Words can be a funny thing. Over time, their meaning can change and new words come into our vernacular. One word you might be hearing more often is “Enneagram.” For those who don’t know what it is, it might sound like a diagram. Others think it’s a medical tool, like a sonogram. Often people hear it and think it’s something scientific that doesn’t apply to them.
Today let’s unravel what it is and why it’s useful for everyone. This helpful personality tool is being used by counselors, spiritual directors, pastors, small group leaders, and everyday people. It has even been connected to the Seven Deadly Sins to help us understand our sin nature.
What is the Enneagram Personality Test?
“The Enneagram opens you to an extraordinary view of the truth about you. It can help you recognize your unique melody as well as where you are off-key internally and relationally.” – Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, by Adele Doug Calhoun and Clare Scott Loughrige
At its most basic, it is a tool for understanding personality. As we expand from there we see it’s a valuable resource for spiritual development. It teaches us ways we’re prone to struggle, our weaknesses and strengths, and ways to find harmony.
Nine Enneagram personality types are the main focus. Though there are sub-types and wings as well, most people are concerned with their main type. Each type corresponds to a number. These types influence how we understand and interact with the world, others, God, and ourselves.
The name comes from the Greek word enneawhich means nine andgram meaning figure. Each of the nine types is mapped out into a geometric design. On this chart, we see how the other numbers interact with and influence one another. It can also show ways we lean to another number during periods of stress, trauma, or transition.
The exact origins of the Enneagram personality test are a mystery. It’s an ancient method for understanding human personality. This tool has been used by Christians and other religions around the world for centuries.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that tool came to the United States. American-trained psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo brought it here. He helped merge the nine types and modern psychological research. After bringing it to the US, one of Naranjo’s first students was a priest named Father Robert Ochs. He began teaching it as a tool at Loyola seminary. It has continued to spread and is now known by millions.
Today many of Ochs’ original students are teachers themselves. Often those who teach and offer Enneagram coaching share their lineage to Ochs. This is similar to how we share our family lineage. Coaches are available through counseling offices, churches, private practice, online, and more. You’ll find books, classes, and even a few apps available to help guide you on your journey, all thanks to one man bringing it to the US.
Using the Enneagram in everyday life
It can be far too easy to take a personality test and never think about it again. We take the test everyone on Facebook is taking, think “hm, that’s interesting,” post our results, and never think about it again. Even with a tool this transformative, this still happens. There is an urge to find out our type without exploring it so we feel like we fit in is for all of us.
Diving into our type feels vulnerable. It feels like opening ourselves up to parts we may not want to know about or face. Yet diving in has the chance to transform your life in the best of ways.
Knowing what our type looks like as healthy and unhealthy gives us tools to approach challenges. Your study will point back to yourself, as well as to how you relate to others and to God.
Benefits of the Enneagram
These are some of the ways the Enneagram has benefited people in their everyday lives:
- Couples have found it helpful to understand their partner’s behaviors, beliefs, core longings, and struggles.
- In the workplace, bosses and managers are using it to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, and build a strong team.
- Pastors and priests can use it to better understand themselves and their parishioners.
- Parents have found it to be a wonderful way to relate to their adult children.
- Our type can also give us unique insight as to how we relate with God, the areas where we sin, and spiritual disciplines that will benefit us.
- In small groups knowing one another’s type can help group members interact with each other with more grace and kindness.
This is transformative and has changed countless lives worldwide. According to author Beth McCord “…The Gospel itself is the transformation. The Enneagram simply illuminates our heart’s intent. The Enneagram can show us what’s wrong; only Christ can fix it.” (Becoming Us: Using the Enneagram to Create a Thriving Gospel Centered Marriage)
Some people are private about their type. Perhaps they feel ashamed of their type or feel revealing their type will give away information they’re not ready to share. Just as we never push someone to tell us personal information, we never want to push someone to tell us their type.
Finding your Enneagram type
People are usually eager to find their types. For some, this is a quick process and they’re able to find their type within a matter of days or even hours. In other cases, it can take weeks, months, or even years.
It seems to be especially difficult to find one’s type if someone has been through trauma, chronic stress, or other challenging situations recently. In those situations, we often lean towards a different type. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to type themselves then study more or come out a chaotic life situation to realize they were actually a different type.
The best way to begin finding your type is to read brief descriptions. Next, find additional resources and do more in-depth reading about that type and its wings. Sometimes people will choose to do a thorough study of each type over a long period of time. Then they type themselves after coming to an understanding of all the types.
There are a few apps and online quizzes that offer the ability to type yourself as well. As with anything online, some are better than others. Take them with a grain of salt as only a good way to get initial ideas. Then dive into deeper research of that type to see if it sounds like you.
You’ll find courses and books galore. There are dozens of podcasts, YouTube videos, and sermons available to help out. The Christian band Sleeping At Lasteven wrote a song based on each type. People have found them to be quite helpful when trying to discern their type.
It can be tempting to type others but don’t try. We want to relate to them better, unravel their quirks, or justify their actions. A person’s type is personal. In typing ourselves, we face aspects we may not have ever faced before. Typing oneself involves exploring things our closest friends and family may not even be aware of. It’s not possible to know what others think, feel, or experience so it’s not possible to type anyone else.
Don’t worry if this all feels overwhelming to you – it’s almost like learning a new language. Exploring with a trusted guide such as a spiritual director, pastor, priest, or counselor can be helpful. They can help you to find your type and help work through feelings that might arise. Then you can work together to figure out how to engage with God and how you understand God in light of your type. Christians are finding this to be one of the most helpful resources in understanding their own sin nature and building a strong walk with God.
The Enneagram Personality Test is also a powerful tool in the context of a counseling relationship. Working with the psychological background in mind has proven to be quite helpful. Let your counselor know if this is a tool you’re interested in exploring together.
“Writing”, Courtesy of Green Chameleon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Discovery”, Courtesy of Noble Mitchell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Ethereal Lane”, Courtesy of Casey Horner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Studying”, Courtesy of Joel Muniz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License