- 1. Primer on the Enneagram of Personality
- Quick Primer on the Enneagram of Personality
- 2. How the Enneagram of Personality fits in well with Catholic Life
- 3. The Enneagram of Personality as a tool for Catholics in their personal and spiritual growth
- Your will be done
- Forgiving those who trespass against us
- Build empathy for yourself and for others
- Lead us not into temptation — Discovering our Predominant Fault
- Untangling knots
- Offering it up
- Deliver us from evil — Defeating the enemy’s lies
- Strengthening relationships, especially marriage
- 4. The Enneagram of Personality Is Not…
- 5. God in the Enneagram of Personality
- 6. My personal opinion
- 7. Good resources for further reading
- Saints by Enneagram Personality Type — My Best Guesses (in progress)
1. Primer on the Enneagram of Personality
Quick Primer on the Enneagram of Personality
Understanding the Enneagram Symbol
“Enneagram” simply means “9-pointed symbol” in Greek.
The symbol itself can be traced back to as early as Pythagoras in the 6th century BC, but the modern usage as a map for understanding personality types came into usage around the 1970s. Some of the key contributors to know are George Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo, and Claudio Naranjo. For an in-depth history of the symbol, its usage through the years, and in particular its modern usage as a personality tool, I recommend getting in on Tyler Zach’s next Origins of the Enneagram course.
Some people dismiss the Enneagram right away because they feel that it is too “new-age” or not “scientifically proven.” Plenty of people smarter than me have already answered the common objections, so all I’ll say here is that I can testify that I have seen God work through many, many different types of things. And I have personally experienced massive spiritual and emotional growth by learning about my God-given personality type, particularly through the tool of the Enneagram.
By the way, this system is not inherently religious or non-religious.
The 9-pointed symbol represents the nine personality types. We all have one dominant personality type on the enneagram and our type does not change throughout life. Of course other tools and systems will group personality traits differently, so this isn’t to imply that these are the only personality types in the world. This is just how this system has been categorized.
The names of the types vary slightly between teachers but the general idea remains the same:
While two people might share the same personality type, their childhood, family, jobs, and other life experiences will alter the way that their personality is expressed.
There are also varying levels of health for each type — Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy. Most people are usually in the Average column, where in a day they might use some of their type’s better tendencies alongside some of the less ideal tendencies. For example, in their peacemaking fashion a Type 9 can help settle a dispute at the dinner table, but after dinner they might choose to numb out to the world’s disharmony by watching TV until they fall asleep.
One of the greatest benefits of learning about your type is that you realize you are not permanently stuck as you are. If you are a Type 2 and constantly putting others’ needs above your own, you can look to more experienced Type 2s and how they have learned to balance their own needs while still providing for others around them.
As many before me have said, the Enneagram is not a box to put people into, it is a map to show people the way out of the box they are already in.
Wings and Paths
In addition to our main type, we are influenced by and adopt behavior and coping strategies from each of the numbers our dominant type is connected to: the wings and the paths.
The wings are the numbers on either side of our dominant type. For example, a Type 7’s wings are 6 and 8.
The paths are the two numbers that our dominant type is connected to on the enneagram symbol. For example, the lines leading from the Type 7 show its paths are 5 and 1.
Traditionally, the paths represent how we behave in times of stress or growth. Personally, I believe we use both good and bad habits from both paths. Both paths can be pointers that show us from what level of health we are operating.
Now that the enneagram symbol is a littler clearer, the next important thing to understand is that every number has its own set of core motivations: a core desire and a core fear.
Our core desire is the thing we want the most in the world. We adopt strategies and employ tendencies to help us attain our desire.
Our core fear is the thing we most don’t want to happen in the world. We go out of our way to try to prevent or avoid our biggest fear.
These two motivations are the reasons for much our behavior.
For example, my husband is a Type 4, the Romantic Individualist, and his core fear is: having no significance, or being plain and mundane. If we are arguing, he is usually defending his need to be seen as special, maybe by having the best solution to a problem, or the best joke, or the most accurate opinion. I’m a Type 1, the Perfectionist, and my core fear is: being bad or wrong. In our arguments, I’m usually defending myself to make sure he sees why I think my position is right.
As we learned more about ourselves and each other, we began to realize that we weren’t actually arguing about an issue. We were both just defending our fears to the other. Once we realized this, we could begin to empathize with the other’s fear, even if we didn’t totally understand it. And when we could empathize, we didn’t feel the need to argue. We began to try to show that we heard their fear and they didn’t need to worry.
