3 Things I Love About The Enneagram

By Christine Bailey

“What number are you?”

Chances are you’ve already been asked this question or engaged in conversation with someone about the Enneagram, a personality assessment tool that’s exploded in popularity lately. But if you’re not already familiar, the Enneagram is an ancient personality system that identifies nine core personality types and describes how each sees and interacts with the world. The nine types are arranged clockwise in a circle. Your basic type dominates your overall personality, while other elements such as “wings” (the types adjacent to your type on the circle) add nuances and other important elements to your personality.

So, what’s the big deal about it? Why are so many Christians in particular jumping on board with the Enneagram? The Enneagram has unique spiritual elements that provide understanding about the roots of who we are and why we act the way we do. The nine Enneagram types are clustered into groups of three: the belly center (or the gut/instinct) the heart center, and the head center, which are all key aspects of how God made us. Father Richard Rohr, who is credited for bringing the Enneagram back into public knowledge in the 1990s with his book, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, believes the Enneagram is a “tool for discernment and a gift of the Spirit which can help transform lives, lead people to God and release the great giftedness in us.” (source: Safe Harbor Christian Counseling).

So, how do you find out your “type”? Here are the 9 Enneagram types as detailed by The Enneagram Institute. By taking the test on their website or the introductory assessment on author Ian Cron’s website, you can find the number you most closely identify with. Although we can have attributes of other types, Enneagram experts agree there is one type that dominates our personality. But don’t get too pigeonholed – I’m learning that none of us are purely one type. Cron says, “You alone are the only person who can determine your Enneagram number, and that involves more than taking a test.”

For starters, you can read Ian Cron’s new book, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, which he says is “a practical, comprehensive way of accessing Enneagram wisdom and exploring its connections with Christian spirituality for a deeper knowledge of ourselves, compassion for others, and love for God. Not only will you learn more about yourself, but you will also start to see the world through other people’s eyes, understanding how and why people think, feel, and act the way they do.” (Source). Cron also hosts an excellent podcast called Typology that helps you understand the nine types on a practical level as he interviews people of various ages and walks of life.

It can literally take years to uncover all the wisdom the Enneagram contains! I’m no expert…I’m just a sojourner like you, a follower of Christ who wants to be the healthiest possible version of myself so I can be a better parent, spouse, daughter and friend.

Here are 3 things I particularly love about the Enneagram:

1. The Enneagram helps me understand more deeply who God created me to be.

As Christians, we believe we’re all being refined as we walk with Christ, and we absolutely can change for the better as He works on our hearts and we do our part. But the roots of our personalities will always be there. As a type 9 (“The Peacemaker”), I know God gave me the gift of peacemaking and mediation and the ability to advocate for others. However, finding my own voice has been something I’ve been working on for years. I tend to shy away from risk, decision-making, and speaking boldly when it comes to my own life. As I approach 40, I’m learning to be more comfortable in my own skin and find that voice and use it.

God wants us to live in freedom, and the Enneagram can help us do that as we bravely decide to go deeper, facing the most difficult aspects of ourselves. Each of the 9 Enneagram types has “levels of development” – healthy, average, and unhealthy. This helps us be aware of when we’re moving away from a place of health and freedom and gives us ideas for how to get back there. The Enneagram also identifies a “deadly sin” for each type, such as fear, sloth, lust, or greed, which can steer us away from freedom in life. Once we recognize this, we can work on lessening those struggles and finding more freedom in the personality God has given us.

Amanda Steed, who recently became a certified teacher of the Enneagram, says, “The Enneagram has given me compassion for other people and myself, and it’s allowed me to separate some of my personality patterns from who I am at my core, as a beloved daughter to God. The Enneagram has given me so many areas to surrender to God for transformation. As an 8 I have to dig deeper for compassion, vulnerability and tenderness. The Enneagram helped me realize that and gave me the tools to do the work.”

2. The Enneagram gives me more compassion for others.

Says Ian Cron, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves.” Rather than trying to change our spouses and friends, what if we truly understood each other and that we all have different gifts and struggles?

The Bible says, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (Romans 12: 4-6, NIV)

Unlike other personality assessments out there (such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, or Culture Index), the Enneagram encompasses the spiritual element of our Creator who made us each so unique and beautiful – each with different gifts according to His grace. Rather than comparing ourselves with others, we can embrace those gifts and aspects of our personalities.

Here are a few examples. Within 30 minutes of arriving at my house for a visit, my close friend who is a type 1 (“The Perfectionist”), was voluntarily vacuuming and mopping my floor and folding my plastic grocery store bags into triangles – no kidding. While another type 1 or 2 might have resented this, I as a peacemaker who was already feeling overwhelmed by everything on my plate and the chaos in my home, appreciated her restoring peace and order in her own way. And she was actually enjoying it! Another close friend, a type 4 (“The Romantic Individualist”), arrived at my home this summer and instead of wanting to clean my house, she encouraged me to leave all the dirty dishes in the kitchen to seize the moment and make a memory – to go out on the roof and eat ice cream and gaze at the breathtaking full moon through a telescope while our children were fast asleep.

Says Amy Alexander, LMFT and founder of The Refuge Center for Counseling, “The Enneagram helps provide more compassion and perspective for yourself and in relationships with others.” Another friend puts it well when she says the Enneagram helps her to have “more compassion, less reaction” in her relationships.

As far as marriage goes, the Enneagram is an excellent tool for helping us understand our spouses and in turn be more understood. Rather than standing our ground and hoping our spouse will act a certain way, we can learn to come together in unity and humility.

Thankfully, I’m married to a type 8 (“The Challenger”) who couldn’t be more self-motivated, decisive, and confident. Sure, I have lots of dreams, but without my husband’s presence in our lives that is constantly encouraging us forward, we wouldn’t be living out any of those dreams, like our organic produce farm we started this year and the businesses we’ve owned in the past. While I can soften his sometimes harsh personality a bit, he can encourage me in boldness.

3. It helps me be a better parent.

As a Peacemaker, I know I bring peace and harmony to our home, but I struggle sometimes with being firm and not avoiding situations that need addressing with my children. Sometimes I let things go too far and then feel frazzled and angry, whereas calmly addressing it at the beginning would have been better. I can also tune out and disengage with my family sometimes, and knowing my type helps me to be more present.

Different Enneagram types also parent differently. Rather than comparing myself with, say, a mom who is a type 7 and is always looking for fun, spontaneous things to do with her family, I know that doesn’t come as easily for me, and that’s okay. I can learn from the other types and also be confident that there are still so many unique gifts I can offer my children.

On Ann Gadd’s website, she provides some helpful tips on using the Enneagram in parenting and suggests ways to grow within your own type.

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The Enneagram is not the ultimate answer…only Christ can change our hearts. But it’s a tool that can be very helpful in guiding us along the path to deeper relationship with Christ and each other. I want to be a more life-giving version of myself – don’t you?