The Enneagram is a powerful tool for self-awareness. For many people, finding out about their personality type is a huge eye-opener: They can’t believe how spot-on their own inner worldview got described.
But then, one of two things happens a lot of the time:
Either people think that’s it and stop – which is a shame, because the Enneagram has much more to offer you!
Or, they start treating people as nothing more than Enneagram numbers, which not only goes against what the Enneagram is for, but can actually be harmful.
So, to get the most out of it, we must first look at where the Enneagram can actually help you grow and how.
The first and most simple idea behind the Enneagram is what Mr. Jung is talking about in his famous quote above: That all of us – you, me, the entire human race – are all very good at not realizing what the heck we’re doing most of the time. The Enneagram helps us do exactly that: making our unconscious conscious. Day in, day out, we make decisions, do some things, avoid others, just generally live our lives, without knowing most of the time why we do the things we do. Not just that, we don’t even know that we don’t know. It’s like we are running on autopilot. Because we’re not aware of these repeating patterns in our lives, we have little chance to change them. That is the most basic power of the Enneagram. It points out the nine principle ways or strategies (or perspectives if you will) humans rely on to navigate their lives. This give us the chance to see the way we personally rely on the most. Each strategy comes with its own set of behavioral patterns, deeper motivations, specific wounds and messages that shape our personality. But here’s the big thought: There’s much more to you than this one strategy.
2. It shows you that you are more than your personality type
The other big thought is this: You, who you really are, your most true and inner self, is not the same as this one strategy that shapes your personality. We’re all so comfortable with using our personality to get us through the day we usually think that that’s us. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Actually, it’s not even supposed to. If the basic assumption of the Enneagram is correct and human nature has these nine principle ways of seeing and managing the world, that means each of us can – in principle – use all nine ways to engage with life – not just the one we unconsciously picked for ourselves. If you’re next thought is „Alright then, what do I need to change about myself to make this happen?“, we have more good news for you.
3. It doesn't require you to to fix your personality
The most prevalent idea in our modern society is the concept of self-improvement: Get better at being yourself. For that to work however, the underlying message has to be that you’re not okay the way you are right now. No no, first, you need to fix yourself. Or at least those parts that other parts of you disapprove of. This raises a few interesting questions though: Who’s the judge here, and who’s the judged? Which part of us claims the authority to be able to fix other parts? And how do they plan on doing that without leaving other parts of us severely miserable? That’s why the Enneagram isn’t concerned with „fixing“ you. It doesn’t want to change your personality, and it certainly doesn’t want you to get rid of it for something „better“. Instead, the Enneagram invites you to discover and accept who you actually are. Which is not something else than your personality, but simply more.
4. It lets you see that there is so much more to you – and everyone else
Let’s do a thought experiment. Think of your Self as a big house. Lots of rooms, fancy curtains, big garden in the back. But instead of using all the rooms of this house, you spend all your life in the boiler room in the basement. Well, no one says you should get rid of the boiler room. There’s just, like, so much more to explore and enjoy. Similarly, the Enneagram wants to show you that there are more options to engage with life, more ways to handle your emotions and more viewpoints than just your own.
5. It offers you new options to approach your challenges
The thing with your main pattern (which the Enneagram calls personality type) is that while it definitely has its strengths and brings its own sets of gifts, it also locks you into a certain set of behaviors. Realizing what those patterns are and gradually becoming aware of them in daily life gives you the amazing opportunity to have a free choice over whether you want to continue to use them or try something else. That’s why it’s said:
6. It lets you understand yourself and others
This way, the Enneagram doesn’t just help you understand yourself better, it also helps you understand other people’s unique viewpoints. Everyone has their personality type, their favorite strategy, or their favorite room in the house if you will. By understanding people’s unique type you will be able to have much more compassion, grace and appreciation for them.
7. It opens up a path for you
There’s one last thing that we want to mention at the end of this introduction: The kind of awareness and the freedom to use different patterns apart from your current ones is not something that will happen in a single moment of enlightenment or overnight. It’s a path – a road that you will have to travel, very likely for the rest of your life. The Enneagram is a fascinating and complex tool for more awareness of who you and the people around you are, but to become able to use this tool is a learning process, just like learning to use any other complex tool would be.
Six Things The Enneagram Is Not
For all the things the Enneagram is fantastic at, there are also areas where it’s as helpful as using a hammer would be for turning a screw. Not only will the hammer never get the job done, you will also ruin the screw. That’s why it’s good to keep in mind the things that the Enneagram most definitely is not:
1. The Enneagram Isn’t a Buzzfeed Quiz
We hope that by now you’ve realized that the Enneagram isn’t one of those funny personality quizzes that tell you which superhero, Disney character or kind of potato you are. If you’re disappointed now, we’re sorry. The Enneagram wants to help you get actual, deep insights into who you are and why you do the things you do. To do that, it will also have to shine a light on the sides of you you might not like. But that’s where the actual good stuff is.
2. The Enneagram Isn’t Your Career Advisor
The Enneagram won’t tell you what job to take or even what kind of industry best fits you. While certain types can be found more often in certain roles and fields, no type is limited to any kind of work. Especially since, as we said before, the Enneagram doesn’t want you to stay fixed in your personality type, but explore the whole range of personality. For example, every type is creative, and every type can be a great leader or a devoted follower, a capable manager or a skilled employee, an independent entrepreneur and a terrific stay-at-home dad or mom. Your personality doesn’t limit your job choices.
3. The Enneagram Isn’t Your Partner Matching App
Many people, when first encountering the Enneagram, want to know if it can tell them which type best suits them romantically. We get lots of questions like „If I’m a Four, should I marry an Eight or a One?“ Here’s the thing: You can love, marry and get divorced from any type of person. History has proven that repeatedly. The best and only advice we can give when people ask us which type makes for the happiest relationship is: A healthy one. Your level of maturity has much more to say about how well your relationships will work than which Enneagram type your better half is.
4. The Enneagram Isn’t Your Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card
We said that the Enneagram wants to help you stop identifying with your personality. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the first impulse many of us have when we first find out about our type. We start identifying with it and use it to justify our behavior. „Well, you know how Sixes are“ – „Guess that’s just what Twos do!“ – „Nines will be Nines“ and so on. That’s the opposite of what the Enneagram is for. Instead of identifying with your type, it wants you to see how your type limits you so you can get the freedom of not being dependent on it anymore.
5. The Enneagram Isn’t Your Holy Grail Of Personality
The Enneagram, while being powerful and useful, is not the end of wisdom. Every human being is ultimately unique, mysterious and unpredictable. Even the Enneagram can’t tell you everything there is to know about human personality. For example, the Enneagram says nothing about things like talents and gifts, social upbringing, education or intelligence. Those are all completely independent areas and should not be confused with what the Enneagram tries to do.
6. The Enneagram Isn’t Your New Religion
Please, don’t make the Enneagram your new god, your new ideology or your new bible. We promise you will be disappointed. Apart from all the answers it won’t be able to give you, it will also make you look pretty silly in front of your friends. The Enneagram, while ancient in parts, is neither the key to unlock the ultimate mysteries of the universe, nor a set of rules to grant you enlightenment and eternal life if followed correctly. It’s a tool. You wouldn’t worship a screwdriver. So do everyone (including yourself) a favor and don’t worship the Enneagram. After this list of negatives, let us end on what the Enneagram can do for you. If you neither worship it nor treat it superficially, but actually take it seriously, then…
Maitri, Sandra (2005). The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues: Finding the Way Home.