Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that personality tests resonate with a lot of people.
Look up the words “personality test” and one of the first suggestions Google gives you is related to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI for short. Developed by mother-daughter duo Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, the test was initially made to help people find their dream job. Fast forward to today and the MBTI has become a pop psychology test for people looking for an alternative to astrology.
But there’s a new personality typing system that’s gaining momentum on the internet this year. If you’re regularly on Instagram, you might have heard of it already: the nine types of the Enneagram.
What’s the Enneagram Theory of Personality?
No, that’s not a riff on a pentagram.
The Enneagram is a system for understanding personality through the lens of your core fears. Unlike MBTI and DISC which ask you about your behaviors and preferences, the only question you need to answer to find your Enneagram type is: “What am I afraid of the most?”
This is because the Enneagram treats personality not as a fixed aspect of who we are but as a pathology. To the Enneagram, personality is just a massive defense mechanism that our minds construct to protect us from psychological distress or real threats in the world around us. It’s admittedly a little Freudian, but unlike Freud, the Enneagram doesn’t treat our past as something that will always affect us but as something to grow out of.
So while the MBTI might tell your introversion and preference for intellectual pursuits are INTP or INTJ superpowers, the Enneagram says that you’re a Type 5 and that you intellectualize and hoard knowledge in an attempt to protect yourself from the real world which you see as threatening.
Despite how negative the Enneagram inherently is about people, it’s this negativity that makes it so attractive. The fear and flaw-focused approach of the Enneagram forces people to develop other aspects of their personality and abilities that would have otherwise gone neglected if all the Enneagram said was “It’s okay! Your unhealthy behaviors are just natural personality quirks of your type.”
If breaking out of your typical tendencies sounds good to you, let’s dive in and find your type.
The Nine Types of the Enneagram
It’s common advice among Enneagram circles that the types you consciously (or unconsciously) distance yourself from are likely to be your real Enneagram type. Since the Enneagram is designed to point out our flaws, the natural impulse is to try and “disown” our real type to maintain our self-image.
As you read about the types, try to see which ones you find yourself immediately repulsed by. There’s a chance that those types are your Enneagram type.
1. Type One: The Perfectionist
Each type has a basic fear and a basic desire. The basic fear that drives the behavior and motivations of Type One is the fear of being corrupt or “evil”. Type Ones have high standards for everything, especially morality.
Though this type often doesn’t look like it, Ones are actually idealists at heart and believe in the importance of being good and just. They’re constant improvers who tend to be critical of themselves and the world around them because their basic desire is for things to be good and balanced. With Type One, you see a person who’s extremely principled and, sometimes, a little self-righteous.
This Enneagram type tends to suppress their anger because anger is a “bad” emotion and being “bad” makes Type Ones feel guilty.
2. Type Two: The Giver
In contrast to the more severe Type One, Type Twos are very sweet and cuddly. This is because Type Twos fear being unwanted and unworthy of being loved. Naturally, their basic desire is to be loved. I know what you’re thinking: Who doesn’t? While we all want to be loved, the thought of being inherently unlovable is a Type Two’s primal fear and it drives the core pathology of their personality.
Twos build their personality around being seen as helpful because it helps them win the love and acceptance of others. For less healthy Twos, people are vending machines for love. You put in enough good deeds, even if they weren’t really helpful or wanted, and a person should love you back. When a Two’s high emotional demands aren’t met, they can often explode in anger and guilt-trip the ones they love.
3. Type Three: The Achiever
If a job post is looking for highly driven and ambitious individuals, more often than not, they’re describing Type Threes.
No cap, Type Three is the LinkedIn of personality types. The Three’s basic fear is being worthless and their basic desire is to feel valuable and worthwhile. The way Type Threes go about proving their worth to themselves is by being traditionally successful because if they’re crushing it at work and people look up to them, then surely they’re valuable people?
Threes thrive on the affirmation they derive from accomplishment but their constant need to do more is used as a substitute for being more. After a while, a Type Three might find that their dream job hasn’t exactly made them happy in a deeper, emotionally enriching way.
4. Type Four: The Individualist
Type Fours are touted as the artists of the Enneagram and for good reason. This type often has strong aesthetic sensibilities and is finely attuned to how they feel. Or, if you want to be as ungenerous about it as the Enneagram, moody.
The Four’s basic fear is that they have no identity or personal significance. The other side of this, the type’s basic desire, is to find themselves and create an identity. Like Type Threes, Fours do their best to set themselves apart but the goal isn’t to be successful, it’s to be unique.
