*First let me preface this blog post by saying that I do not use the Enneagram as a form of religious doctrine or as absolute truth. Rather, I have used it in order to learn how to better understand my gifts and my shortcomings (and how both of those things are intertwined) and to understand the motivations of others. It has been integral in my understanding and implementation of empathy in my life which I will explain more later.*
When I first heard about the Enneagram it was through the context of music. I had heard a song by the band Sleeping at Last and I mentioned it to a coworker of mine. He asked me if I had heard the band’s Enneagram series. I had not heard the song series nor had I ever heard about the Enneagram. My coworker briefly explained it as a sort of personality test and I forgot about it until I stumbled upon Sleeping at Last’s song Atlas: Two. It had come up in my suggested playlist on Apple Music and I thought it was so beautiful and lyrically powerful. I was in the process of writing my wedding vows at the time and I was immediately inspired to borrow some of the song’s lyrics to complete them. After I listened to Atlas: Two I started to listen to the other songs the band had created for the Enneagram types and so began my Enneagram journey.
I quickly learned the basics of what the Enneagram is and what it teaches. I discovered that there were nine human archetypes for character structure listed on the Enneagram. This already differed drastically from any other type of “personality test” I had encountered in the past. Intrigued, I decided to take a test to find my type online. The only one that I found for free was this one, https://www.eclecticenergies.com/enneagram/test. I took the test and was typed as a “One”. I was initially skeptical about the idea of a personality test, especially one that offered only nine types. I had previously taken the famous Myers Briggs test, which has 16 personality types, and I didn’t find myself aligning with any of the personalities they listed. Additionally, my university had required all freshmen to take the “Strengths Finder” test which I didn’t find to be very accurate either. I had also been bothered by the thought that “typing” a certain way gave people an excuse to be the way that they are. It seemed to cause people to blame their shortcomings as a result of their type and it also seemed to insinuate that people could not grow or change. I wasn’t excited about being placed in a box or placing others there either. While I doubted the reliability of the types, I began to research the type “One” anyway and I was blown away by what I found.
How The Enneagram Continues to Impact My Relationship with God
The most interesting and fascinating part about the Enneagram, in my opinion, is how it uses the baggage and brokenness in our lives as the starting point for understanding ourselves. Though I feel like the online test correctly “typed” me, I think it could be easy to mistype yourself or others based on the caricature of each type. For example Type One is often caricaturized as “The Perfectionist”, Type Two “The Helper”, Type Three “The Achiever”, Type Four “The Individualist”, Type Five “The Investigator”, Type Six “The Loyalist”, Type Seven “The Enthusiast”, Type Eight “The Challenger” and Type Nine “The Peacemaker”. I think that if I had only read these brief descriptions I would have mistyped myself as a Three. However, the Enneagram goes far beyond a simple caricature. This is where I think it tends to separate from a typical personality test. The Enneagram seeks to uncover a character trait in each of us that connects us with a character trait of God’s. Christopher Heuertz book The Sacred Enneagram describes these traits as Holy Ideas.
For the One the Holy Idea, the trait that God has that One’s are most connected to, is “Holy Perfection”. The Bible states that, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” Psalm 19:7 and “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:48. These verses clearly indicate God’s perfection and desire for perfection. He created all things to be perfect and to ultimately reflect his perfection. For type Ones, this Holy Idea resonates with them deeply. They tend to be pulled toward a longing for perfection in different aspects of their lives. Generally, this longing is marred by sin. When sin came into the world it separated us from God, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” Isaiah 59:2. This causes our longings to be twisted by the lies that sin tells us.
For me, I care deeply about perfecting myself. I feel unsettled if I am not trying my best to be my very best and it can be stressful every time I fall short of perfection. I also push perfection on the people that I love. I am often disappointed by their shortcomings and hold them to an impossibly high standard of perfection. Needless to say, these things have put a tremendous amount of strain on my relationship with God, other people and myself. It is difficult to maintain a relationship when you are constantly criticizing every aspect of that person. However, this is not the true intention of my desire for perfection.
The Enneagram has helped me to understand that there is good to be found and growth to take place in my desire for perfectness. The beauty of God’s perfection is within the grasp of my mind. I can connect with God in my desire for excellence. It is an incredible link to who He is. At my best I can use my ability to see God’s perfection in everyone as an asset. Healthy Ones tend to be great motivators and cheerleaders for those who cannot see themselves as able. We see the very best in people so we expect the very best of them and that is where sin can hurt relationships; instead of being motivators we become critics. This has been life changing for me to understand. I now know why people may see me as critical, cold or blunt. Now I can adjust those traits and acknowledge that sin in order to become motivating, ethical, and fair.
How The Enneagram Has Impacted My Relationships With Others
In addition to understanding myself more clearly, the Enneagram has also impacted the way I view others and how I interpret the motivation and meaning behind others’ actions. For a long time I thought that everybody thought the same way that I did. When somebody did something that I wouldn’t do it was easy to condemn their actions because what they had done was outside of my ability to comprehend. The Enneagram has helped me to understand that people think in different ways and make decisions for different reasons, often based on the way they connect with God or how sin has twisted the way they connect with God.
Here is a simple/silly example, I have never been able to understand how somebody could live in a messy house and not feel the need to keep it neat and tidy. I soon realized after marrying my husband that not everybody shares my same view. For him, it is easy to ignore a mess in order to deal with something of higher priority. If he was really tired or had something else to do he could easily ignore a pile of dirty clothes on the floor or a dishwasher that needed to be unloaded. This was something that internally drove me crazy. I didn’t understand how orderliness wasn’t something that he cared about very much and it would make me angry if he didn’t do his “fair share” by putting his clothes in the laundry basket or placing his dishes in the dishwasher. After learning about his enneagram type (type Nine) I realized that his motivator was not perfectness like mine is. The cleanliness or perfection of the house wasn’t what bothered or frustrated him. Instead, the type Nine is motivated by peace. So while my quirky (and honestly annoying) habit of wanting to keep house clean was an extension of my desire for perfection, his desire for peace of mind produces different kinds of habits and thoughts. My husband generally finds arguments very stressful, he needs to have time to wear comfy clothes and relax, and he often likes to keep his work and home life separate. These are the things that make him happy and content in the same way that having a tidy house (amongst other things) makes me happy and content. Understanding our differences in thinking allow us to empathize with each other’s desires and helps us to know how to take care of each other. Like I know that letting him sleep in is a way to show love while he knows that vacuuming the house without me asking is a way to show me love. These things may seem silly but they are so helpful in our marriage!
When we can recognize these other Holy Traits in others we can experience a more full picture of God through the gifts of other people. When I need to be told to take a break and rest my husband tells me so. His ability to understand the true benefit of peace of mind in turn benefits my life because he speaks that truth over me. In return, when he needs to be motivated or reassured that somebody believes in him and his ability to do the right thing, I can speak that truth over him.
Ultimately, The Enneagram has improved every relationship in my life through the gift of empathy and understanding. I understand God, the people I love and myself so much better than ever before. I highly recommend exploring all of the 9 beautiful “types”. Honestly there is so much more I could say about The Enneagram but this post is already so long! I will list several of my resources that I have used to learn more about the Enneagram below. Thanks for learning and growing with me.
The Scared Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile