Have you ever heard of The Enneagram before? I had, years and years ago. Yet although familiar with the term I only had a vague idea of what it was. Then this last week while listening to a podcast interview by author Brene Brown she mentioned that she had taken the test. When asked what she learned from it she said, “It pissed me off!” She went on to say that it told her some things about herself that she didn’t really want to admit. So call me crazy, but the idea that a test can help reveal parts of ourselves to ourselves, captivated me. From there you can guess what I’ve been doing ever since. And once you know my “type number” you can easily see why I found it fascinating.
But before I go any further I’d like to offer a bit of background on what The Enneagram is and why any of us should care. As with many of the topics I explore here on SMART Living 365, I’m no expert. In fact, I’ve only taken the test a few times, listened to a dozen podcasts and read a ton of articles. Just enough to keep me interested. Again, once you know my “type number” you’ll see why that makes a lot of sense.
From what I can tell, The Enneagram has a rather hazy background. Some teachers claim it is over several thousand millennia old with ties to ancient Babylon. Others say it came out of early Greece—in fact, the word Enneagram itself comes from the Greek words, “nine points”. Supposedly there are also roots to early esoteric Christianity, Sufism, the Kabbalah Tree of Life and other wisdom traditions. The more recent use of it is tied to personal self-discovery, philosophy, psychology, mysticism and spirituality. Surprisingly, it is currently being embraced by many Christian Churches. Why? Apparently in spite of the fact that it sounds a bit “new age-y” even to me, it is growing in popularity among young Christians believers who see it as a path to becoming better people.
But what is it? The most obvious answer is that it is another “personality test” similar to the more well-known Myers-Briggs system. For example, according to The Enneagram Institute, the Enneagram is one of the “most powerful and insightful tools available for understanding ourselves and others.” The Narrative Enneagram says it is, “a powerful tool for personal and collective transformation.” Integrative 9 Enneagram Solutions claims it is, “an archetypal framework that offers in-depth insights into individuals, groups and collectives.”
However one of the most interesting definitions I found was by author Allegra Hobbs who claimed that calling it a personality test isn’t quite accurate. Why? Because according to her the “types” (there are nine of them) are “determined by motivations, not actions, so you can’t tell a person’s type by how they behave.” She also believes that the function of the test is, “not to prescribe a set of traits that can be used to fashion or describe an identity (as with other personality tests.) She says, “With the Enneagram, the personality is just a set of coping mechanisms built around a person’s true self. To find one’s type is not the end point, but the beginning of a journey of self-discovery.” Another way to explain it is not what you learn about your number, but what you do with it and who you become now that you know.
So how does it work? As I mentioned above you take a test (some are free online and some charge a fee) and discover your primary type out of nine. Each type describes the basic perspective of each, as well as the benefits and the challenges that each personality offers. In addition to the primary types, there are also three subtypes. These subtypes are powerful biological drives: the self-preservation instinct, the social instinct and the sexual instinct. Plus there are the “stances” of each of the nine types that reveal our default ways of moving in the world. These instincts and stances provide a profile that answers important questions like: How do we typically see the world? How do we spend our time? What is most important to us in life? What makes us feel secure? What do we resist and repress? Where are our greatest strengths and weaknesses? Obviously, by understanding these inherent motivations we can find greater awareness of our life choices.
In addition, each personality has a “wing” which touches and includes the personality on one side of the primary. Nearly every article and podcast I listened to went into claiming that these types, wings, stances and subtypes do not box us in. Instead, what they offer is a way of looking beyond (or enlarging) the “box” that most of us live in unconsciously most of the time. They help us discover our patterns, behaviors, joys and fears so we can grow and change them if that is something we want.
Another way it was explained was to think of each of the nine types as primary colors—with lots of variations. If you go to a paint store in search of the color blue, you will find dozens of different shades of blue depending upon the other added colors. Those other added colors are the wings, the subtypes, the different stances and the instincts giving all of us many variations. In other words, both you and I could be the same number—yet because of our other subtypes, stances and wings we can and do act and see the world in different ways. Also, one of us may be more in touch with our benefits, motivations and our challenges, and that can and will look very different to the outside world.
