What Is the Enneagram of Personality?

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The Enneagram is a typology system that describes human personality as a number of interconnected personality types. While it has become popular within spirituality and business disciplines, there has been limited research on its use and it is not widely accepted in the field of evidence-based psychology.

Enneagram of personality
 Verywell / Jessica Olah

What Is It?

The Enneagram consists of a nine-point diagram. Each point represents a personality type. The Enneagram figure or diagram is made up of three elements. The outer part is made up of a circle, which then contains a triangle and an irregular hexagon.

At its simplest, the Enneagram represents nine different personality types. Beyond the basic nine personality types, the system grows much more complex and includes 27 different subtypes as well as three key "centers" focused on action, feeling, and thinking.

Most people may find elements of themselves in each of the types, but will usually identify with one of the types the most. The type that best describes you is known as your basic personality type.

Each type is characterized by a number of traits that dominate the individual’s overall personality. This model also identifies each types' greatest fears as well as the coping mechanisms that people use to deal with those anxieties.

According to the Enneagram Institute, most Enneagram theorists believe that people are born with a dominant personality type which can then be shaped by environmental factors and experiences. These two forces also tend to influence each other. Inborn traits and characteristics help shape how people respond to their experiences, and the environment plays a role in shaping how personality is formed and expressed.

According to Enneagram theory, people do not change from one basic type of personality to another. However, not all elements of personality are always expressed—people are always fluctuating depending on factors such as their health and habits. As you read through the descriptions of each type, you see yourself in several of them or even all of them. You might have many of these traits, but the Enneagram suggests that it is your dominant type that is the most important.

It is important to remember that the Enneagram does not suggest that any type is better or more desirable than another. Whether the traits associated with each type are seen as a help or a hindrance depends on the individual and their culture. For example, having more achievement-focused or self-reliant traits may be helpful for those living in individualistic cultures, while traits such as loyalty and caregiving may be more beneficial for those in collectivist cultures.

History

The exact origins of the Enneagram are something of a mystery. It may date back to the time of the ancient Greeks, although its exact history is disputed. It is a synthesis of a number of different spiritual traditions, including elements of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

A philosopher and mystic by the name of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff is credited with bringing the Enneagram figure to the attention of the world, although he did not use it to categorize personality types. Oscar Ichazo, the founder of a school for human potential and self-development, is who assigned different personality types to each of the nine positions in the Enneagram diagram.

Later, psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo expanded the theory to expand the nine types in psychological terms.

How Does It Work?

Each of the nine personality types is characterized by a set of dominant behaviors, motivations, and fears. The goal of this system is that by better understanding your type, you’ll be able to make the most of your strengths and address your weakness so that you can achieve your full potential.

Because the Enneagram addresses faults and weaknesses as well as strengths, it is often thought of as a tool for self-analysis and self-improvement. By recognizing these areas, people can work toward becoming more self-aware and achieving greater self-actualization.

After taking an Enneagram test, respondents learn which basic type best describes their personality. Depending upon the test, respondents may also discover one or two additional types that also contribute to their overall personality. 

While the Enneagram is designed to identify your basic personality type, no one is simply a single pure type. The Enneagram Institute states that all people are a mix of their basic type as well as at least one or two adjacent types. These other types that contribute to your personality are known as your wing.

While it is the basic type that dominates your personality, the wings add dimensional elements. So a person with a Type 4 dominant personality would have Type 3 and Type 5 as their wings. These adjacent personality types may influence overall personality, but they do not change a person’s basic type.

Some Enneagram theorists believe that personality is composed of a dominant type and one adjacent wing, while other theorists suggest that there are two wings. The official Enneagram site suggests that this is an area in need of further research.

The Nine Enneagram Types

Each of the nine types has its own set of potential strengths and weaknesses. 

1. Reformer

Type 1s, or Reformers, are perfectionistic, purposeful, and self-controlled. They strive for integrity and have a fear of corruption. They have a very strong sense of what is the “right” and “wrong” way to do things. They are seen as highly principled, but they can also be seen as judgmental and uncompromising.

2. Helper

Type 2s, or Helpers, are generous and people-pleasing. They have a strong desire to be loved, sometimes denying their own needs in order to make others happy. Helpers care about other people and tend to make friends easily. They tend to put a lot of energy into their relationships, but this is sometimes interpreted as neediness. They are genuine and are good listeners, which means that people often turn to them in times of need, but it also means that they overlook their own needs.

