People love to take personality tests. The results of a personality test can help us better understand ourselves, make us feel seen and validated, and serve as a jumping-off point for re-examining aspects of our behavior that aren’t serving us.
In recent years, one personality model that has seen some attention is the Enneagram. This model has seen some popularity as a corporate team-building tool, and while Enneagramatic theory has yet to be widely researched in a clinical setting and shouldn’t be taken as scientific fact, the model can still serve as a powerful framework for self-exploration.
Below, you’ll find a basic introduction to the Enneagram model, its history, and how it differs from other personality models. We’ve also provided some links to further resources and answered some frequently asked questions about the Enneagram.
The Enneagram, pronounced “ANY-a-gram,” is a typology that sketches out the existence of nine interconnected personality types. Usually referred to simply by number, each type corresponds to a unique role or archetype a person might fit into, such as “The Achiever” or “The Loyalist,” each with different characteristics, motivations, desires and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and ways of interacting with other people and the world.
A person’s main Enneagram type will always remain the same, but their type is not meant to be an exhaustive description of who they are. Instead, people will exhibit traits common to all nine types throughout their lives and in response to changing circumstances.
The word Enneagram can also refer to the Enneagram figure, which predates the personality model. This diagram consists of a circle with nine equidistant numbered points around the circumference, with 9 at the top and the rest of the points proceeding in numerical order starting at 1, clockwise around the circle. Inside the circle, an equilateral triangle connects points 9, 3, and 6, and lines connecting the other points form an irregular hexagram. In the Enneagram personality typology, the 9 types are marked onto these points, with different meanings ascribed to the lines within the circle.
There are multiple variations on the Enneagram model, which go into further detail and make different uses of the Enneagram figure, but the nine basic types remain consistent throughout, forming the basis of all further analysis.
The precise origins of the Enneagram diagram are unknown, with variations on the symbol seen in different traditions throughout history, potentially tracing as far back as the works of Pythagoras. However, the use of the Enneagram figure as a way to map personality traits goes back to Chile in the late 1960s, when Bolivian philosopher Oscar Ichazo made use of the Enneagram figure as part of his larger teachings on “Protanalysis,” a method he developed for analyzing the human psyche.
Two psychiatrists who studied under Ichazo, Claudio Naranjo and John Lilly, then brought the Enneagram figure to the United States in the early 1970s, incorporating it into their own psychiatric practices. However, while both doctors used Ichazo’s work as a jumping-off point, each of them developed their own methodologies for the use of Enneagram based on their own research and training. Naranjo’s work specifically popularized the model and formed the basis of much of modern Enneagram theory for the next several decades.
Interest in the Enneagram began to wane in the late 90s, but the model has recently gained popularity alongside other personality typologies like the Myers-Briggs. In addition to garnering a lot of online interest amongst spiritualists and lovers of personality tests, Enneagram testing is very popular in corporate spaces, where it is used as a tool to understand team dynamics better and boost cooperation and interpersonal communication.
Enneagram vs. Myers-Briggs
Like the Enneagram, the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a framework for sorting people into different personality types. In the Myers-Briggs, these types take the form of four binary characteristics, introversion vs. extraversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. Taken together, these four binaries combine to indicate your type, so an extraverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging person would be referred to by the type ENTJ.
While both systems are personality typologies, the Myers-Briggs model is concerned primarily with cognitive functions – that is, it explores how people think, interact with the world, and process and analyze information. The Enneagram, on the other hand, is more interested in the emotional world, specifically people’s motivations, desires, and fears, and how they respond to negative and positive circumstances. The Enneagram model sees these traits, and therefore a person’s type, as developing partially in response to early life experiences. By contrast, the Myers-Briggs framework sees a person’s type as an innate preference or affinity for certain ways of interacting with the world.
When comparing the two tests, it’s tempting to look for overlap between the types, and indeed some comparisons have indicated that certain Enneagram types correspond with certain MBTI types more frequently than others. However, no reliable data demonstrates that such matches are consistent across a substantial portion of the population.
Despite the lack of overlap, and perhaps even because of it, these two tests should be treated as complementary to one another. The MBTI and the Enneagram are both tools designed to aid in self-discovery and self-awareness, and their differing approaches mean that together they can allow for a broader scope of self-knowledge than either one could provide individually. That doesn’t mean that you won’t find one of them more personally useful, but it doesn’t make sense to ask, “Which is better?” Like any tool, its usefulness is decided by the context in which they’re used.
As we’ve discussed, the Enneagram model has nine basic types. Each of these types has a corresponding set of core motivations and fears that are at the heart of that type’s emotional life. However, the model delves deeper than this with the help of the Enneagram diagram. With the use of the model, different subcategories and groupings of types can help provide more information than the types alone.
For example: in addition to a person’s base type, the adjacent numbered types on either side of a person’s core type are also important in Enneagram analysis. These numbers are called “wings” and are marked with a “w” in Enneagram notation (e.g. a Type 2 with a more dominant 3 wing would be written as 2w3). Most people lean more heavily on one wing than the other, but traits from both wings will show up in their behavior.
Another key concept is the Enneagram triads or centers of intelligence, which divide the Enneagram diagram into three groups of three: the “thinking center” or “head,” the “feeling center” or “heart,” and the “instinctive center” or “gut.” Each center is associated with a central motivation and an emotion that describes how each type acts when its motivating drive is threatened.