The impact from knowing yourself and your motivations better is that you can navigate the world in a more meaningful and profound way. After all, when we know ourselves better, we can make choices that lead us in the direction we want to go rather than sabotage ourselves through unawareness. It’s also beneficial to know the color variations of our spouses, children, close friends and even the people we work with because the more we can estimate motivations, the smoother our relationships. It would also help us to explain how some people see the world in dramatically different ways than we do. While we are all connected through the Enneagram, we each hold different aspects of the whole.
So in case you are wondering what my type number is, it is a seven. If you google Enneagram #7 you will see over and over that my primary desire as a 7 is adventure, optimism and anticipation. My mottos are “There is always a silver lining” or “See the good!” I prioritize enjoyment and am in constant pursuit of new opportunities and experiences. I avoid negativity, pain and I have built-in FOMO (Fear of missing out!) I can think fast and creatively, juggle multiple tasks, make plans and change them just as easily. Oh, and I love to tell stories too—with happy endings of course!
But make no mistake, there is a downside—and yes every type has them. As a 7 I can get bored and restless far too quickly. Remember how I was madly in love with James Hollis two weeks ago? Now I’m on to the next thing. I’m constantly projecting myself into the future which makes me really good at making plans—but I can easily miss the good right in front of me. I frequently become impatient with myself and others. I like to be right, and I can get downright cranky if someone attempts to limit my freedom or options. Plus, apparently I’m not very good at taking criticism. What? And because I spend so much time seeking and focusing on the positive, I often miss the benefits that a little realism or pessimism brings to any experience. And yes, I suppose I can be insensitive to anyone dealing with real pain or struggle. Ouch!
Fortunately, because I fit so many of the Type 7 traits, it is fairly easy for me to see how I can embrace the benefits and temper my weaknesses. It is highly recommended that a Type 7 learn to slow down and become more mindful. (Why do you think I write so many articles about that?) It is also to my benefit to learn to be more present in the now. Meditation is extremely helpful. And because I spend so much time in my head, I need to utilize practices that ground me both to my body and the world. When I remember what some of my deepest motivations are, I can gradually become more and more conscious of them and make choices that help me grow and become the person I want to be.
So it is now clear to me why I continually seek out avenues of learning that help me discover more about myself. I’ve taken dozens of online tests, even more workshops through the years, read hundreds of books and now enjoy podcasts of all variety. My Type 7 personality is almost compulsive (okay, definitely compulsive!) about new and positive input—and this blog allows me to share what I’m learning along the way. It’s also likely that my writing a book titled, You Get to Make it Up! is a natural expression of how I see the world. The good news is that I truly believe my perspective offers people options, but it is important for me to remember that not everyone sees, thinks or appreciates like I do.
And isn’t that one of the best gifts that greater self-awareness offers us all? By making us more aware of our often-automatic actions, choices, motivations, fears, desires, hopes and dreams we can see that in some ways we are similar, and in others very different. We can hopefully become less judgmental and more understanding and loving to others and yes, ourselves as well. We can shine some light on our own unconscious patterns and decide if we want those to continue or find more healthy ways to move forward. And perhaps we can just rest in knowing that deep down we are all doing the best we can with what we know.
I’m so intrigued by the idea of The Enneagram that I’m going to do my best to resist my Type 7 urge to move on to the next best thing—so I’ll probably write more about it in the future. And if you want to take the test yourself, there is a link at the bottom of this post to a test I took (I actually took about five of them to make sure my number was correct but I found this one to be one of the best.) Again, I’m just a beginner with The Enneagram so there is a lot more for me to learn. But I’ve always thought the SMART approach is one of growth and learning, and The Enneagram certainly offers both for those of us who see the value.
Free online Enneagram Test
Flickr photo Credit: Anne Ruthmann who is also a #7
Hi Kathy, I am with you, on the vague idea of the term. Reading through your post, “motivations” and “actions.” Significantly different definitions. Huge Wow, on what you do with the number/information. You clearly indicate how we are not boxed in, a criticism with some personality tests. Funny comment on James Hollis. He is still on my research list.
