The Enneagram is a system that classifies people by type, like personality typing. It’s kin to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But it’s about more than personality—it’s based on fixation.
According to Enneagram theory, we are either born with or acquire in the earliest years of life a fixation that deeply influences our identity: who we believe we are and how we view life. The fixation is what keeps you from experiencing your essential (healthy) self. It’s how you get in your own way. It’s a filter that in some ways has worked for you, but it can eventually limit you into a habitual way of living that feels too small. You may suspect there’s more to you than that. You can transcend your fixation to find more essence, more freedom, more joy.
Maybe this is what enlightenment is.
There are nine Enneagram types. Each type has two wings and three subtypes. Furthermore, each type moves toward two different types when you are stressed and when you feel secure. Plus, your development level changes with age, experience, and your desire and ability to grow. So it’s a fairly dynamic model, even though (according to theory) people remain their type their entire lives.
To illustrate, my type is Five. Other names: The Investigator and The Observer. We Fives are classic nerds: bookish, shy, avoiding conflict, private, attracted to minimalism, curious, alert, intense, innovative, insightful, cerebral, having a rich inner life, seeking mastery.
Would you believe that part of the path to my essential self is exercise? Living in my body connects me to a vitality that I could never experience living in my head. It took the painful aftermath of a car wreck in my 40s—and the subsequent healing journey—to really get this.
Daily yoga, the outdoor activities I love like snorkeling and kayaking, dance, meditation, giving and receiving massage, hugs, touch, and sex all help me connect with my body, more fully occupy it, and be more present in my full vitality, my essential energy that radiates joy, love, peace, and happiness.
So if you knew me as a child, you’d have known a shy, bookish, smart, aloof nerd. If you know me now, you’d see some of those qualities at times, but you’d also see someone who has a lot of vitality, who lives with an open heart (and who still really likes to think).
For me, the journey from being immersed in my type to living more from my essence has been like moving from a black-and-white world into a world full of amazing colors of infinite variety. I can’t say it’s all due to knowing about the Enneagram, but it has helped and provided much insight.
If you are interested in using the Enneagram as a tool for personal growth, and you don’t know your type, here’s how to find out. It’s not always easy (but sometimes it’s very obvious). You can definitely narrow it down to a couple of types, and then you’ll get an aha! (And you may change your mind later on.) Plus, you will easily recognize some people you’ve known.
It’s important to first note that we often do not see ourselves as others see us. Therefore, learning your Enneagram type might make you feel uncomfortable. Prepare yourself. The truth often hurts before it sets us free.
- The Enneagram Institute offers free and low-cost online tests. The free, brief QUEST takes 5 minutes.
- Watch a brief video of each of the nine types and self-identify your type.
- Watch the videos with people you trust with the intent to identify each person’s type with compassion. Others who know us can be honest yet tactful and supportive (as you can be with them—agree on this beforehand and don’t invite anyone who is insensitive).
- If you’re still confused about your type, read how types are often misidentified.
To learn more about how it works, read books. I suggest The Wisdom of the Enneagram and The Enneagram for beginners. For more advanced students, I recommend The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram.
Once you are more or less settled on which type most accurately describes you, you can subscribe to a daily “EnneaThought” email for your type that can support your developmental growth.
Here’s my EnneaThought for today: