Years ago, when I was working as a health coach, one of my clients requested to know my Enneagram number. I love personality tests, so I was happy to take a free test without doing much research about the personality assessment beforehand. Whether for work, ministry applications, or premarital counseling, I’ve had to take almost every commonly known personality test available including:
- Strengths Finder
- Love Languages
- Spiritual Gifts
- Myers Brigg
For me, the Enneagram was different than all the other personality tests. “Each of the nine Enneagram personality profiles has a distinct, well-developed coping strategy for relating to self, others and the environment.” While the other tests point out parts of a personality, the Enneagram opened my eyes to both conscious and unconscious reactions and behavior patterns.
One warning: the extensive nature of the Enneagram teaches us so much about ourselves that it’s sometimes tempting to identify too much with your Enneagram number. Beth McCord refers to this as using the Enneagram as a shield or sword.
If you find yourself excusing behavior by saying we’ll that’s who I am because I’m an (insert Enneagram number), you’re using it as a shield. If you box someone in by cutting them down, telling them they are only the negative aspects of their number, or need to be more aware of their number, we’re using the Enneagram as a sword. Neither application is appropriate. The whole point of this tool is to grow through self-awareness, not to stay stagnant within an unhealthy stance.
The Enneagram is Different than a Personality Test
Summarizing, Ian Cron, author of The Road Back to You, The Enneagram is an ancient personality type system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how God has wired human beings both positively and negatively. By challenging us to explore who we are, the Enneagram helps us recognize and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior and to become our most authentic selves.
Bravely exploring how God has created us requires much more work than many realize. Part of that exploration requires us to consider and identify our weaknesses as well as how we come across negatively to other people. Additionally, according to the Enneagram Institute, the tool can accommodate more than 486 variations of the types when considering subtypes and wings.
One of the challenging things about the Enneagram is that to understand an individual accurately; it’s necessary to perceive where the person lies along the continuum of Levels of his or her type at a given time. In other words, one must assess whether a person is in their healthy, average, or unhealthy range of functioning. This is important because, for example, two people of the same personality type and wing will differ significantly if one is healthy and the other unhealthy. (In relationships and the business world, understanding this distinction is crucial.)”
For me, the Enneagram has helped me identify responses and thought patterns (both healthy and unhealthy). I have a greater understanding of how these are coping mechanisms.
Why has this been so helpful? Because a coping mechanism develops from a trigger. There has to be something to cope with, so when you identify the responses that are “unhealthy,” or in other words, the natural reactions to a situation when in an unbalanced state, you can stop them before or at the beginning of a negative cycle. For example, instead of picking a fight with my husband when I know he’s already tired, I can walk away and discuss whatever we need to deal with at a later, calmer time.
Several different websites offer free tests. When I first took the tests, I consistently tested as a Type 2 (Helper) with a wing 3 (Achiever), and sometimes a 7 (Enthusiast). I’ve since learned I’m an 8 Counter Subtype.
Mistyping is Common with the Enneagram
When I first took the tests, I read the descriptions and considered my current state and typed myself as a 2 wing 3 because it fit. Both the healthy and unhealthy stances fit well enough. But what I didn’t know is that the Enneagram descriptions I read didn’t do a very good job of actually distinguishing the differences in the numbers. One of my strengths on the Strengths Finder is Input, so I started to listen to podcasts about the Enneagram, and occasionally I would read an article. I was spending so much time traveling for work that podcasts were the majority of my education.
I noticed that when female Type 8’s spoke such as Jo Saxton Being Judged Before You Are Known and Nida Bolz-Weber Find Power in Vulnerability, their words resonated distinctly with me. Interestingly, I’ve come to learn that it’s common for 2’s and 8’s to misidentify. Particularly in conservative church settings because Spiritual Gifts such as teaching or administration are directed to secondary roles where women are allowed to serve.
SUBTYPE KEY: SOLIDARITY (COUNTERTYPE)
The Social Eight countertype uses their power and influence in the service of others, making them appear Two-ish in their drive to support others rather than asserting their own needs. Sensitive to injustice and unfair social norms, they are loyal and protective and shield ‘their people’ from harm, unjust authority or abuse of power. Even though they prefer not to be too vulnerable, they invite and appreciate tough feedback from close allies.
Enneagram 2’s take the unhealthy traits of the 8 when they are stressed and reach toward 4’s in health. And that was ultimately the distinction that clarified things when I started to understand the depths of the Enneagram tool.
Fears, Motivations, Desires
Enough people mentioned they thought I was a Type 8 that I started to explore the number. That led me to reach out to an Enneagram coach. Megan pointed out that I needed to consider my fears, motivations, and desires when looking at my Enneagram number.
That was where distinctions started to stand out:
A Tool for Self-Reflection
An essential part application of the Enneagram is the opportunity for self-reflection. As we strive to live our healthiest mental, emotional, and physical life, we glorify God. When I’m in my healthiest stance, I’m able to serve my family, my clients at work, and those that God places in my path to the best of my ability. There are a calmness and peace present when you know you’re using your strengths, talents, and gifts to reflect Christ’s love to the best of your ability. For me, this ushers in confidence that allows me to relax more and let the day’s events go by.
Every day in coaching is different, and there are many days when life is hard. Rather than jumping in and fighting against a situation, I can stand back and pray when I’m aware of my best and worst tendencies and how they impact other people.
Communicating How My Husband Will Hear Me
Beth McCord writes, “When used correctly, the Enneagram, as we explain in Becoming Us, is designed to help you focus on what’s most important: your relationship with God, yourself, and each other.
My favorite Enneagram book is The Path Between Us. Suzanne Stabile spends the bulk of the book discussing how each number interacts and responds to the other numbers on the Enneagram chart.
For me, the most important number to know right now besides mine is my husband’s number. Knowing the details of how my husband responds in stress, and how our two numbers relate to each other allows us to address conflicts and miscommunications in ways that we both understand and feel heard.
Ultimately, the goal is to always work as a team, and that’s best accomplished when we understand the team dynamics. The Enneagram is the best tool I’ve found to help identify healthy and unhealthy individual and team dynamics.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 17, 2017 and has been updated with fresh content.
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