When I was in college, I had friends who were obsessed with the Meyers-Briggs typing system. They were constantly diagnosing each other and discussing what that meant. They even typed fictional characters. At the time, I found the discussions grating, especially when they turned their gaze to me. I felt like they were putting me in a box, trying to figure me out and sum me up instead of actually getting to know me.
Although it was annoying, I eventually began doing my own Meyers-Briggs research. As I learned more, I began to appreciate personality typing systems as useful tools for self-knowledge and relationships. Knowing I’m an INFJ helped me understand more about myself and how I function, which has been useful in self-care. It helped me understand more about others, which has helped me strive towards empathy.
Recently, I have discovered a different system that is a thousand times better than Meyers-Briggs: The Enneagram.
In the Enneagram, there are nine core types, but that is just the tipping point for infinite possibilities. You can see the basic structure and the nine types below:
From there, it becomes harder to explain. You can see in the chart that the types are split into three categories: Heart Types, Head Types, and Body Types. From there, there are the nine types. Within each type, there are layers of complexity, such as different descriptions ranging from healthy to unhealthy. See the little lines connecting all the numbers? Those indicate the personalities that you revert to when extremely healthy or extremely unhealthy. In addition, each person also has a wing, where they naturally take on (often contradictory) traits of one of the neighboring types.
It’s a bit confusing, I know. But I love the complexity. For example, I am a Four with a Five wing. Because I’m a four, I take on the unhealthy attributes of a Two when stressed. When I’m at my best, I take on the positive attributes of a One. In all, I encapsulate aspects of four different types.
What I love the most about the Enneagram is that, unlike Meyers-Briggs, it acknowledges that personality is fluid and constantly changing, that we act differently in different circumstances, and that people cannot be put into a box.
At first, when I learned I am a Four, I scratched my head a bit. Fours, at a glance, are the deeply emotional, Romantic types. I’m not known to be gushy, sentimental, or expressive of feelings (see my post on my inability to cry for more on that). Many of the superficial attributes didn’t seem to fit who I know myself to be.
However, the more I have researched, the more I’ve realized that I truly AM a four. Peeling past the initial bullet lists and summary paragraphs has been illuminating. I’ve gone deep into several books on the Enneagram (see resource list below) that go into detail about healthy and unhealthy levels in each type. As I read, I found parts of myself that I’ve never been able to describe put into perfect words on the page. Suddenly, corners of who I am made perfect sense. “That’s why I’m always daydreaming!” “That’s why this certain behavior hurt me so badly.”
Fours aren’t just emotional, artistic types. Yes, we are artistic and creative, but there’s so much more to us. We have rich interior lives and tend to live in our fantasy worlds, which can be a positive and negative thing. We are strongly attracted to beauty. We make decisions based on feelings and are self-conscious–highly aware of ourselves in the context of our surroundings. We often feel like we don’t fit, don’t belong, and that there is something fundamentally different within us than others around us. This can lead to unwarranted feelings of envy, resentment, and jealousy. Unhealthy fours are prone to narcissism, loneliness, and depression.
Learning about my type has been hugely beneficial. Because fours have such vast interior landscapes, I feel like I have been given a map to follow. As I go throughout my day, I’m learning to understand myself better. Being conscious of these things helps me navigate all aspects of life like relationships and home life.
Want to learn more about the Enneagram? Here are some resources I found useful:
- PODCAST: The Liturgist podcast did an excellent episode on the Enneagram not too long ago. In it, they provide an overview of each of the nine types. They bring in professionals who use the system closely with their work and provide lots of wisdom for how the knowledge is applicable to our lives. I highly recommend giving it a listen: Episode 37
- BOOK: The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Elizabeth Wagele. This book provides an easy, fun introduction to the typing system. I didn’t find it super useful because the information did not go in depth, but there are lots of charts, pictures, and fun comics. There is a section at the end that compares the Enneagram to the Meyers-Briggs typing system, which I appreciated.
- WEBSITE: Of all the websites with information on the Enneagram, I found The Enneagram Insitute the most useful. It provides good groundwork information for how the system works as well as solid descriptions of each type
- BOOK: Personality Types-Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson. Of all the resources, I have found this to be the most helpful. It’s thick and textbooky, but provides all the information you need to know and more. The introductory chapters explain how the Enneagram works and all its dimensions. The rest of the book is dedicated to each of of the types. The chapters for each type are about 30 pages long. If you’re serious about learning about the Enneagram, I highly recommend this book.
For the books, I suggest checking them out from your local library. If your library doesn’t have them, consider requesting them from Interlibrary Loan. That’s what I did!
Also, on a closing note, for those of you who are already fans of the Enneagram… What is your type? How has knowing your type helped you in your daily life?