The dominating center for Enneagram Types Eight, Nine, and One is the gut.
Instinctive types prioritize independence and self-determination above anything else, acting immediately on pure instinct rather than deliberating over their choices. When instinctive types have their freedom taken away and are not able to exercise self-determination, they react with anger.
The dominating center for EnneagramTypes 2, 3, and 4 is the heart.
Feeling types are primarily motivated by interpersonal connections, acceptance, social inclusion, and emotional support. Heart types can be prone to shame and self-doubt when they do not feel the connection they desire or perceive themselves as “not good enough” for the acceptance they crave.
The dominating center forEnneagram Types 5, 6, and 7 is the head.
Thinking types are analytical, examining the world in depth and seeking to make logical sense of what they find. Head types achieve a sense of security through planning, but when faced with unexpected variables and feelings of insecurity, they react with fear.
Enneagram testing is done by way of a questionnaire which makes you answer questions about yourself to help determine your Enneagram Type. Just as multiple versions of the Enneagram model exist, so do different versions of the Enneagram test, each with slightly different methodologies and question formats. And with the rise of the internet, the Enneagram test has gone digital and gained more widespread and mainstream attention.
Paid versions of the test do exist, but if you’re a beginner interested in dipping your toe into learning about the Enneagram, an excellent first step is to take an online enneagram test for free. The test can help you determine your Enneagram type and wing, which is a great starting point for further learning, both about the Enneagram and about yourself, using your Enneagram type as a guide.
Whether you’re a beginner to the Enneagram or looking to delve deeper, there is a wealth of resources available for you to learn more. Below are some further readings you can turn to to help further your understanding of the Enneagram and its applications.
- The Enneagram Made Simple: A No-Nonsense Guide to Using the Enneagram for Growth and Awareness by Ashton Whitmoyer-Ober MA
The Enneagram Made Simple is exactly what it sounds like: a concise and straightforward guide to the Enneagram meant for beginners, with a focus on using the model to aid personal growth. The book serves as an excellent primer, providing definitions and histories, descriptions of the nine types, and a self-assessment test to help you learn your type. Furthermore, the book draws parallels between different types, explains the dynamics of relationships between different types, and provides exercises for each type to aid them in further self-discovery.
The Road Back to You explores the Enneagram through the lens of Christian spirituality, seeing it as a tool of self-discovery and self-improvement that can help you forge a deeper connection with your loved ones and with God. Even if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, the book is also a great, easy-to-follow primer for the different Enneagram types, written with wit and filled with stories that will have you turning the pages long after you’ve finished reading about your own type.
If you’re more of a visual learner and less of a bookworm, the Enneagram Essentials boxed set could be your best option. This beautifully designed deck of cards and enclosed booklet provide a unique, interactive way to learn about the Enneagram types. The deck comes with 125 flashcards that take you through key concepts in the Enneagram model and give you an in-depth look at each of the Enneagram types, providing discussion questions along the way.
- Transform Your Team with the Enneagram: Build Trust, Decrease Stress, and Increase Productivity by Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD
Interested in using the Enneagram in a corporate setting? Transform Your Team is a practical guide to using the Enneagram framework to reduce interpersonal friction in the office and build high-functioning teams that take into account team members’ unique points of view.
- The Enneagram in Love: A Roadmap for Building and Strengthening Romantic Relationships by Stephanie Barron Hall
The Enneagram in Love applies the insights provided by the Enneagram to romantic relationships. The book goes in-depth on how each type behaves in the context of a romantic relationship, how they handle emotional intimacy, express themselves, and deal with conflict. It also explores how the nine types interact with one another and offers practical advice for navigating the potential pitfalls of relationships between each Enneagram type.
Enneagram FAQs (Add FAQ schema markup)
Below, we answer some common questions regarding Enneagram.
What Does Enneagram Mean?
The Enneagram of Personality, pronounced as “ANY-a-gram,” is a psychological typology, ie. a model of the human psyche that categorizes people as belonging to different numbered personality “types,” with each type representing differences in a person’s innermost motivations, desires, and fears.
Enneagram can also refer to the Enneagram diagram, which is used in Enneagram theory as a way to map and examine the different Enneagram personality types.
What is the Purpose of the Enneagram?
Although the Enneagram can be applied in many contexts, its primary value lies in its use as a tool for self-reflection, self-knowledge, and self-growth. By learning about their Enneagram type, people aim to understand better their own drives, fears, blind spots, and opportunities for growth.
What is an Enneagram Number?
The Enneagram model categorizes people into one of nine different personality types, each of which is represented by a number (Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, etc.) Your Enneagram number is the same as your Enneagram Type, and it is associated with a series of traits describing your key drives and motivations.
What is an Enneagram Test?
An Enneagram test is a questionnaire that helps pinpoint which of the nine Enneagram personality types best describes you. If you’re interested in the Enneagram as a tool for self-reflection and wish to find out which Enneagram type you are, you can begin by taking a free online Enneagram test.
Lessons on personal development emphasize the need for honest self-reflection and good reason. Most would agree that you need to know your starting point before you can possibly embark along a path. If you’re feeling stuck in unfulfilling habits but can’t quite see your way clear of them, the Enneagram model can be a powerful tool to help you gain insight into your inner self, your motivations, and your fears, and pick a path of self-improvement that puts your strengths to use while addressing your weaknesses.