Breaking Down the Enneagram: A Guide for Total Beginners21 July 2019 / By Lily Yuan Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on July 21, 2019
The Enneagram, a funky, 9-pointed geometric structure, has been all the talk in personality testing and career coaching over the past decade. The nine distinct points are conjoined with the deeper facets of the psyche (i.e., the unconscious) to pinpoint core motivations, fixations, virtues, fears, desires, and temptations. If that sounds a bit woolly, then we’re here to add some clarity to the process for you.
Breaking Down the Enneagram for Beginners
We’re excited to announce our take on the Enneagram! It takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and gives a pie-chart breakdown of your preference for each of the nine Enneatypes. Take our free Enneagram test now!
Your results are in. What do they mean?
A visual example of the results:
The largest chunk of your results should indicate the Enneatype that best describes you, ranging from numbers 1 – 9. In the above example, our test taker is Enneagram type 6.
The nine types are divided into three triads that split the system into three areas:
Gut (Instincts): Types 8, 9, 1
Heart (Feeling): Types 2, 3, 4
Head (Thinking): Types 5, 6, 7
Each member of the triad has a main, hyper-focused feeling when under stress:
Gut (Types 8, 9, 1): Rage
Heart (Types 2, 3, 4): Shame
Head (Types 5, 6, 7): Fear
Wings: When Types are Merged
Each point on the Enneagram is neighbored by wings, or two adjacent Enneatypes (numerical values: one up and one down), which can influence the characteristics of the original Enneatype. It’s also possible to type without a particular wing, which means you’re very characteristic of your Enneatype.
The resulting subtype is then vocally referred to as “(Type) ‘Wing’ (Type)”. So, a 2 has either a 1 wing or a 3 wing. Do the math: this translates into 18 total variations in addition to the 9 original Enneatypes.
The main type will ‘borrow’ traits from the neighboring wing and result in a blend of the two. For example, a 2W1 (“Two Wing One”) is a Helper (Type 2) with Reformist (Type 1) tendencies. This particular individual is likely passionate for a cause, and extremely organized.
(If you’re extra curious, there are 6 sets of instinctual variants to consider on top of the 27 subtypes, which results in 162 combinations, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.)
It may help to take the test a few more times afterwards to check for consistency. Remember: Choose the answer that comes to mind at first glance—your answers should be intuitive to give the most accurate results.
The official Enneagram principles state:
One’s personality does not change from one type to another.
The description of each type is universal, and can be applied to all genders.
The description of each type cannot be applied to a person forever, as human nature fluctuates between healthy and unhealthy levels.
Numbers are used to represent each type; they are considered neutral.
The order (1–9) does not represent the goodness or badness of types.
No single type is better or worse than another; each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Nine Roles: A Brief Summary
Here are the 9 Enneatype roles, with a quick overview of each.
Type 1 (The Perfectionist)
Serious and practical, the Perfectionist has a rigid set of morals which translates into their lifestyle and decisions. They’re on a quiet mission to improve the world by using their knowledge and intrinsic drive.
- Focus Areas: Organizing, Adhering, Systemizing
- Basic Goal: To be a good and just citizen of society; to contribute back with high standards.
- Basic Fear: To be morally incorrect or corrupt; to break principles and promises.
Type 2 (The Helper)
With a natural affinity for emotional intelligence, the Helper builds and strengthens connections. As natural givers, they’re generous with their time and energy with a glowing hope to bring out the best in others.
- Focus Areas: Giving, Connecting, Sharing
- Basic Goal: To care and give freely to others; to have love be reciprocated.
- Basic Fear: To be unwanted or unneeded and have no one to care for.
Type 3 (The Achiever)
Accomplished and driven, the Achiever takes on new challenges to add to their ever-expanding wall of personal achievements. They’re adaptable, charismatic and willing to go the extra mile to transform their dreams into reality.
- Focus Areas: Status, Appearing, Performing
- Basic Goal: To be increasingly successful, accomplished and valuable.
- Basic Fear: To lose a reputation and become insignificant in the eyes of others.
Type 4 (The Individualist)
Creating unique works of personal expression, the Individualist focuses on presenting their unfiltered, authentic self to the world, ultimately trying to unleash their true identity within. Their overarching goal is to aim for a deep sense of purpose through all aspects of their lives.
- Focus Areas: Self-identifying, Creating, Conceptualizing
- Basic Goal: To curate a distinct image and stand out as a truly unique individual.
- Basic Fear: To be unoriginal and unappreciated, lacking a definitive self-identity.
Type 5 (The Investigator)
As life’s philosophers, the Investigator seeks out patterns and connections between the grand mysteries of the essence of life itself. They’re sponges for knowledge and trek intellectually through new, untouched roads with an open mind.
- Focus Areas: Reclusing, Analyzing, Processing
- Basic Goal: To become increasingly knowledgeable, wise and informed about the complexities of life.
- Basic Fear: To be incompetent and useless; to be helpless to take on new challenges.