Uniqueness for Type Four assures them that they’re worth something because they’re “one of a kind.” But this constant identification with being different can cause Type Fours to feel isolated from others; that is, too different.
5. Type Five: The Investigator
Similar to Fours, Type Fives have a reputation for being well informed. Many of them become intelligent because of the type’s natural tendencies towards hoarding information, but no single type holds a monopoly over intelligence.
Type Five’s basic fear is being useless, helpless, or incapable, meaning their basic desire is to be capable and competent. It’s said that “forewarned is forearmed” and Five takes this principle seriously.
By gathering knowledge, they equip themselves with the tools to solve problems that might come up in their day-to-day lives. But Five’s constant need to be ready before taking action can result in missed opportunities and wasted potential.
When Type Fives spend too much time in their heads, they become emotionally neglectful of others and their deep well of knowledge never does any real good to them or to the ones they care about.
6. Type Six: The Skeptic
The sixth type in the Enneagram fears being without support and guidance. What they want the most is to feel secure and Type Six typically does this by finding a group to identify with. Large social networks filled with people who can provide both emotional and practical support are their main defense against their basic fear.
Though many Enneagram sources describe Sixes as fearful and anxious, the way they cope with these feelings can also make them incredibly brave as Sixes are willing to stick with their pack through tough times.
But since this is the Enneagram, there’s always something bad to be said about a type. Unhealthy Type Sixes are volatile and paranoid, blaming others, especially those outside of the group they identify with, for all their problems. You can read between the lines on that one for yourself.
7. Type Seven: The Enthusiast
Common surface traits for Type Seven are their optimism, extroverted nature, and love of fun and excitement. But these traits stem from Seven’s basic fear of being deprived and in pain. Add their basic desire to be satisfied and content into the mix and you get a type that’s constantly hopping from one pleasurable experience to the next.
Type Sevens can often feel that the grass is always greener on the other side. This reflects a personality type that struggles to commit to a goal when the process becomes uncomfortable because Type Seven does everything in their power to avoid pain.
That said, the openness of Sevens to new experiences and ideas can lead to them being very accomplished people in a “jack of all trades” kind of way.
8. Type Eight: The Challenger
Now that we’ve reached Type Eight, it’s my turn to get read for filth.
Eights’ basic fear is being harmed or controlled either by others, by societal systems, or natural limitations. The basic desire of the type is to protect themselves by being in control of their own life.
It’s an inherently me vs. all of you personality type that does everything in their power to stay in control of their lives. This is why many Enneagram sources will describe Eights as having a high capacity to be cruel and ruthless. Taken to the extreme, it’s too easy for us to only think about what we want, when we want it, the way we want it.
Though ultimately vulnerable at the core, Eights’ exterior is one of emotional callousness where the only publicly displayed emotion is anger. Like Type Threes, Eights may push themselves to work insane hours, but instead of status, the motivation stems from wanting to have more money because more money means the Eight is less likely to feel disempowered by poverty.
9. Type Nine: The Peacemaker
With a name like “The Peacemaker”, it’s no surprise that Type Nines are quite easy to get along with. But like Type Two, this is another Enneagram personality that can be deceptively pleasant.
The basic fear of the Nine is loss and separation which they avoid by pursuing their basic desire to have inner stability and peace of mind. Not a bad aspiration on the surface. But of course, this is the Enneagram.
Type Nines respond to pain and discomfort by mentally tuning out anything that doesn’t fit their ideal of peace. When unhealthy, Nines remove themselves from who they are to accommodate what other people want, not out of a real desire for peace, but simply to avoid conflict.
Riso-Hudson describes Nine as “emotionally indolent”. It’s the phrase “sweeping under the rug” made manifest, leading to Nines often letting themselves be complicit, enabling, and even abusive of others so they don’t have to act in any way that could cause them personal harm.
So You Think the Enneagram Is Too Mean
That’s a fair take. By all means, pick a more flattering personality test that works for you if it’s not your style.
But the Enneagram’s “cruelty” in forcing us to stare down our most negative aspects is arguably what makes it a powerful tool for self-reflection. Knowing our worst impulses and motivations helps us monitor the ways in which we hurt ourselves and other people.
There’s still debate on whether the Enneagram is scientifically accurate. However, accuracy doesn’t equate to efficacy in the therapy room or in our efforts to improve ourselves.
If you’d like to know more about the Enneagram and its sub-theories (surprise: the 9 types are further divided into two subtypes each), you can check out Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery.