Getting Started with the Enneagram

​When some people first read their report, they are only able to see what is “wrong” with them. I encourage you to read it again, looking instead for all of the contributions your core type makes to the world. No type is better than another. Each offers special gifts, and each has unique ways of expressing stress through dysfunction — this is part of being human.

Every one of us possesses the energy of all nine personality types to a greater or lesser degree (your test scores reflect this), but we are each born with one core temperament* — this is our essential true nature. Through the lens of this original temperament, our younger selves reacted to the dynamics within our family of origin, our institutions, and our surrounding culture. As we faced inevitable challenges, we instinctively developed survival methods that worked for our core type to facilitate our growth and protect us from physical, mental, or emotional distress.

Throughout childhood this combination of nature and nurture caused us to form habitual unconscious, and often defensive, structures we now call our Personality or Ego. Because these structures are based upon just nine distinct core temperaments, researchers are able to describe nine different personality types very clearly. This makes the Enneagram a valuable tool in understanding ourselves and others, but it is meant to go far beyond being a mere label.

A key Enneagram teaching states: We are MORE than our Personality. This is fantastic news because our unconscious personality patterns are responsible for much of the suffering in our lives as adults. While they may have served us well as children, our habitual reactions to people and situations are rarely the best response in our adult lives. Yet most of us think our ways of being are beyond our control — we say things like “That’s just who I am” — because we adopted them when we were very young, before we can remember.

The Enneagram illuminates attitudes and behaviors that no longer serve us, offering us the choice to let them go. Armed with new self-awareness, we enjoy greater peace, confidence, and freedom as we learn to embody the gifts of our true nature. Unlike many personality assessments, the Enneagram does not put us into a box; it offers a way out of the box we have unconsciously been living in until now.

 

Finding your Core Type

The highest score provided by the assessment is not necessarily your core type. To get the most out of the Enneagram, take your results on as a hypothesis and observe yourself objectively — as a scientist would. Even if your core type is not immediately clear, you will benefit from greater self-awareness and more power of choice over your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.

Situation 1: Did the description of the type indicated by your highest score immediately resonate with you? If so, then proceed with the hypothesis that this is your core type. Observe yourself against the clues offered by the type description to test your hypothesis. Read your report again after one week of observation to see what else you can notice.

Situation 2: Did you score closely on two or more types? This is a sign that you have developed several aspects of yourself in the process of living your life. Does one feel like it fits you a bit better than the others? Which one described you best when you were younger? What insights can you gather from those who know you well? If you still have more than one possible best fit, then pick one and run an experiment. Take note of some of the key attitudes and behaviors of that type and watch for them over the next couple of days. Please bring your insights to our coaching conversation.

 

Growing through the Enneagram

Growth doesn’t mean we grow into another type; our core type describes our true essence and is foundational to who we are. We can, however, become the best possible version of our type.

Look at the Levels of Development section of the description of your most probable core type. You will see that there are 9 Levels describing attitudes and behaviors that range from Healthy (Levels 1-3), Average (Levels 4-6), and Unhealthy (Levels 7-9). Try to answer these questions:

  • In your best moments, what level most closely describes your attitudes and behaviors?

  • When you get triggered or are under stress, what level best describes you?

  • When in crisis, what level do you descend to?

 

Take each of your answers as a hypothesis and observe yourself to test it. What does someone who knows you well have to say? Others are often better at describing our actual behaviors when we are emotionally triggered; this is because we lose access to our frontal lobe thinking center when under stress. Stay open. Stay curious. And, above all, be gentle with yourself. All humans get messy sometimes!

Form an intention to be more present in each moment and observe yourself under varying conditions. Your increased awareness will empower you to intentionally let go of the attitudes and behaviors that hold you back.

The Rewards

As you start to release limiting attitudes and behaviors, you will find that you have more energy, more peace of mind, and more harmonious relationships at home and at work. All of these improvements decrease your level of stress, allowing you to operate at higher levels more and more of the time. Things that used to trouble you drop away; what used to require tremendous effort suddenly seems much easier.

No matter what our type, at our higher levels we are all more emotionally resilient, creative, and effective. This starts an upward spiral. From this more resourceful place we can start to avail ourselves of the gifts of all the Enneagram types, causing our life — even our work! — to become much more fun.

 

* Thomas, et al. “The Origin of Personality.” A. Thomas, S. Chess and H.G. Birch: The Origin of Personality, Scientific American Pp 102-109, 1970, 2014, www.acamedia.info/sciences/sciliterature/origin_of_personality.htm .