If you’re a wellness fan and an incessant Instagram scroller, chances are you’ve seen numbers appearing in the posts and bios of some of your favorite influencers, or maybe also a number and then ‘w’ and another number? This is the influencer’s Enneagram sign and a new calling card for self-love and awareness. While Briggs-Meyer has ruled the personality-typing roost until recently, the Enneagram is fast-becoming a favorite self-discovery technique for a new generation.
Surprisingly, the Enneagram isn’t exactly new — it actually has ancient roots, with some arguing it can be traced back to the geometry of Pythagorean mathematics. Easily proving age ain’t nothing but a number, its popularity today rests on several things: the simplicity of its format (it is made up of nine types each with different aspects of personality), behaviors, fears, and desires.
“The Enneagram is a personality typing tool that breaks down the patterns of human behavior into nine distinct types. Each type has a specific motivation, along with basic fears, levels of health, and so forth. It’s particularly helpful in showing us our blindspots and coping mechanisms,” explained Sarajane Case of Enneagram and Coffee. “I think we’re seeing our culture through a kind of revolution; a desire for more self-awareness and inclusion. The Enneagram is a great way for us to create dynamic and open relationships with ourselves and others.”
And why it’s gaining popularity, particularly now, is because once you dig into it, it goes way deeper than just a personality test. “It’s a personalized roadmap for self-growth, relational health, and more,” shared Laura Miltenberger and Jennifer Andrew of XO, Enneagram. “There’s a lot of hope in the Enneagram because it’s all about the freedom to change and grow. It’s not about labels. Instead of just speaking to who you are right now, the Enneagram teaches you about who you have the potential to be.”
But it doesn’t stop with learning your type. This is just the start of the Enneagram journey. Once you get into it there are lots of ways it can help you reflect, develop, and evolve your thinking, behaviors and relationships. To help you get started, we’ve broken it down into nine things to know about the Enneagram, or — if you’re already an Enneagrammer — some new ideas from true Enneagram experts.
Everyone’s Enneagram Journey Is Different
We all come to the Enneagram for all sorts of different reasons. Whether to gain greater confidence, self-awareness, to help us in our work and career, to enhance our relationships, or all of these and more, the Enneagram is an evolving tool for self-discovery and helps foster empathy and compassion for others.
“I first started working with the Enneagram as a way to better relate to my partner,” shared Case. “We found it initially helpful in understanding our differences. As time has gone on, I’ve worked with the Enneagram to bring more awareness to my own patterns of behavior and how I show up both positively and negatively in my life and the life of others.”
As friends who work on XO Enneagram together, Andrew and Miltenberger both found their way to the Enneagram on very different paths. “I first began to use the Enneagram as a holistic health coach,” explained Miltenberger. “I was so impressed with its ability to help my clients find more self-awareness, tools for their relationships, and insight into their typical ways of coping with stress. But when I finally found my own number, I wasn’t just enlightened, I was moved. The Enneagram spoke to parts of myself that I’d forgotten about, important pieces of who I am and who I want to be.”
It can be an uncomfortable process at first, said Andrew. “It made me recognize some unhealthy patterns I had in my life. It also helped me put words to parts of myself that I’d never been able to describe, which made me feel seen and understood.”
“The Enneagram describes nine different types — nine different ways of seeing the world,” Miltenberger and Andrew explained. “Personality quizzes and assessments often deal with surface behaviors and traits, but the Enneagram speaks to deeper parts of who you are. It doesn’t just teach you about your strengths, it brings light to your shortcomings too. So, when used mindfully, it has the power to set you on a path toward the healthiest and most whole version of yourself.”
The 9 Types are commonly known by the following names but these can differ slightly:
- The Perfectionist — The Rational, Idealistic Type: principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.
- The Helper — The Caring, Interpersonal Type: demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing, and possessive.
- The Achiever — The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: adaptive, excelling, driven, and image-conscious
- The Individualist — The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.
- The Investigator — The Intense, Cerebral Type: perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.
- The Loyalist — The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.
- The Enthusiast — The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: spontaneous, versatile, distractible, and scattered.
- The Challenger — The Powerful, Dominating Type: self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.