Issues became much easier and quicker to resolve! More specifics about that can be found in the “Learning to Resolve Nearly Any Argument” chapter.
More info on the Core Motivations can be found at Beth McCord’s website yourenneagramcoach.com
What can I use the Enneagram for?
It is a cheat sheet to understand the people in your life
Family members, coworkers, neighbors, even strangers on the street. Once you understand that every single person is just trying to achieve their core desire, or prevent their core fear, their behavior becomes much easier to deal with. Their behavior may not always be good, and may even be downright evil at times, but knowing the Enneagram is a step in the right direction for your interactions with them!
It's the answer-key to the life test "How can I be the me I'm supposed to be?"
Some people misunderstand the Enneagram, or any personality typing system, as a box that they are being put into. And rightfully so, they want to avoid being boxed in. But the Enneagram is actually a syllabus your class of “Being You.” You learn about where you are now, as well as what a healthier version of you looks like. When you already know the syllabus, it makes the “coursework” a lot easier to follow!
It's the clarity you've been seeking
We’ve all been stuck in a habit or spiral that we know isn’t ideal but we don’t know how to break free from. The Enneagram sheds light on why we get stuck in that habit or loophole. It helps you realize you’re not the only one who deals with this struggle, and gives you a language for how to discuss the issue and begin to break free.
You'll never feel more seen than when you read about your Enneagram type
Being seen and understood is a huge relief, like when a doctor finally diagnoses your mystery illness. Maybe it’s unpleasant to learn about, but when you know what you’re dealing with you’re already well on the pathway to healing!
Identifying your Enneagram Type
You can take a test for free at https://coach.yourenneagramcoach.com/leah-elias
Based on your answers, it will suggest the types that you most closely matched with by percentage.
Note the top 2-3 types it suggests and then read about their core motivations in the chart below. See which type resonates with you the most.
- Note: Sometimes the language used to describe a type might not perfectly fit at first. But as you ask yourself more questions, you may find a different word with similar meaning is a better fit. For example, Type 1s desire to be “good” but I recognize this in my life as desiring to be “approved of for being right or doing the right thing.”
Chart adapted from the Wikipedia entry for “Enneagram of Personality”
What if I’m still not sure what my type is?
Consider which two or three types most resonated with you and then:
- Google: Enneagram childhood wounds (or childhood messages)
- This is the message we were told (or felt was implied) as children and still believe today.
- If one feels like a stab in the heart, that might be your type. If you’re unsure, continue on.
- Am I more thinking? Feeling? Physical?
- Do I respond naturally out of my head? Heart? Gut?
- What do I primarily defend myself against? Fear, shame, anger?
- What am I always trying to prevent from happening? Why?
- What am I always striving for, or pursuing? Why?
- What do I feel will truly satisfy me? “If I can just…achieve/feel/experience…” ; “If only….then I would truly be satisfied.”
- What do I try to defend? Why?
- Reread the Core Motivations and see which one resonates the most now
And this is a link to a podcast where I discuss how has changed my life and my marriage by using this tool. (I’ve heard great reviews!)
2. How the Enneagram of Personality fits in well with Catholic Life
Catholics who practice spiritual growth and a “know thyself” mentality are already using the key aspects of the Enneagram of Personality.
Enneagram of Personality Concepts
Choleric, Melancholic, Sanguine, Phlegmatic
9 personality types: The Reformer (1), The Helper (2), The Achiever (3), The Individualist (4), The Investigator (5), The Loyalist (6), The Enthusiast (7), The Challenger (8), The Peacemaker (9)
Vices, Passions, Deadly sins, Predominant Fault
Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, Sloth
9 Core Weaknesses, Vices: Anger, Pride, Deceit, Envy, Avarice, Fear, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth
Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Kindness, Patience, Humility
9 Virtues: Serenity, Humility, Veracity, Equanimity, Non-Attachment, Courage, Sobriety, Innocence, Right Action
Strength of our relationship to God
The closer we grow to God, the healthier we become (mentally, spiritually, emotionally, even physically)
3 Levels of Health: Healthy, Average, Unhealthy
Lies we believe from the enemy
Our warped understandings about ourselves, our families, the world, God, and His truth
9 Core Fears, “Childhood wounds”: Fear of being bad, being unlovable, failure, being unappreciated, overwhelmed, fear of fear itself, being deprived, betrayal, discord
Desires God has given us to use for His glory
God has wired each of us to bring our core desire into fruition for His glory. Unfortunately original sin has warped our core desire, BUT it can be reclaimed by reorienting ourselves toward God
9 Core Desires: goodness, helpfulness, success, creativity, wisdom, faithfulness, fun, justice, harmony
3. The Enneagram of Personality as a tool for Catholics in their personal and spiritual growth
Your will be done
- When we understand our vices, habits, and hangups better we can work on relinquishing them to God.
