Hey friends, we are going to start a series as an intro to the Enneagram, as well as an intro to each type on the Enneagram! Each post will be on the short side, just as a way for me to introduce you to the Enneagram, how I approach it, and all that good stuff (without making, for example, type nine wait nine weeks to get to that post! You’re welcome.)
After this series of posts that we’re going to go through that you see today, you can expect one new post dropping every week on a Wednesday, to line up with the new episode release of my podcast. What I wanted to do with this short episode is just talk about the parts of the Enneagram, and to answer a few basic questions:
- What is the Enneagram?
- What is it not?
- How do we use it?
What is The Enneagram?
The word Enneagram comes from two Greek words: Ennea, meaning nine; and gram, meaning diagram or picture. It’s really just the picture that you see when you think of the Enneagram: nine points that are connected by a hexagonal drawing or lines, and then a triangle, connecting types nine, three and six.
That’s really where the name comes from, is what the picture looks like. The picture itself is just a representation of the nine personality types that make it up, as well as what we call stress and growth points, which is what you see with the lines: how each type is connected to two other types on the Enneagram (we’ll talk about that a little later.)
The Enneagram can be used and interpreted in many different ways, but I come at it from the perspective that my faith and my personality growth are inextricably linked; they are connected, and the way that I grow as a person and the way that I grow spiritually work together. Therefore, in any Enneagram work that I do, I want to come from that faith perspective as well. Because of this, you’ll notice me talking about my faith, which you might share, but you might not; and that’s okay as well! You will still get value from what is shared here; I just want to let you know where I’m coming from and what my perspective is. I really want to be able to give you practical ways to use the Enneagram, and that’s what I do as an Enneagram coach. I do this on Instagram, on my podcast, and in my book; it’s really what I’m about here in this space.
The Enneagram is really about becoming self-aware and growing in empathy for other people. When you look at the Enneagram framework and do the work to get to know yourself, you start to know your motivations and what’s going on with you; at the same time, you start to recognize that other people may have perspectives that are vastly different than your own, but they are still valid. This truth is an important thing to be able to recognize and accept, and the Enneagram is a great place to do that, because you will see types that feel like they are opposite to your own type, and their perspective will feel very foreign to you (which is normal!) In this series, I plan to go through the basics of each type, how they view the world and why we might see some of those behaviors come out of that type.
Something you will notice in my work is that I do not use the typical one or two word “labels”, often used in the Enneagram world as descriptors of each type. For example, type 1 is sometimes called “The Perfectionist” or “The Reformer.” I don’t use these “titles” for a specific reason, and that’s because I don’t feel that we can encompass the nuance that is each type by using these labels, and I also think these names can sometimes keep each type in a “box” which often grabs onto the stereotypes instead of what that type might do to open up and grow. So, I don’t use labels or names; I just go by the number: “Where are you on the Enneagram? Are you a type 1, or type 2…?” I do this because they don’t have any hierarchy; they don’t have any assumptions of stereotypes behind them; and we can come from a very neutral place when it comes to the name.
Now that we have some of my philosophy around the Enneagram and how I teach it (and also my abhorrence for labeling the types) I want to offer some descriptions, which I think will be helpful as you go through the intro to your type, or somebody else’s type that you want to get to know better.
What I’m going to be offering descriptions for and kind of telling you about in each type’s post are the following:
- The triads (also called center of intelligence)
- The wings
- Enneagram levels of health
- Growth and stress points/lines.
Just to make sure you understand each of these things, I’ll use the rest of this post to share a description of each. You can find more detailed descriptions of how these things “play out” by type in each of the Enneagram type’s main posts.
Triads/Centers of Intelligence
Let’s start with the center of intelligence, which is how we go about making our decisions in life. Whatever decision you need to make, you tend to use your head the most, your heart the most, or your gut instinct the most. Each Enneagram type has a tendency to really lean hard into one of those centers of intelligence, especially when there’s a lot of growth available to you wherever you are in your type.
None of these are best or worst; a lot of what I try to help coach people towards is a balancing of the three options, so that they are able to access thinking, feeling, and gut centers all together, and really lean on all three of those to make wise and intentional decisions in the moment.
- The Feeling Triad (Heart Center) is made up of types 2, 3, and 4. These types really tend to be aware of how they come across to other people or how they are being perceived. They tend to emphasize relational connections and can play out their emotions by externalizing them, mirroring them from other people, internalizing them, getting lost in them, or even suppressing them (kind of trying to forget them, but unconsciously or subconsciously, still living out whatever that emotion is.)
- The Thinking Triad (Head Center) is made up of types 5, 6, and 7. These types tend to struggle more with anxiety or worry because their minds are very quick and they can really make mental connections that other people can’t see. Their minds can be hard to quiet, so they can be a little more suspicious of other people’s motives, wondering what’s “between the lines.” They may not even be aware that anxiety is something that they tend to experience. They ask things like “What is going to happen? What has happened and how can I process it? What is coming at me in this present moment?” (Side Note: What I’m talking about is low-grade anxiety, what human beings have in common as anxiety, and not what we might have as a diagnosis that may require help.)
- The Instinctive Triad (Gut Center) is made up of types and 8, 9, and 1. These types tend to have a gut reaction that is typically very quick, and because of that they struggle with anger/frustration and wanting justice (whatever that looks like for them in the moment) and a lot of the emotions that these types feel can be converted into anger. They tend to try to control their inner and outer environment, whether through self control, like you might see with the type 1; a little more aggressiveness or outer assertiveness, like we see in a type 8; or self-suppression (making themselves smaller so they can fit into their environment comfortably) like a type 9. These types are a little more likely to follow a hunch, even if their thoughts and feelings might counter it, or haven’t caught up yet, or even don’t support it!
Now you might not know which type you are, but really looking at those centers of intelligence is one way that I suggest going about narrowing down what your type might be. If you feel more drawn to a certain area of intelligence, you can read each of those types’ posts to learn how these show up for them and help narrow down your type.
Another important term that we need to describe is wings. If you are looking at the Enneagram, you have all the numbers going all the way around the Enneagram from 1 to 9 at the top, and they all have two types on either side of them, which are the possible wings. For example, type 6 can have a possible wing type 5 or a type 7.
A word picture that I like to use is a tree; you are planted in your main type, so in our example of type 6, your roots go down into type 6, but the wind can blow you and you bend over maybe to type 5, or bend the other way, and you’re leaning towards type 7. So a wing can give your type some nuance, more “hues” to your main Enneagram type. These are traits and behaviors that we can reach over and pluck a little bit more easily from than some of the other ones.
Sometimes, we lean over so consistently that our entire personality feels colored by some of those behaviors and traits! For example, a type 1 that leans over so consistently to type 2 and is helping, offering advice, pushing in to try to help…if that stays consistent over time and creates patterns of behavior, then this person might identify as a 1w2 (1 wing 2)–which is my type!
If that type really didn’t go towards 2 very much, and instead leaned over towards type 9 consistently, you might see them withdrawing more, not taking such a strong stand, kind of looking on and wishing that they could reform, but not being vocal about it. This person might identify as a 1w9 (1 wing 9).
Not everybody has a wing, and some people have what we consider “balanced wings,” where they really just lean back and forth consistently, depending on what’s needed. There is an idea that wings can change over time, and as an Enneagram teacher, I myself believe this to be true. I think this is more connected to our seasons of life, what’s going on right now. For example, having a baby. Now that you’re a mom, are you just a very different person or in a very different place? In different seasons you might need to lean on some drastically different behaviors in order to make it through whatever life looks like now.
Levels of Health
Levels of health have a lot of importance, but they are not necessarily indicative of where you are in life; instead, they are usually more indicative of where you’re at in the moment. It’s not a linear progression; it’s more like you are bouncing around all the time, and that’s okay! It’s actually quite freeing to know that. I think we aren’t just moving forward in life all the time, even though we are moving forward in time. We are in different circumstances and different stress levels, and we have different things coming at us. You’ll see that sometimes you are really leaning into a lot of healthy attributes for your type, and sometimes you bounce back to what’s really not healthy at all, but you can bounce back up to healthy pretty quickly with a quick gut check or a heart check, and get back to that healthy place fairly quickly if you know what’s going on, and notice and understand yourself better. So the Enneagram levels that we’ll talk about are really an indication of just where we’re at in the moment:
- Am I being intentional or not?
- Am I making wise, discerning choices as best I can?
- Am I leaning back on old coping mechanisms and patterns that aren’t serving me in the moment, and are not healthy reactions in the moment?
- Am I responding to life or reacting to life?
- Am I just living out of what that first instinct is to protect myself? Or am I being intentional and making a choice that looks at the bigger picture?
It’s healthier to look at that bigger picture as often as you can, and that’s when you’ll see that type’s most honorable attributes come forward.
One of the last things that I wanted to help define are the growth and stress points. These are the lines that you see on the Enneagram, so I will be referencing them. They are not the “end-all, be-all” as far as the growth that’s available to you in your type and using the Enneagram framework, but they’re important as a starting point.
These lines are the ways that we might move around the Enneagram in our behaviors, depending on what’s working well in response to the situation that we find ourselves in, and what’s not working well (finding that our type’s natural instincts and coping strategies and patterns are just not working.) For example, if you’re a type 2 and you find yourself in a stressful situation, you might try to make everything better at first by serving, helping, reaching out, and trying to connect with the people that can help you. If, as a type 2, that response is not working, and helping is not helping, you might move on to some of the type 8’s traits and behaviors: being more assertive and upfront, directly communicating what you want to have happen, and making that the thing that needs to happen.
