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Who are we? Why do we do the things we do? 

I’ve always been fascinated by those questions, as curious about myself as about others. So when, as a girl, I encountered systems for describing types and decoding behavior, my imagination was captured. I wondered, Could it really be this easy?” 

Since then, I have investigated all the personality typologies I can find. Girlhood brought me the daily horoscope (Gemini) in the newspaper, the Chinese horoscope (Pig) on the paper placemat at the restaurant, and quizzes in my Seventeen magazine (“What Kind of Flirt Are You?” Romantic). College brought the more sophisticated Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (I/ENFJ). Coach training was a bonanza, introducing me to the Kolbe Conative Styles (Mediator), and the Gallup Strengths Finder (Connectedness, Intellection, Learner, Empathy, Strategic).

This is all to say – though there are still more systems to explore – I am nonetheless a connoisseur of personality profiling. And I’m telling you, the Enneagram is the typology I’ve been looking for.

The Any-a-What?

The origins of the Enneagram are not precisely known, but scholars have linked it to mystical traditions of ancient Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 20th-century psychologists adapted it for use as a tool for helping people become more self-aware.

An enneagram is a figure of nine points (ennea, nine + gramma, drawing) arranged evenly around a circle and connected with lines. The lines form one equilateral triangle, representing the three forces of creation, and a hexagon, representing the transformational process. The circle represents unity.

The Enneagram numbers each point on the circle, starting with 9 at the top and then 1-8 moving clockwise around the circle.

Each number on the Enneagram represents one of nine possible personality types. If that sounds like too few to comprehend all expressions of personality, think of the color spectrum and how it’s divided into only seven colors (ROYGBIV) and yet represents all visible light.

Like color, each Type is in a dynamic relationship with four other Types in the Enneagram: the number on either side and the numbers to which they are connected by lines. The numbers on either side are called the Wings and give nuance to the Type, similar to the way the color green can be a yellow-green or a blue-green. The numbers the Type connects by the lines to are the numbers that the Type “goes to” in Stress and in Security, roughly analogous to complementary colors – green, for example, is “canceled” by its complement, red.

I think it’s this dynamism that sets the Enneagram apart. Other personality profiles are static – you are this or that – and therefore feel incomplete. The appeal of personality profiles is in their ability to describe and predict. Most of them do that well, but none as comprehensively as the Enneagram. Each Type’s dynamic relationship with four other numbers allows it to flex and shapeshift – as humans do – and get into the nooks and crannies of behavior while still retaining its uncannily descriptive and predictive qualities.

Compassion for Self and Other

The word personality comes from persona, the Greek word for mask.

A personality is the mask we form in childhood, when we are so vulnerable and have so little power, agency, and experience, to protect ourselves and be successful. It is formed unconsciously through a combination of temperament and circumstances – the people, environment, and resources we find ourselves with.

It is our social self, out in front, protecting our essential self.

But because it’s unconscious and automatic, it’s easy to confuse the personality (social self) for the person (essential self).

Studying personality types helps me to see the mask so that I can distinguish it from the person. De-fusing the two helps me to take the maskless seriously and love the person under it better.

This has been transformational to my relationships with myself and others. For example, when I notice myself – a Type 9, the Peacemaker – shrinking my world, I can recognize it as an instinctive move of my Type, trying to maintain peace. I can ask my essential self, “Is that what you really want?” and make a choice. When I notice my husband – a Type 6, the Loyalist – engaged in worst-case-scenario planning, rather than be annoyed because he’s harshing my peace vibe, I can remember it’s just his personality doing its thing. When my client who is a Type 2, the Helper, overcommits again, we can notice it together and look beneath the mask to what she really wants.

If you’d like to investigate the Enneagram for yourself:

  • Visit The Enneagram Institute website and take the RHETI, the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator test. It’s $20, takes about 40-minutes to complete, and provides a full personality profile of your top three Types.
  • Explore The Enneagram Institutes other excellent resources, too. I especially like their page on Enneagram Type Combinations.

For further reading:

  • Suzanne Stabile is my favorite Enneagram teacher so far. I love the book she co-authored with Ian Morgan Cron, The Road Back to You; it’s an excellent primer.
  • If you like that one, you’ll also love Suzanne’s Journey Toward Wholeness, which explores different dimensions of the Enneagram not covered in The Road Back to You.
  • Finally, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Riso and Russ Hudson (creators of the RHETI), is the classic text – a little dated in style but a comprehensive resource.

So now, tell me: what’s your number?



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