The Enneagram System of Personality, sometimes referred to as the GPS of wisdom, is an ancient personality typing system that has been gaining momentum over the last decade. Are you a Peacemaker? A Leader? A Helper? When you find out, your life gets easier.
“I thought we were doing fine, and then yesterday out of the blue he said he wants to break up. I’m so confused!”
“My mother calls me a million times a day about every little thing. I’ve told her I’m busy, but she can’t relax. It drives me crazy.”
Have you ever wondered, “What was he thinking?” or, “Why does she keep doing that?”
We’ve all had moments where we’ve struggled to understand someone else’s behavior, and while misunderstandings are part of the human experience, a universal solution is starting to emerge: The Enneagram System of Personality.
Knowing your own Enneagram type helps to explain your behavior and knowing someone else’s type helps to explain theirs.
When you understand someone else’s motivation and where their attention goes, suddenly their behavior makes more sense, conflicts de-escalate, and understanding can be cultivated more easily. This is why I call the Enneagram a tool for compassion.
Where Does the Enneagram Come From?
The symbol itself is quite old with references going back to ancient Greece and Persia. The earliest references to the system itself can be traced to the writings of the Russian philosopher Gurdjieff in the 1920s.
The nine distinct personality styles can be traced to teachings in mystery schools taught by Bolivian-born Oscar Ichazo in the 1960s and his student, a Chilean-born, American-trained psychiatrist named Claudio Naranjo in the 1970s.
While the system has been taught publicly since the 1970s, it is really in the last decade that it has gained momentum in the mainstream.
How Does the Enneagram Work?
The Enneagram suggests that your experience in life is largely dictated by one central question: Where does your attention go?
It explains how two people can see the exact same event unfold before their eyes and one person thinks, “That was great!” while the other thinks, “That was horrible!”
They’re both right, but their minds are just focused on different elements of the situation.
The word “ennea” means nine in Greek, and this system suggests there are nine basic places your attention goes. This “habit of attention” aligns with a constellation of personality traits that make up each of the nine Enneagram types.
Interested in other systems too? Read: The Power of Numbers – Here’s Everything You Want to Know About Numerology
How Do You Use the Enneagram?
There is a wide spectrum of ways you can use the Enneagram.
Businesses (including Best Buy, Daimler-Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Avon) use it to improve business communication and team dynamics.
Therapists use it to help cultivate self-awareness in their clients. Priests use it to counsel their parishioners. Individuals use it as a psycho-spiritual growth tool to help gain greater consciousness.
I, myself, teach it as a tool for compassion. The Enneagram is complex and offers something for everyone.
These Are the 9 Enneagram Types:
Type 1: The Perfectionist/Reformer
Their attention goes to what needs improvement or correction. This is an idealistic person who sees things in black and white and right and wrong.
They have high standards, are precise, and like to be right. Your idealistic friend who takes a test, gets 99% correct but can’t stop talking about the one she missed? She might be a Type 1.
Type 2: The Helper/Giver/Lover
Their attention goes to how to be helpful, useful, or likeable. This is a warm person who is very tuned in to the needs of others and proactively offers a helping hand.
They are typically friendly, nurturing, helpful, and can have difficulty with personal boundaries. Your friendly co-worker who sets up the office birthday calendar and makes sure there is a cake and gifts for everyone’s birthday? She might be a Type 2.
Type 3: The Achiever/Motivator
Their attention goes to achievement and how to be successful in the eyes of other people. This is a competitive person who is status-oriented and likes to be the best in whatever environment they are in (and they often are!).
Goal-seeking, driven, and action-oriented, Type 3’s can spend a lot of their energy worrying about what other people think of them. Your super successful boss whose office is filled with a wall of achievement certificates? He might be a Type 3.
Type 4: The Individualist/Romantic
Their attention goes to what is missing. This is a sensitive person who feels a wide range of intense emotions and is drawn to authenticity and creativity.
