Everyone is wired differently. We see the world through a unique set of lenses that have been crafted over time. Things like our genetics, predispositions, families of origin, personalities, experiences, traumas, ages, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, and cultures all contribute to the way that we see the world and the way that we operate within it.
By the time we’re in our 20s, barring any unexpected trauma, most of us have landed on a way of operating. The problem is that not all of the ways that we have learned to operate are good, helpful, or healthy. Many of our habits are actually coping mechanisms we learned early on, many of our lenses are clouded by childhood wounds, many of our reactions in the world are formed by unhealthy patterns.
The Enneagram: What It Is
- Nine-Pointed Figure—The Enneagram is many things. But the word itself simply means nine-pointed figure. Each of the nine spokes represents a different type (“Enneatype”), named from “ONE” through “NINE.” ONE is no better than NINE, these are just generic words used to describe each of the nine archetypes.
- A Challenge—The Enneagram helps you see that the best and worst of you are very much connected; we need to know our flaws and our unhealthy motivations if we want to rise above them. Many people are turned off from the Enneagram because they are not ready to face their shadow sides. That is okay—don’t pressure them. The Enneagram is for you to do your work, not for you to do other people’s work.
- Master’s Class in Empathy—The Enneagram is not just for personal growth, it also helps us to understand the people around us. Just because someone has similar external characteristics or reactions to you doesn’t mean that they are doing what they are doing for the same reason. Understanding all nine types on the Enneagram helps us to see part of the story of why someone may be reacting harshly, lashing out, shutting down and withdrawing; why certain work teams are dysfunctional; or why others work very well. The Enneagram unlocks another layer of diversity and breeds empathy for others.
The Enneagram: What It Isn’t
- Not A Party Trick—The Enneagram is a tool that you can use for good or for bad. One of the ways that people have been abusing the Enneagram in recent years, due to its extreme rise in popularity, is as a party trick. Do not use the Enneagram to type other people or to trivialize their behavior. Doing so minimizes people to their externalized actions, to your own perception of who they are, and puts them in a box.
- Not an Excuse—As stated above, the Enneagram demands that you understand that self-knowledge is not an end in itself; it is an invitation to grow. Straightforwardly, a FIVE who learns that they are a FIVE doesn’t get to use FIVE-ness as an excuse to be more withholding. A TWO who learns that they are a TWO doesn’t get to use TWO-ness as an excuse to be prideful. Withholding and pride are the shadow side of FIVE and TWO, respectively, and need to be rooted out.
How to Figure Out your Enneatype
The number one question we get on our Instagram account (@justmyenneatype) is, “How do I figure out which type I am?”
The question is simple but the answer is more complicated. The Enneagram is not a test; it is a framework of understanding. This isn’t quantitative work we’re doing; it’s qualitative. At best, Enneagram tests that you find online will point you in the right direction but never confirm your type. Only you can do that. Even then, they’re only helpful if you are self-aware enough to answer them accurately.
You can really only find your Enneatype by reading, researching, and learning. As you get to the core needs, fears, and motivations, one of them will eventually become pretty clear to you. Some people know their type in three minutes while other people will take five years to figure it out. Both of these—and anywhere in between—are all very normal.
So, there you have it. The Enneagram is a tool that helps us to name what motivates people to do the things they do in the world. It is not a personality test, but rather a framework to be learned. In other words, it does not aim to help us understand what people do, but rather why they do what they do. More than anything, the Enneagram invites you to grow out of how you’ve been operating, to unlearn bad habits, and to rewrite unhealthy narratives.
About Liz Carver and Josh Green
Liz Carver and Josh Green run one of the most popular Enneagram accounts on social media, @justmyenneatype (justmyenneatype.com). Liz is a designer and the director of communication at Eastbrook Church in Wisconsin, and Josh is a campus minister for InterVarsity USA. They are the authors of What’s Your Enneatype? An Essential Guide to the Enneagram from Fair Winds Press. Learn more at https://quartokno.ws/Enneatype.
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