This week, the hosts talk all about the enneagram personality test. They chat about what each type is, the history of the test, and get into how it’s used in spiritual growth and development circles. They also have short clips from listeners about how they interact with their enneagram type and how it has influenced their personal growth and development.
Special thanks to everyone who took the time to fill out our survey or send us a reflection on the enneagram!
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You’re listening to Nearly Numinous, a podcast all about the religious side of life. We hope to provide our listeners insight into the lived experience of everyday people as it pertains to any form of religion or spirituality. This includes embracing scholarly understandings of religion and sociology, but it also includes casual conversations and understanding real lived experience.
Today, we will be talking about a personality test called the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a nine type personality classification system taught originally by Oscar Ichazo starting roughly in the 1950s. This interconnected personality system is commonly used in counselling and in religious communities as a tool for self-awareness and growth. For this reason, we decided that it would be interesting to talk about the spiritual aspects or uses of the Enneagram in this episode.
So prior to recording this episode, we reached out to our own communities and beyond to get some data about how individual people interact with the Enneagram. If you want to be included on future research, you should find us on Facebook and keep an eye on our website. Just look for Nearly Numinous. So in this survey, we asked if each individual viewed their Enneagram as being intertwined with their religious or spiritual identity. About 58% of respondents said that the Enneagram was closely linked with their spiritual or religious identity. 25% said that they were a bit linked, but it wasn’t the main focus, and less than 20% said that it had no connection at all. Furthermore, at least 50% said that they were first introduced to the Enneagram in a spiritual or religious context. It’s important to note that this was a relatively small survey sample, but clearly, there is a link to the religious or spiritual life for many who use the Enneagram. Throughout the rest of this episode, we will be playing short audio clips and reading small reflections from some of the individuals that completed the survey.
The Enneagram has given me an understanding of my way of being in the world. After a career of 20 plus performance reviews, I finally and for the first time understand what is required, in order to make a difference in my career. It has also given me an understanding of how people perhaps recreate God in their own Enneagram image. I’ve become more reflective on how I work and why, how that impacts my day to day and other people, and how I can help myself with self-regulation and self-care, as well as growth. It has helped me recognize my stress, and when I’m not doing so well, and also when I’m healthy and doing well. I really appreciate how it has helped me understand others closer to me, and how they work too. It has improved my relationship with myself primarily, and that has improved my connection to my husband and kids. It helps me when meeting new people to remember that they may be driven by completely different fears and desires.
So the general rules of the Enneagram is that it shouldn’t be used on teens, and the suggested age is 21 when the brain has fully formed. This is because teens can be impressionable and once typed their type can be more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than their personality. This, of course, is true of all personality tests, but apparently is especially true with the Enneagram. And another basic rule is don’t type other people. The Enneagram is about personal growth and awareness. While types may be suggested if there is ever a disagreement about what type someone really is, the individual being typed is the one who is right.
I find this very interesting because for myself, I’m 25 and I’m still quite impressionable. And I feel that I latch on to personality tests. Sometimes it’s kind of like, Oh, well, if they see these traits in me, then obviously that’s my personality. So I thought it interesting that they think that you know after 21 you’re less impressionable.
I also think it’s interesting that they say don’t type people and then in their examples online, they’ll say like the Buddha is, or was this.
He was a type five, apparently, yeah.
Yeah, I’m sure the Buddha did the Enneagram test.
Voicemail 1 4:15
Hello, hello. So I found out about the Enneagram I think about three years ago, and I originally mistyped as a nine but I’m very confident I’m a two. I love the Enneagram I’ll bring it up with friends and family. I just think it’s like a super interesting way to learn more about yourself and to learn more about the motivations behind your behaviour. I think it’s especially interesting that people’s behaviours can be the same but have different motivations behind it. I think it’s also been really helpful like in my friendships and living with housemates and with family to, to understand why a person might act the way they do. And to learn to, to love them for that and to yeah, just have compassion for a lot of the inner battle that we don’t realize that other people face. It’s also really cool learning that not everybody has the same motivations as I do. And that, yeah, that’s a cool thing.
So, as we heard in that last voice message that was sent to us, the Enneagram is very helpful for personal reflection. So she mentioned that she was typed a specific way, but actually believes she identifies more with another type. And I think that’s very important to keep in mind here is that it is meant for self-reflection, it’s not meant as a scientific background. Furthermore, it’s, again, with that self-reflective nature of it, it helps people to kind of reflect on what might be their own personality, but what might be different than others. So she mentions that it’s important in understanding different motivations of others. And the Enneagram places an emphasis on this motivation piece of a person’s personality. And so this aspect of the Enneagram can be really helpful for people and understanding differences in relationships.
So the Enneagram has a visual aspect too, so it looks essentially like a clock, except instead of 12 numbers, there’s nine. And so the first one is number one, it’s the Reformer. So the Reformer is also called the Perfectionist, they’re generally quite like the responsible type, they tend to see things a little bit in black and white, they tend to try to reform things, hence the name. And number two, next on the list is the Helper. So these are the people that tend to be, like that tend to think about the needs of others first.
