If we’ve talked in the past two months, chances are I’ve brought up the Enneagram, a personality typing system based on 9 archetypes.
I’m completely fascinated with personality typing systems (Myers-Briggs, DISC, heck even “which Harry Potter house are you?”–and yes I signed up for Pottermore when it launched and am a proud Ravenclaw).
I’ve been a Myers-Briggs girl nearly all of my life (I learned I was an INFP at age 11) and have devoured as much literature, podcasts, and information on the MBTI typing system as I possibly could over the past twenty years.
Enter: Enneagram. I believe my first encounter with this particular brand of personality typing was several years ago when my friend Michelle mentioned her employer was using it as an organizational growth tool. I later heard Science Mike effusively praise it on his Liturgists podcast. I was skeptical at first because he dismissed Myers-Briggs as being effective for personal growth, claiming Enneagram was superior. (There is a widespread misconception about the Myers-Briggs’ usefulness, but I might have to cover that in a separate blog post…)
However, I generally trust Science Mike so I decided to do some more digging.
And by “digging” I mean a casual Google search.
I attempted to take 3-4 different free online tests (that was my first mistake) in an attempt to discover my type. I got 3-4 different answers–4, 9, 1, 2. “The Enneagram is BS!” I cried and retreated into my Myers-Briggs cloud of superiority (that was my second mistake).
Fast forward a couple of years and I was at a church video shoot with my friend/co-worker Heidi. We were the makeshift crew for the day and had some down time when I was not running the teleprompter. Between takes, somehow we got on the topic of Enneagram. She–like Science Mike–had found the Enneagram extremely beneficial in terms of self-understanding, personal growth and relationships.
Based on that conversation, I decided to give Enneagram one more shot. Rather than take a test, I decided to simply read the descriptions of the types I tested higher on and determine from the description which one I thought I was. I realized pretty quickly that I was likely a type Four (for more on my particular brand of crazy, read here).
So over the past couple of months, I’ve begun to really dive in headfirst listening to “The Road Back to You” podcast. I attended an Enneagram workshop session at a local church a couple of weekends ago. My friend Crystal shared with me Sleeping at Last’s ongoing music project to write one song based on all nine types. This weekend, I finished “The Road Back to You” book by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.
A huge misconception about personality typing systems is that they put people in a box. Though I agree many people tend to use it as a box (sometimes even an excuse for poor behavior, i.e. “Welp, that’s just my personality!”/shrug), that this attitude betrays an incomplete understanding of any system.
Disclaimer: Like any scientific model, Enneagram is imperfect–at the end of the day it is only a model, a tool useful for increasing understanding. But even the system is not the entire picture.
Like Myers-Briggs, Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. What these systems do is reveal what box you’re already in, and give you a pathway to understanding yourself, the people around you and how to achieve personal growth and healthier relationships.
In modern church culture, there is an enormous emphasis on having “a personal relationship with God”–this permeates church culture in sermons, in worship service flow, Bible study topics, in church organizational structure, even in the language we use to describe God and spirituality.
In church, we talk about “vertical” and “horizontal” worship but rarely do we turn inward introspectively. We tend to emphasize knowing God through prayer, Bible study, community and serving.
But rarely do we equip people to actually know themselves.
The book points out why people in ministry or church leadership can know the Bible inside and out and yet massively fail in their marriages or personal relationships. There is a widespread lack of understanding of who we are in our true selves–not simply the self we project into the world.
And it’s incredibly challenging to be in relationship with Someone/someone if you don’t even know yourself.
Aside from church culture, in modern 21st century America there is a widespread problem with knowing how to be in healthy relationship–dating/hook-up culture, Facebook comment wars, polarization across political lines, family or workplace drama–we massively fail at relationships every day.
We could use a little help.
Enneagram is basically a lens to understand ourselves–how and why we operate (our basic fears and needs), how that might differ from other people, and how to personally grow and how to more healthily interact with and love other people.
One of my favorite quotes from “The Road Back to You” is when author Ian Morgan Cron shares his own introduction into the Enneagram through spiritual director/monk Brother Dave. Cron quotes Richard Rohr:
Sooner or later we must distinguish what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is…we must find our real self, in all of its elemental poverty, but also in its great and very simple dignity: created to be the child of God, and capable of loving with something of God’s own sincerity and his own selfishness.
If you’re new to the Enneagram or curious about it as a tool for insight and personal growth, I highly recommend this wonderful book. The tone is accessible–even humorous at times. Cron explains each of the 9 types in a simple yet comprehensive way. If you’re not quite ready to jump in and read an entire book but are still curious about the Enneagram and if it could be beneficial to you, you can take a short online test or check out the descriptions of each of the nine types here. The free online test is helpful but imperfect so I highly recommend taking it in tandem with reading the descriptions of your top 3-4 types that you test out as.
Do you know your type? If you’re familiar with the Enneagram, how did you get introduced to it and how have you found it helpful?