Type 6 (The Loyalist)
Skeptical and detail-oriented, the Loyalist seeks security and devotion through all walks of their life. They’re sticklers for maintaining trust and make excellent troubleshooters who can sweat the details.
- Focus Areas: Preparing, Committing, Saving
- Basic Goal: To feel safe, accepted, and supported.
- Basic Fear: To be in a state of panic; to feel unstable and the lack of guidance.
Type 7 (The Enthusiast)
Wide-eyed and full of energy, every step of life’s journey is an adventure to the Enthusiast. Optimistic and boundlessly curious, they enjoy seeking out new experiences and living life to the fullest through each moment.
- Focus Areas: Exploring, Experiencing, Energizing
- Basic Goal: To live an exciting and fulfilling life filled with joy and opportunity.
- Basic Fear: To become trapped in menial drudgery and succumb to boredom.
Type 8 (The Challenger)
Goals, strategies, and continuous improvement are the Challenger’s core three pillars. Headstrong and brave, they make strides in whatever they anchor their mind to. Their desire for autonomy and power pushes them to become thought leaders in their areas of expertise.
- Focus Areas: Leading, Trailblazing, Strategizing
- Basic Goal: To control life as a strong, driven, and intrinsically motivated individual.
- Basic Fear: To be controlled and become weak from a lack of freedom and power.
Type 9 (The Peacemaker)
Accepting and tolerant of others, the Peacemaker goes to great lengths to ensure harmony among a group. They’re masters of language and gently encourage others to express their views openly, with patience and empathy.
- Focus Areas: Harmonizing, Calming, Encouraging
- Basic Goal: To feel wholeness and peace with the external and internal environment.
- Basic Fear: To be struck by a perpetual sense of conflict and disconnect with others.
One of the major characteristics of the Enneagram is the breakdown of healthy, normal, and unhealthy levels. Under stress, a specific type may resemble another—so it’s important to look into integration (growth) ↔ disintegration (stress) arrows. More on that below.
The Lowdown on Growth-Stress Arrows
Each Enneagram type points to another type in growth (integration) and in stress (disintegration). We call these points Enneagram arrows. When an Enneatype is working at optimal levels (good work-life balance, a strong sense of purpose, support system, physical health), the growth arrow activates. You’ll experience traits of a different type, which boosts your self-development.
For example, when a Type 2 (Helper) thrives, they’ll borrow some traits from the creative Type 4 (Individualist). This allows them to become comfortable with themselves, understanding how to attend to others’ needs while maintaining their identity.
However, when stress hits, then anxiety, depression and even psychosomatic symptoms (e.g., aches, pains, or disturbed sleep patterns) can emerge out of the cold. This process is known as disintegration, which triggers the stress arrow.
When a Type 2 disintegrates, they’d seem more like a controlling Type 8 (Challenger), trying to force control upon their relationships to no avail, being excessively rigid and uptight about getting exactly what they want—the stark opposite of how they’d function normally.
Aside from exploring career fit and resources, the applications of the Enneagram stretch far and wide. From improving communication in teams to inspiring leadership, it’s a comprehensive and fantastic tool for guidance through each stage of the growth process.
With the promise of further in-depth research and development, the Enneagram has great potential in making large strides in the career sphere. It’s also gaining support in areas such as psychotherapy, business and healthcare.
What are your results? How do you find the Enneagram useful, and did you learn something new? We’d love to hear it in the comments below!
I think Enneagram tests are more difficult to get a correct result from than some of the other ones. For example, I score the same on Myers-Briggs every single time and pretty much have since I was a kid (my family had me take it when I was as young as 9 or 10). But with the Enneagram, I score differently almost every time, and I think it's because it's so much easier to answer questions about behavior and personality than inward motivations...especially since the Enneagram does deal so much with the subconscious, and answers depend so much on how healthy/integrated or unhealthy/disintegrated you are.
Right now I believe I'm a 2 (ENFJ on Myers-Briggs, so it makes sense), but it took me forever to settle on that. I thought I was a 4 for the longest time and often tested as a 3 (the description of which didn't make sense for me at all). Outwardly, friends thought I was a 7 (I read that description and wished it was me -- who doesn't want to be "the fun one??"-- but had to acknowledge that unfortunately it was not, haha).
What I do see though is that in each test, yours included, the same types come out near the top for me, almost tied in fact (in this case 9, followed VERY closely by a tie of 2 & 1, then 3, followed by a tie between 4 & 7).
The thing is, if I'm honest with myself, I'm way too prideful to be a 9, though I definitely identify with the 9's pain of being "overlooked"...and shame is definitely at the root, rather than rage...hence why I think 2 is a better description. But even the 2 I struggle with a bit...and I think it's because in most of my life I haven't found myself in a traditional "helping" role (for example, I'm not a mom, I've never had to take care of someone on their deathbed, I like babies but would rather be part of the prayer team or lead a small group than serve in the nursery at church, etc.).
So, in summary, right now I think I'm a 2 with either a 1 or 3 wing (is it possible to have both strong 1 and 3 wings?), and it's understandable that as a 2 I would answer many questions in a way that would make me type as a 9 because that's usually how I show up externally in most situations.
