The Enneagram: Becoming Your True Self
What is it?
The Enneagram is an ancient tool for understanding our personality and behaviors. Similar to other popular personality assessments like MBTI and DISC, the Enneagram offers insights into our most natural, basic way of being in the world—how we typically respond to relationships and environments. These insights then become a point of reference for self-awareness and self-leadership, allowing us to recognize when we are operating in the “low side” (or false self) and helping us choose the “high side” (or true self) more and more often.
What does “Enneagram” mean?
The word comes from the Greek for “nine” (ennea) and “figure” (grammos), and as you can see from the diagram above, it is indeed a nine-pointed figure within a circle. The word is pronounced “ANY-a-gram” and maps nine fundamental types of human psychology / spirituality and their relationships with the other types.
How is it different than other personality assessments?
Most personality assessments offer an “X-ray” of your “inner wiring,” mapping the contours and dynamics of the soul…and the Enneagram does this also. The different personality tools available do not compete with one another; each offers a different “mirror” from which to see and better understand ourselves. What makes the Enneagram unique lies in the fact that the feedback it offers us is not static but dynamic. More a video clip than a photograph. It shows us, not just how we are, but where we’re going in the journey of becoming our best, truest selves. To do this, it offers an unflinching view of our darker habits alongside our brilliant gifts to call us toward a hopeful future.
Where did it come from?
The origins of the Enneagram are ancient and somewhat murky, but the earliest appearance is tied to a Christian mystic of the fourth century named Evagrius Ponticus from Alexandria, Egypt. He identified nine “deadly thoughts” and the corresponding “remedies” that became the basis for the types. In the early twentieth century a Russian Orthodox philosopher named George Gurdjieff developed the nine-pointed figure as part of his theories of moving from being “asleep” in our souls toward becoming more “awake,” which supports the use of the modern Enneagram even though Gurdjieff did not employ Ponticus’ types. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that Chilean-born psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo and Bolivian-born philosopher Oscar Ichazo combined the ideas of the Egyptian desert monks with the diagram of Gurdjieff and developed a more thorough description of the types and their relationships. Modern experts on the subject include Helen Palmer, Richard Rohr, and Russ Hudson. One good online resource is www.enneagraminstitute.com.
How do I find my type?
There are two schools of thought on this, and both carry merit: the “narrative tradition” encourages people to listen to (and read about) the personal dynamics of people representing the types, often from a panel of presenters, and discern which best corresponds to their own personality. Alternatively, there are several questionnaires that help narrow the field and point us toward our most likely type. My personal favorite questionnaire and reporting tool comes from Integrative Enneagram Solutions, and Thrive9 works with this resource for leadership and team-building. From my experience it is immensely helpful to start with the assessment and then confirm it with a process of personal discernment.
How can I use it best?
The Enneagram goes as deep as you want to dig, but it begins by coming to terms with your type—your basic orientation in the world, the particular ways we have learned to feel safe, affirmed, and in control in life. And this is where the Enneagram takes a profound spiritual bent: it’s not until we come to believe—not just intellectually but in the deepest parts of us—that God is the one who secures us, affirms us, and is faithfully in control of our lives that we can stop trying to do this for ourselves. This transformation occurs over a lifetime and moves us from the “low levels” of our types toward the “high levels” of our types, or in Christian language, toward the character of Christ. This is the overarching big story of our lives.
As you might expect, this psychospiritual growth also transforms the way we relate to the other people in our lives—spouses, coworkers, children, and even strangers. In that way, the Enneagram helps build effective teamwork and thriving communities of all kinds. Once you are confident in your type and can recognize your behaviors and motivations real-time, you can explore other facets of the Enneagram including your “resources points,” your “wings,” your sub-types, and the various triads found on the diagram. You can also explore the dynamics of type-combinations. There is much to learn for those dedicated to their own growth and formation. As Ruth Haley Barton likes to say, “The best thing we bring to our leadership is our own transforming self.”
Where do I start?
Here are several options to consider:
- Request an online link to the IEQ9 assessment and a coaching session to explore its ramifications in this season of your life.
- Or pick up one of the many books written on the subject. Here are three of my personal favorites:
- The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert
- The Sacred Enneagram, by Christopher Heuertz
- The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Riso & Russ Hudson