Some Enneagram teachers, especially ones that come from the faith perspective, can call the stress point a place we go when we aren’t trusting in God as much. For myself as an Enneagram teacher, I’ve actually grown in my understanding of this area, and I believe that it’s all just our coping mechanisms. We try our first one first, and if that doesn’t work, we go onto the next one (so for a type 2, that’s moving to type 8.) Now, if we’re doing this in a stressful situation, as a way to protect ourselves, that does often come out in an unhealthy way; so a type 2 can come on too strong, too demanding, too aggressive, which is an unhealthy way for that type 2 to use those type 8 traits. However, if we’re coming from a grounded place and an intentional place, then a type 2 can display some of these type 8 traits in a healthy way. So, we call this a “stress point,” but if we are really working on our self-awareness and our intentionality, rising above our old patterns, we can move along these lines in a way that is intentional and healthy.
These lines are really what we have the most access to, aside from our wings that are right beside us. You have a line to a type whose behaviors feel natural; maybe not as your first instinct, but sometimes as your second or third. So if we’re sticking with type 2 as our example here, let’s think about a type two moving down their “growth line.”
Often this line is when we are feeling comfortable. We feel okay right now, pretty secure in what’s going on in whatever the situation is, so we can reach out in ways that might normally make us uncomfortable. For a type 2, this is moving towards the healthy attributes of a type 4: maybe taking on some more of the emotional spectrum that a type 2 might normally try to avoid, sitting in the negative emotions that feel like they just aren’t helpful to anybody. A type 2 might start to embrace some of those deeper emotions and allow themselves to embody the full breadth of whatever they’re feeling. And a type 2 at this point can also start to stop some of the natural self-denial and allow themselves to feel whatever needs they’re feeling and whatever wants that they have, which can be a really healthy place for a type 2.
Now, we call them stress and growth points, and we’re talking about the growth point, but I want to remind you what I said before about intention; there really is this idea that if we’re moving to that “growth’ line unintentionally, it can be unhealthy. If a type 2 is moving to darker or deeper emotions, negative emotions let’s say, and allowing themselves to be stuck there (like we might see a type 4 have a tendency to do) that’s probably not a healthy thing to do, right? So moving to a type 4 from a type 2 is not automatically growth, but it can be an indicator that you’re comfortable and secure as a person right now, and you’re able to access some of those traits.
These lines can be one of the indicators that we look at for how you are doing, so these growth and stress points are important, but as I said before, they are not the “end-all, be-all” when it comes to our growth (none of the Enneagram parts are!)
Let’s go back to the image of a tree as a visual for our growth and stress lines. As a tree, our “roots” are firmly planted in whatever our main type is, and we can lean to one side or the other to access our wings. Our lines of stress and growth, then, could be like a trailing vine (I know, vines aren’t trees, but just go with me here) and we can shoot out that vine over to some of the other types that you’re connected to down that line on the Enneagram and can easily access those traits as well.
We have one more term to define and that’s subtypes, and these will be easier to understand in the context of each type’s separate post, but I will give a quick rundown here.
Our subtypes are really survival instincts, and there are three main survival instincts that we talk about in relation to the Enneagram:
- Self preservation (SP): This instinct focuses on taking care of their health, wellness, and safety; the resources that they have; comfort, plans, or finances…all of these can be considered Self-Preservation needs.
- Social (SO): This instinct really focuses on other people, especially groups and where we fall into that group: family, friends, church, community. These subtypes are very aware of how their actions affect them along with the group, and how their personal connections, or role/standing in that group, pertains to their safety.
- One-to-One, which is sometimes called Sexual (SX): This instinct is really about chemistry with one person, finding that one person who you can lean on. This is not always a Significant Other, although it can be. One-to-One subtypes are often looking for that “Significant Other” relationship, but it can also be a best friend, a “ride or die”, just someone to have genuine chemistry with. Knowing if someone is clicking with them is very important for a one-to-one sub-type who leans on that survival instinct the most out of all three.
Each of these instincts are really how we go about staying alive (or feeling like we’re staying alive if you are like me and live in a first-world country; there’s not a whole lot in our day-to-day lives that we have to think about in order to stay alive literally, but we still use these in how we feel and how we move about life.) It is what we use in response to questions like, “Do I have what I need? Do I have the relationships that will protect me? Do I have that special person that will look out for me?” We lean on one of these survival instincts the most, and that can color our main Enneagram type; so if you are a type 6, then it will look a little bit different if you are a self preservation type 6, social type 6, or one-to-one type 6.
Enjoy this post? Have a question? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below or over on Instagram where I hang out the most. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of The Enneagram for Beginner’s book (affiliate link, thank you for your support!) or you can shop through my favorite books and resources for using the Enneagram in the Amazon Storefront. Want to purchase Enneagram stickers, hats and more? Click through to the Christian Enneagram Shop and check it out.