Opinion Graphic fall 2020

Myers-Briggs. Astrology. Buzzfeed quizzes telling you which “Friends” character you are. No matter the format or level of formality, people have been categorizing individuals based on their personality traits for a long time. One such system whose popularity has recently exploded is the Enneagram of Personality, or Enneagram for short.

There are nine numbered Enneagram types, each with a nickname: Ones are the Reformers, Twos are the Helpers, Threes are the Achievers, Fours are the Individualists, Fives are the Investigators, Sixes are the Loyalists, Sevens are the Enthusiasts, Eights are the Challengers and Nines are the Peacekeepers. The focus of the Enneagram is on each type’s core beliefs — particularly fears and motivations — which provide insight into how people of different types see the world.

There are countless resources that explain the traits common to each Enneagram type. Books, websites, YouTube channels and Instagram pages are dedicated to both general information about the test and extremely specific nuances of each type. The nine types themselves are just the beginning — there are also wings, subtypes and triads within the Enneagram, all of which provide more detail about an individual’s personality. If you want to find a detailed analysis of how a Four would behave in a relationship with a Nine, a list of jobs best suited to a social type Eight, or even a pitch for a comedy series about how a Three and a Seven would handle the same situation, all of that information is a Google search away.

To some people, the Enneagram’s validity understandably seems questionable. Although I now use what I know about the Enneagram on an almost daily basis, that was not always the case. When I first heard about the test, I thought it was impossible to group all people into one of a measly nine categories — there are billions of people in the world, after all. However, as I started reading more about it and paying more attention to those around me, I began to notice patterns that seemed to align with the nine types.

I started to feel like when I knew someone’s Enneagram number, I immediately knew them a little bit better — and that felt like a superpower. I became more empathetic in situations in which people made a choice I didn’t understand. I learned to adjust my communication style when talking to different people in my life based on what would make them the most comfortable. I admired certain traits in my friends and family that I had never noticed before.

The Enneagram not only helped me in my relationships, it also provided me a framework for self-reflection. I am a One-wing-Nine with a self-preservation subtype, but it took me a long time to settle on that. I started by reading about all the types, then going back to those I related to most. I had conversations with my mom and my friends about personality traits they noticed in me. When I realized I am a One, I read more detailed descriptions of the type and its variations. Everything about Ones lined up well with what I knew about myself: perfectionist, overly critical of myself and others, organized, strong moral compass, black-and-white thinking — the list goes on.

Using the Enneagram as a guide has helped me understand a lot more about myself. I am able to see places where there is room for growth and ways I could be more understanding. I try to quiet the critic in my head and celebrate myself and others more often. It is not the only way to self-reflect or deepen relationships, but it is simply one route to that destination.

The Enneagram was not the answer to all my problems, nor can it answer every question about an individual’s life, mindset and choices. Like any other personality test, the Enneagram should not be used to pass judgment or place people in rigid boxes. It is simply a tool to understand people better, and hopefully connect in a meaningful way. And whatever toolkit you use, taking the time to understand yourself and others more deeply only leads to a richer and more fulfilling life.

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