The Enneagram is truly fascinating!
Carol A. Weaver (not verified) says...
I can relate to you wanting to lead a prayer team or small group over taking care of a baby. The Self-Preservation Two is more into caretaking. I am a Social/Sexual Type Two. So, I would rather lead a prayer team too. It is about your basic fear. The basic fear for Type Two is "fear of being unwanted and unloved." If you are on the healthy side of your Type Two, you are going to manifest characteristics of a Healthy Four and even a Healthy Eight for that matter (although I find I go to a Healthy Eight after going to the inner self-nurturing side of a Healthy Four). I used to tie on Type 9 and Type 2, but while I don't like conflict, I am willing to risk the discomfort to get to a harmonious connection. My Spiritual Director was the one who broke the tie after 6 years. :) She said, "You wear your heart on your sleeve and don't have repressed anger" (Type 9s don't even realize they have anger sometimes but they do.).
Lillian Golden (not verified) says...
Hi there! I fully agree that the enneagram is such a fascinating way to truly understand yourself and your personality.
From my understanding, Myers-Briggs is a very surface level test, meaning almost every person will recieve the same score every time they take the test because of how surface level it is. The Enneagram however, dives much deeper and into the root of a persons personality. Myers-Briggs is great to know, but I think that the Enneagram is much more helpful in your relationships and for you in the long-run. MBTI explains what you do and how you act, but the Enneagram goes into further detail into WHY you do what you do and WHY you act the way you act.
I also agree that when you take the test, your results can vary, especially if you take the test on different sites. However, rather than the test, I would recommend reading the book "The Road Back To You" by Ian Morgan Cron. This book is an incredible basic level enneagram book and really helped me find my type without getting me confused with the test results. The test is actually known to be wrong more than right, and after people really get into reading the book and learning more about the types before deciding theirs, they realize that they are a completely different number than the test told them. I took the test three times before reading the book - the test told me I was a 3, a 2, and a 6, and I read the book and knew almost right away I was a 9. Just goes to show how the test is almost never correct and it's up to you to decide your number ultimately.
It's possible to be very strong in both of your wings, however not at the same time. You always either access one wing or another but never both at the same time. For example, I am a 9 on the Enneagram with a very strong 1 wing. However, I have gotten fairly good at realizing when I am accessing that 8 wing. It might be difficult to identify your stronger wing because you access both so frequently, whereas many people access one more than they other.
One of the most common mistypings are 9's and 2's. For the longest time, I have wrestled with trying to figure out if I am a 9 or a 2, and while there are several ways to tell the two numbers apart, it can be really difficult! They both have similar motivations but for different reasons - they are both driven to help others and to do things for others, however the 9's desire to help others comes from the want to keep peace between everyone, as well as wanting to make and maintain that connection with others, whereas the 2's desire to help others comes from the want to be recognized and appreciated.
I hope this helped!
Estey (not verified) says...
So I took the test for the first time and I've scored a dead on tie between two different types (Type 4 and Type 5) after doing a lot of reading on both types I find things that I see in me for both, but I also see things in both Types that I am not.
I suppose my main question is should I retake the test? I'm having difficulty finding information on tying types. And everything I read says you can only be one. But all of my reading has me feeling like I really am both. I've read through all the other types and don't relate to them as strongly as this one.
I've taken the Myers-Briggs several times and always test as an INFJ. Any help in this deciphering would be helpful!
Sue Liz Mer (not verified) says...
I'm INFJ and a 4w5. I definitely see both aspects of 4 and 5 in myself, but go more with my heart than my head, long to be thought of as authentic and unique, and struggle with shame and feeling like something is missing. Those are definitively 4 characteristics. Hope that helps!
Lillian Golden (not verified) says...
Great question. Many times people take the test, they find that they aren't the number the test told them. For example, I took the test three different times and each time it told me I was a different number - a 2, a 3, and a 6 - until I ultimately decided to really look into the enneagram and I learned I was a 9! So to answer your question, I wouldn't retake the test, but instead I would recommend reading the book "The Road Back To You" by Ian Morgan Cron - it's a great book that really goes into depth with each number and really helped me decide what number I am.
To answer your second question, you CAN only be one type, however, each type has two "wings" and we usually access one of those wings more than the other. For example, I am a type 9 with a VERY strong 1 wing - however, my 8 wing does show up from time to time, when I am placed in a leadership position primarily. There are people like my brother, and from what it sounds like, like you, who are a number (in his case, a 5 or a 6) but relate so much to both numbers that they take lengthy amounts of time trying to figure out which is their primary type and which is their dominant wing. It just takes a lot of time, research, and reading. And usually, finding your type can take anywhere from weeks to months to YEARS.
I hope this helps!
ryder (not verified) says...
i think that it was partly correct about me (4) but i also think it was slightly wrong too and made me think about who i am as a person more too.
naomi ben (not verified) says...
hi my name is naomi
Min (not verified) says...
I think that is help to inprove to be great skill communication with team.