- The Peacemaker — The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: receptive, reassuring, agreeable, and complacent.
These descriptions — from the Enneagram Institute — are just a brief overview of the types. To really get into it and discover which type you may be, it’s important to read detailed descriptions of all of them, advised Case.
“Once you find your type, you’ll likely know. Reading the description of your type can feel a bit like reading your own journals back to yourself,” Case explained. “I know it’s tempting to take a test and get a quick answer or to rely on someone else to tell you your type. I want to challenge you to take the time to research yourself. You are so worth the exploration.”
But How Do You Know When You Know?
This is a question many on the road through the Enneagram will spend a lot of time pondering. And that’s totally normal. It’s super easy to believe you’re one type, then read about another which resonates, and feel confused about which you could be. It’s also very easy to mistype too, as there are lots of similarities between them. “By reading more and by listening to the experience of others who have already discovered their type, you’ll begin to narrow down your dominant type,” said Miltenberger and Andrew. “Tests and quizzes can be fun, but don’t rely on your results as they are frequently inaccurate. You’re the only one who can discover your type. It takes some introspection, some reading, and a willingness to look at yourself with honesty.”
And, uncomfortable as it may be, it also helps to look at the more negative aspects of the types as well as positive ones to really help shine a light on your true type. “The truth is that we all can or would like to relate to the positive aspects of each type,” Case added. “It’s the difficult or trying elements that force us to get really honest. It can feel a bit like being exposed when we read the lower level behaviors of our number. When you read a type and your cheeks get red and you want to hide under the table — that may be your number.”
Both XOEnneagram and Enneagram and Coffee offer lots of resources on their Instagram accounts to help with this discovery process — even sharing fun memes and videos, which while lighthearted, can actually further help the identification process and really help bring that lightbulb moment for you.
What Are Wings?
Once you’ve found your type, or, at least, the one you feel most resonates with you for now, you can explore the wings of that type and drill down into the type on a deeper level. Wings are the numbers directly adjacent to your Enneagram type, so for example, a type 1 would have type 9 or type 2 as its potential wings.
“They come into play as a way to balance out the personality patterns of our number. We all have both wings available to us, yet we typically lean into one or the other for support. The ultimate goal is to balance out your wings to fully support your personality,” Case explained. “You’re the same type throughout your life, but your wing can actually shift and change as your life does. Think of your wing as what you bring in to round out your personality patterns. You may need something different for that at different stages of life.”
For some of us, the wing helps confirm our type and solidify it, for others, the wing descriptions could be completely off and help us reassess. But, don’t stress about the wings — the most important thing on the Enneagram is to discover your type. It’s OK to remain undecided on your wing. Case has a great podcast episode dedicated just to wings.
And What About Subtypes?
Once you’re in the Enneagram zone, you can read on about subtypes or ‘instincts.’ There are three of these, and typically you’ll figure out one which is dominant for you. They are more primal and instinctual than the personality aspects of the types and wings, but are often the powerful subconscious driving force behind many of our life choices and actions. Your dominant one will relate to what is a priority for you — what you need to get what you want from this world, and what area of life you usually attend to first.
“The three subtypes are One-On-One, Social, and Self-Preservation,” explained Miltenberger and Andrew. “Your dominant subtype describes the way you most instinctually interact with the world around you. It describes what you most naturally pay attention to and what you initially respond to. The One-On-One subtype pays most attention to individual relationships, the Social subtype to the group or social structures, and the Self-Preservation subtype to needs and perceived danger. Bringing awareness to your subtype is a great opportunity to create more health and balance in your life.”
Understanding this adds another layer of insight into all aspects of who you are, why you are and you can use this to really dig deeper into your self-discovery and development, helping to identify anything you feel is working or not working for you.
You’ve Found Your Type — Now What?
Your journey doesn’t end with the identification of your type. In fact, this is where it all begins. Working with the Enneagram can help you feel validated, understood, and best of all, help forge a greater sense of self-compassion. On the flip side, it can also make you confront some of your more challenging aspects. And this is where it can get a little harder, but also incredibly rewarding.
