What Is the Enneagram of Personality?

What Your Enneagram Type Says About You

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

What Is the Enneagram?

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 the use of Enneagram types and it is not widely accepted in the field of evidence-based psychology.

Enneagram of personality
 Verywell / Jessica Olah

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

At its simplest, the Enneagram represents nine different personality types. Beyond these 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.

How the Enneagram System Works

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

Your Basic Enneagram Type

According to Enneagram theory, people are born with a dominant personality type that can then be shaped by environmental factors and experiences.

These two forces also tend to influence each other. While inborn traits and characteristics help shape how people respond to their experiences, their environment also plays a role in shaping how personality is formed and expressed.

Your Adjacent Enneagram Types

The Enneagram system also holds that no one is one single type. Instead, personality is a mix of your basic Enneagram type, as well as at least one or two adjacent types known as "wings." These adjacent personality types may influence overall personality, but they do not change a person’s basic Enneagram type.

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.

You might identify with the traits of other types, but the Enneagram suggests that it is your dominant type that is the most important.

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 Enneagram types that also contribute to their overall personality. 

Enneagram Types

Each of the nine Enneagram types is known by both its number and its name. Each also has its own set of potential strengths and weaknesses. Here's what each Enneagram type means, and what it would say about your personality.

1. Reformer

This Enneagram type:

  • Is highly principled
  • Can be judgmental and uncompromising
  • Is perfectionistic, purposeful, and self-controlled
  • Strives for integrity
  • Fears corruption
  • Has a strong sense of what is the “right” and “wrong” way to do things

2. Helper

This Enneagram type:

  • Is generous and people-pleasing
  • Has a strong desire to be loved, sometimes denying their own needs to make others happy
  • Puts a lot of energy into their relationships, which is sometimes interpreted as neediness
  • Is genuine
  • Is a good listener
  • Tends to overlook their own needs

3. Achiever

This Enneagram type:

  • Is successful, adaptable, and hardworking
  • May sometimes be an overachiever or workaholic
  • Is driven to excel
  • Is image-conscious
  • Is adaptable
  • Is more focused on success than feelings, but good at communicating

4. Individualist

This Enneagram type:

  • Is creative, forward-thinking, and highly expressive
  • Can sometimes be self-centered
  • Has a strong sense of identity
  • Can be temperamental or self-absorbed at times

5. Investigator

This Enneagram type is:

  • Innovative and highly perceptive
  • Smart, logical, and likes to think deeply about things
  • Quiet and thoughtful
  • Objective and logical
  • Detached and unemotional

6. Loyalist

This Enneagram type:

  • Tends to be responsible and committed
  • Has long-lasting relationships
  • Is trustworthy and devoted
  • Tends to worry and dwell on the negative

7. Enthusiast

This Enneagram type is:

  • Spontaneous, fun-loving, and versatile
  • Extraverted—they are social and love to meet new people
  • Highly adventurous and always on the lookout for fun
  • Easily distracted and unfocused
  • Quick thinking
  • Good at maintaining a positive attitude

8. Challenger

This Enneagram type is:

  • Bold, dominating, and confrontational
  • Decisive and self-confident
  • Often successful in leadership roles
  • Sometimes seen as domineering and aggressive
  • Outspoken and action-oriented

9. Peacemaker

This Enneagram type:

  • Is agreeable and easy-going
  • Is self-effacing and complacent at times
  • Avoids conflict whenever possible
  • Promotes harmony in groups
  • Dislikes disagreements
  • May ignore their own wants and needs just to ensure peace

Uses of the Enneagram

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 to provide valuable information on how to better relate to other people.

Possible Applications of the Enneagram

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

While the Enneagram 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 partners.

The Enneagram is 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.

The Enneagram test has also become popular on social media as people share more about their results and explore their strengths and weaknesses.

Impact of the Enneagram

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 some use as a personality tool:

  • 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.
  • 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.

While promising, further research is still needed to explore the Enneagram’s applicability and usefulness.

Sample Enneagram Test Questions

Some Enneagram tests involve answering questions based on a sliding scale where "1" means that you disagree and "5" means that you agree. Examples of these types of questions include:

  • It is important that others like me.
  • I strive for perfection.
  • I feel emotions deeply.
  • Others will never understand me.
  • It is important to me to avoid pain and suffering at all costs.

Other Enneagram tests only allow you to choose from two answers, each of which tends to be opposite of the other. Examples of these types of questions include:

  • I have a tendency to: take on confrontations / avoid confrontations.
  • I am typically: focused and intense / spontaneous and fun-loving.
  • Generally speaking, it is: easy to get a rise out of me / difficult to get a rise out of me.
  • I prefer to: show affection to others / maintain a distance from others.

Tips for Using Enneagram Test Results

The Enneagram has become better-known thanks, in part, to the rising popularity of online personality tests. 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.

There are a few important things you should remember when taking any personality test, the Enneagram test included:

  • Personality is complex and a simple online test is not enough to tell you everything about your personality, motivations, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Such tests can be fun and interesting but be careful not to take your results too seriously.
  • A personality 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.

If you are interested in learning your Enneagram types, the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) can be found on the Enneagram Institute's website. You can purchase a single-use code for $12 to take the test.

Potential Pitfalls of the Enneagram

There are a few pitfalls to consider when it comes to the Enneagram and Enneagram types.

  • 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.
  • Enneagram 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).
  • Not everyone agrees on how the system works. 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.

It is also 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.

History of the Enneagram

The 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 several 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, 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.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Enneagram Institute. How the Enneagram system works.

  2. Daniels D, Saracino T, Fraley M, Christian J, Pardo S. Advancing Ego Development in Adulthood Through Study of the Enneagram System of Personality. J Adult Dev. 2018;25(4):229-241. doi:10.1007/s10804-018-9289-x

  3. Matise M. The Enneagram: An enhancement to family therapy. Contemp Fam Ther. 2018;41(1):68-78. doi:10.1007/s10591-018-9471-0

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."