Interesting and thought-provoking information, Kathy. You are very self-aware, which is likely a positive and a negative. I can relate about ‘spending so much time in my head.’ I am curious about this test and I will investigate further. Thank you for an interesting post.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Erica! Glad it caught your interest too. I’d love to know what your “number” is if you feel comfortable sharing it. I have continued to do research about it and am really finding it fascinating and relevant. I guess I have a difficult time wondering why everyone doesn’t–but that is just likely another indication of my number 7!!! ~Kathy
Patricia Doyle says
Kathy, I’ve taken the test a few different times (like you) but over the years, as various people I know became intrigued with it. I’ve never delved that much into it, coming to terms with what it might mean for me. I’ve always tested out the same – a “1”. I’m printing out the latest to see if your perspective about motivations (versus behaviors) makes it mean more as I read it. I have noticed that the “name” of the type changes depending on whose information you read.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pat! Yes, there are dozens of different people jumping on the bandwagon these days with their own interpretation although several of the early adapters pop up over and over. The first time I ever heard it mentioned was through Helen Palmer and she remains one of the experts that many refer to when talking about the Enneagram. I had the opportunity to take a workshop with her through IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences) but didn’t. I sort of regret that, but then again firmly believe in the saying, “When the student is ready the teacher appears” so it wasn’t the right time for me. Something that has captured my attention since writing this post is how each number has “default behaviors” and “areas for best growth”. Mine for example a 7 for example are that I am drawn to excess in all areas. One of my “areas for best growth” is to focus on quality rather than quantity. But of course I think it starts with recognizing what number we are in the first place and then going from there. I don’t know if you will find it as interesting as me, but as usual, I’m happy to introduce others to anything that will get them thinking! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. ~Kathy
Tom @ Sightings says
Interesting. So after reading your post I had to go take the test. Results: Inconclusive (but in my opinion, not very flattering). 5 and 9 with some 1 mixed in.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tom~ Good for you for taking the test. I have talked to a number of people and am amazed to hear how so many are hesitant to take tests like this. I suppose it is very “7” of me to not realize that because I just think of it as fun AND very interesting. I can’t think of anything more interesting than learning more about how we all “tick”. But I don’t think ANY number is less than flattering. From everything I’ve read it says there is no good or bad numbers…just different ways of processing. I think being a 9 is great but I don’t know enough about a 5 to comment. ~Kathy
Janis @ retirementallychallenged says
That was interesting. I had some trouble (over-thinking mostly) with a few of the questions but came out as a 9. After reading the short descriptions of each of the nine different types, that one probably describes me the best. I’m sure I’m a mixture, like most people. It would be interesting to go into this a bit further. I’m sure just taking the test and looking at the initial results is just the tip of the iceberg. Would love to talk about this more in Palm Desert if we get the opportunity!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! Darn…I am SO SORRY we are going to miss you this trip. I should have put it in my calendar. Thom is a 9 too and that would have ben fun. Any chance you we can meet on Tuesday or Thursday???? And I think you saying it is just a “tip of the iceberg” is a good way of thinking of it. ~Kathy
An interesting and fascinating read, Kathy. Learning about the Enneagram and about your results! I wonder whether I’m a 7 as well, based on my sense for adventure. Then again, even if these tests are not supposed to put you in “boxes”, every time I try to pin down my personality or anything else, the answer is never straightforward and I end up half here and half there. Yet, I’m curious about it and I love taking tests, so I’ll check this out one of these days, when I’m not so tired or had less screen time.
Hi, Kathyt- Fascinating stuff here! I love how you are constantly exploring new materials, asking hard questions and sharing it with us. I also liked the other comments that this post has generated. I look forward to staying tuned and reading more about your discoveries in this fascinating area.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Donna! Are you home yet? I loved following your photos on FB. Are you going to take the test? I asked another friend and she said “absolutely not!” hahahaha! Definitely shows the differences between us all. Looking forward to hearing about YOUR trip on your blog?? ~Kathy
Hi, Kathy – Thank you for your fast reply. Richard and I are currently in the middle of an intense game of ‘planes, trains, ferries and automobiles’ to get home. We are waiting the ferry now. As a general rule, I don’t do well with personality tests/tools (or eye tests for that matter. Is this one better or this one? Who in the heck knows?!) I do look forward to reading more that you discover in this area.
