Why This Marriage Therapist Appreciates the Enneagram

Identifying your Enneagram type can change your understanding of yourself and your relationships. I first heard about the Enneagram while listening to a podcast as I was driving to work. It piqued my interest to hear this mysterious word so I made a note to look it up once I got home that night.

When I got home, I dove headfirst into Enneagram research; reading articles, listening to podcasts, I even ordered what basically amounts to an Enneagram textbook from Amazon. I discovered that the Enneagram of Personality, or put more simply, the Enneagram, is a personality typing index with ancient roots that was brought to contemporary awareness primarily through the work of philosopher Óscar Ichazo and psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo.

The Enneagram provides a description of the human psyche through a nine-pointed figure identifying nine distinct personality types. Each type is associated with certain core characteristics, each given a number 1–9.

In my own research, I discovered that there are many free online tests that help one determine his/her number, or enneatype.

(Incorrectly) Identifying my number

I took a few different tests. One told me that I was a Four, The Individualist. Another told me that I was a Six, The Loyalist. These seemed to contradict one another, yet I related to them both.

I spent months vacillating between identifying as a Four and a Six, until one day I was reading about the enneatype Five, or The Observer, and realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is my number. Everything began to make sense and as I continued reading, I felt both relief and discomfort as this book was explaining to me some of the most intimate parts of my own personality.

My hypothesis is that this number was not one of my top test results, because I prefer to see myself in a different light. I realized that the tests had a certain bias in that their accuracy was directly related to my own self-awareness. For this reason, I encourage people to take one of the tests as a base and then research your top three results more in-depth.

As I began to read more and more about Fives, I started to feel waves of both being seen and understood, as well as a sense of discomfort in feeling exposed. In retrospect, I would say that these feelings, more than any test results, are the true litmus test of what number a person truly is.

The process of uncovering my own number and developing a deeper understanding of the Enneagram has enhanced my understanding of myself, others, and my relationship with my fiancée Erica.

Understanding myself

One of the things that has been most helpful in my journey with the Enneagram is that it’s given me a different lens through which to see myself. The Enneagram does not just reflect flattering aspects of my personality — something many personality typing systems seem to do. The Enneagram has actually helped me to see both how my personality can be an asset and a liability.

For example, as a Five, I treasure solitude and can become immersed in understanding whatever my current interest is. The Enneagram has helped me to see that while these tendencies served me extremely well in graduate school, it’s beneficial and actually imperative that I come up for air occasionally and socialize with others (Erica is a Two (Helper), and she helps me with this, as well).

Better understanding others

The Enneagram has also helped me to better understand others. My favorite Thomas Merton quote of late comes from his book No Man is an Island where he states, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Realizing how different people’s personalities can be has assisted me in truly engaging with others and relating to their perspectives. It has helped me realize that my automatic response can be to only see the parts of myself in other people and miss everything unique about them.

Improved relationships

The Enneagram has also provided me with a much appreciated lens with which to view my relationship to Erica. Early on in our relationship, we would find ourselves perplexed at how differently we would handle situations as they arose. For example, as a Helper, Erica jumps to action whenever there is a problem, whereas I sit back and try to think my way to the perfect solution before lifting a finger.

Through reading our numbers together we have gained an understanding for one another’s process and learned a language of communication we didn’t have before. It provides us with a reference point to revisit when we don’t seem to be on the same page.

While my initial fervor has subsided, my journey with the Enneagram is far from over. What started as research into an unknown entity that piqued my curiosity turned into a deep dive into uncovering important truths about myself. The results have been uncomfortable, fascinating, and transformative.

If you are interested in embarking on your own journey with the Enneagram, here are some links to books that I have found helpful:

Dive in, study up, and discover your personality in a way that you have never known before. I hope you will find the Enneagram to be as invaluable a tool as I have — both for understanding myself and empathizing with others.

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