The first step to working with it is really about acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses, and then establishing a support plan for them, Case recommended. “Celebrate your strengths and build a life that helps them shine. Open your eyes to your blind spots, noting your motivators how you receive love, exploring your contribution to relationships, softening your path out of behavior patterns, and finally turning that into something beautiful and sharing it with the world.”
A good way to do this is to read a variety of websites, books and Instagram accounts, listen to podcasts — really get immersed in all the Enneagram resources out there. Many Enneagram experts will also suggest you journal daily, even if just for short bursts on guided topics tailored to your Enneagram type and your discoveries and thoughts. If you’re a list person, make lists of things you’re identifying and learning, or what you want to achieve.
“There’s no wrong way to practice this,” Miltenberger and Andrew added. “Let the Enneagram teach you about yourself. But remember to approach all of these things with a lot of kindness and gentleness toward yourself: you have plenty of time to get to wherever it is that you want to go. You’re multifaceted — for every shadow in you, there’s a diamond, too. You might have growing pains now, but remember that you’re already strong. You might have room for growth, but you’re loved and acceptable already, just as you are.”
The Enneagram isn’t just beneficial to your self-acceptance, it radiates out and can be a useful tool in supporting you in the workplace, for your career progression, life goals, and in your relationships. “It’s a tool to allow you access to self-awareness that often takes people decades to figure out,” Case said. “The more aware we are of our own patterns and what we bring to our relationships, our job, and our habits, the more ease we can bring into them through owning our strengths and creating a support plan for our weaknesses.”
It can really help you work on your compassion and empathy for others, as well as yourselves. “Since the Enneagram helps you identify your stress patterns and coping mechanisms, it also illuminates which self-care practices will be most vital and impactful for you,” Miltenberger and Andrew pointed out. “And, when it comes to relationships, the Enneagram helps you understand where other people are coming from and how to interact with them most effectively. With your work, the Enneagram is amazing for identifying your innate strengths and values, which leads to better career choices and fulfillment.”
It’s also valuable information to bring into therapy sessions, to help a partner or others generally understand you better. “More than anything, the Enneagram is a great tool for language,” Case added. “It gives us a way to express what we’re going through, why we’re going through it and what we may need.”
What If You’re Not Happy With Your Type?
OK, so let’s admit it, on face-value some of the types sound a little more appealing than others. But, the Enneagram, in all its egalitarian wisdom, is about just that: equality. There is no best or worst, all the types have their strengths and blindspots, and all are on the path to self-awareness.
“If you feel unhappy with your type, it probably means you’ve discovered something that your personality has been holding you back from, so there’s a little grieving that comes with that,” Miltenberger and Andrew shared. “We all have different ways of getting in our own way. But awareness is the first step in any sort of change or growth. So try to see this new awareness as an opportunity to find more balance in your life. You’re brave for wanting to look at yourself with honesty and wanting to grow, but be gentle with yourself in the process.”
To Test or Not to Test?
Although many of the experts recommend against doing a test to determine your type — usually because there are so many that can offer inaccurate or misleading results — for many of us, identifying our type or feeling confident we’ve picked the ‘right’ one for us, are legit concerns. Mistyping can also be an issue. At this point, it’s probably worth taking a test to reinforce your type or help you to see something you might have missed. There’s one test which Case recommends as having one of the best records on accuracy — this can be found at Integrative9.com and is worth a go for us type-TBDs.
There are also lots of books, podcasts, inspiring IG accounts, and other ways to keep learning about the Enneagram. Tune into Case’s fab podcast Enneagram and Coffee to learn more about her and her wonderful insights, or look into her Enneagram members club, which offers coaching and support.
XO, Enneagram has a great site full of resources and its Instagram account offers ideas, prompts, self-care challenges, journaling practices, and a direct line to quiz them on all your Enneagram questions. For reading, they recommend The Road Back to You, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, The Path Between Us, The Sacred Enneagram, and The Complete Enneagram.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering by now, this article was written by a 9 wing 1 who took a few goes at finding her type, but once she did, well, it was a real revelation.
This story originally appeared on The Everygirl on May 28, 2019.
Have you found your type and can you share what self-awareness it’s brought to you?