An introduction to the Enneagram personality profile.
In the span of just a few years, I found myself fully thrust into adulthood. I was in my late 20s, happily married, raising our wonderful young children, and serving in a leadership role at work. But I began to notice that my most consistent stresses and challenges were not caused by my relationships or my roles, but by my own inner life. I had failed to mature in (at least) one critical component: Self-awareness.
With a limited self-awareness, I didn’t understand what was truly motivating me, or why I could get so upset in one situation and yet remain calm in another. I couldn’t figure out why my own sense of self was far different than how others perceived me. In short, I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing.
Sitting with my wife and a wise spiritual director, I began to discover the importance of self-awareness — and, more importantly, how to develop it in my own life.
Introducing the Enneagram
My wise friend introduced me to a resource for growth in self-awareness. The Enneagram is an old way of describing personality, but it has soared in popularity in recent years. A personality profile with a long history, the Enneagram’s origins predate modern personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, DISC, and StrengthsFinder.
The Enneagram offers a unique perspective into your sources of motivation and your relational habits. By understanding the language and styles of the Enneagram, you will likely develop a more comprehensive insight into your most common motivations, thoughts, feelings, and actions. The goal of the Enneagram is to draw out the real you.
The word “personality” comes from the Latin word for “mask.” In this sense, think of our personality as how we present ourselves to the world; it’s what we put on when we go outside. But under that mask, you can find clarity around who you really are. The Enneagram, with proper reflection, can show you both — what personality traits you’ve put on throughout life to fit in, protect yourself, or get ahead, and what is truly driving you at the core.
According to the Enneagram, there are nine primary styles of personality. Of course, humans are more complex than a single number can summarize, but you almost certainly will identify strongly with one of these nine styles and find two or three others that are significant influences on your personality.
The Nine Personality Styles
The ONE is the reformer — the good and moral person. Ones are driven to change the world; they operate in terms of right and wrong, black and white. A healthy One will be honest, hard-working, and ethical. An unhealthy One may be moralistic, rigid, and demanding. Ones are often perfectionists and might struggle with anger.
The TWO is the giver — the helpful, generous, supportive person. Twos are motivated by loving and caring for others; their orientation is relational. Healthy Twos are genuinely unselfish, gentle, and compassionate. When unhealthy, Twos may become co-dependent, overly sacrificial, and possessive. Twos might struggle to recognize their own needs and limits.
The THREE is the achiever — the effective, high-performing person. Threes are energized by getting things done. Healthy Threes are active, motivating, and competent. Unhealthy Threes can become superficial, self-promoting, and deceitful. Threes are often popular and successful, but they tend to over-identify with their roles in life and struggle with disappointment and failure.
The FOUR is the creative — the original, artistic, romantic person. Fours are motivated by expressing themselves. Healthy Fours are unique, attentive, and aware of beauty and harmony. When unhealthy, Fours can be dramatic, complicated, and prone to melancholy. Fours are deeply in touch with their own feelings but may withdraw too much into isolation.
The FIVE is the sage — the wise, intellectual, objective person. Fives love to make sense of things and find connections that others have missed. Healthy Fives are thoughtful and innovative, often experts in their field. Unhealthy Fives can be overly objective, detached, and non-committing. Fives are the deepest thinkers, but they may struggle to understand and express their feelings.
The SIX is the loyalist — the faithful, traditional, reliable person. Sixes are motivated by maintaining relationships; stability is key for them. When healthy Sixes are dependable and steady, they make great friends. Unhealthy Sixes might become anxious, rigid, or hyper-conservative. Sixes bring stability into the world, but the potential of loss and chaos can be a constant challenge for them.
The SEVEN is the enthusiast — the joyful, playful, life-of-the-party person. Sevens’ motivation is to simply enjoy life. Healthy Sevens are optimistic, enthusiastic, and visionary. When unhealthy, Sevens may be superficial, scattered, and pain-avoidant. Sevens tend to be extroverted and fun, but they can struggle to remain engaged with anything negative, painful, or boring.
The EIGHT is the competitor — the powerful, challenging person. Eights want to win; they perceive life as a challenge to be overcome. Healthy Eights are fearless, strong-willed, and tenacious. Unhealthy Eights can become overpowering, hostile, and threatening. They’re decisive and confident, often quick to defend others, but they can also underestimate their ability to hurt or shame others.
The NINE is the peacemaker — the compassionate, reconciling person. Nines are motivated by finding and keeping peace. Healthy Nines are easy-going, modest, and diplomatic. When unhealthy, Nines can be overwhelmed and passive-aggressive, and they might avoid conflict at all costs. Nines can bring calm and resolution in tense situations, but they might struggle to withdraw from their own pain.
Taking the Next Step
Which style do you most identify with? Once you understand which styles come most naturally to you, which are slight influences, and which are diminished traits, you can begin to ask important questions. How did you become strong in this personality style? When in your childhood did it develop? What relational patterns did you learn growing up — and are they still helping you as an adult?
Many of us have found the Enneagram to be an essential resource for self-knowledge and growth. Its profound accuracy in describing individuals has earned it a following of devoted advocates. Although it can’t heal the sick or raise the dead, the Enneagram can be an important tool.
If you’re interested in cultivating greater self-awareness, consider the Enneagram. Through it, you may likely find more accurate self-knowledge, increased well-being, and more life-giving relationships.
Editor’s Note: Jeremy is the teaching pastor of Trinity Community Church in Columbia. He is the author of a few short books and has been an instructor in the Enneagram since 2014 (before it was cool). He and his wife, Jessie, have three sons and spend most of their free time outdoors. Jeremy teaches Enneagram seminars at the Hatchery several times a year. To learn more about the Enneagram, take the full profile, or register for the seminar, visit jslinneman.com/enneagram.