With its lines so intricately interlaced, the Enneagram may look a bit complex to a beginner, but this is far from the truth. The word Enneagram is derived from the Greek words “ennea” meaning nine, and “gram” meaning drawing. Therefore, to help you better understand this fascinating design, it’s a good idea to draw it first.  Here’s how you do it: 

Draw a circle and mark nine inner points on its circumference. The nine points are numbered clockwise and are evenly spaced, with the nine at the top. The numbers nine, six, and three are connected to form a triangle within the circle. The remaining points are connected as follows: One connects with four, four connects with two, two to eight, eight to five, five to seven, and seven back to one. Each of the nine points represents a personality type that’s defined by your core beliefs.

The Personality Types: 

The Enneagram encompasses nine different personality types. While you’re likely to see yourself in each of the nine personality types, there will be one that best describes you. This is known as your basic personality type. 

As our experiences through childhood develop our personality, it is common for one of these nine types to encompass our characteristics. As we develop during childhood, the way that we adapt to our environment influences our personality and outlook on life, along with the subconscious influences we absorb from our parental figures. All of this has a significant impact on how our personalities develop. By the age of four-five years old, children have already generated a distinct sense of self. While they are still developing their identity, this is a unique time where children begin to pick up cues on how they need to adapt to the world around them. 

There are a few factors you’ll need to keep in mind when studying the basic personality types: 

  • People can’t jump from one personality type to another. 
  • No one personality pertains to men or women, and each description can be applied to all genders. 
  • Your basic type is a general overview of your personality. It’s not something that will always apply, as you will sway between the positive, neutral, and negative aspects of your description. 
  • Numbers are used when labeling personality types, as they provide an unbiased and neutral way of detailing an individual without expressing dissatisfaction in any way. 
  • While the numbers are categorized from one to nine, no number is better than the other. Therefore, one is not better than nine, as they are all equal. 
  • No type is better than the other, as each one has its strengths and weaknesses. As you learn to understand each personality type, you will eventually recognize that each type has its limitations and unique abilities. It is important to remember that these descriptions provide you with the perfect opportunity to become an authentic version of yourself. And not a version of another type as a result of society valuing these qualities. 

How to identify your basic personality type: 

If you manage to answer your personality questionnaire honestly, you can identify your basic personality type. Below you’ll find one-word descriptions that will give you a quick glimpse at the different personality types and their qualities. These short descriptions give you a brief overview of each personality but will fail to provide you with an in-depth look into each type. 

Type One: Virtuous, perfectionist, self-disciplined, and conscientious. 

Type Two: Giving, expressive, sacrificing, and possessive. 

Type Three: Competitive, versatile, ambitious, and image-conscious.  

Type Four: Creative, unpredictable, self-centered, and sensitive. 

Type Five: Perceptive, inventive, self-sufficient, and isolated. 

Type Six: Loyal, distrustful, honest and responsible. 

Type Seven: Optimistic, adaptable, scattered, and adventurous. 

Type Eight: Assertive, intentional, decisive, and self-assured. 

Type Nine: Agreeable, supportive, proud, and patient. 

The Centers of the Enneagram: 

The Enneagram consists of three centers within which the nine personality types are arranged. These three types include the Instinctive Center, Feeling Center, and the Thinking Center. Each of these three centers shares similar underlying motivations, feelings, or limitations. For example, the basic personality types 2, 3, and 4, found in the Feelings Center,  all desire to be appreciated and encouraged. All personality types are grouped according to their fundamental traits and how they function. 

The addition of each personality to its Center is not done by randomly picking a number from a hat. Instead, the selection is a result of the direct relationship that each personality shares with the core emotion of that Center. These emotional responses are mostly unconscious and are often a result of an individual losing touch with their authentic self. While all types encompass emotional aspects from each Center, the nine individual personality types are influenced by the emotional theme of that Center. For example, the core of the Thinking Center is fear, the Feeling Center focuses on the emotion of shame, and the Instinctive Center is all about anger and rage. Therefore, each personality has a different method of working through these emotions. 

The Wings of the Enneagram: 

While your basic type is what many would consider the core of your personality, it is not the only thing that influences you. You are a perfect blend of your basic personality type and one or two of the numbers adjacent to this type within the Enneagram – this is called The Wing(s). 

Your basic type is at the heart of your overall personality, but the wing is what enhances your personality and gives it depth. It is another aspect of yourself that must be taken into consideration when digging into this work. By understanding the wings, you have the opportunity to create a bigger picture that allows you to view your inner motivations and how they merge with your actions and thoughts. For example, if you’re a seven personality type, you’ll likely have traits from either an Eight-Wing or a Six-Wing that perfectly blend with your core type. 

While each of the Enneagram types can be influenced by both of the possible wings, there is often a more dominant wing. While the second wing still plays a role to some degree, it is usually the dominant wing that is more important. However, it’s possible to have equally balanced wings, but this is quite rare. 

You must determine your basic type by completing an assessment. This will allow you to learn more about your personality type through the descriptions provided.

It’s also a great idea to have a look at the descriptions for the two types adjacent to your core type, as this will allow you to learn more about your wings and how they influence your personality. 