3. Achiever

Much like Type 1s, Type 3s, or Achievers, are driven to excel. Their focus is often on being seen as successful and admirable by other people. While they tend to be image-conscious, they are also very adaptable. Because they are so focused on appearances, they are sometimes seen as overachieving workaholics. Achievers might be more focused on success than feelings, but they do tend to be good at what they do and communicate well.

4. Individualist

Type 4s, or Individualists, can be dramatic and expressive. They have a strong sense of identity but can be temperamental or self-absorbed at times. Individualists are creative, forward-thinking, and highly expressive. One potential downside of this is that they can also be very emotional and focused on their own feelings.

5. Investigator

Type 5s, or Investigators, are innovative and highly perceptive. They have a tendency to become isolated and detached. They are smart and logical and like to think deeply about things. Unfortunately, people often interpret their quiet and thoughtfulness as arrogance or conceit. They are good at being objective when approaching a problem, but this ability to stay detached also means that they sometimes struggle when dealing with emotions.

6. Loyalist

Type 6s, or Loyalists, tend to be responsible and committed. Because they are so loyal, they often enjoy long-lasting relationships. They are very trustworthy and devoted, but sometimes they let their worry get the best of them. One problem this type often faces is a tendency to dwell on the negative. They are highly aware of the world around them but can become overly suspicious and even anxious at times.

7. Enthusiast

Type 7s, or Enthusiasts, are spontaneous, fun-loving, and versatile. People with this personality type tend to be extroverted - they to be social, stay busy, and meet new people. They can be highly adventurous and are always on the lookout for fun. However, they can also be easily distracted and unfocused. They might start things without finishing them, but they are quick thinkers and are good at maintaining a positive attitude.

8. Challenger

Type 8s, or Challengers, tend to be bold, dominating, and confrontational. They are decisive and self-confident. They enjoy being in control and their decisive nature means that they often succeed in leadership roles. However, they can sometimes be seen as domineering and aggressive. They will speak out and take action when they see a need for someone to step up and take control of a situation.

9. Peacemaker

Type 9s, or Peacemakers, are agreeable and easy-going. People with this personality type are usually easy to get along with, but they can be self-effacing and complacent at times. They prefer it when everyone gets along and try to avoid conflict whenever possible. While this means they are great at promoting harmony in groups, but it sometimes means that they will go out of their way to avoid disagreements, including ignoring their own wants and needs just to ensure peace.

How Is It Used?

The Enneagram works by sorting people into these nine different types. The goal is to give insight not only into the individual’s own personality but also provide valuable information on how to better relate to other people.

Possible Applications

  • Personal growth and development
  • Interpersonal communication, team building, and leadership development
  • Creating successful relationships at work and in other life areas

While the theory needs further research to validate its use, it has gained some popularity as a tool for building better relationships. By gaining insight into individual strengths and weaknesses, people can look for ways to better relate and communicate with their partner.

The Enneagram is also sometimes used within the field of industrial-organizational psychology to help improve employee motivation and productivity. Businesses utilize the test to help their employees gain a greater understanding of group dynamics and interpersonal communication.

What the Research Says

The Enneagram has gained popularity in some areas but has also been criticized for being pseudoscientific. It is often described as being overly vague and difficult to test scientifically. Type descriptions have been criticized for being too general, almost Barnum-effect style statements that can sometimes seem more like horoscopes rather than empirically tested descriptions of personality. (The Barnum effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people rate personality descriptions as being highly accurate and individualized, even when they are so vague they can apply to almost anyone).

While critics note that the system is rooted more in a semi-mystical ancient philosophy than in scientifically valid research, there is some evidence that the Enneagram has a use as a personality tool:

  • A year-long investigation carried out in 2004 by researchers Saville and Holdsworth found that the Enneagram was comparable to other well-known and more accepted theories including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Big Five.
  • One case study published in the journal Contemporary Family Therapy suggested that the Enneagram could be a useful tool within the context of counseling, helping to facilitate therapy and promote awareness in the counseling relationship.
  • A study published in the Journal of Adult Development found that participants who took part in an Enneagram training program showed improvements in ego development and personal growth.

Further research is needed to explore the Enneagram’s applicability and usefulness.

A Word From Verywell

The Enneagram has become better known in recent years thanks in part to the rising popularity of online personality tests. It is important to remember, however, that personality is complex and a simple online test is not enough to tell you everything about your own personality, motivations, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. Such tests can be fun and interesting, but be careful not to take your results too seriously.

This sort of test can be a way to gain insight into your own personality and might be a starting point for gaining greater personal insight and self-awareness. The Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) can be found at the Enneagram's Institute's website. You can purchase a single-use code for $12 to take the test.

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