Have I told you about Enneagram? If I’ve had a conversation with you in the last 2 weeks – if we’ve had a meal together or a staff meeting or you’ve been stuck in a car with me – the chances are, you probably have heard of them. Some new friends introduced me to it when they basically had me sussed after 24 hours of knowing me. I’d heard about it in passing but never really paid much attention to it.
The Enneagram (pronounced “any-a-gram”) is an early Catholic personality profiling system that describes 9 basic types of people and explains why we behave the way we do and then points to direction for individual growth. It teaches that in early life, we learn to feel safe and to cope with different personal and family situations based on our natural talents and abilities.
A really brief overview as I’m not an expert:
1’s – The Perfectionist – 1’s are motivated by the need to right and perfect. They are realistic, contentious, particular and principled. They strive to live up to their high ideals.
2’s – The Helper – 2’s are motivated by the need to be needed or loved. They are loving, warm, concerned, nurturing and sensitive. They are emotionally expressive and focused on relationships.
3’s – The Achiever – 3’s are motivated by the need to be successful. They are energetic, optimistic, self assured and goal oriented. They fear being worthless.
4’s – The Romantic – 4’s are motivated by the need to be special and unique. They have sensitive feelings and are warm and perceptive and fear having no identity or significance.
5’s – The Investigator (or the Observer) – 5’s are motivated by the need to understand and perceive. They are introverted, curious, analytical and insightful.
6’s – The Loyalist (or the Questioner) – 6’s are motivated by the need to be safe. They strive to receive approval and to feel taken care of. They are responsible, trustworthy and value loyalty to family and friends.
7’s – The Adventurer (or Enthusiast) – 7’s are motivated by the need to be happy and avoid pain. They are energetic lively and optimistic. They want to contribute to the world.
8’s – The Asserter (or Challenger) – 8’s are motivated by the need to self-protect and be strong. They are direct, self-reliant, self-confident and protective. They fear being harmed, controlled or violated.
9’s – The Peacemaker – 9’s are motivated by the need to keep the peace. They are receptive, good-natured, adaptable and supportive. They seek union with them and the world around them.
Shauna Niequist has written more in depth about the types here. Or for even more info you can look at Enneagram Institute here or 9 types here.
I’m a 3 and understanding this has helped me see some of the positives of my personality. Knowing that I can be task driven and competitive, I love being busy, that I thrive on striving for new challenges and goals, that I value feedback and affirmation has always felt like something to be ashamed of. It sounds vain and narcissistic, competitive and selfish. But learning what a 3 looks like at their best (optimistic, confident, industrious, energetic) as well as their worst (deceptive, vindictive, pretentious…eek!) has shown me habits and patterns of thinking that I have when I’m in health and also in stress. It’s confirmed aspects of my personality that I hadn’t acknowledged before (I value feedback good or bad, and I don’t like being interrupted… I really don’t!). It’s encouraged me to stop and rest, highlighted my tendency to adapt to whatever I feel would be valuable to that situation, as opposed to truly being myself. That I’m loved for who I am, not what I do and that my feelings are as valuable as my accomplishments.
I’ve found it hugely helpful in understanding why I do things, I can see a bigger picture of my coping strategies and am beginning to learn alternative behaviours. It’s added a whole new awareness of the way that I’ve been made and is helping me live in the healthiest possible way. I see my feelings and emotions in a new light, it’s encouraged me to create boundaries, it’s highlighted potential pitfalls and negatives habits that we’ve been oblivious to in our marriage and has given me insight in conversations around peoples motivations so it’s helping to improve my relationships.
So I’m a 3. My husband is a 9. I shouldn’t inflict my desire to be busy on him as he values peace and relaxation and if I have an issue, I should engage in discussion with him but not confrontation. My close friend is a 6 – she values clarity and direct instructions, gentle reassurance and lots of encouragement. My in-laws are 8’s and 4’s. My mother in law appreciates it when I’m straight and direct, she would prefer that to me being diluted or vague. My father in law values compliments, particularly about the things that make him unique. He will always enjoy theatrics, humour and creativity no matter how much he’s told be sensible.
It’s valuable to get to know each type, not just your own and to learn some of the characteristics of relationships between those types. Next time I see you, we can sit down and work out which you are and I pray you’ll find it as useful as I have.