Hi Kathy, the test was inconclusive for me, but it suggests that taking wings into account I am likely a 5/4, 7/6, or 7/8. I found myself answering in the middle on many questions, when there was no clear yes or no. Without the wings, I was a 1 and a 7 almost equally. Even so, it was an illuminating task and gave me food for thought. Now that I have read through all the types, I might go back and take it again, giving more consideration to my answers.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Suzanne! How interesting that you got such confusing results. Maybe for you a better approach (if you’re still interested) would be to do like Michele recommends in her comment–to explore the different numbers BEFORE taking the test. I was the opposite though…I didn’t want to be misdirected by learning about the others before I started. I have a habit of answering tests and quizzes by answering in a way that either I think the test giver wants to hear (useful if I NEED to pass a test) or by answering in a way that makes me look the best??? On these tests I made an effort to answer as honestly as I could…but I agree..I couldn’t pick one or the other on many of them and ended up in the middle. Either way, I think knowing about The Enneagram can be helpful if people like to learn about themselves and how they think, feel or process. Let me know if you take it again and it comes out in a way that works for you. ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, I am a certified Enneagram trainer. Like you, I became intrigued. I started listening to podcasts and reading. Eventually I decided to get certified. I am a 5, which explains my lifelong need to read and fill notebooks with all of my ideas and things I learn from reading. I have dozens of filled notebooks!
I do not see the Enneagram as a personality test. I see it as a way of understanding ourselves and others. Learning about our motivations and what drives us and how we think and react has been a lifelong interest of mine.
I don’t think that a test is necessarily the best way to find your number. It is pretty easy to type incorrectly, especially with the shorter and free tests. It comes from reading about the types and understanding them and then looking at yourself and seeing where you think you fit in. I would suggest doing some reading or listening about the types first, then taking a test.
If you do want a test, the Jerome Wagner test ( WPESS) is scientifically based and the most thorough. It is ten dollars and you get a pretty thorough report. I am not an affiliate- just like this test.
I think you will enjoy the journey into this if you stick with it. It is a very large rabbit hole, but fascinating!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Michele! From what I understand, as a “5” it’s no surprise you are “certified” as an Enneagram Coach. Thanks for jumping in here and sharing your expertise. A number of other Enneagram coaches and trainers (that I read online) said something similar in that they didn’t recommend taking the test before wading into it. But that’s sort of like waving a red flag in front of a bull when you’re a 7 🙂 I think that’s why I took a number of the free tests to feel comfortable with my results. And I agree that “personality test” isn’t the perfect description–but for the majority of us I think it is a good way to throw out a hook. Then if we want to keep exploring there are LOTS more depth to the process and we can slide down the rabbit hole for months! Thanks again for your input on this! ~Kathy
The Widow Badass says
Thanks Kathy, this was interesting. I took the test and it looks like I am likely a type 7 too. What do you think about that?
I’ve heard of the Enneagram but profess I don’t really know that much about it. Stopped taking these kinds of tests after the Myers-Briggs. Now I am intrigued, again.
Just another INFJ weirdo. ?
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Deb! Cool! Did the description fit your motivations and tendencies like it did mine? Apparently I also have a w8 which likely helps to keep me more disciplined so I can actually stay focused enough to finish what I start (among other things!) Did you have a “wing” come up in the test? There are all sorts of ways of looking at the “results” but I’m finding it super interesting. And while Thom’s didn’t fit quite as well as mine (he’s a 9 according to the test) the more we talk about it, the more I can see where he has a lot of it. You and I will have to get together one of these days and compare notes! ~Kathy
The Widow Badass says
Apparently I am a 7w6, whatever that means. I will look into this further at some point.
I’d love to get together with you at some point for a good ol’ chat!