The Levels of Development: 

Each personality type has an internal structure that adds more depth. This structure is known as the continuum, which is made up of nine internal Levels of Development that help to form each personality type. This discovery, along with the traits of each core type, was uncovered by Don Riso in 1977. It was then further developed and unpacked alongside Russ Hudson in the ’90s. The addition of the Levels by these two incredible Enneagram teachers is a vital contribution to aiding in the explanation of each personality type. These Levels consider the difference between individuals who fall under the same type, along with how some people can transform and flourish while others change for the worse. 

The Levels of Development are the puzzle pieces that help to form the overall puzzle. By learning to understand the Levels for each type, you’ll soon see how all of the traits are interconnected and how easily it is for healthy traits to collapse into average or unhealthy ones. To better understand a person, it’s essential to know where alongside the continuum of Levels that person finds themselves. Are they in their healthy, average, or unhealthy state of functioning? Again, this is vital in helping to understand how their personality can be influenced.  

Within the internal structure of the continuum, you’ll find three Healthy, three Average, and three Unhealthy Levels.  The healthy levels are at the top of the continuum. As the structure moves down the spiral pattern, we start to move from the lighter aspects of the personality into the darker ones. There is a distinct shift that is made as you move to the bottom of the spiral, reaching the unhealthier traits of the personality.

The Continuum of the Levels of Development

Healthy
  • Level 1: The Level of Liberation
  • Level 2: The Level of Psychological Capacity
  • Level 3: The Level of Social Value
Average
  • Level 4: The Level of Imbalance/ Social Role
  • Level 5: The Level of Interpersonal Control
  • Level 6: The Level of Overcompensation
Unhealthy
  • Level 7: The Level of Violation
  • Level 8: The Level of Obsession and Compulsion
  • Level 9: The Level of Pathological Destructiveness

The ego does a great job of trying to keep us separate from our authenticity. Therefore, the more we move towards the unhealthy aspects of our traits, the more we start identifying with our ego and its negative patterning. Our personality becomes reactive and defensive, as we begin to operate from a subconscious level, having no real control over the actions that we take. Once we move down the Levels, our actions become more destructive and out of control, as we start making counterproductive choices. 

However, the opposite of this finds us moving towards health; up-leveling as we climb to the top. When we learn to harness the power of being present, we become less focused on the defensive elements of our personalities. And we will then discover how to be more aware of ourselves and our environment. Through this awakening, we can view our personalities objectively instead of switching to autopilot. This stops the patterns of our personality from controlling us.  

Therefore, our ability to stay present is essential. It allows us to utilize the Levels as a road map to our intended destination, using self-awareness as fuel to get there. We can then act in ways that are more constructive within the different areas of our lives and relationships. 

To view the “big picture” when it comes to your personality, you need to consider the basic type, wings, and where you lie within the Levels of Development. All these factors meld together to form your complete personality, providing you with a useful guide on how to navigate and understand how they influence you internally. 

The Enneagram is a guide. It provides you with a blueprint on how to integrate the elements of the different personality types, along with their healthy aspects. The ultimate goal is to become a healthy version of yourself while embracing your authenticity. 

The Three Instincts

While we’ve looked at several factors that influence the Enneagram types, it’s important to remember that Biology also plays a role in the shaping of our personalities and experiences. Enneagram teachers have discovered three biological instincts that drive our actions and emotions. These three instincts are self-preservation (physical and mental well-being), sexual (procreation, family, and intimacy), and social (interpersonal relationships and forming group bonds). 

When learning to understand these instincts, it’s helpful to imagine a three-layered cake, which is known as an Instinctual Stack. The first layer of the cake has your dominant instinct – this is the set of attitudes and values that you hold close to your heart, and are essentially the driving force behind your actions. The second layer plays more of a supportive role, while the third layer is your least developed instinct. While this Instinctual Stack often remains the same, it can shift during times of extreme and sudden change. 

These instincts have a strong influence on our personality, but it’s our personality that decides which instinct we should prioritize. This is known as our dominant instinct and is the one that we place above all the others. However, the further down the Levels of Development we are, the more our personality clashes with these instincts. 

When we apply them to the Enneagram personality types, it creates 27 unique combinations that further help to diversify the personalities. These combinations are known as the Instinctual Variants. 

Once you dive into the world of Enneagram types, you may be eager to learn more about the personality types of those around you. As you begin to understand the Enneagram and review the descriptions of each personality type, you may become skilled at categorizing people into their types. However, there are a few factors you will need to consider while you do this. 

There are so many factors that contribute to someone’s personality type. Therefore, you may find it difficult to categorize people or may not know where to start in the beginning, but this is quite normal! As with anything new, practice makes perfect, and you’ll need time to hone your skills. It takes time and patience to learn the varying aspects that influence someone’s personality and whether they are “healthy” or “unhealthy”. 

Utilizing the Enneagram and its descriptions is a fantastic way to deepen our self-knowledge while providing a map of how we can move consciously through our lives. However, categorizing others may be a bit problematic, as it can be a way for us to avoid looking at our own lives. As we go about our daily lives, we are continually placing others in boxes – beautiful or ugly, fat or thin. This is something that we need to be aware of because it allows us to utilize proper categories for ourselves and others. 

Human beings are complex creatures. While the Enneagram is an effective tool for dissecting one’s personality, it cannot tell us everything. People can only be understood up until a certain point, after which they become an enigma. However, the Enneagram is a useful tool in helping us to demystify the choices and actions that lie at the core of who we are.