Personality tests can mesmerize you with the possibility of understanding yourself – or someone else – better than you do now.
The Enneagram has been used for hundreds of years and remains one of the most popular personality typing systems. In ancient times this system was shrouded in secrecy, but today anyone can have access to it.
One version of the Enneagram is often used in spiritual formation programs. It consists of an exploration of personality types through the grid of Christian growth. It is sometimes implemented in the Christian counseling setting and has proved to be a valuable tool for self-understanding in the clinical context.
The word personality relates to the word for mask in Latin. As children, our personality develops as we learn to interact with our world, as we connect with others, and as we try to avoid pain.
As we get older, our behavior becomes so habitual that we think it defines us. We might think the personality is who we really are, but our identity actually resides under the mask. Unlike the way we present ourselves to the world, our true identity is revealed when we let our guard down.
When we work through the Enneagram personality test, we can start to figure out the patterns to our personality type and the perspective we have on life. This way, we can connect with our inner self.
If you’re familiar with the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, you’ll know that system specifies 16 types of personalities. By contrast, the Enneagram describes 9 types, each of which can be compared to a characteristic of God himself, since we are created in His image.
The book, The Road Back to You, was written by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile to be a Christian primer on the Enneagram. The authors share how this system can help us get to know ourselves better:
“What we don’t know about ourselves can and will hurt us, not to mention others. As long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we’re prisoners of our history.
We’ll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us. Eventually, we become so accustomed to making the same mistakes over and over in our lives that they lull us to sleep. We need to wake up.”
Waking Up to Who You Really Are
How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? – Proverbs 6:9
The famous theologian John Calvin said, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
To really get to know ourselves in the context of the world around us, we have to understand:
- The perspective we have on the world,
- What experiences and influences have shaped our perspective,
- And how our worldview is different from others’.
When a child is born, their identity remains brand-new and untarnished. As that child grows and develops, her experience in her family of origin will strongly influence her perspective on life and the world around her.
As that child grows older, the first step in understanding herself happens when she realizes other people have different perspectives than hers, mostly based on their own family environment.
Since we are all sinners, all family relationships involve some level of brokenness and pain. Some people experience this brokenness much earlier or more intensely than others do, but it is there at some level for everyone.
So how do we cope with the inevitable pain of living in a fallen world? Each of us develops our own ways of responding. Eventually, our responses become habitual and so deeply ingrained we think they define us.
However, our response to a broken world doesn’t fully describe our core self, but our provisional self. We might manage just fine with these patterns of relating, but eventually, we start to uncover the ways in which our coping mechanisms are failing us, usually in our late twenties or even later. At that point, we can start the journey of discovering our true self underneath our ingrained patterns of relating to the world.
“Your True Self is who you objectively are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God, “the face you had before you were born,” as the Zen masters say. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity, which can never be gained nor lost by any technique, group affiliation, morality, or formula whatsoever.
The surrendering of our false self, which we have usually taken for our absolute identity, yet is merely a relative identity, is the necessary suffering needed to find “the pearl of great price” that is always hidden inside this lovely but passing shell” (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr).
Discovering Your Enneagram Type
So what are these nine types we’ve spoken about? The types are grouped into three triads, also known as “instinctual centers.”
The first triad is called the gut/instinctual triad, containing types 1, 8, and 9. The core emotion is anger.
The second triad is called the heart/feelings triad, containing types 2, 3, and 4. The core emotion is shame.
The third triad is the head/thinking triad, containing types 5, 6, and 7. The core emotion is fear.
How do you figure out where you fit into these types? There are several methods you can use, and you can find them online, although not all are of equal quality.
No matter what your test results are, they can’t offer a definitive analysis. They’re just a starting point for discovering and exploring your type.
Figuring out your type can actually be somewhat difficult because it can involve getting to know yourself at a deeper level and unveiling personal truths that may cause discomfort. Have you heard the quote, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations” (author unknown)? The same can be true for figuring out your Enneagram type.
Talking to a therapist who uses the Enneagram in a clinical setting can help you uncover your type and use this tool for self-understanding to make improvements in your emotional health.
The Nine Types: What Are They?
The following list describes each one of the types and how that particular characteristic can be a reflection of the image of God in us. No type is inferior to another, and none of them are inherently bad.
- Type 1, the Perfectionist, reflects God’s goodness and rightness.
- Type 2, the Helper, reflects God’s love and nurture.
- Type 3, the Achiever, reflects God’s hope and radiance.
- Type 4, the Romantic, reflects God’s creativity and depth.
- Type 5, the Observer, reflects God’s wisdom and truth.
- Type 6, the Loyalist, reflects God’s faithfulness and courage.
- Type 7, the Enthusiast, reflects God’s joy and abundance.
- Type 8, the Challenger, reflects God’s power and protection.
- Type 9, the Peacemaker, reflects God’s peace and oneness.
What Happens After I Know My Type?
