It seems the whole world is obsessed with personality typing. We are addicted to categorizing ourselves and calling it awareness. If we somehow have an idea of what our types are, perhaps we can…what? Solve the mysteries of the universe? Realize why I dislike pepper on my food and you want to pile it on?
If you’re like me, you’re asking: “Can’t we all just be ourselves and live our lives?”
Only we can’t.
In cultures and societies where people know who they are based on the roles they play within those societies (for better or worse), identity is often formed naturally through those roles. With the sharp and fast rise of individualism in the West, we have come to know ourselves as individuals a little better, but we have lost much of our capacity to relate to others different from ourselves on a relational level. Hence the rise of the personality test along with our relational and self-awareness deficiency/crisis.
Some tests are useful and helpful and have been backed by mountains of credible research, and others are nothing more than parlour tricks done to pass the time at parties. Perhaps these overlap somewhat, but I highly doubt a party would gravitate to a Myers-Briggs test at a social function over a zodiac sign reading.
Enter The Enneagram: it’s a test that focuses not on strengths alone, but rather on weaknesses and fears. That alone made it a little more credible than other tests seeking only to affirm, affirm, affirm without giving any other perspective. Another aspect that made this test a little more credible for me was that the questions were often asked in a triad rather than a binary (“Yes”, “Partially” (or “Sometimes”), and “No”).
I chafed at the Myers-Briggs binary (“Yes” or “No). I chafe at most binaries. It’s not realistic nor is it truthful. Most binaries create poles where poles need not exist. I digress… (I’m an INFJ, in case you’re interested, but almost balanced as an INFP).
Some websites claim the test has ancient origins with Christianity and Sufism. While this claim attracts us mystic-types, it’s been anathema to people who think the test is a horoscope (thus making it evil or associated with the devil or divination). In reality, there are multiple sources of archeological evidence to suggest that the Enneagram could have possibly existed in various stages of history from ancient Greece to Asia.
The test itself is framed using nine points, each point representing a generalized type or style found within most cultures of humanity. Each point describes its most basic fears and weaknesses, as well as some strengths for the purposes of self-awareness, ways of navigating fears, paths to growth, and best communication patterns. This is the aspect I appreciate most of all because my way of communicating will be vastly different than yours if you discover that you’re a different type. Yet if we are able to understand what’s driving our paths of communication, we can grow together — however that looks — in healthier ways.
Furthermore, unlike many personality tests, the Enneagram is designed to be fluid. It assumes that we will grow. We will change. We will not be the type or style that we are right now. Whether we choose to grow and change (moving towards health and relationship), or we refuse (pushing us down into states of unhealthy and distress), we will be different people throughout our lives.
At first I treated the Enneagram as an experiment (which might tell you already where I eventually landed). Being suspicious of it as just another fad, I took an online test (scoring as a 2), I took a test out of a book (scoring a 6), and I took an extended test from a resource institute (scoring a 9). While I certainly possessed attributes of each type, I did not resonate at all with any of them. My confirmation bias kicked in and I concluded that the Enneagram was a fraud. I could manipulate the questions any which way I wanted to and come up with any given answer.
Yet the point of the Enneagram was not to type-cast me, but to encourage me to be honest with myself so I could grow and interact with others in healthier ways. What really was the point of debunking it just because I dislike these kinds of tests overall?
I took the test again through an online institute and then, for a control measure, took it using Stabile and Cron’s work in A Road Back to You. Both times I scored as a 5wing4 (I’ll get back to that in a minute).
The reason I felt Stabile and Cron’s Enneagram work was credible was because: a) they both insist that our personality types are not the entirety of who we are. These tests can be useful in our growth and relationships, but we are not our types! How often have you felt pressured to act as your type after being administered a test?; b) they insist that we refrain from typing one another. Once we become familiar with the 9 different types, we have a tendency to start evaluating other people. This only takes the power of someone else’s narrative away from them. I found this to be both profound and freeing (I’ve been classified by other people too many times as much as I’ve found myself typing others); c) while their work has revealed that certain types will naturally gravitate to one another, because we are more than our personality types, love and respect and relationship can grow between anyone, anywhere; and d) Stabile and Cron’s work readily embraces how people relate to God and the spiritual world differently.
So often in faith traditions, we have ONE WAY we can all relate to God (and that way is considered holy, and all others ways not holy). By understanding how different personalities interact with God, we can finely tune our language and gifts with one another so that we all are affirmed in how we interact with God, and learn from one another in this.
