How to know your Enneagram type

Sure you can take an online test, but here's how to REALLY know

Oh, can we talk about the Enneagram? Can we please?

A pop psychology typology system with a somewhat shrouded history, the Enneagram was imported to the US from South America in the 1970s. The general premise of the system is that there are nine different personality archetypes, with each one having a different core wound (or fixation) that motivates the type’s behavior. Depending on how high or low functioning a person is, their type will express itself in different ways.

Here’s my take on the 9 archetypes, and the core lie that each type tells themselves:

  • Type 1: The Reformer / Perfectionist
    “I feel defective, but if I improve the world, I can feel good!”

  • Type 2: The Helper / Giver
    “I feel unlovable, but if I help everyone, I can make them love me!”

  • Type 3: The Performer / Achiever
    “I feel worthless, but if I can just get enough validation, I’ll feel valuable!”

  • Type 4: The Artist / Individualist
    “I feel insignificant, but if I can just uniquely express myself, I’ll feel special!”

  • Type 5: The Investigator / Observer
    “I feel helpless, but if I can just know enough, I’ll feel capable!”

  • Type 6: The Loyalist / Skeptic
    “I feel scared, but if I can just commit deeply enough, I’ll feel secure!”

  • Type 7: The Enthusiast / Epicurian
    “I feel deprived, but if I can just have enough fun, I’ll feel satisfied!”

  • Type 8: The Protector / Challenger
    “I feel vulnerable, but if I can just control others, I’ll feel powerful!”

  • Type 9: The Peacemaker / Mediator
    “I feel discord, but if I can just keep everyone calm, I’ll find peace!”

Now of course these are archetypes, which means we all have the capacity to relate to and feel each one. But we each have a core fixation, a deep baked-in motivation system that ties us more closely to one of the types.

Unlike astrology or Meyer’s Briggs or other typology systems, the Enneagram is less about how you act, and more about why you act. Different types can have remarkably similar behaviors — but they come from deeply different motivations.

Once you understand the motivations that fuel you, you can gain self-awareness. You can feel like less of a hamster on the wheel of life. You can feel less driven by your fixations.

…But first you gotta figure out what type you are.

The easy way: Take an online test

My first experience with the Enneagram was in my mid-30s. I took a free online test to see which of the nine types I was, because that’s an easy thing to do. (Although if you have the $12, this test is way, WAY better.)

My test results were split, with it looking like I was maybe a type 7 (The Enthusiast) or a Type 3 (The Performer).

I read a little about each type, and decided that oh, yes: I was definitely a 7. Definitely. Energetic! Fun-loving! Full of plans! Enthusiastic! How delightful! Yes, that was totally me.

I was totally and completely wrong about my type, and here’s the easy giveaway: I wanted to be that type. Simply put, if you read about an Enneagram type and think it sounds desirable or like something you’d want, then you’re likely not that type.

The magic of the Enneagram system is that it reveals your core wounds, your hidden motivations, your most closely guarded secrets. Sure, there’s the front-facing compensatory behaviors that may seem desirable (like Type 7s: so much fun!), but those front-facing behaviors are a mask that each type wears to cover up its pain (and Type 7s are really, super afraid of pain).

If you take an online test and things are inconclusive, and then you read a type description and you think that one seems awesome… then you’re only seeing the compensatory behaviors. You’re not actually seeing (or feeling) the core wound that the type is compensating for. Those core wounds are never desirable, and if you’re actually that type, you’ll feel it in your gut.

Being a Type 7 seemed “fun” to me, because I was only seeing the compensatory behaviors. Enthusiasts are all about seeming fun, my Type 7 friends will tell you it’s just their way of avoiding the pain and suffering of life. Type 7s run themselves ragged keeping everything stimulating and busy and full of plans and good times because anything less than that feels intolerable. They run from fun to fun, desperately trying to avoid the reality of life’s tedium and disappointment.

In other words, there’s nothing actually “fun” about being a 7… Just like there’s nothing good about being a 1, or generous about being a 2, or valuable about being a 3, or special about being a 4, or smart about being a 5, or loyal about being a 6, or powerful about being an 8, or peaceful about being a 9. Those values are just the lies we tell each other, to protect our soft bits inside.

We all suffer for our egoic compensations.

Don’t be lured by the masks.

The harder way: See if you’re nauseous

A decade after I first decided I was probably a Type 7, at the encouragement of a teacher I was working with, I poked my nose back into the Enneagram… and immediately realized how wrong I was about my type.

I wasn’t a 7, but my mind told me I should be, because it sounded fun! But in reality, I’m a 3. My mind didn’t want to acknowledge it because it’s painful to recognize myself as an overachieving, validation-seeking, superficial workaholic. I know how exhausted I am, and having “fun” sounded way better. Looking at my own narcissism and how it’s fueled by my deep conviction that I’m worthless garbage doesn’t feel “fun”… it feels gross. It turns my stomach.

See, here’s how you know what Enneagram type you are: looking at it makes you feel vaguely nauseous.

Since your Enneatype is all about your ego’s favorite defense structures, it makes perfect sense that it would be profoundly uncomfortable for your ego to look at. Your ego does not like its tricks being witnessed, and so your mind will put up all sorts of resistance. Here are a few kinds of barriers your brain may toss up:

  • Confusion

  • Denial

  • Defensiveness

  • Blankness

  • Skepticism

When confronted with your type, your brain may make you feel squirmy or repulsed. It might make you feel like you’ve been exposed and laid bare (I don’t want anyone to know I feel that way!). Your brain might put up a blank wall (“Huh, I just don’t know and there is no way to know, so maybe I should just have a snack.” Type 9s, I see you!) You might become deeply doubtful of the whole system and convinced that it just doesn’t apply to you (hi, Type 6 friends!).

When I first tested as a Type 3, my mind told me it couldn’t be possible because I bailed on theater in college and had opted out of corporate work, so I was neither a performer nor a ladder-climber. I couldn’t be a 3 because my behavior didn’t match.

But I was forgetting that the Enneagram isn’t about behavior: it’s about motivations.

“Type 3s aren’t just about corporate ladders though,” my teacher told me. “The fixation is on ladder-climbing and validation-seeking — Type 3s sometimes don’t even care about the specifics of the ladder. They’re chameleons who can climb any ladder you throw at them. Motivated by their own worthlessness, they just want to be the best at whatever they’ve chosen.”

Oh, I thought, my stomach churning.

Right.

“I understand why you mistyped as a 7,” my teacher went on. “But enthusiasm was just the ladder you were climbing at the time.”

My mind telling me that being a 7 sounded fun truly was a trick, because even the way I think about fun is revealing: I will be the best at fun. I will systematically make a fun plan, check every single box as quickly as possible, and then win at having fun. Everyone will be impressed by how much fun I have had! I will get my fun trophy and kick everyone else’s ass at fun-having!! I WILL BE THE MOST AT FUN!!!!

Sigh. It’s fucking exhausting and nauseating being this way.

None of the nine Enneagram types are any better than the other — it’s not hierarchical. Each type has its strengths (the compensatory magic we each bring to the table, to distract you from our core insecurities), and each type has its failings.

If you’re trying to figure out what type you are, and the online tests aren’t giving you a clear answer, look closely at the type that most turns your stomach.

Because it’s probably too close for comfort. It’s probably the place you most need to examine and gain compassion for.

See, when you combine the Enneagram with mindfulness practices, you create a powerful combo-pack for self-awareness. By gaining awareness of your ego’s games, you can start to understand that what you’ve seen as “you” is actually just a series of defense mechanisms your ego uses to protect your core wound.

And when then you can actually be with that core wound without getting nauseated, you stop feeling the need to expend quite as much energy on compensating for it, defending it, and being motivated by it.

When you start to understand that what you thought was “you” isn’t you at all, that starts to loosen the ego’s hold on your behavior. I guess what I’m saying is that the Enneagram has helped to loosen the grip that my ego has on my soul.

When you can see the prison walls of your ego more clearly, your start to understand that there may be other ways of being.

The Enneagram is one way to actually see the shape of your ego’s prison walls, so that you can start dismantling them.


Housekeeping at the end:

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