The Enneagram – part 1

13 Aug 2018

The following article by Jeannette is about something I have personally come to see as a fantastic personal growth tool. As I continue to learn about my type, I see areas of my personality and responses I couldn’t see before, so I can do something about them! This particular tool is much deeper than many others and has potential to be really life-changing. (We are not relegated to be who we were!) I hope you enjoy what you read below and consider learning more about yourself. – Dr. Deb

The Enneagram is an ancient body of wisdom that identifies nine core personality types and how each sees and interacts with the world. It’s a system that assists a person to gain a deeper understanding about themselves and how they show up in the world. It identifies nine different types of people and states that each person will most strongly identify with one of the nine types.

The Enneagram is becoming increasingly popular in faith and therapeutic settings. Although it is not a theory that has been extensively tested (though more of that is taking place), it does seem to be a system that is immensely helpful to those who avail themselves to its wisdom.

The many proponents of the Enneagram describe it in various ways. It is often described as a personality profile, character descriptions, nine avenues to transformation, or nine compulsions or sins that drive our approach to life. While all of these are good descriptors, I will be using the term, “strategies.”

Each of us start out life with a core personality. Early in life we encounter challenges that test how we will respond. We may go through essentially the same challenge as others, but we choose different ways to respond based at least in part on our core personality. Those choices will then give us clues for how to manage and control life around us – survival. We will find that some strategies work better for us than others. For example, those who tend toward introversion will employ different strategies than those who tend toward extroversion.

As we continue in life, we will continue to use those strategies that work best for our unique personality and situation. Our chosen strategies soon become our “modus operandus.”  All of this will likely solidify before the age of six.

An example: Consider my (Jeannette’s) family. My parents were missionaries and lived in Congo, Africa. We had to move (sometimes very abruptly) to different locations often and also visited the U.S. every four years. Adapting to the changes that we encountered with each move forced my brothers and me to discover ways to cope. I found that if I presented myself as strong and adventuresome, it brought affirmation from our parents. One of my brothers found that if he was quiet, reserved, didn’t complain and withdrew into his world of drawing, not only could he avoid stress, he would also receive accolades for his artistic efforts. And my other brother found that being helpful to our parents in stressful situations brought him affirmation and love.

Although each of us experienced similar challenges, each of us found a unique way to survive that was in concert with our core personalities. Those strategies that were encouraged and affirmed at home, were replicated and refined in challenges we encountered in school and other situations. So, when each of us feels vulnerable, these are the “go to” strategies we use to mitigate damage and regain control.

The nine types

Type 1 – The Reformer (seeking integrity)

ONEs look at life and see where life is not reflecting the ideal picture they have in their minds of how life should be. In order to manage life and bring it under control, they attempt to live up to that ideal, becoming perfectionists. When that ideal is unattainable, they become picky and demanding. They are generally angry that the world is not perfect. They are first of all very demanding of themselves. They will then also use the same lens to criticize and critique the world around them.

Type 2 – The Helper (seeking connection)

TWOs are quick to see the needs of others. Their way of taking control of the world around them is to serve others and make themselves needed and indispensable. While they are very loving and giving people, there is an underlying need to demand love in exchange for that service. It can quickly become manipulative and quite prideful, seeing themselves as the saviors of the world.

Type 3 – The Achiever (seeking value)

THREEs seek approval from those around them by succeeding in their endeavors. They usually have clear goals and focus their attention on achieving those goals. Because of their deep need to be successful, they will do whatever they have to do to accomplish their goals including being deceitful in their practices. The ends justify the means. They are very motivated and productive people but tend toward workaholism.

Type 4 – The Individualist (seeking identity)

FOURs struggle to feel like they belong. Whatever the social context, they see how they are unique or different and don’t fit in the way they imagine everyone else does. This results in deep feelings of envy, wondering why others don’t seem to value what they bring to the table. They also look at the world and see what it is lacking and wonder how others can live with the inelegance all around them. Their drive to control is focused on bring elegance and beauty to the ugliness of the world.

Type 5 – The Investigator (seeking clarity)

FIVEs try to control the world around them by amassing information. They believe that if they can be the most knowledgeable person, they will be able to control what happens to them. However, their drive to know more does not always have any practical use. In a sense they are greedy for more, never having enough (information) and withdrawing from the world to dive ever deeper into their research. While this drive is usually about hording knowledge, the tendency can show up in other areas as well.

Type 6 – The Loyalist (seeking guidance)

SIXs have a deep need for security, which they often seek by attaching themselves to a larger entity, organization or system. One attached, they then become very loyal to that entity, defending it at all cost. Though they feel unable to control the world around them, they try to do their part to make the larger entity strong and secure. Their deep-seated fear of insecurity causes them to not easily trust.

Type 7 – The Enthusiast (seeking freedom) 

SEVENs enjoy life and are often the life of the party. They also avoid emotional pain and difficulty at all costs. Gluttonous for pleasure, they tend to drown out the negative voices with an overindulgence of anything fun and pleasurable. If a little is good, more is better! This gives them the sense they are in control and all is well. (Deb is a 7.)

Type 8 – The Challenger (seeking power)

EIGHTs present themselves as strong against the world. They learned early on that no one can be trusted until proven trustworthy. Perhaps the most aggressive all the types, they refuse to be pushed around and will push back! They will also notice weakness or over-confidence in others which they arrogantly distain. However, if they choose, they will step in and use their strength to protect those with no power. (Jeannette is an 8.)

Type 9The Peacemaker (seeking harmony)

NINEs are the most laid back of all the types and tend toward sloth or laziness. They lack initiative, focus and drive, preferring to accept life as it comes. Even the effort to figure out what they really want can seem too taxing. Their laid-back nature also makes them good listeners who can see various sides of an issue with the ability to negotiators and peacemakers in their communities.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

First, the bad and the ugly—how we respond to life when we are UNHEALTHY.

Each of the nine strategies or types carries with it a core compulsion or need which drives that particular type. This means that we often choose a pathological (unhealthy) response to situations. While it can feel beneficial to us in the short run, it can be detrimental in the long run to our relationships and goals.

For example, a person who continually needs to be the center of attention and be perceived as successful may sacrifice the feelings of another to get a laugh. Conversely a person who has a need to avoid conflict at all costs, may sacrifice accomplishing a goal in order to maintain the peace.

As we go through life, we will find ways to disguise the blatant need of our type in order to help us be successful in our lives. But unless we are willing to do the inner work of recognizing that deep-rooted need and how it drives us, it will always be a driving force in our lives and can derail our best intentions.

The good—how we respond to life when we are HEALHY.

Each of the nine strategies also have positive strengths, and gifts that come with them. When we are on a path of transformation and growth, we can discover alternate strategies that utilize our strengths and increase our effectiveness and success. We can then become a life-giving force in our families and communities. In other words, as we get personally healthier, we can bring positivity into situations instead of oozing junk from our disfunction. We act out of who we truly are, instead of our “false” selves.

If you are wondering about yourself, here are some free tests that will begin to help you discover your type:

Learn more about the Enneagram at

Click here to receive daily Enneathoughts:

“I read these very brief emails (2-3 sentences) each morning as part of my devotional time and have found them to be incredibly insightful. I think they are really helping me become healthier. Amazing!” – Dr. Deb

Also lsten to our podcast on the Enneagram: It is also available on iTunes/Apple Music and Stitcher.

Look for The Enneagram part 2 article coming soon where we go to the next layer of understanding.

Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash




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