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.
Finding Your Enneagram Number
Enneagram types are represented by numbers. There are some good tests for determining your number: Your Enneagram Coach 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. (Or listen to the Sleeping at Last Enneagram album and see which song makes you weep the most.)
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.
Stressed and Secure Types
Each type also has a secure and stressed type. For example, a 9 when stressed takes on the negative traits of a 6, and when secure takes on the positive traits of a 3.
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 a 9 wing 8 (9w8) looks different than an 9 wing 1 (9w1). You can be express one of your wings stronger than the other, or you may be balanced expressing them equally.
Enneagram Subtypes and Counter Types
There are three instinctual subtypes, of which, one is the counter type for each number: Social, Self-Preservation, and Sexual/One-on-one. These give further depth and flavor to the expression of the number and can be helpful when identifying your type if the more general descriptions don’t seem to fit. Counter types often get mistake for other numbers.
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 for personal development 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.
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 and picking up more momentum in 2016 with Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabil‘s The Road Back to You.
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 as are their goals in identifying your type.
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.
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.
Both can be helpful to more fully understand your wiring and the areas of growth you 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 not one I believe we should reject, we do still need to be careful with how the types are focused on sinful temptations and how pop-culture usage of the Enneagram has turned it into simply an identity giving personality test vs a map for personal growth and healing. 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. There’s nothing wrong with identifying our core woundings or our main temptations, the issue is what we do with that information, if we simply view it as a personality test and tool for stereotyping others then we are missing the point of what the Enneagram is designed to do and ultimately creating toxic mindsets that do not align with the gospel.
My favorite Enneagram resources use a strength based approach that applies the good news of the gospel to the unique core woundings of each type and give a path forward to how each number uniquely reflects the gospel and character of Christ.
@YourEnneagramCoach has a great feed with a gospel oriented approach to 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.
@JustMyEnneaType has a lot of great posts about each types instinctual sub-type. If you’re already familiar with the basics of the enneagram this is a great way to go deeper with it.
@EnneagramAndCoffee has a delightfully laid back approach while still giving you lots of enneagram info
The Road Back to You Podcast with 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.
Enneagram and Coffee also has a podcast in addition to their IG. “Enneagram and Coffee is the podcast dedicated to discussing the beautiful and hard parts of working with the enneagram. We focus on understanding the enneagram and using it as a tool for self-compassion.”
Sleeping at Last has an album with each song dedicated to each of the enneagram types. Many people have said listening to their type’s song has been really healing and has given them greater compassion and understanding for the other types.
What Your Favorite Worship Song Says About You: Each type’s favorite worship songs and why they connect with those songs.
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.
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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