get to pick your personality type, and neither did anyone else. When I first learned this model, I would sometimes say to my husband things like, “Quit being such a Six!” Which is stupid. Understanding why a person does something should also clue you in to the fact that they can’t suddenly stop doing it just because you or they know why they do it. And it’s also unkind.
3. I met a lady once whose former pastor knew the Enneagram and had used it to spiritually abuse her and others. Her pastor had clearly seen the power of this model but had missed the whole compassion element. Knowing the Enneagram is like having an unfair advantage on the rest of the world; you understand what’s going on beneath the surface and what motivates others. You certainly can use that advantage to manipulate people. But don’t. That’s not God’s best for you or anyone else.
4. When I first learned the Enneagram, I wanted to tell everyone about it. But not everyone was interested. That was long before the personality model had become so popular. You’re likely to get better reception these days, but if not, let it go. You can’t force people to want spiritual transformation or to see the Enneagram as a way to it.
5. DO NOT use your personality type as an excuse for your bad behavior or anyone else’s. Your personality type is not who you are – it merely describes where you’re stuck. It’s not accurate or appropriate to say things like, “What do you expect? I’m a Seven!” or “She hits people when she’s mad, but that’s just how Eights are.” Knowing your type doesn’t free you from personal responsibility. It shows you what you are fixated on and ways to overcome that fixation so you can become who God always had in mind.
And so it begins…
I didn’t even bring up the Instinctual Variants, the Hornevian Groups, the Object Relations groups, Levels of Development…As I said earlier, you could spend the rest of your life learning this stuff! And I, for one, intend to.
You’ll learn about these other aspects of the Enneagram later, if you want to. They add further nuance and insight into why you do what you do and how to stop doing the stuff that doesn’t serve God’s purposes for your life. But they won’t make a bit of sense until you have the basics down.
By studying the topics in this guide, you’ll be able to apply the Enneagram as it was meant to be used: not as a parlor game or a badge to wear but as a compassionate tool for transformation so that you can become your true you.
If you still have questions, leave them in the comments section below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m here to help you on your journey!
Quick Start Guide to Centering Prayer
This short guide gives you the essentials for learning to be still and quiet before God so you can hear his voice and feel his love in a deeper way.