You already know you're an ESFJ and a Libra—but do you know what your Enneagram number is??

By Jennifer Nied
March 30, 2020
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If you spend enough time on Instagram, you'll soon realize that there's a new trend in town: the Enneagram test. At its most basic, the Enneagram is a personality typing tool (à la Meyers-Briggs) that distills your behaviors, thinking patterns, and feelings into a numerical "type."

While the Enneagram's origin story is not entirely straightforward—some say it can be traced back to ancient Greece, others say it's rooted in religion, according to the Enneagram Institute—it's fair to assume that it's been around for a while. So, why the sudden surge in popularity?

As self-care days ramp up and so does interest in astrology and concepts like emotional wellbeing, it makes sense Enneagram soon follows. "The Enneagram offers significant depth and multiple layers for personal discovery, exploration, and growth that I have not found in other tools," says Natalie Pickering, Ph.D., psychologist and coach at High Places Coaching & Consulting, who uses the Enneagram to create a framework to coach her clients.

TL;DR—there seems to be a growing desire to understand yourself at an even deeper level and, apparently, the Enneagram helps people do that. But how exactly? Patience, young grasshopper. First, the basics...

What Is the Enneagram Test, Exactly?

First, a little translation: Enneagram means "drawing of nine" and has two Greek roots, ennea meaning "nine" and gram meaning "drawing" or "figure." This will make more sense in a sec—just keep reading.

Enneagram is basically a psychological system that helps explain why we do what we do, and links together our thinking, feeling, instincts, and motivations, says Susan Olesek, executive coach and founder of the Enneagram Prison Project, where she works with incarcerated individuals.

"Many people have difficulty understanding what's driving their actions in the first place," she says, and that's where the Enneagram comes in. The goal of the test is to deliver a better understanding of your motivations, strengths, and weaknesses or "what your fears are," according to Ginger Lapid-Bogda, Ph.D., author of Enneagram Development Guide and The Art of Typing: Powerful Tools for Enneagram Typing.

The Enneagram does this by giving you a "type" or number one through nine, which is placed on a nine-point circular diagram. Each of the "types" is spread around the edge of the circle and connected to one another via diagonal lines. Not only does the test determine your numerical type, but it also connects you to other types within the circle, helping to explain how your personality may shift under different scenarios. (Related: The Best Fitness Trackers for Your Personality)

That's just the tip of the Enneagram iceberg, though, according to experts. It can also help bring compassion and understanding to yourself and to other people, pinpoint and get rid of unproductive habits, and gain better control over your reactions, says Olesek.

How Can You Take the Enneagram?

There are multiple tests and assessments that aim to determine your Enneagram type, but not all are created equal. Olesek recommends the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) from the Enneagram Institute, which is a test available online for $12. "That's [the one] that I use and primarily operate from," she says.

The questions themselves include pairs of statements, and you select the one that describes you best and best applies to most of your life. For example: "I have tended to be hesitant and procrastinating OR bold and domineering." The exact number of questions varies, but the popular 144-question RHETI takes about 40 minutes to complete.

Another highly-regarded option for figuring out your type is the Essential Enneagram by David Daniels, M.D., former clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University's Medical School. Unlike the RHETI, this book is not a test but rather a self-report. "It's not so much a question and answer process," says Olesek. "Instead, you read the nine paragraphs and see which one you resonate with."

As for the overwhelming number of Enneagram tests online? Look for info on how the assessment is scientifically validated (i.e. research showing how individuals match up to the types to show reliability) and who developed the specific assessment, says Suzanne Dion, a certified Enneagram teacher. "Those with Ph.D.s or master's degrees have training in scientific protocol and are more likely to have been trained in how to do psychological assessments. They're more likely to have developed a more reliable and valid assessment." Using multiple assessments and books to learn about your type is another good strategy. "It's important to look at it from a variety of sources," says Lapid-Bogda.

Once you've confirmed the assessment is trustworthy, you can get on to the fun part: discovering your type.