Now: what’s a 5wing4?
5: The Investigator
My biggest fear is that I’m useless, incapable or helpless. I then to retreat into my own private world where I tend to observe the world from a safe place. Creating safe space is key for me and without it, life goes downhill quickly.
While considered a cerebral (or mental) type on the Enneagram, fives are still emotional and long to share deep emotional bonds with very few people. Our wells are deep but they are narrow. Once our reservoirs are empty, they are EMPTY. Until that well is reasonably full again, we disintegrate. We implode.
We are often shy, we dislike asking for help (and when we genuinely need help AND ask for it, it often comes out in tones that sound either too mousy or too harsh), we are comfortable inside of ourselves and become extremely frustrated when people demand too much affection from us.
Sure we can be super-affectionate towards that teeny-tiny inner group in our worlds, but even then only to a point. Even at family functions, it takes me times to warm to the people I know and love. I hate saying ‘Good morning’ to anyone, I detest small talk, and I can been uncompromising and severe when it comes to my beliefs.
We tend to be innovators, inventors, researchers, and explorers. While many fives have a six-wing and are branded as scientific or academic, some fives (such as myself) have a four-wing.
(What’s a “wing”, you ask? A wing is a type that scores exceptionally close to your dominant type to the point that it undeniably shapes your personality without being the dominant type. If you have a wing, it will be the type above or below your dominant number. For example, I can be a 5wing4, but I cannot be a 5wing9. Not all people have wings, nor is it necessary that everyone possess them).
4: The Individualist/The Artist
My biggest fear here is that I have absolutely no personal significance in the world whatsoever. Larger than that, I may have significance but it will come at the expense of my authenticity. If I can’t be authentic — true, integral, honest — or cope with people demanding that I not be authentic, I will retreat into myself and my imagination. This type, by far, has the largest propensity towards isolation and depression.
Yet, even with this propensity towards depression, we 4s find a beauty in sadness. There’s an incredible spectrum of humanity here in these places that few others would even consider valid or wanted. We create, we chafe against authority quite often, and we emote.
We also tend to believe we are missing something. When we walk into social functions, we perceive that everyone else is having a good time because they are able to function within that context. 4s often can’t function or can’t function fast enough to enjoy the context, so the problem obviously lies within (right?). We feel out of place in the world, left half-done so to speak, and often look for ways to keep up with the conventions and norms other people seem to have.
We are artists, creators, romantics, and poets. We are placed as one of the emotional types on the Enneagram, needing people to understand us through our feelings rather than our thoughts.
What Does This Mean?
I haven’t a clue. Yet.
I know that this “5wing4” has resonated with me the most strongly since starting my Enneagram experiment. I know that I retreat quickly and easily from people when I’m overwhelmed, and seek God in those quiet places internally and externally (nature, quiet spots). I love being on my own — I need it! — but since I also find it so difficult to relate to other people in ways meaningful to me, I also battle loneliness in ways I can’t seem to overcome.
I know that I struggle with depression and anxiety in ways that affect my daily quality of life. I know that I can suck the life out of one person I feel attracted to as a friend or lover, but freeze out the rest of the world. I love to investigate and explore. I hate small talk at church, but toss me my passport and I’m off to a foreign country by myself to wander the streets of ancient cities or hills or forests or jungles.
What I am coming to learn is that I hate the “head/heart” binary. That is: “Erin, are you more of a thinker or a feeler?” Those binaries again! They simply don’t exist!
I’m both and neither, thank you very much.
So to be almost balanced between such a cerebral/feeling classification explains quite a bit because it’s true for me: there is no difference between the head and the heart.
Just because I evaluate a body of research, doesn’t mean I have no feelings about it in that moment. Just because I lash out in anger at someone doesn’t mean my thoughts are somehow shut off. My entire person works as one being, imbued with divine breath from God. I am not chunked off or somehow less awake in one part than another.
I’m told Thomas Merton, the famous contemplative monk, was a 5wing4.
Things turned out pretty well for him, I’d say.
So I’m on this weird journey. It’s exceptionally uncomfortable being confronted with my greatest weakness, but it’s heartening to be given some tangible, realistic steps to take towards growth (within myself, with others, and with God).
What about you? What have your experiences been with the Enneagram?