There are so many personality tests and assessments. And I’m a fan. The Myers-Briggs (any other INTJ’s here?), the Four Tendencies (100% Upholder), & the Enneagram (1w9 — more on that later). I’m all about it.
I think you can get so much insight from personality psychology. Personally, a lot of growth has come from studying these approaches to personality and the different ways I can look at and describe myself.
You’ve probably heard of Myers-Briggs but maybe not the enneagram. I’m gonna break this down for you because the enneagram has a lot of moving parts and can seem a little complicated at first. But if you can get through the weeds, there’s a ton of enlightening information you can walk away with.
The enneagram breaks people down into 9 personalities. Each type is assigned a number and placed on a circle where the order is based on the relationship with the other types. It looks like this:
The 9 Types
According to the Enneagram Institute, these are the 9 types:
Type 1 “The Reformer”: principled, purposeful, self-controlled, & perfectionistic
Type 2 “The Helper”: generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, & possessive
Type 3 “The Achiever”: adaptable, excelling, driven, & image-conscious
Type 4 “The Individualist”: expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, & temperamental
Type 5 “The Investigator”: perceptive, innovative, secretive, & isolated
Type 6 “The Loyalist”: engaging, responsible, anxious, & suspicious
Type 7 “The Enthusiast”: spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, & scattered
Type 8 “The Challenger”: self-confident, decisive, willful, & confrontational
Type 9 “The Peacemaker”: receptive, reassuring, complacent, & resigned
The 3 Centers
The circle of 9 types is divided into 3 “centers” based on the gut (instinctive center), heart (feeling center), & mind (thinking center).
Types 8, 9, and 1 are gut people. Types 2, 3, and 4 are heart people. And types 5, 6, and 7 are mind people. Your center determines where your fears and strengths lie. Each center has a different primary emotional response to life. For the instinctive center, it’s anger. The feeling center is shame. And the thinking center is fear. That’s not to say that just because you have a type and a center doesn’t mean you won’t feel any other emotions. But generally, your center-related emotion is the one that is most deeply connected to your core and affects your personality.
You might be thinking to yourself, “but what if I can relate to more than one type?” Most people do. In fact, the type to the immediate right or left of your primary type that you relate to more is called your “wing”. At the beginning of this post, I describe myself as a “1w9”. That means I am a type 1 with a 9-wing, or a 1-wing-9. Type 1 is my dominant personality type, but I also have influences from a type 9 personality.
The 9 Levels
Within each type, there are healthy, average, and unhealthy people. The degree to which you exhibit healthy or unhealthy traits of your personality is broken down into 9 levels, where levels 1-3 are the most healthy and levels 7-9 are most unhealthy.
Level 1: Liberation
Level 2: Psychological Capacity
Level 3: Social Value
Level 4: Imbalance/Social Role
Level 5: Interpersonal Control
Level 6: Overcompensation
Level 7: Violation
Level 8: Obsession & Compulsion
Level 9: Pathological Destructiveness
Each level is characterized by a psychological shift where a person is more likely to do destructive or constructive things to meet his or her needs. For example, a level 5 will manipulate people to get what they want. If they are unsuccessful, they may deteriorate to a level 6 and become more aggressive and egotistical. On the other hand, a healthy person can access the most positive traits of his or her personality. As you level up and become less attached to the ego, you can become more free and less impulsive.
You can move up and down the levels of health within your personality type. But as you become more or less healthy, you also drive toward a different type. It sounds a little confusing, but bear with me.
Each type has a “direction of integration” or growth and a “direction of disintegration” or stress. Where you lie on the circle, determines your direction of growth or stress. For example, as a Type 1, my direction of growth is Type 7 and my direction of stress is Type 4. That’s not to say a Type 7 is better and a Type 4 is worse. But for me as a Type 1, my personality as its best exhibits the traits of a 7 and at its worst, those of a 4.
The order of disintegration goes like this: 1 –> 4 –> 2 –> 8 –> 5 –> 7 –> 1 & 9 –> 6 –> 3 –> 9.
The order of integration goes like the: 1 –> 7 –> 5 –> 8 –> 2 –> 4 –> 1 & 9 –> 3 –> 6 –> 9.
If you look at the way the types are connected in the circle, the lines connect your type to your directions of growth and stress:
I’ll use myself as an example to better illustrate this. I am a Type 1. That means that I’m all about rules, organization, and perfectionism. My type desires balance and improvement. If my health deteriorates, my methodical nature becomes moody and irrational like a 4. On the other hand, as I become more healthy instead of being angry and critical, I become more spontaneous and joyful like a healthy 7 .
The 3 Instincts
The last part of your enneagram is your instincts. The enneagram identifies 3 instincts that each person has, but depending on you personally will be ordered in different priority. What I mean by that is just because you’re a, say, Type 8 doesn’t mean that your instincts will be in the same order as another Type 8. Your instinct order is personalized, but your Type will influence how you interact with your instincts.
The 3 instincts are self-preservation (SP), sexual (SX), and social (SO). Everyone has all 3 instincts, but one of them will be dominant. These instincts are interwoven with your personality type: your instincts influence your personality & your personality determines how you prioritize your instincts.
The SP instinct is a focus on physical safety, health, and comfort. If you have a dominant SP instinct (like me!), your focus will be on making sure you have and maintain enough resources to do life. You probably are also making sure your loved ones also have enough resources, too. SP-dominant types tend to put energy into clothing, decorating, and shopping since we don’t have to worry about life-or-death tiger attacks. This stuff can get deep. For example, childhood feelings of deficiency can contribute to prioritizing this instinct. This instinct tends to be “more grounded, practical, serious, and introverted” than the others . Someone with a dominant SP instinct is also more likely to seek out a stable partner.
Sexual or Attraction
This instinct isn’t all about sex. It’s really more about chemistry and having a drive for stimulation from other people, romantic or not. If this is your dominant instinct, you are highly aware of the level of attraction between you and other people. This type is the most energized of the 3 and looks for that energy in relationships. SX-dominant also indicates a “more aggressive, competitive, charged, and emotionally intense” personality . For me, this is my least dominant instinct which makes sense because I’m introverted and, as a Type 1, more generally focused on security.
If you’re SO-dominant, you’re good at adapting to social situations. This doesn’t mean that you’re always partying and with lots of people. It’s more about being able to make yourself comfortable in social situations and to change your environment. This instinct makes you aware of other people and how you affect them. SO types tend to care about their community and are “warmer, more open, engaging, and socially responsible” than the others . If you’re SO-dominant, you probably want a partner that will go out and do social things or projects with you. This instinct will make you feel limited if you have too much solitude.
What’s your enneagram?
Curious about your enneagram type? Take the quiz to find out which type you are and how you prioritize your instincts.
If you want to dig deeper, the Enneagram Institute (where I borrowed the pretty pictures from) has full, detailed descriptions about each type and the compatibility (read: strengths and weaknesses) between each type.