Original and individualistic, Type 4’s are comfortable operating far outside the range of mainstream taste and can be truly unique. Your sensitive best friend who changed her name because she felt her birth name didn’t represent who she truly was? She might be a Type 4.
Type 5: The Investigator/Observer
Their attention goes to maintaining self-sufficiency and avoiding the trappings of the world. This is an observant person who is highly inquisitive, cerebral, and interested in facts and information.
Type 5’s are often quiet, frugal, and try to avoid the limelight. Your reserved co-worker who cashed in with stock options from before the company went public but still drives his 15-year-old college car? He might be a Type 5.
Type 6: The Skeptic/Loyalist
Their attention goes to what could be dangerous or a threat to their security. This is a vigilant, wary person who scans for danger and what could go wrong.
They are loyal, anxious, reliable, and driven by a sense of duty. Your anxious father who made sure you had a fire extinguisher and an emergency flashlight in your apartment? He might be a Type 6.
Type 7: The Enthusiast/Generalist
Their attention goes to what could be pleasurable, fun, positive, and new. This is a future-oriented, adventurous person who is fueled by new experiences and likes to try new things.
They have difficulty processing negative emotions and can be relentlessly positive. Your happy-go-lucky sister who has a new hobby every two months and can’t seem to focus? She might be a Type 7.
Type 8: The Leader/Boss
Their attention goes to power and power dynamics. This is an assertive, direct person who likes to be in control and may communicate with an aggressive communication style.
Type 8’s are decisive, resilient, and powerful with a strong sense of justice and an instinct to protect the underdog and the vulnerable. Your protective uncle who always seems to be shouting at everyone? He might be a Type 8.
Type 9: The Peacemaker/Mediator
Their attention goes to peace and harmony. This is a calm, soothing person who is a gifted listener and works hard to avoid conflict.
Easy-going and mellow, Type 9’s are good at understanding the perspective of other people but can struggle with indecision and change. Your agreeable boyfriend who gets along with everyone on the planet? He might be a Type 9.
How Do You Learn Your Enneagram Type? Here Are the 3 Main Ways:
One important element to the system is you must recognize yourself in one of the nine types. Since the Enneagram is based on motivation and only you know why you behave the way you do, only you can say what your Enneagram type is.
To “be a type” you must be most of the things most of the time. You’ll likely see a characteristic or two of yourself in all of the nine personality styles, but to be an Enneagram type, you are most of the things most of the time.
There are three main ways people learn their type:
1. Recognize Descriptions
Some people can read the in-depth descriptions and recognize themselves. There are lots of good books giving lots of detailed information about the types.
For some people, their behavior is “raw enough” and their motivation is clear enough that they can read Enneagram material and identify themselves.
2. Take a Test
There are online tests available to give you pointers.
A word of caution about the online tests – there is a wide spectrum of online tests with varying degrees of accuracy. I advise people to use the tests as data points, but not conclusions.
Most online Enneagram tests speak to behavior rather than motivation and these don’t always align.
3. Work With a Professional
You can schedule a live session with someone trained in Enneagram typing interviews. These interactive sessions usually last 60 to 90 minutes and are designed to help you “find yourself” in the nine distinct habits of attention.
What Do You Do After You Learn Your Enneagram Type?
This is a deeply personal question with a wide range of responses. For some people, just learning their type is enough to dramatically improve their relationships and self-awareness.
Other people see the benefit in the complexity of the system and commit to the path to “relax” their habit of attention. This is the process of breaking out of old patterns and establishing new ones.
This work is exciting, challenging, and rewarding. And there is a wide range of responses in between. I always say the Enneagram is useful in so far as it is useful to you. You can decide how far to take this knowledge.
Interested in learning more? Lynn wrote a book called “Headstart for Happiness: A Guide Book Using Kundalini Yoga and the Enneagram” and YogiApproved readers can download it for free using code: yogiapproved