You are currently viewing Using the Enneagram for personal growth and self-awareness

Using the Enneagram for personal growth and self-awareness

The Enneagram is a 9-type personality model. I’m not very familiar with it’s history. But I have found it personally beneficial in understanding my mind, thoughts, and feelings, and those of others.

Take the test first

I’d suggest simply taking the test before learning about the different types, so you don’t have the ability or urge to steer yourself toward certain types as you answer the questions. I’ve only put a few tidbits of a few types in this post that I don’t think should affect your test outcome.

I took the Enneagram test at (I have no affiliation with them) a few months ago, and found it valuable. The test is called the RHETI and costs $12 USD as of today, and took me an hour or so.

This test has you decide between two different statements based on which you feel applies to you more. I found that about 20% of the questions could have been answered either way (toss up), but the other 80% felt like there was a definitive winner. When I got the results, they felt true to me.

Some aspects I like about the Enneagram test are:

  • The types make intuitive sense to me (more than other personality tests like the MBTI).
  • The types are simply labeled with the numbers 1 through 9, and with simple words like loyalist, investigator, challenger, etc.
  • The RHETI gives you a ranking of the strength you have in all nine types in order of their significance for you. So it’s much more nuanced than simply being placed in one of 9 boxes.
  • There are 2 “wings” and 3 variants for each type, resulting in a total of 9 x 2 x 3 = 54 types. There might be more variations in fact (let me know in the comments if you’d like). So you can look at your type with varying degrees of resolution, depending how deeply you want to dive down the rabbit hole.

Study the types

I then studied the 9 type descriptors at the above website (substantial information there), as well as the type combinations, which describe how people of the different types tend to relate to each other (e.g. type 1 and type 4, type 7 and type 2, etc).

Then I bought and read several books, in this order:

  • The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Riso & Hudson)
  • The Complete Enneagram (Chestnut & Kaye)
  • The Essential Enneagram (Daniels & Price)

Another useful resource is a series of recorded panel discussions of individuals of each type by Beatrice Chestnut on YouTube.

Finally, a great free source is the Enneathought, a daily email that will give you a suggestion specific to your type (you can choose your top two types if you want). I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the variety and lack of repetition in these emails.

Here are some ways I think that the Enneagram can be helpful:

Learning about how you differ from other people

It is easy to lose sight of the fact that we differ a great deal from others psychologically. The enneagram helps us remember that we’re different, by reading the chapters on our own type, and other types, and relating much more to our own. I found reading some of the other types almost like hearing about a vastly different culture. But when I read my own type, it felt very familiar. I had this idea that I’ve been projecting my type onto other people for my whole life to some degree, and that others have done the same to me. This realization felt relieving, providing an explanation for a longstanding feeling (the psychological distance between myself and others is quite far sometimes), and also felt isolating for the same reason. Overall it feels like a step toward truth however, and thus positive.

Rather than read books in order, it is probably more helpful to read the sections specific to your primary type(s) first. Then read some of the other types that interest you. It’s important to understand each type to some degree in order to see the differences between the types, but if time is limited, the priority is, I think, to understand our own type more deeply.

Learn what specific challenges your type faces

One of the biggest benefits I’ve gained is learning the pitfalls for my types. For example, type 4s often get stuck in fantasy and envy, and get stuck in their painful emotions. Type 5s get lost in information gathering and analysis and tend to isolate. Type 6s are prone to worry and mistrust. I imagine that when you read about your type, you’ll quickly recognize some “Achilles heels” you’ve known to varying degrees, and will feel some pieces fall into place as they are articulated and mapped out.

Learn what actions and mindsets will helps your type

This could be the largest benefit of taking and studying the Enneagram: what to do differently. Each book above, as well as the Enneathought, will offer many suggestions. The advice tends to coalesce around a theme. For example, I’ve gathered that type 4s need to work on not allowing their emotions to sway them from healthy routine and effective action. And type 5s need to try to refrain from seeking information and tap into their intuition more, and embrace uncertainty.

Learn the strengths and gifts of your type

Although each type largely amounts to a set of personality defenses that we use to cope, they also contain kernels of essential pure qualities or gifts. For example, type 4s have a gift of being able to sit with pain and tell difficult truths. Type 1s have a gift of improving dysfunctional systems. Type 8s can be powerful protectors of the vulnerable. Learning both your type’s vulnerabilities and strengths can give you a direction to aim for.

Apply it to your relationships

I think that one of the best uses of the Enneagram could be applying it to difficult relationships, such as a marriage or partnership. Often people choose as partners, or marry, someone very different from themselves, because they are attracted to the opposite, missing parts of themselves (initially). But over time the differences can become threatening or even seem dysfunctional or “bad” to each partner. The Enneagram system is a way of conceptualizing your partner’s differences in a non-pathologizing way. It can give each partner a sense that there is really no need (or ability) to try to change their partner’s innate personality, especially upon learning about the special strengths and gifts that their partner’s different personality can bring to the world.

I can see the Enneagram enhancing friendships and family relationships as well.

Leave a Reply