- You begin to realize that your vices are not permanent, that the enemy uses our specific vices to trick and tempt us, and that life is so much better without these attachments fogging up our minds.
- The clearer our minds are, the easier it becomes to hear God’s will. Clearing out the fog by lassoing our vices allows us to better discern between our natural impulses and God’s actual words
- For example, I’ve recently learned that my attachment to fear (not trusting God will provide) has influenced the way that I pray — I have a tendency to close my mind to possibilities that God might like to use in my life, which makes it harder for me to recognize when He moves in the ways I am not expecting. By beginning to relinquish that fear, it’s becoming easier to hear God speak and see Him work.
Forgiving those who trespass against us
- When you understand why you and others behave in certain ways, it becomes easier to revisit past memories and work through forgiveness
- For example, revisiting memories with my mom helped me realize that she (as a Type 9) has a core fear of being overlooked, ignored, and seen as unimportant. Many of our arguments stemmed from her feeling like I was overlooking her, which made her angry, which set off my core fear that I was bad. I would defend myself against my fear, insisting that she was wrong, while she would continue to defend herself insisting that I was wrong. Now that I recognize this, I can more easily forgive her for past hurts, and prevent future arguments by keeping an eye out for how to better show her respect and not trigger her core fear.
Build empathy for yourself and for others
- As you learn and accept your personality type’s core struggles, you become kinder to yourself, realizing your need for God’s mercy and help in your life
- You can forgive yourself for your flaws knowing that you’re not the only one struggling with this particular issue. Every single person with your same personality type struggles or has struggled with this same flaw.
- You can offer these flaws/weaknesses to God to allow His strength to work through you. (”…My power is made perfect in weakness…” 2 Cor. 12:8)
- As you become kinder to yourself, your eyes begin to open to the core struggles of others around you. It becomes easier to empathize with your family, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers. We can learn to see and love others like God does.
- For example, the coworker who often procrastinates might be a Type 3, with a core fear of failure, so they find it hard to begin something they are afraid might make them look bad
Lead us not into temptation — Discovering our Predominant Fault
- We all have many vices, but each personality type has a core weakness, a predominant fault. The Enneagram of Personality can help point out what people with your personality type tend to struggle with the most.
- For example, as a Type 1, my core weakness is Anger. I didn’t immediately associate with being angry because I tend to repress feelings that I think are “bad.” Instead, I would show my frustration and irritation because that didn’t seem as bad. As I learned about Types 1s, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that being constantly frustrated and irritated with others is actually the sin of Anger. Once I was able to name it as such, I recognized it everywhere my life, and I could ask the Holy Spirit for help. I am on the path of growing away from anger and towards serenity.
- Our sins have created a lot of knots in our lives. Untangling them can seem overwhelming but the Holy Spirit can use our knowledge of our personality type to show us which knots to work on first.
- For example, I struggle with accepting criticism, even polite feedback. As this knot untangles, I’ve noticed improvements in many areas of my life such as my writing, cooking, creative projects, willingness to try new things, as well as a reduction in anxiety.
Offering it up
- Changing and growing into better versions of ourselves is often painful. We have to admit our faults, change our habits, rebuild relationships and so on.
- Along the way, you can offer up this personal suffering/purging for the sake of others (sinners, purgatory, etc)
- It’s a win-win! Through the struggle you grow stronger, and you have opportunities to suffer with Christ for the sake of others
Deliver us from evil — Defeating the enemy’s lies
- The enemy is a liar. He loves to deceive us and warp our understanding of ourselves and God. As we grow away from vices, and untangle knots, the Holy Spirit reveals to us lies that we have been believing.
- For example, the Holy Spirit recently revealed to me that I have been believing the lie: “I should be able to do everything by myself (including fixing myself so that God doesn’t have to).” It turns out that this is a type of Pride and the truth is “I can’t do everything on myself and God wants me to ask Him to help.” Uncovering this lie and the truth has been a big turning point in my relationship with God.
