The Enneagram personality system is old, seriously old. While no one knows quite when it started, many believe its roots go as far back as ancient Babylon. Since then, the system has undergone many incarnations – from a faith-based tool to a psychology tool to the self-discovery system we know and love today.
So how does a personality test with such an ancient and varied history remain so popular?
Here’s why the Enneagram is here to stay.
What gives the Enneagram staying power?
Like the murky origins of the Enneagram personality system, we can’t say for sure why people connect so much with it. What we can do is conjecture – and the best guess is that its power lies in its applications.
You may know the Enneagram as a personality test that’s supposed to tell you more about yourself, much like the Myers-Briggs, Big Five or other personality tests. But the Enneagram is more than just a self-discovery tool – it can also help you grow. Unlike other personality systems, the Enneagram is an internal look at your worst fear which drives your deepest motivation, and how those things combine to create your worldview.
It doesn't just tell you "who" you are; it helps you understand "why" you are who you are and why you revert to certain behaviors, both under stress and as a baseline.
What’s the use of that understanding?
One great application of this kind of knowledge is self-development. The Enneagram shines a light on our darkest and most limiting beliefs, which is the first necessary step to help us overcome them. By being aware of these aspects of ourselves, we can actively work towards achieving our goals and creating the life we want.
For illustration, my Enneagram is Type Four. The core belief of an Enneatype Four is that they’re somehow unique and different from everyone else. This defines them. Why do Fours believe this? It's because a Type Four’s deepest fear is they’re innately flawed and, therefore, unable to achieve the same happiness others have. To deal with this fear, an Enneagram Type Four person will highlight what's different about themselves to prove that they aren't flawed, but special. And, by doing so, gain a sense of validation.
Now that I’m aware of this pattern in me, I can do two things. First, I can remind myself that I’m not inherently flawed but capable of achieving happiness in my own unique way. This goes a long way to defeating negative self-talk. Second, I actively work towards changing it. I know the source of my fear and what behavior results from it – something which would be much harder to do without the Enneagram.
By understanding what drives you to make decisions, you can learn how to adapt your behavior for growth. Having the power to recognize the “whys” behind your actions is the first giant leap in growing toward your best self.
A little bit about the Enneagram’s symbol—another point of staying power
The Enneagram’s nine-pointed geometric symbol might look confusing but it's actually incredibly helpful. It shows how dynamic and interconnected the nine Types are, which is a big part of why the Enneagram resonates with so many people.
If you look at the diagram, you will see that every type has a line or arrow that connects to two other types. For example, a person who types as an Enneagram One connects to a Type Seven and a Type Four. This means they grow to behave more like Sevens when healthy and well-adjusted. And they can revert (disintegrate) to Type Four behavior when under stress or dealing with issues. If you've ever felt that you behave differently in different situations or can relate to more than one type depending on when you take the test, arrows could explain why.
Another nuance that gives the Enneagram more meaning is the Enneagram wing. Each type has two types next to it on the symbol. For instance, Type One either has a wing of Type Nine or Type Two. Whichever wing you score highest on is your primary Enneagram wing and this adds some subtle nuances to your core Enneagram type. Wings act as sidekicks—and sometimes Batman wouldn’t make a decision without Robin, right?
By having this visual symbol, it's easier to recognize the various sides of yourself – your average state, your unhealthy state, and an idealized version you could become with growth. You're not a static being locked in a single personality box. Rather, you're on a journey, constantly shifting and growing, which is something the Enneagram symbol helps to represent.
Continuous learning and markers for improvement
When you understand the “whys” you can try to fix particular problems in your decision-making or behavior. While the Enneagram’s stress reaction (disintegration) isn’t bad, and sometimes it’s a necessary way for us to cope, knowing your disintegration pattern can also help you get through it quicker or skip it altogether if you’re entering unhealthy territory.
So, as a Four, I may notice when I’m becoming moody, depressed or sensitive. This isn’t alarming behavior. But if I begin disintegrating into Type Two behaviors, then I may take on the Two's caregiver role to the point that I neglect my own needs. Instead of doing this, it may be more helpful for me to stop, take some time to clear my head, and try instead to put myself into my place of growth, Type One.
Taking on an established set of rules and discipline "Enneagram One style" could help me overcome the slump that might otherwise occur.
The Enneagram is here to stay
The Enneagram system may have deep roots but it's very much alive and well today. Its staying power is thanks to its application as a dynamic self-growth tool and the ability to measure our progress in more than just a single opinion.
By understanding our motivations, patterns and responses to stress, we can develop better strategies for growth and ultimately become better versions of ourselves. As such, the Enneagram is well worth exploring if you’re interested in personal development or self-discovery.