Demystifying the Enneagram | Redemptive Postures Series
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You’ve probably heard someone talking about the Enneagram recently and how knowing their number has helped them grow personally. The Enneagram has grown in popularity in Christian circles in recent years, but many people still have questions about what it is and where it came from.
What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a personality typing tool that uses nine types and the nine-sided Enneagram symbol to show the relationship between types and the pattern of personal growth and development for each type. Through showing you your weaknesses and insecurities it helps you identify areas for growth.
Enneagram types are represented by numbers. There are some good tests for determining your number: Your Enneagram University is free and the Riso-Hudson Type Indicator is $12 but is also scientifically validated. Most people will tell you though that while tests can be helpful, the best way to determine your type is to read all the descriptions and whichever one feels the most horrifyingly embarrassing is probably your type.
The point of the types though, is not to make you feel horribly embarrassed. The goal is to help you see yourself more accurately and from that accurate vision be able to grow in your places of vulnerability.
Each type also has a secure and stressed type. For example, an 8 when stressed takes on the negative traits of a 5, and when secure takes on the positive traits of a 2. When determining your type it is helpful to think about if your are answering questions about your average self or your secure/stressed self.
Another relationship between the types is called wings. The numbers on either side of your number can give a flavor to the expression of your number. For example an 8 wing 7 (8w7) looks different than an 8 wing 9 (8w9).
Full descriptions of each Enneagram type can be found here.
History of the Enneagram
The origins of the Enneagram are a little obscure. Evidence of ancient cultures using the symbol and perhaps some forms of personality typing are present in Sufism, Kabbalic Judaism, and Christian mysticism. Many people will tell you that the “desert fathers” invented the Enneagram but there is no evidence showing that what they used is the same personality typing tool the Enneagram is today.
The symbol itself is a simply a geometric figure with nine sides. The nine types seem to have developed from the teachings of Evagrius Ponticus, a 1st century Christian monk. Ponticus’ list of deadly thoughts: love of self, anger, lust, pride, gluttony, sloth, narcissism, sorrow, and greed became the foundation of the Seven Deadly Sins established by Pope Gregrory I.
The nine types with the symbol we use today were developed in the 1960’s by Oscar Ichazo, a South American philosopher. Ichazo drew on the teachings of George Gurdjieff along with ancient philosophy in the development of his personality theory and opened the Arica school to share his teachings. One of his students, Claudio Naranjo is credited with spreading the Enneagram teaching to the US.
Modern Christian use of the Enneagram started in the Catholic community as a spiritual development tool. In the 1980s, Richard Rohr‘s book on the Enneagram brought the tool attention from more widespread Christianity and its popularity as a personal development tool has grown from there, with it strongly gaining popularity starting around 2010.
How does the enneagram compare to Myer’s Brigg’s?
Most people are more familiar with the Myer’s Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) than they are with the Enneagram. While both categorize personality traits and give insight for personal development, their approaches to understanding personality are different.
There is not a direct translation between MBTI and Enneagram. Any Myer’s Briggs type can be any of the Enneagram numbers. Myer’s Briggs describes more of the nature of your personality, while Enneagram describes the nurture. Myers Briggs explains how you think, Enneagram explains the why behind what you think.
I have found that the Enneagram is a really helpful tool to extend personal development after working with the MBTI. Enneagram does a great job of explaining how the traumas we have experienced early on have affected us and what core lies we have come to see the world through. Sometimes when working with my clients, we look at both MBTI and Enneagram to fully understand their wiring and the areas of growth they need to focus on the most.
Christian concerns about the Enneagram
The main concerns I have heard from Christians about the Enneagram are about its development and the symbol itself. There is nothing inherently good or evil about the symbol. Nine sided figures have been found in almost all ancient cultures. The meaning and attributions we give to a symbol are what we should be concerned about, not how some lines are drawn. With the Enneagram, the symbol is used to show how the types relate to one another. Nothing about the meaning attributed to the symbol contradicts the gospel or any other part of the Bible.
As covered in the history above, the types themselves seem to have developed from the nine deadly thoughts that gave way to the seven deadly sins. While Ichazo, the developer of the modern Enneagram, was not a Christian the typology itself is rooted in Christian tradition and has been brought back to Christian teaching by writers like Rohr.
Just because something came from Christian tradition, doesn’t mean we should blindly accept it. While the Enneagram is a helpful tool and one that I think we should embrace as Christians, we do still need to be careful with how the types are focused on sinful temptations. There is huge value in looking at our core temptations and working through those issues with the Lord as well as inviting the Holy Spirit to speak to our deepest fears. However, continuing to only focus on negative traits can produce shame and a wrongful sense of the true identities God has for us.
My favorite resources use a strength based approach that applies the good news of the gospel to the unique core woundings of each type. There’s nothing wrong with identifying our core woundings or our main temptations, the issue is what we do with that information.
What Your Favorite Worship Song Says About You: Each type’s favorite worship songs and why they connect with those songs.
Your Enneagram Coach: My favorite online resource for the Enneagram. Coach Beth McCord does an excellent job of presenting the beauty of each type and the biblical truths each type needs to hear.
Road Back to You Podcast: Suzanne Stabile and Ian Morgan Cron interview various Christian leaders and influencers about their type and how knowing their number has helped them grow in their understanding of themselves and their relationship with the Lord.
Books: My new favorite book was a lucky thrift store find. I love how The Enneagram Made Easy actually makes it easy and has fun comics illustrating the types. Two great books from a strength based Christian perspective are Road Back to You by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Morgan Cron and Self to Lose, Self to Find by Marilyn Vancil. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr is a favorite of many, however it’s not my favorite because of how it is very sin nature focused instead of strength based and Rohr tends to strongly favor a post-modern view. Recently, I have also discovered The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut and love how it takes the basic type descriptions even deeper, helping identify our blindspots and hidden strengths.
Redemptive Postures Series
This post is the fifth in a monthly series. The heart of redemptive postures is that God created everything and said it was good. Redemptive postures looks at various health and wellness topics that Christians have concerns about and seeks to find what if any of those topics can be brought back to the good God originally intended for them.
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