Strengthening relationships, especially marriage
- By learning about my personality type and that of my husband’s, our marriage has improved immensely. We are both sensitive and emotional people, and our feelings would boomerang off of each other. If my husband is feeling melancholy, I used to worry it was my fault. This would trigger my core fear of being bad, which would ruin my mood. Now I know that his Type is prone to melancholy and it can even be a good thing, I can give him the space to work through it without feeling responsible. This lightens my mood, which makes it easier for him to resurface from his mood.
4. The Enneagram of Personality Is Not…
- is not an excuse for sin or bad behavior. It points out what each type most tends to struggle with, which helps us know where to look to begin uprooting the issue.
- is not an ancient tool. The only thing in common with anything from the past is the shape of the symbol, which is simply 9 points (ennea = 9, gram = symbol), much like a hexagram is a 6 pointed symbol. While a lot of info out there tries to trace the Enneagram back to Sufism, and even Christianity, it’s clear that the way we use the modern Enneagram of Personality is based on the work of Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo from the 1970s. They drew on ancient sources like the Vices and Virtues because they saw how they fit well with each personality type. But there’s really nothing to attach it to anything older than the 1970s.
- is not the only personality typing system out there. The Catholic Temperaments, Myers-Briggs, DISC, and many other tools are all useful ways of understanding the types of people in the world. I personally prefer the Enneagram because it explains why we behave the specific ways that we do, and shows specifically what a better version of ourselves can look like.
- is not a religion. There are no prayers, no incantations, no fortune-telling, no associating with spirits or anything of the sort. It is simply a tool to help you understand your God-given personality better, and how to grow into the person God wants you to be.
- is not New Age. It’s just psychology. Some people will rope it in as New Age, and some people will intentionally use it that way. But if we ask the Holy Spirit to teach us through this particular tool, He will.
5. God in the Enneagram of Personality
- I believe God, when He creates each of us, assigns us one of these 9 personality types as a way of giving us a little piece of Himself to carry into the world. When we learn about that piece and grow in it, we bring glory to God.
- God, Himself, is the perfect version of all 9 of these types.
- When we learn about, appreciate, and observe these characteristics in others, we can see a reflection of God’s character. This both builds our love for God, and our love and empathy for others.
How each personality type reflects characteristics of God
1 - The Reformer
Perfection, love of goodness, hatred of evil
2 - The Helper
Generosity, helpfulness, empathy, kindness
3 - The Achiever
Encourager, determination, perseverance
4 - The Individualist
Creativity, emotional depth, love of beauty, authenticity
5 - The Investigator
Wisdom, knowledge, love of truth
6 - The Loyalist
Loyalty, faithfulness, courage
7 - The Enthusiast
Fun, positivity, joy, abundance
8 - The Challenger
Love of justice, protector, strength
9 - The Peacemaker
Love of peace, harmony, oneness
6. My personal opinion
- While we may not understand the purpose of the original enneagram symbol, it’s very clear to me that God purposed the 9 personality types to fit perfectly on the symbol, including their connections to each other. By this I mean, how the wings, paths, and main types all affect each other.
- God uniquely wired us all. He lets us use the Enneagram of Personality to understand our unique wiring, understand each other’s wiring, and as a guide for how to grow out of vices and into virtues.
- As long as we ask and allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten us along the way, there is no danger in learning from the Enneagram of Personality.
7. Good resources for further reading
Predominant Fault — Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Your Enneagram Coach — well-respected Gospel-centered Enneagram teaching
Catholic Spiritual Tradition and the Enneagram — “how the Enneagram compares, coincides with, or further illuminates a Catholic approach to spirituality”
Viewpoint - Bishops’ New Worry: the enneagram — “So if the Benedictines, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, clergy and thousands of pious laity have profited from this study, who is it that is worrying the bishops about the suitability? …. The bishops’ document contains the answer. The bishops are out of date.”
Know Thyself - St. Theresa of Avila — “with self-knowledge, you are made truly humble”
Should Christians Use the Enneagram? — Tyler Zach
Answering Common Myths about the Enneagram — Tyler Zach
Saints by Enneagram Personality Type — My Best Guesses (in progress)
- 1 - St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Augustine
- 2 - Mother Teresa
- 3 -
- 4 - St. Therese of the Child Jesus and Holy Face, St. John of the Cross
- 5 - St. Thomas Aquinas
- 6 -
- 7 -
- 8 - St. Frances de Sales (great example of an angry type 8 growing in gentleness and charity in the 2 path), St. John the Baptist
- 9 -