And Jacqueline you’re a one with a wing two. So you’re a Reformer with a little bit of Helper on the side. Are you?
Yeah, so that’s actually called the Advocate. So there’s actually. Yeah, like, like, Rachel is saying, There’s wings. And so on the Enneagram, you can have a wing, traditionally, it’s the number that is on either side of your number that can be your wing. But there’s like different people might use the wings a little bit differently than that. So it allows a little bit of leeway. So I’m, so I’m not the traditional Reformer, I am the Advocate, apparently.
That’s interesting. And so my type is a type four. And if we go off the traditional way of having wings, I could even have, I could have a wing, that’s either the three or the five. So the three is considered the Achiever. And it focus on the presentation of success and to attain validation. And so the center of that is that threes need to be validated in order to feel worthy. And that’s just a basic summary. And then, for myself, I’m the four. So that’s seen as the Individualist. So they’re identity seekers who feel unique and different. So the four builds their identity around their perception of themselves as being somehow different or unique, and are the self consciously individualistic. They’re also seen as being highly emotional, and very self-reflective.
As a four, I really struggled with the feeling of the missing puzzle piece. It helps a lot to know that it’s normal for me to feel this way. And I can try to shift my focus onto doing what I love instead of keeping on trying to fill that missing piece. I better understand those around me and realize not everyone wants everything to be a creative, cathartic endeavour, and that’s okay.
And so then my wing is actually the five, which is the Investigator. And I think, Rachel, you’re a five. So maybe you can tell us a bit more about the five.
I am a five. Yeah, so the Investigator is typically thinkers who tend to withdraw and observe so they usually feel more comfortable and at home in the realm of thought. And some of the characteristics associated with it are generally intelligent, well-read and thoughtful. And my wing is actually the opposite of Steph’s. So I am a five with wing four, and she’s a four with a wing five. But the other possible option for my wing would be number six, which is the Loyalist, and these are people who are conflicted between trust and distrust. Apparently, they essentially feel insecure, as though there’s nothing quite steady enough to hold on to. That’s kind of sad.
I feel like all of these are really sad and we should maybe clarify that I think the types when you describe them, especially when I first interacted with the Enneagram I was a little put off. It wasn’t until I actually took the test and like read more into the actual full description that I think it really dives deep. It kind of really highlights because I think, especially with a four, it’s like you feel the need to be unique. I’m like, Well, I mean, not really, I don’t know, like, that kind of sounds negative, like I’m not like going out of my way to be like, I’m special. I’m a special snowflake.
Yeah, these descriptions can come on really strong, and sometimes in really negative ways. Like it continues to say, this is from the site Eclectic Energies, it says sixes don’t trust easily. They’re often ambivalent about others. So that’s just like calling people out. But then, on the opposite side of six is the Enthusiast, number seven, which is pleasure-seekers and planners in search of a distraction. Sevens are essentially concerned that their lives be an exciting adventure. So they’re future-oriented, typically, restless people who are generally convinced that something better is just around the corner.
So then there’s two more numbers after that, we’ve got the eight and the nine. So the eight is called the Challenger. And they essentially are, they prioritize taking charge and being in control, and they don’t want to be controlled to themselves.
Challengers, like, quite honestly, like scare me, a lot of the time.
The first test I took was, it picked me as a Challenger.
I don’t know if that was a good test.
I think it was like, I think it’s when Challengers are not self-aware of the emotions of others. It’s interesting to me that the eight and the nine are side by side, because like, the Peacemaker is so in tune to like, just like energies of other peoples and their emotions. Whereas the eight can not be. And so yeah, so it’s interesting to me that they’re side by side.
So then, as you were saying, then the nine is the Peacemaker. So they’re the opposite of the Challenger, because they kind of just want to go with the flow, keep peace and harmony, avoid conflict at all costs, I actually scored pretty high on the nine as well, which is very accurate, I do avoid conflict.
Okay, so the Enneagram is divided into three centers. So because there are nine numbers there are like each center has, or is associated with three types. So one of the centers is the instinctive center, so the one, the eight and the nine. So the Reformer, the Challenger, and the Peacemaker, have the instinctive center whereas there’s also a feeling center. So that’s two, three, four, the Helper, Achiever and Individualist will, that’ll be their main, its center of intelligence, it says. Then there’s the thinking center, so five, six, seven, the Investigator, Loyalist and Enthusiast. So what’s kind of interesting, too, is that there’s something called a tri type. And so the tri type is essentially. Okay, so my, because I’m a one, my instinctive center, or my, my center is the instinctive center, but maybe, maybe you would also want to take into account what my my feeling and thinking centers are, too. And so then I would look at, like, at all my results, and I would look at, like my next highest number, in maybe the feeling center, so I believe for me, that would be the Helper. So then, and then for thinking, my center there, I believe was I can’t even remember, maybe six. And so my try type would be the one-two-six. And so then that’s a way to take into account that everybody has each of these centers, but like one is more dominant. So you can kind of consider those different levels there too. So it can get like really complex if you want it to.
