The Enneagram is one of the most complex personality systems, so it can be confusing to know how to even approach it. Though it’s up to you how to use it and how deep to go, there are several things you can do (and not do) to make your experience more helpful and less overwhelming.
Most of the “Dos” when using the Enneagram are self-explanatory – things like taking the time to learn how all the components of the Enneagram hang together, personalizing your approach to meet your needs, and viewing it as a springboard for self-acceptance and personal growth.
However, in this article, we’re going to look at a few “Don’ts.” Here are seven potential pitfalls to avoid when working with the Enneagram.
#1: Don't think it's the be-all, end-all
Enneagram, like any other personality system, provides one way of seeing yourself. That means it is just one building block in a multi-faceted foundation for self-understanding and personal growth. It is not all you are and it does not represent the only way of looking at yourself or at life.
You are so much more than your Enneagram number – the sum of your experiences, talents, relationships, qualities, interests and more. It’s a tool for you to use, not something to be controlled by or to let completely define your life.
#2: Don't use it to beat yourself up or criticize others
No type is bad, or better or worse than others. Each one is simply a way to understand your core emotions and needs, and how you respond to them. There’s no need to feel bad about whatever type you are. There are plenty of good qualities in the way you happen to be, and there’s plenty of room for growth and positive direction – starting from wherever you are now.
Along the same lines, it wouldn’t be kind, helpful or even particularly accurate to criticize someone else based on their type, or to assume you know why they behave the way they do.
Personality – and especially this personality system – is a highly personal thing. It would be inappropriate to judge others from the outside, or for you to judge yourself based on what you think you "should" be.
It’s a way of understanding yourself and, to some degree, others. This knowledge can lead to better choices and communication, but it isn’t meant to be about judgment or negativity.
#3: Don't use it as an excuse for behaving badly
Thinking, “I can’t be empathetic / patient / on time/ insert adjective here because that’s not my type” is not a constructive way to use the Enneagram, or any personality system.
If, for example, you know that dealing with overly rigid schedules doesn’t work for you, by all means work with that when choosing your job and organizing your life. There’s nothing wrong with finding ways to honor the way you are and what you need. That’s healthy and more likely to lead to success.
However, it’s not an excuse to, for example, not keep your word, be inconsiderate of others or be habitually late.
Personality systems help us understand our strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, as well as give us insights for choosing our best path in work and life. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to manage certain traits that may otherwise lead to harmful or inconsiderate behavior.
#4: Don't assume you can type someone else
We are all more than what we seem to be from the outside. We each know ourselves better than "almost" anyone else does, so it makes sense that we come to our own conclusions (with the help of established tests and experts) about what personality type is truly an authentic fit for us.
Trying to type others is a bit presumptuous, and we just don’t have all the tools and information we would need to do so accurately. Sure, you can use what you know about Enneagram to try to understand others better. But please stop short of trying to tell them what type they are, what that means, and whether you think that’s good or bad.
#5: Don’t over-complicate it
Wings, arrows, and subtypes, oh my! And that’s just the beginning. It can all get a little overwhelming. So much so that if you try to take it all in at once, you might drown.
But all you have to do is start somewhere and use only as many of the resources you need for now. You can always go deeper later. Learning the Enneagram doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and it doesn’t have to be hard.
If you just take the test, find your number and read up on it, you’ll have quite a lot to go on. If you let all the possibilities daunt you, you may just give up instead of benefitting from what you’ve already learned. And many of the features need to be learned, explored and applied over time.
#6: But don’t be afraid to explore more features when you’re ready
For instance, if you have a “yes, but” reaction to your type, feeling that it fits in some ways but not in others, you can dig deeper into the more complex components to fine tune your understanding.
When you explore some of these components, such as wings, you can fine tune your type in a way that feels more complete and authentic. So, if Enneagram types were ice cream flavors, maybe yours is mostly chocolate chip, but also has a bit of maple flavoring mixed in. It’s more like one than the other, but once you add in the other elements it can feel like a better fit.
The various other components can help you discern your own distinct “flavor,” over time.
#7: Don’t try to force yourself into – or out of – a type
As with any personality system, no type is inherently good or bad. You are what you are, and learning your type just gives you some language and insight to help make sense of how you do you.
Deciding you really don’t like your type and trying to be a different one isn’t really going to work, and you’ll just be frustrated and miss out on the self-understanding you could gain if you just started with where you really are.
Enneagram is a personality typing system and a tool for personal understanding and growth, not the meaning of life. It’s also not a grading system to determine whether you measure up or not, or a form of name calling to use against others.
Be kind to yourself, and others, by not judging. Don’t think of types as good or bad, just different.
The Enneagram is a complex system with many layers that can be explored over months or even years. Don’t feel you have to take it all on at once. The best approach is probably a mix of curiosity, self-acceptance and respect for everyone’s differences and unique qualities. And the journey starts by taking the test here.