What Is the Enneagram?
Have you ever had an idea that keeps popping up all over the place? You hear about it from a friend… and then see it on TV… and then it shows up in a book you’re reading. . . After enough of these “coincidental” mentions, you start to pay closer attention, right?
That’s what happened to me recently with something called the Enneagram.
The first time I heard someone mention this “ancient personality typing system,” I thought it sounded a little sketchy. I mean, the diagram for this thing looks like an ancient relic. Something you’d read about in the Da Vinci Code, or see uncovered in a mysterious cave during an Indiana Jones movie.
But then I heard someone mention the Enneagram on a podcast I enjoy listening to—and they sounded, well, normal. A week later, it popped up in a book I was reading, by another seemingly grounded and thoughtful Jesus follower. Hmm… I started to wonder. What is this Enneagram thing all about? Maybe it’s not a cult after all.
For those of you who’ve never heard of the Enneagram, you also have to know this: People who discuss this system say strange things like this: “That’s such a 4 view of reality.” “Only a 3 would try something like that.” “Yup, that’s a 7 for you” (said while sharing a knowing laugh).
When you hear enough of this, you stop thinking the people sound crazy and start to feel a little intrigued… What are all those numbers about anyway?
So last month, after hearing yet another random mention of the Enneagram and the spiritual insight it seems to be stirring, I threw my hands out and submitted: “Ok, God. I get it. This Enneagram thing might be worth looking into!” I grabbed a copy of The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and settled into a comfy chair to read.
Now, I have always hated personality inventories. I’ve never quite felt like they get me “right” and the supposed insights they offer are generally lost on me. Add to this the fact that I’m naturally cynical about the “latest greatest trends,” and you know that I didn’t have soaring expectations for this book.
But guys, I was blown away by this book!
I will have to grossly oversimplify so that this post doesn’t turn into a book of it’s own, but at its heart the Enneagram identifies personality types based on underlying motives/fears that guide us in the world. There are nine types (thus all the “number talk” among Enneagram afficionados):
- The Perfectionist
- The Helper
- The Performer
- The Romantic
- The Investigator
- The Loyalist
- The Enthusiast
- The Challenger
- The Peacemaker
In The Road Back to You, Cron unpacks the motives for each one, with enough humor and joy to help ease the reality that these personality profiles take you to deep places.
There’s some serious self-reflection involved in discerning your type. And some of it a bit painful, because in addition to exploring the beautiful and positive aspects of each number, Cron also pinpoints the sin struggles that tend to ensnare each type. Ouch! It’s not always pretty to dig into the real motivations behind our way of operating in the world.
But as I read, I found the Enneagram approach to be an extremely helpful tool for understanding myself and the people I do life with. (Okay, I’ll just go ahead and admit that I became a bit obsessed and started listening to the author’s podcasts and turning into one of those people who talks in numbers: “Oh, you’re such a 5!” Ha Ha Ha.)
I hope you’ll pick up a copy and discover all the treasures of the Enneagram for yourself. But until you do, let me just share three quick insights The Road Back to You offered as reminders for my spiritual journey:
1. Getting to Know Yourself Is Important Spiritual Work
Many of us are passionate about studying the Bible and going to church to learn more about God. But in the hustle and bustle of life, how many of us put in the effort of truly understand ourselves? How often do we simply give in to all the cultural distractions and find ourselves living someone else’s idea of a good life?
St. Augustine once said, “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?” A question that points to another one: If you have felt disconnected from God lately, could it be that you are also disconnected from your true self?
All too often, we set out to to “good things” without first turning inward and asking God for the greatest thing—to truly understand who He created us to be. In a noisy, frenetic world, it takes great, intentional effort to know oneself instead of getting lost in the countless images the world offers as substitutes for our true selves. But this world desperately needs rooted people.
If we don’t stop to ask God who He created us to be, we’ll easily fall into a “false self”–a person we create to make us successful in the everyday world, but who doesn’t really satisfy our deeper purposes. The Enneagram offers a great tool help us search our own hearts, root out unhealthy or selfish patterns of behavior, and find that “road back to you.”
2. Knowing Yourself Helps You Connect More Meaningfully With Others
Remember how I mentioned that learning the Enneagram can be a little painful?
It’s unsettling to see the ugly side of your personality exposed on the pages of a book—to have your quiet longings and secret motivations exposed. I had some difficulty figuring out my “number,” and when I finally realized I was a 4, I actually felt a little upset. (Fours are called “The Romantics,” but the words I came up with as I read about our weaknesses were “The Emotional Trainwrecks”!)
Here’s the beauty of the Enneagram, though: It acknowledges that our personalities shift as we face stress or success. Each personality can exist in healthy, average, or unhealthy expressions. And as we become more self-aware, we can recognize when we’re falling into unhealthy patterns that tend to keep us separated from God and others. Instead, we can lean into the healthy aspects of our personality—and bring the best of ourselves into our relationships.
(So 4s don’t have to be stuck in the unhealthy “trainwreck” spaces. Phew!)
Understanding the other Enneagram types has given me food for thought about living in Christian community in a way that gives space for each personality type to flourish. It’s been especially helpful to discover my husband and children’s types: We’re still teasing out gems of insight for how we tend to relate to each other, and how we might be able to better support each other in our family.
3. Don’t Fight Your Self: God Just Wants You to Be You
How many of you have felt like you can’t be your true self around others? Or have gone through the painful experience of trying to serve in an area that really just doesn’t suit who you are? I’ve been there. And such experiences just leave me feeling empty—lacking passion, purpose, and basic confidence in myself.
The beauty of digging deep and learning to better understand yourself is that you gain insight into why you have sometimes felt out of place or burned out by certain relationships or opportunities. You gain a better filter for discerning why some people are more challenging to connect with. And which callings make sense for you—and which ones are better left to someone else.
Have you been feeling overwhelmed or lost lately? Have you felt like there are dozens of people and causes pulling you in different directions? It’s easy to get a little lost in this busy world of ours, friend. So let me offer this small parting word of advice: Stop looking around so much, and try looking within.
You don’t have to be everything or do everything. So let go of that pressure today and embrace this wonderful reality: God just wants you to be you!
Learn More About the Enneagram:
If you’d like to learn more about the Enneagram, here’s more info about the book I wrote about in this post:
Guys, here’s a fun hint: You can listen to this book for FREE with an Audible 30-day trial! (Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks) (If you sign up through that link, I will make a small commission on the sale, which helps me support the blog, and my family. Thank you!)
Another great resource is Ian Morgan Cron’s podcast, Typology, which you can learn about here.