The Enneagram: a guide to self-awareness and understanding

There are nine Enneagram types, with each symbolizing a different personality. The Enneagram is further split into subsections to add more variety to each type. GRAPHIC BY HALEY KEIZUR/FOGHORN

Haley Keizur is a sophomore media studies major

“What’s an Enneagram?”

This is a question I am frequently asked when I rave about one of my current obsessions, the Enneagram “personality test.” But, you see, it’s more than a personality test — it’s a way to better understand yourself and others and determine what motivates you to do what you do.

I’m an Enneagram 3, wing 2 (but we’ll get to that later). I always thought I was alone in the way I thought, along with my intrinsic need to be successful at everything I do. But through the Enneagram test and talking with my friends, family, and peers, I have learned that I am certainly not alone — in fact, both my parents are 3’s, too. 

But through the Enneagram test and talking with my friends, family, and peers, I have learned that I am certainly not alone.

The Enneagram consists of nine numbers — hence why it’s called Enneagram, which is a shape with nine points — and each number represents different types of personalities and characteristics. What I love about this test is that no number is necessarily good or bad, but rather within each number, there are healthy and unhealthy characteristics. The Enneagram test is the first “personality” test that I feel truly captures who I am. Maybe that’s because I really am a 3, so much so that it hurts sometimes. But I’ve always found flaws in astrology (I have a twin, and even though we have the exact same birth chart, we are very different) and as an ambivert, the Myers-Briggs test is always a struggle since the test is more black and white, and categorizes you as either an extrovert or introvert. I feel truly seen by the Enneagram test.

There are many online tests and books that can help you determine your Enneagram type, but it’s ultimately up to you to pinpoint which number most closely defines you. As you explore the various types, you may feel like you identify with bits of all nine, however, it is widely agreed that each person has one dominant type.

You can also have a wing, which is a number on either side of your enneagram type (so, a 3 could have a wing 2 or wing 4) that may contrast your main type. For example, a stereotypical 3 might be detached, independent, and unemotional – however, I don’t completely embody those characteristics, so my desire to care for others and be empathetic comes from my wing 2.

What makes the Enneagram so interesting to me is that although I became invested in it more than a year ago, each day I continue to learn more about myself and others. Despite only being nine numbers, wings add more variety, and so do the instinctual variants — sexual (dealing with another person), self-preservation (dealing with oneself), and social (dealing with a group).

What makes the Enneagram so interesting to me is that although I became invested in it more than a year ago, each day I continue to learn more about myself and others.

Each Enneagram type also has stress and security points. When I’m stressed, I take on unhealthy type 9 characteristics, such as laziness and procrastination, but when I feel safe, I take on healthy 6 traits, such as being cooperative and committed. The Enneagram is further divided into different “centers,” which are sections that define the centers of intelligence. The instinctive center includes 8s, 9s, and 1s, the feeling center includes 2s, 3s, and 4s, and the thinking center includes 5s, 6s, and 7s. Within these three centers is a dominant emotion or feeling that deeply affects each type. For the instinctive types, it’s anger or rage. For the feeling types, it’s shame. And for the thinking types, it’s fear. For example, 3s try to deny our shame and attempt to cope with the feelings by being what we envision a successful, high-achieving person to be.

The most essential element to the Enneagram journey is self-discovery and growing as a person based on your newfound understanding of who you are. There are nine levels of development, broken down into healthy, average and unhealthy, that are as follows: (Unhealthy) Level 9: Pathological Destructiveness, Level 8: Obsession and Compulsion, Level 7: Violation, (Average) Level 6: Overcompensation, Level 5: Interpersonal Control, Level 4: Imbalance/Social Role, (Healthy) Level 3: Social Value, Level 2: Psychological Capacity, Level 1: Liberation. 3s at level nine are vindictive, narcissistic, obsessed on destroying others’ success and happiness, and terrified of failure, but at the liberation level, they are self-accepting, inner-directed, authentic, modest and gentle, and a fullness of heart emerges.

I recommend that every person takes the Enneagram test and sees what it might tell them. It is important to note that you won’t embody the entire description of your basic type all the time, as you fluctuate between healthy, average, and unhealthy. Also, these numbers provide an unbiased, shorthand way of identifying a person, but they do not define someone’s entire personality. As much as I like to joke about it, I can’t really blame my behavior on being a 3. Nor can I assume that every 3 is going to be just like me. I must take an open-eyed approach to myself and each person I meet. You should use your type as a foundation of knowledge, but not to make judgements of a person as a whole.

To find out your Enneagram type, take the test on, and to learn more about the Enneagram in general, as well as your specific type, go to the Enneagram Institute


2 thoughts on “The Enneagram: a guide to self-awareness and understanding

  1. As a mentor to mental heath care partners, I am always looking for content that is justice oriented and self-liberating. Thank you for this article and I also love the graphic you created, your gift is now a curated resource in the healing justice sea.

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