Opening up to enneagram

Photo courtesy of Allie Ghisson, Student Publications

Hello, I’m Lane Elder, and I’m an Enneagram Type Four.

The Enneagram personality test is often relegated to mystic-spiritual types or cutesy Instagram accounts, not taken seriously. Psychologists like the OCEAN personality inventory, while employers use the DISC test. Some swear by the Myers-Briggs. Still others will claim that personality theories are just constructs meant to label our behaviors in some fruitless organization effort that has no bearing on behavioral outcomes. 

The Enneagram is an underutilized tool when it comes to self-awareness and interacting with others. For background, the Enneagram is a personality framework with nine unique types, stemming from traditions of mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism and ancient Greek philosophy. The nine personality types can be visually arranged around a nine-pointed star with lines between the different types to show how they relate to each other. 

Each type, one through nine, has distinct characteristics. Type Ones are principled and perfectionist. Type Twos will lend a hand; they are generally warm, caring, and aim to please. Type Threes are nicknamed the “achievers,” pragmatic and image conscious. This continues all the way up to Nines, the conflict-averse peacemakers. There are online tests that you can take to determine which of the nine types you are, or just do some research and label yourself.

Many people have heard of personality terms like introversion and extraversion. However, most people’s innate personality traits end up somewhere in the middle of a spectrum. Applying a label has been shown to excuse a behavior instead of describing tendencies. For example, imagine a test result tells you that you are introverted, even if you are truly borderline. The mere designation of “I am an introvert” may cause you to rethink your Friday night plans. It gets even more sinister when you consider that some employers actually use trait-based personality tests in selection processes. 

Enter the Enneagram.

The Enneagram helps give a more nuanced view of how people’s personalities differ. The core of each Enneagram type has to do with underlying motivation. Knowing your type can help you pinpoint personal strengths and weaknesses and show you certain behavioral patterns in both times of stress and times of growth.

A few years ago I remained very reluctant to confine myself into one of the nine types when my aunt lent me a book on the Enneagram. Surely this was just another trite framework that was interesting enough but didn’t mean anything. 

I took an online test and learned my type. A click on a link later and I learned that Fours wanted to express themselves and create beauty but would sometimes dwell on their own melancholy emotions to make that reality more significant. That hit home. It was an uncomfortable truth, but gave me a look into how the things I hated most about myself could be turned into positives. 

Living life through the lens of the Enneagram has made me more compassionate to both myself and others. A couple of my closest friends are Types One and Two. I have learned that my Type Two roommate will always be down to give me a ride, but that may be because saying no is so difficult for her. 

I know that I can go to my Type One friend for everything from advice to proofreading, and I will be there for her if she ever needs a reminder of what a good person she is and inspires me to be. Obviously this is just a surface layer of my friends’ personalities. If the Enneagram provides me just a bit more insight into and how I can better communicate and relate to others though, then I consider it a success.

I highly encourage you to dig in and learn a bit more about which of the nine types you identify with on the Enneagram. Ask your friends if they know their Enneagram type and learn what drives them. The world needs more empathy and celebration of diversity, including diversity in personality. Doing the research is worth the time. 

Even if you don’t come to any life-changing realizations about yourself, you at least have something new to talk about a cocktail party one day.