The Nine Enneagram Types

Your resulting type relates to how you interact with and adapt to your surroundings. The exact details of each description vary by specific test, but all cover the basics: fear, desire, motivations, and key habits, says Olesek. For example, the descriptions for Type 1 through Type 9 below come from the Enneagram Institute.

Type 1: "The Reformer" has a strong sense of right and wrong. They are well-organized and striving for change and improvement, but fearful of making a mistake. (Related: The Surprising Positive Benefits of Being a Worrier)

Type 2: "The Helper" is friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing. They mean well, but can also be people-pleasing and have difficulty acknowledging their own needs.

Type 3: "The Achiever" is ambitious, self-assured, and charming. Their downfall can be workaholism and competitiveness. (On the flip side, there are plenty of pros to being competitive.)

Type 4: "The Individualist" is self-aware, sensitive, and creative. They can be moody and self-conscious and have problems with melancholy and self-pity.

Type 5: "The Investigator" is a visionary pioneer, and often ahead of its time. They are alert, insightful, and curious, but can get caught up in their imagination.

Type 6: "The Loyalist" is the troubleshooter because they're reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy. They can see looming problems and get people to cooperate but have defensive and anxious tendencies.

Type 7: "The Enthusiast" is always looking for something new and exciting to keep their multiple talents busy. As a result, they can be impulsive and impatient.

Type 8: "The Challenger" is a strong, resourceful straight-talker. They can take it too far and become domineering and confrontational.

Type 9: "The Peacemaker" is creative, optimistic, and supportive. They are more often willing to go along with others to avoid conflict and can be complacent. (Psst...do you know there's a *right* way to be optimistic?!)

Once You Know Your Type...

Now that you've now read through the Enneagram types, do you feel seen? (Cue: resounding "yes.") It's important to note that scientific proof backing up the Enneagram is somewhat shaky. A review of multiple studies found that some versions of the Enneagram test (like RHETI) offer a reliable and replicable model of personality. Buuuuut research on the topic is lacking, considering it's more so rooted in ancient philosophy rather than evidence-based science.

Just because science doesn't completely validate the Enneagram system doesn't mean it's worthless—it comes down to what you make of your results.

"When used with a positive intention and curiosity, systems like the Enneagram can offer a robust roadmap of our conscious and unconscious ways of acting—it's a starting point to help us keep growing and developing," says Felicia Lee, Ph.D., founder of Campana Leadership Group, which provides organizations with Enneagram-typing sessions. "Your capacity to learn and expand as a person is never-ending."

No one is just one type, either. You will have one dominant type but you may also note that you possess traits from one of the two adjacent types on the circumference of the diagram, according to the Enneagram Institute. This adjacent type, which adds more elements to your personality, is known as your "wing." For example, if you're a Nine, you'll likely identify with some of the traits of an Eight or One, both of which are adjacent to Nine on the diagram and considered a potential wing.

In addition to your wing, you'll also be connected to two other types depending on where your number falls on the Enneagram diagram, which is divided into three "centers." Each center includes three types that have similar strengths, weaknesses, dominant emotions, according to the Enneagram Institute.

  • The Instinctive Center: 1, 8, 9; anger or rage is the dominant emotion
  • The Thinking Center: 5, 6, 1; fear is the dominant emotion
  • The Feeling Center: 2, 3, 4; shame is the dominant emotion

If you look at the diagram, you'll see that your type is connected via diagonal lines to two other numbers outside its center or wing. One line connects to a type that represents how you behave when you're moving toward health and growth, while the other connects to a type that represents how you likely act out when you're under increased stress and pressure, or when you feel you're not in control of the situation, according to the Enneagram Institute.

What Should I Do with the Results?

The Enneagram gives you a wealth of insight into your own motivations and how you interact with those around you. Each in-depth type description shares how you act at your best and when stressed. As a result, it can help you develop self-awareness, boost your emotional intelligence, and navigate relationships at work and in your personal life. In fact, a case study published in the journal Contemporary Family Therapy showed that Enneagram results promote awareness and can help in couples therapy. Using the Enneagram, the individuals were able to better understand their partner as well as express their own needs and desires.

