The Enneagram Personality Test and Personal Development: How the Enneagram Can Help You Grow and Transform
Christian Counselor Seattle
Over the last several months, I have witnessed some remarkable growth in many of my clients as we have begun to use the Enneagram personality test as a guide for their clinical work.The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system. It has various iterations, including one with a strong Christian growth path. For years, Christian spiritual directors used the Enneagram in spiritual direction.
The Enneagram was a closely guarded tool not intended for use by the general public. However, across time, use of the Enneagram has moved from that exclusive domain into the hands of everyday people. It has proven to be one of the most valuable tools in helping my clients begin to see themselves more clearly.
The word “personality” is related to the Latin word meaning “mask.” In simple terms, our personality is the mask that we learn to wear very early in our lives. The mask helps us defend against pain and relate to the world around us.
We learn ways of reacting and being that soon become so patterned and repetitive we eventually believe this is who we truly are. However, underneath the mask, our true self resides.
The true self is not so managed and driven. It is more peaceful and unguarded. Enneagram work allows us to begin untangling the repetitive patterns of our type, understand the lens that we have been using to view life, and begin moving back toward our true self.
The Enneagram is composed of nine types – each representing an aspect of God’s nature. Since God is only good, there are no bad Enneagram types, either. In the excellent Enneagram primer, The Road Back to You, authors Cron and Stabile note that the Enneagram is about gaining knowledge about ourselves.
“What we don’t know about ourselves can and will hurt us, not to mention others. As long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we’re prisoners of our history.
We’ll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us. Eventually we become so accustomed to making the same mistakes over and over in our lives that they lull us to sleep. We need to wake up.”
“How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” – Proverbs 6:9
John Calvin stated that without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.
Most of us tend to go through life assuming that others view the world in much the same way as we do. We don’t tend to question that view or understand the forces at work that created our view or lens.
However, our early life experiences in our family of origin strongly influence our view of the world. When we can step back and start to understand that there are other viewpoints formed by other life experiences, we are well on our way to waking up.
At birth, each of us arrived in the world with our true self not yet tarnished. As we grow in our family of origin, we began to experience pain on some level. This occurs because all of our families reflect a level of brokenness. There are no perfect families.
As a way to defend against the pain, we developed ways to manage. Over time these ways to manage became so patterned and ingrained, it just seems like who we were. However, this is not our true self but merely a provisional self. It will serve us well for a time but at some point, usually in our late 20’s or even later, some of those patterned ways of being and those ingrained perceptions about the world stop serving us so well. At that point, we can begin our journey of discovering our true self.
“Your True Self is who you objectively are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God, ‘the face you had before you were born,’ as the Zen masters say. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity, which can never be gained nor lost by any technique, group affiliation, morality, or formula whatsoever.
The surrendering of our false self, which we have usually taken for our absolute identity, yet is merely a relative identity, is the necessary suffering needed to find ‘the pearl of great price’ that is always hidden inside this lovely but passing shell” (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr).
Exploring Your Enneagram Type
The nine Enneagram types are grouped into three triads or instinctual centers:
- The gut or instinctual triad containing types 8, 9, and 1. The primary emotion is anger.
- The heart or feelings triad containing types 2, 3, and 4. The primary emotion is shame.
- The head or thinking triad containing types 5, 6, and 7. The primary emotion is fear.
There are a number of ways to start to discern your Enneagram type. Several Enneagram personality tests (of varying quality) are available online. However, none of the tests are definitive – only a starting point in discerning your type. Working with a therapist who is well-versed in the Enneagram can help you take additional steps to understanding your type.
Many find that discerning their type can be a somewhat uncomfortable experience. However, the road to personal and spiritual growth is usually littered with some uncomfortable or even painful experiences. For many of us, the times of challenge and testing in our lives have yielded the sweetest fruit.
9 Enneagram Types
Here is a list of the 9 enneagram types and how each reflects an aspect of God’s nature:
- Type 1, the Perfectionist, reflects God’s goodness and rightness.
- Type 2, the Helper, reflects God’s love and nurture.
- Type 3, the Achiever, reflects God’s hope and radiance.
- Type 4, the Romantic, reflects God’s creativity and depth.
- Type 5, the Observer, reflects God’s wisdom and truth.
- Type 6, the Loyalist, reflects God’s faithfulness and courage.
- Type 7, the Enthusiast, reflects God’s joy and abundance.
- Type 8, the Challenger, reflects God’s power and protection.
- Type 9, the Peacemaker, reflects God’s peace and oneness.
I want to reiterate that since each type represents an aspect of God’s nature, there are no bad types.
I Know My Type – Now What?
Knowledge of your type is invaluable. But knowledge alone will not lead to transformation. Awareness of self is critical. As you understand the tendencies or patterns of your type, you can start to observe yourself in action. Do you notice where your attention is naturally directed? Each type has a different focus of attention.