When you’ve nailed down which type you fit into, that’s just the beginning. Knowledge alone can fascinate, but it won’t necessarily lead to change. The more you learn about your type, the more you can observe yourself and how you act in accordance with it.
Thomas Merton wrote: “Sooner or later we must distinguish between what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is. We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty, but also in its great and very simple dignity: created to be the child of God, and capable of loving with something of God’s own sincerity and his unselfishness.”
We’ve identified a core emotion for each type, and along the same lines, each type has a different focus of attention:
- Type 1: What’s wrong? What needs to be improved?
- Type 2: How can I meet other people’s needs in order to get their approval?
- Type 3: Which tasks can I accomplish to receive praise and recognition?
- Type 4: What’s missing?
- Type 5: How can I detach and remain an observer so I can protect my personal boundaries and privacy?
- Type 6: What can go wrong? What is the worst-case scenario?
- Type 7: What is fun and stimulating?
- Type 8: How can I take control to protect myself and those around me from vulnerability?
- Type 9: How I can meet the wants and needs of others in order to keep the piece?
How can we apply the Enneagram personality test into our lives as we live out our Christian faith? As we abide in Christ, we grow to be more like him. We can’t change on our own. The Enneagram provides a lens through which to view the process of transformation.
Quiet becomes a key component of this process – a quiet heart, a quiet spirit, a quiet path toward God. Each one of the three triads provides one version of quiet that can help on the path of transformation:
Stillness: For the gut/instinctual triad
In The Sacred Enneagram, Christopher Heuertz writes, “Stillness interrupts the addictions of gut people and prompts a reevaluation of their drive.” Stillness requires intention; it’s the opposite of frenetic busyness.
If you are in the gut/instinctual triad, and you stop all your activity and get still, you can reflect on the ways you connect your identity and worth to everything you’re busy doing. You might find that you tend to be overly controlling of your circumstances. Stillness can open your eyes to self-discovery and lead to transformation.
Solitude: For the heart/feeling triad
Heuertz writes, “Solitude teaches us how to be present – present to God, to ourselves, and to others with no strings attached.”
If you are in the heart/feeling triad, you may struggle with over-dependence on other people, whether connecting to them or comparing yourself to them. You need solitude because, with your emphasis on relationships, you may struggle to break free of unhealthy patterns when you are around other people. Solitude can unlock the door that keeps you trapped.
Silence: For the head/thinking triad
What are your true desires? What do you fear? What do you sense God is saying to you? If you are in the head/thinking triad, you probably have a busy mind full of active thought, and quieting your inner voice can help you connect with God’s voice and understand your true self.
Again from Heuertz: “The Enneagram shines a light on what obstructs our essence from emerging and opens our path to God. The quiet practices discussed above allow God to begin moving us back towards our true identity.”
The Enneagram helps with self-discovery, but it also helps us understand each other. We can develop compassion as we realize how differently others perceive the world. We can learn to be better listeners as we hear others’ perspectives without judgment.
The simple act of listening improves relationships immensely. How do other people think and respond? How do they live in their minds differently than we do in ours? The beauty of the Enneagram is that it allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes and realize the inherent value in other perspectives.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24
The Enneagram in Daily Life
At the end of the day, you can choose from a variety of personality tests, but hopefully, you can see the unique approach and worth of the Enneagram. It doesn’t just help you put a label on yourself or other people; it offers a way forward to finding your true, authentic self as you were created to be in the image of God.
When you have support on this journey, you’ll probably make even more progress towards positive change. Growth takes time and self-awareness, but as you continue learning more about yourself and others, you can deliberately change unhealthy patterns and realize your own internal biases and your unique perspective on life.
Most importantly, you can grow in compassion for yourself and other people. For example, the Enneagram personality test can be used in couples therapy to help spouses understand each other better and grow in mutual sympathy and love.
You might feel unsettled the first time you observe yourself acting out some of your type’s negative patterns. If you’re committed to growth, you’ll have to work on those patterns and face the truth about yourself.
But the freedom of self-discovery lies in the potential for transformation. We can get to know the root of our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, and we can start to let go of unhealthy habits so our true identity can flourish.
As you demonstrate humility and willingness to change, God can transform you far beyond what you could imagine. Please reach out to one of our Christian counselors if you would like help taking the first steps of self-understanding through the Enneagram.
- The Road Back to You, Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile – A good primer for beginners.
- The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz – A spiritual perspective on discovering your true identity as a Christian.
- The Typology podcast with Ian Cron – A series devoted to exploring the nine Enneagram types.
- Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr – Rohr is one of the most well-known voices in Enneagram circles, and in this book, he writes about the path of transformation for believers.
“Reflecting Enneagram”, Courtesy of Rob Fitzel, www.fitzel.ca, Used by Permission; “On the Lion”, Courtesy of Jeremy Renke, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “The Road Ahead”, Courtesy of Vlad Bagacian, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Passage”, Courtesy of Hasan Almasi, Unsplash.com, CC0 License