Take a look at the description of your type and note how it makes you feel (the good, bad, and everything in between), says Olesek. It's natural to feel repelled by certain aspects of your type—they're not all the most positive or complimentary—but take these as opportunities. Keep running lists of what you're thinking, feeling, and learning as you dive deeper into your Enneagram, she recommends.

From there, Lee recommends first focusing on understanding your personal "superpowers"—the unique strengths based on your Enneagram type—and how to use those strengths in your professional and personal relationships, she says. "Similarly, each type has distinctive 'blind spots' and 'watch-outs' to pay close attention to. This is where significant growth happens because you figure out when you're acting out and the negative impact that it has on your life as well as others."

What's more, because it can help alert you to other people's strengths and weaknesses—as they're similar or different to your own—it can help you "develop a true and lasting understanding, acceptance, and reverence for yourself and others," says Dion.

How to Put That Self-Awareness to Work

Type 1: To work on the perfectionist tendencies, Lapid-Bogda suggests paying attention to details, like the flower in the garden. "The whole is beautiful, even though all of the petals, for example, may not be perfect," she says. Repeating the exercise helps teach yourself that imperfection is also good.

Type 2: Focus on getting in touch with your own feelings to avoid working yourself ragged for others. "If you're more in touch with yourself, you can better take care of yourself," says Lapid-Bogda. "You don't need to hover over others or feel sad or angry or anxious if somebody doesn't want what you have to offer. Once you realize you have needs, you start to take better care of your own needs."

Type 3: "Threes tend to think 'I'm only as good as my last accomplishment,'" says Lapid-Bogda. Sound familiar? Then try out a new activity and pay attention to how you feel instead of judging your performance during the activity. If you don't like it, then stop. Just taking the time to recognize how you feel about an activity can help you put less pressure on yourself to be perfect at something, explains Lapid-Bogda. (Related: The Many Health Benefits of Trying New Things)

Type 4: You're likely the type of person who "takes in information about themselves, real or perceived, and reject positive feedback," says Lapid-Bodga. Aim for an emotional balance by tuning into the positive compliments that you'd otherwise ignore or dismiss.

Type 5: The best thing for fivmees to do is get out of your head by getting more connected to their body. Taking a walk is an easy way to do that, according to Lapid-Bogda.

Type 6: Sixes naturally have antenna scanning for what could go wrong. To flip the script on the info streaming in, Lapid-Bogda recommends asking yourself these key questions: "Is this true? How do I know it's true? What else could also be true?"

Type 7: If you're a seven, odds are "your mind work[s] very quickly," so you tend to focus on "outside stimulation" to tune it out, she explains. Use this knowledge to your advantage and practice going "inside" more often by meditating and focusing on the present, even if just for a quick 5 seconds between, say, work assignments. (Before you start, check out these best meditation apps for beginners.)

Type 8: Lapid-Bogda suggests asking yourself: "How is being vulnerable not being weak?" Then, consider scenarios where you may feel vulnerable but it's actually a strength. For example, she says someone may say, "I feel compassion for somebody else. I can feel it in my heart. I felt vulnerable when feeling that way, but it makes me empathic, which makes me stronger."

Type 9: Nines are like a TV with the volume on low, according to Lapid-Bogda. Her tip: Start speaking up more in simple decisions, like picking a restaurant for dinner with a friend. "They can initiate and speak their voice in very small ways," she says.

The Bottom Line:

The Enneagram offers lessons in self-reflection and self-care, which could benefit anyone—even if you aren't necessarily the specific type the test spits out or if the whole thing feels a little woo-woo for you. Let's face it: The world can only be improved by everyone becoming a little more self-aware. And whatever tools you use to work on that—Enneagram, astrology, meditation, the list goes on—that's great.

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