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What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a powerful tool for self-awareness that is rooted in ancient wisdom and informed by contemporary psychology. It compiles centuries of research about personality formation and development into a comprehensive system that can serve as a guide for navigating the complexities of human experience and relationships.

The Enneagram is different from other popular personality systems like the MBTI (Myers-Briggs) or True Colors, which deal primarily with behaviors. These systems can help us reach a degree of self-awareness by reflecting our own behaviors back to us, but they only really remind us of what we do. The Enneagram looks at why we do what we do, examining the deep motivational factors that drive our choices, and how these factors relate to one another.

The Enneagram identifies nine modalities for how people tend to interpret and respond to life based on the nine basic human fears: the fear of being bad or wrong, the fear of being unloved, the fear of being worthless, the fear of having no identity, the fear of being incapable, the fear of being without support, the fear of being in pain, the fear of being controlled, and the fear of separation.

All human beings experience all of these fears throughout our lives, but early in our development, the human ego fixates on a particular fear and forms a primary identity in response to it - a way of being in the world that we hope will keep us safe. This identity plays out unconsciously like a script in the back of our minds, telling us how we "should" live, establishing our modus operandi as well as our particular blind spots. Convinced that our way to live is the "best" way, we fail to see our shadow side - the unhealthy patterns associated with our way of being in the world. We also struggle to truly understand the choices of others, whose lives are oriented around different centers of concern.

The purpose of discovering your Enneagram "type," then, is not to label you, or "put you in a box." Rather, it is to get you out of the box you are already in! This level of self-awareness can install a kind of "rearview mirror" on your life that will help you to check your blind spots, which can significantly improve your life and relationships.


How do I find out my Enneagram type?

It is not recommended that you take any of the free online tests. The Enneagram Institute offers a certified online test for $12 here: Upon completion of this test, you will get a ranking of how your responses match up with all nine types. From there, you will probably want to read more about your top two or three matches to begin the process of discerning which "script" is the one that is really driving your life.

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One-on-One Enneagram Guidance:

If you've had a hard time trying to figure out your Enneagram type, you aren't alone. Like a fish trying to see water, trying to see your blind spots isn't easy! Because the Enneagram is dealing with lifelong patterns and largely unconscious fears, motivations, and concerns, even some of the best tests can produce inaccurate results. When we are so accustomed to seeing and interpreting the world in a particular way, we don't often realize we are looking through a lens at all. We may find it hard to identify those aspects of our experience that are so deeply ingrained, and in some cases, we may we feel ashamed or afraid to admit the truth about ourselves. 

To make matters even more difficult, two people of the same Enneagram type can look very different on the outside. Remember, it is not just about identifying what you do, but why you do what you do (which is why it's never a good idea to try and guess someone else's type!). Also, simply knowing your Enneagram type will not automatically be helpful. Without the proper framework for understanding how to use this information, it can sometimes even become counterproductive. Since people inevitably interpret the Enneagram through the lens of their own type, they may end up unwittingly interpreting the system in ways that only further reinforce their own negative patterns. 

For all these reasons, identifying your "type" can be a confusing process. It can be helpful to have an experienced guide who can explain how the system works, help you understand the nuances between different types, and understand how you can use this information to facilitate your own personal development, relationships, and healing. 

I have been researching and working with the Enneagram for over ten years, both in my own spiritual and psychological development, and in my training with The Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. I have worked with people of all types and levels of experience, from guiding newcomers through the process of discerning their type for the first time, to helping those with a cursory knowledge of their type begin to deepen their understanding of the system and see how it applies in everyday situations and relationships. 

In addition to one-on-one sessions, I also offer an Introduction to the Enneagram workshop for churches and other groups. Visit my workshops page to learn more. 

Recommended Books:

Helen Palmer, The Enneagram, San Francisco: Harper One, 1991. 


Helen Palmer, The Enneagram In Love & Work: Understanding Your Intimate & Business Relationships, San Francisco: Harper One, 1995. 

Don Richard Riso & Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, New York: Bantam, 1999. 

Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2001. 

Beatrice Chestnut, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge, Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, 2013.

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