Recently, I decided to take the Enneagram test on Truity. I hadn’t even heard of Enneagrams, so I was intrigued. I purposely did not research the Enneagram system so it wouldn’t influence the way I answered the questions. We all want to be portrayed in our best light, so if I knew Enneagrams were about emotions, I might subconsciously try to sound less emotional.

I was excited to read my results. It’s fun to unlock the mysteries about ourselves and why we do what we do.

I scored a Four. My favorite number! That was a good sign, I thought.

The Four’s descriptive title rang true: “The Individualist.”  I’ve always marched to my own drum. And, as the description said, it was kind of a badge of honor to me. I was never affected by peer pressure, even as a teen. I do my own research and thinking, and I consider all sides of an issue before making a decision.

Was I ever surprised when I continued to read my Enneagram report! Surprised and totally disappointed. Sure, some of it described me, but much of it seemed so off base. How could I have scored a Four?

To get to the bottom of this dilemma, I bought my full report. I hoped it would better describe Four’s good points as well as those that needed work.

When I continued to read about Fours, I was devastated.

The core emotion for Fours is sadness, it revealed. Well, I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, even way back before I knew I was depressed. But I don’t think of myself as a sad person. I’m happy about many things in my life. Is that how everyone sees me? A woe-is-me person? Eeyore in human form?

The next part actually made me angry. “...Fours are defined by...their feelings of envy for what others have.”

Envy defines me?? I’m happy for what other people have. I really am.

I exited out of my report and slammed my laptop closed. What a bunch of hooey. Maybe I should take the test again, I thought. Maybe I had an off day. But I was in a bad mood by then, and knew if I took the test at that time I would consciously choose answers that would give me a report I liked better.

Fours seemed like the worst people on the planet. I couldn’t be that person.

I forgot about Truity and Enneagrams for a while, or so I thought. In the back of my mind, though, when life’s little ups and downs occurred, I’d find myself thinking, Oh, I did react rather emotionally to that. I did take it personally when the comment probably wasn’t meant for just me.

As I experienced more and more of these revelations, I began warming up to some of the descriptions in my Enneagram report, realizing that perhaps there was more on target than off base in it after all.

I went back to Truity to read my report again.

Immediately upon opening my report, I saw words I had skimmed past the first time: “Creative. Quirky. Self-aware. Passionate. Off-beat.” Hmm...those aren’t bad traits. I’m okay with those. So being a Four wasn’t all bad.

One piece of information that really nagged at me, though, was that Fours usually experienced abandonment in their childhood. I was not abandoned, and my parents were very loving. So why was the comment nagging at me?

When I reread that section, I noticed it said “a sense of loss or abandonment.” In other words, it could have been the very real death of a parent, or the loss of a parent’s attention when a new sibling came along. Well, I was the youngest of four, so that wasn’t it.

Abandoned as a child? No way

And then it hit me. My mother worked the 3pm-11pm shift downtown, and left for work at 2 pm. I stayed with a neighbor until my oldest sisters got off the bus and picked up my third sister - from a different neighbor - and me on their way home. My mom didn’t get home until midnight, long after we’d gone to bed, so we only saw her briefly in the morning before school and on weekends.

I envied all the other kids whose mothers were home waiting for them after school, who could drive them to dance and music lessons or just hear about their day. So I can see how, as a child, I certainly felt the loss of my mother daily, and possibly even felt abandoned.

I could go on with more examples. The point is, if I hadn’t gone back and really pored over my report, and given thought to each section, I wouldn’t have understood what it really meant for me. I had zeroed in on the negative words -- overly emotional, super sensitive, filled with envy, etc.

Words can suggest other meanings

Oh, about that envy. I originally interpreted “envy for what other people have” to mean their material possessions, and I’ve never been about that. But when I see a couple laughing and clearly enjoying their time together, I do envy what they have. My marriage ended in divorce, and I wish I had a loving relationship like those I sometimes see.

Also, envy, in itself, doesn’t mean wishing to take away what others have, which is what I read into it. Wishing you had that, too, is envy.

“A lot of the problem is the language,” explained Jayne Thompson, Truity’s Editorial Director.  “There's a real art to reading past the language into the substance of the Enneagram.”

Examining my wings and arrows, too

Wings are the numbers on either side of your score, and I scored a very strong Five. It turns out that Fives are analytical, detached types, which explains how I can step back to look at a situation from all angles.

Arrows are opposite to your score, and show what you are repressing. Mine was a One, showing that I was holding back my objectivity. Knowing this, I will try to stop myself from saying, “How do I feel about this?” and instead ask, “What is the best action to take in this case?”  I think this will help me to be more objective, and less emotional, more often.

Getting the most from your report

If you, like me, weren’t thrilled by your Enneagram report, these ideas can help you get the most productive information from it:

1. Give yourself time to think about your report, and be honest with yourself. No one is perfect, and the point of the exercise is to learn why you behave as you do, and grow from it.

2.  Purchase the expanded report if you haven't already. It elaborates on comments and gives it more depth. (No one at Truity told me to plug this; it just contains so much helpful information.)

3. Read the descriptions for your wings - the numbers that are on either side of yours - and your arrows across from your type. It doesn’t make sense that all those who score a particular number are carbon copies. We all have nuances based on our life experiences that helped shape us. It’s easiest to make changes through our wings and possibly our arrows.

4. Consider each point, one by one, and ask yourself if that describes you in some way. The way it is worded may throw you off, as it did me, so if a descriptor doesn’t fit, consider what else that word or phrase could mean. It might show up more in an aspect of life you hadn’t considered, like in work relationships instead of personal ones.

5. Think of a few areas you want to work on and what steps to take to get there. We can’t change our basic nature, but we can nudge ourselves in another direction to grow through some of the negatives of our personalities.

None of this is a quick fix. It’s a process that takes time. But if you want to grow in some areas, Enneagrams can be a helpful guide.

By the way, I did go back and take the Enneagram test again. Guess what? I scored a Four. Only this time I was okay with that. It’s still my favorite number.                                                   

Barbara Bean-Mellinger
Barbara Bean-Mellinger writes on business topics such as jobs and careers, marketing and advertising, public relations, entrepreneurship, education and more. Her articles have been published in newspapers, magazines, and on websites. She lives in the metro Washington, D.C. area and has recently taken up travel writing to highlight lesser-known sites in and around the capital.