In Part 1 of this Enneagram series, we discussed how people wear psychological masks to hide parts of themselves. It started when we were young. We learned a set of habits, tools and social skills to help us survive in our culture. These habits were based on our genetics, childhood experiences, parental rules, and internalized messages. Then we became adults, and those parts of us formed into an identity we wanted the world to see. In other words, it became a mask. Unfortunately, this mask did not fit quite right.
Maybe like me, you realized that your mask is holding you back from your God-designed destiny and that it does not reflect the values, character or potential you have inside. What do you do now?
One of my favorite tools to help discern your mask is through the Enneagram, an ancient profiling system dating back to the fourth century. The Enneagram categorizes people wearing similar masks into psychological types. Those types are described by nine numbers, each containing a different set of personality characteristics and motivational drives. In this blog post, which is the second of three parts on how to take off your mask, discover your true self and move toward health, I will describe the mechanics of the Enneagram.
The Enneagram Basics
First, there are many resources on the Enneagram, but I personally recommend starting with The Enneagram Institute. It was created in the 1990s by Don Riso and Russ Hudson (1). The website offers insight into all nine types and their interactions. The Enneagram Institute also provides a questionnaire to figure out your type, since you will only have one (i.e., no person can have more than one basic type). However, experts recommend reading each type’s description to discern which fits most of your personality most of the time. Because people are unique, not every
element of your type will match your personality. That is okay; one type will stand out above the rest.
Now, let me outline how the Enneagram is structured by using the graphic (1) below.
Notice that nine points exist on the circle, each with a designated number. The points are connected by lines illustrating how persons within each type move toward health or stress; more to come on this in my next post. Riso and Hudson (1) state that the numbers are value-neutral; they do not promote genders, races, ranks or any other demographic. Males and females fit into all types, and every ethnicity can utilize the Enneagram. Importantly, higher numbers are not more significant than lower numbers, so “no number is inherently better or worse than another” (1).
Enneagram Elements and Types
Every number on the Enneagram circle has specific attributes. Think about these attributes like features that differentiate people within that type. Every person within a basic type has:
a) A center
b) A wing
c) A direction for integration (growth) or disintegration (stress)
d) A subtype
e) A level of development
Again, your type is the number on the circle that fits you most. Once you know your type, your center will be predetermined; your center is the way you instinctually make decisions. Types eight, nine and one are gut-based (i.e., movement and action); types two, three and four are feeling-based; and types five, six and seven are thinking-based. The graphic (1) below shows this.
Next, your wing is a way to further inform you about your temperament. A wing will be the number on either side of your type on the Enneagram circle. Wings “add complementary, sometimes contradictory elements to your personality type” (1). If you are a type nine, for instance, your wing will be an eight or one (see image below). A person who is a type nine with an eight wing might act much differently than a person of type nine with a one wing. We will skip over integration (growth) and disintegration (stress) until the next blog post.
Moving on, your subtype will describe your relational focus. For instance, you could be socially, individually, or self-preservationally oriented. As you begin your Enneagram journey, try to fully understand your basic type first; then, move onto the attributes (i.e., center, wing, subtype) of your Enneagram profile to add to your understanding. Below are descriptions of each basic type using four-word sets of traits from Riso and Hudson’s (1) work:
1. The Reformer: type one is principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionistic
2. The Helper: type two is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing and possessive
3. The Achiever: type three is adaptable, excelling, driven and image-conscious
4. The Individualist: type four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed and temperamental
5. The Investigator: type five is perceptive, innovative, secretive and isolated
6. The Loyalist: type six is engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious
7. The Enthusiast: type seven is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive and scattered
8. The Challenger: type eight is self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontative
9. The Peacemaker: type nine is receptive, reassuring, complacent and resigned
Which type’s role and trait set sound most like you? Maybe you find two or even three that stand out; that is normal. Once you find fitting descriptions, read their full profiles at The Enneagram Institute. In a healing way, many first-time Enneagram users are shocked with how well their type describes them, including their strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. This can be powerful because it reminds us we are not alone in our fullness as wonderfully flawed human beings.
I believe the Enneagram has lasted for so many millennia because of the depth of personal awareness that can come from a tool of its kind. The deeper you get into the Enneagram, the more treasure you find. For that reason, I offer one suggestion: do not stop learning! Continue to research your type, including your center, wing, direction for integration (growth)/disintegration (stress), subtype and level of development. We will dive into directions for integration in part three of this blog series. So, happy excavating friends. See you in part three!
(1) The Enneagram Institute. (2017). How the Enneagram system works. EnneagramInstitute.com. Retrieved from