No one knows the origin of the Enneagram, but it appeals to New Agers, businesses and Christians alike. At its most basic, the Enneagram is a system that describes nine personality types. Here’s how you can apply the Enneagram to yourself and your relationships at midlife.
According to an interview with Christopher Heuertz, author of The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth*, there are rumors of the Enneagram showing up 6000 years ago in Egypt and 4000 years ago in Korea. Proponents of other faith traditions also lay claim to Enneagram beginnings. For example, people have found evidence for Enneagram development in folk Buddhism, the Sufis of central Asia, as well as the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers.
Researchers agree on one thing: the Bolivian wisdom teacher Oscar Ichazo explored Enneagram concepts in the 1950s and 60s. He developed Enneagram versions for Fixations, Holy Ideas, Traps, Passions and Virtues.
Apply the Enneagram: live and work better
Similar to Myers-Briggs analysis, the Enneagram offers a way to understand yourself and others better. Armed with knowledge about yourself and appreciation for others’ personalities, you can learn to live and work with people more effectively.
The Enneagram’s nine personality types
Rather than summarize multiple sources, I’m going to quote from the Enneagram Institutes’s nine personality type descriptions:
1 The Reformer The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic
2 The Helper The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive
3 The Achiever The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious
4 The Individualist The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental
5 The Investigator The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated
6 The Loyalist The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious, and Suspicious
7 The Enthusiast The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered
8 The Challenger The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational
9 The Peacemaker The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and ComplacentThe Enneagram Institute
When you apply the Enneagram typology to yourself and your relationships, there are layers of complexity. Each personality type has two “wings,” its adjacent type numbers. Typically a person will have a dominant type but also several characteristics of one of the wings. For example, a “Type 3 with a 2 Wing” suggests a person who values achievement and success while also being generous and wanting to please others.
Another facet of the Enneagram systems is how your type responds to stress or opportunities for personal growth. Everyone responds differently according to type. You start at your principal type, then move in the direction of the arrows across the triangle on the Enneagram symbol. Type 1, for instance, goes to Type 4 (sensitive, moody) under stress and Type 7 (spontaneous, joyful) under growth.
The more you explore the Enneagram, the more interesting its findings can become for your personal growth as well as learning how to interact well with other people.
It’s valid for people of any age. The Enneagram will help you explore the personality you were born with, as well as how it was shaped by your experiences. No matter how well you think you understand yourself, the Enneagram will help you stay alert for signs that you’re under stress. As well as help you target areas you want to develop further.
Apply the Enneagram: what’s your type?
You can find lots of free or low-cost tools to determine your Enneagram type on the internet. Most are offers from Enneagram consultants trying to build their email lists. Try a couple and see if they give you consistent readings.
My favorite tool is the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) from the Enneagram Institute. They charge you $12 to take a quiz with 144 scientifically validated questions. Your quiz is scored automatically, and the system emails your top 1-3 types and their descriptions.
The best part of their assessment tool is that, after doing the quiz, you can sign up for daily messages tailored for your Enneagram type. They call this your “Enneathought for the Day.” You’ll know in a matter of days if they type you signed up for is the correct one for you. Enneathoughts either will resonate with you, or they won’t.
I signed up for emails from the top two Enneagram types that were predicted for me based on my quiz results. One of them spoke to me much better than the other one. That’s how I knew I’d zeroed in on the right type for me.
You can change your subscriptions at any time.
If you want to try a 36-question sampler before paying $12 for the RHETI, you can do that for free here.
Resources to help you apply the Enneagram
Because the Enneagram is popular with a broad spectrum of people, you can find a variety of resources to help you go further in understanding how this ancient tool can help you today.
For online information, I like the Enneagram Institute. They sell their trademarked RHETI test, and they refer you to Amazon for their books and audio recordings. They probably do consulting, but their site isn’t an obvious funnel for you to become a paying customer.
Amazon has loads of books on the Enneagram. Most are available in print, ebook or audiobook. Here are some favorites:
- The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective* by Richard Rohr and Andrea Ebert
- The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery* by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
- The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth* by Christopher L. Heuertz
- The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People* by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele
Just for fun: Enneagram music
Ryan O’Neal, the artist behind the Sleeping at Last podcast, has been writing nine songs corresponding to the nine Enneagram types. At this point, he’s completed all but one (Type 9).
You can access his music at Sleeping at Last. And if you browse his podcast episodes, you’ll find one for each type – plus other music he’s written. Before playing his composition, he explains his research and pulls apart each song to help you listen to it in all its complexity.
For example, in composing a song for a particular type, he chooses a key and beats per minute appropriate to that Enneagram type. He also inserts small jokes. In the Type 1 song, for example, O’Neal records cleaning brushes, brooms, etc. as the “drums.” This is a humorous reference to Type 1’s interest in having things around them be neat and orderly.
Each podcast features an interview with Enneagram expert Chris Heuertz (mentioned above). He goes into detail on the Enneagram type they’re discussing that day.
You can view the Enneagram as just another personality test, or you can let it take you farther.
An Enneagram quiz is something you might do out of curiosity, to validate what you already thought about yourself.
Or you might start exploring Enneagram literature and learn something new about yourself. Maybe put the pieces together in a different way. Reading a third-party assessment of your personality type can increase self-understanding and self-compassion.
It also can help cultivate an appreciation for people who are different from you. Could it increase your patience with someone who drives you crazy?
For me, the Enneagram offers deeper learning opportunities than some of its alternatives. I especially like the fact that the Enneagram typology is valid no matter what age you might be. You can always learn more and move toward greater personal growth.
After all, the goal is to live your best midlife. If the Enneagram can help you reach that goal, it’s worth a try.