Let’s look at the focus of attention for each type:
Type 1: what is wrong or needs improving
Type 2: other people’s needs in order to get approval
Type 3: tasks to accomplish to receive praise and recognition
Type 4: what is missing
Type 5: detaching and observing to maintain personal boundaries and privacy
Type 6: what could go wrong — worst case scenarios
Type 7: what is fun and stimulating
Type 8: taking control to protect themselves and others from vulnerability
Type 9: the wants and needs of others in order to keep the peaceThomas Merton wrote: “Sooner or later we must distinguish between what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is. We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty, but also in its great and very simple dignity: created to be the child of God, and capable of loving with something of God’s own sincerity and his unselfishness.”
This is Just Who I Am
If we will allow it, God is in the process of transforming us more and more so that we reflect the beauty and character of Jesus. The process of transformation is not something that we are capable of on our own. We must stay closely connected to God and allow Him to transform us.
If we use the Enneagram as a way to view the transformation, a quiet path emerges.
As mentioned earlier, the types are grouped into three triads. Each triad has a particular version of quiet that aids in the transformation process:
In the gut/instinctual triad, stillness is a critical transformative practice. When those in this triad are forced to stop doing and just be still, they can begin to realize how their identity is so tied to what they do and in controlling as many things as possible.
Stillness provides a counterpoint to all the busyness. As author Christopher Heuertz writes in his wonderful book, The Sacred Enneagram, “Stillness interrupts the addictions of gut people and prompts a reevaluation of their drive.”
In the heart/feeling triad, solitude is a critical practice. Because those in this triad are so focused on relationships, they cannot loosen the hold of the unhealthy aspects of their type in the presence of others.
In solitude, God can gently begin loosening the dependency on connection and comparison with others. As Heuertz explains, “Solitude teaches us how to be present – present to God, to ourselves, and to others with no strings attached.”
In the head/thinking triad, silence is the key to transformation. Those in this triad tend to have very busy minds populated with lots of thoughts. Silence creates space to begin to hear the voice of God. It also creates space to begin to recognize what we really desire and fear.
As Heuertz explains, “The Enneagram shines a light on what obstructs our essence from emerging and opens our path to God. The quiet practices discussed above allow God to begin moving us back towards our true identity.”
As we begin to learn the very different ways of perceiving the world, without judgement we learn to listen carefully to others’ points of view. We gain tremendous compassion for all the ways of perceiving, including our own.
We begin to experience others “as they are to themselves” and to see the tremendous beauty of each way of being. It’s almost like being in someone else’s skin for a short time. Our relationships improve by leaps and bounds when we begin to listen carefully for a tune other than our own.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” — Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
How the Enneagram Helps
So why should be care about the Enneagram? Don’t we have enough personality typing systems to work with? The beauty of the Enneagram is that it is not just descriptive of our type. More importantly, it starts to unfurl a map of our way home – to our true self; the self you were created to be and where you best reflect your most authentic and glorious self.
The Enneagram can assist each of us in having more compassion for ourselves and also for others with whom we are in relationship. I have found the Enneagram to be a powerful tool in couples therapy as well.The Enneagram can assist each of us in having more compassion for ourselves and also for others with whom we are in relationship. Click To Tweet Would you like to learn about your patterned way of doing life? Would you like to become familiar with the lens through which you have been viewing life? With support you can learn to transform your patterns from stumbling blocks to a path for growth. This growth is not something that can be achieved in a brief time, but can happen gradually as we become more keen observers of ourselves in action.
I recall the first time I could really see some of the unhealthier aspects of my type in action. I was somewhat dismayed! I also knew that I had to observe and face the unhealthy aspects before I could choose to do life differently.
For each of us, as we can begin to untangle our thoughts, feelings, and actions and really start to watch ourselves, we can loosen the grip of the unhelpful parts and allow our truer selves to emerge.
If you are interested in taking first steps in your Enneagram journey of transformation, please contact me. I would be honored to partner with you on your path of transformation.
As with most things in life, if we will allow Him, God can energize our feeble attempts to transform ourselves and take us far beyond what we can ask or think.
Enneagram resources to help you in your journey:
The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile – a great primer to get you started on the Enneagram.
The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz – a rich and deeply spiritual look at the Christian path for finding your true self.
Typology podcasts with Ian Cron – a podcast series devoted entirely to exploring the nine Enneagram types. Check on iTunes or other podcast apps.
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr – Rohr eloquently captures the transformation path we are invited to travel on. Rohr is a treasured voice in the Enneagram realm.
“You are loved”, Courtesy of Tyler Nix, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Contemplation”, Courtesy of Cristofer Jeschke, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Who I am”, Courtesy of Natalia Figueredo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fighting for Joy Through God’s Word”, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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