Yeah, they’re just covering all their bases with the personality test, I guess. So then the Enneagram also gives a bit of info on personal development, like what is what a healthy five looks like or an unhealthy five looks like. So for example, for me, a healthy level would be where I am at my best being open minded, perceptive, innovative and inventive. An average level for me would be one where I’m resourceful and focused on my work and inner life, but I can also become detached from the world or my relationships. And then an unhealthy level for me would be where I become reclusive, obsessive, nihilistic and show rejection towards all social relationships. And the quote that the Enneagram Institute gave me for my unhealthiest level is level nine, which means I would be seeking oblivion, they may commit suicide. or have a psychotic break with reality, deranged, explosively self destructive with schizophrenic overtones, generally correspond to the schizoid avoidant and schizotypal personality disorders. So that’s super fun. And I’m also very concerned and confused about how they came to these conclusions. And I don’t, the other hosts also got equally disturbing and extreme descriptions for their unhealthiest levels. But it’s concerning to think about how these diagnoses are determined, because I didn’t at least see anywhere that they were based on fact or research, maybe just stereotypes and a misunderstanding of, quote, unquote, abnormal psychology and clinical psychology.
So I kind of have an issue with the spectrum as well, because I think it very heavily places emphasis on what this test considers good values and bad values. And I think when you have something that puts something on that scale, right, you have to keep in mind of who decides what is good and what is not. So you know, even in our episode, last week, we talked about how women are typically type casted as being hysterical, because we associate that kind of deep emotional response and kind of typical feminine qualities to being negative. And I think that’s important to keep in mind here as well that, so at my best, it says that I’m profoundly creative and expe—expressing the personal and universal, possibly in a work of art, inspired, self renewing, and regenerating, able to transform all their experiences into something valuable and self creative, which I can see that as being good. But then there’s also a certain level of that, that sometimes creative expression isn’t always a positive thing, right? You know, whereas some of my bad stuff is that, you know, I get a bit alienated from people. And that’s not necessarily always a bad thing, like that you go through periods in your life where sometimes you need those negative things. And so if you’re kind of putting this stress on, like you, you have to be creating, you have to be producing, if you’re going to be a successful and healthy four you need to create some beautiful work of art, and that’s just, that in itself can be quite negative.
And I think also by placing, like various mental health disorders in like the unhealthiest of the unhealthy level, adds to mental health stigma, as well in that like, like people with depression will always have like, it becomes more integrated in their life. And so—
Well, and some of them say that, if you’re looking into like my example, for just talking purposes, I know plenty of very, very depressed people that make beautiful pieces of art. You know, they’re not mutually exclusive, if that makes sense, like just going off with my specific example.
Yeah, and like, like mental health, you can’t just compartmentalize it between healthy and unhealthy. It’s something that like you work with always. And you know, like, you’ll have a healthy day, you’ll have an unhealthy day like following that. And like it’s not, it’s way more fluid. And I just feel uncomfortable, the way that well like each of the types I was glancing through has some sort of disorder associated with level nine, the unhealthiest level, and that just makes me feel kind of uncomfortable.
Mm hmm. I think it’s interesting as well, because we’re going to talk more about this in relation to religion and spirituality as well that this could either be a good or a bad thing. But I can only imagine, for example, just talking from my own personal experience in a Christian setting, obviously, from the Christian faith, and through many other, almost every single religion, they have virtues and values that they placed high up. And so if you’re placing, like the highest virtue at level one, that can be super isolating for some people. And if you’re not, you know, acting the way, you know, for example, God is calling you to do because God is calling you to be the healthiest level of your personality, then how does that make you feel when you are in this religious setting? You know, is it isolating? Does it make you feel less involved with your community?
Sort of similarly there, the Enneagram Institute gives directions of growth and stress. And for me, apparently, healthy growth for me brings me toward an eight, which is the Challenger. But stress brings me toward a seven, which is the Enthusiast. And maybe I didn’t read too much into it, but I’m not really quite sure what that means. Like does that mean if I’m stressed, I become like, a more enthusiastic person or do I just take on the negative aspects of the Enthusiast? That’s another example of like placing value and value judgments on aspects of personalities.
Yeah, for me, apparently when I am healthy, I will, I will express the healthy aspects of the seven. So for me that would look like being excited about inven—adventure, trying new things. But then when I’m less healthy, then I’ll express the negative aspects of the four, which means that I might worry about not being unique enough or, yeah, that like forgettable or something like that.
So I think that’s just a bit of a tidbit of some of the criticisms we have of this system. But there’s also benefits to it as well, like we were saying before, there’s that level of self reflectiveness, learning how other people function, what their motivations are, how you can interact with those people. So just despite our criticisms, I don’t want to have it come across that all of us all the hosts are against things like the Enneagram.
It’s obviously very compelling to us, and a lot of it has rung true. But like we said, we do have some of these criticisms.
Okay, so a little bit about the history of the Enneagram, which a lot of people don’t actually know about. So yeah, it is super complex personality typing system. And where do these ideas come from, because they’re so broad, there’s so many of them. So I was looking at one of the main Enneagram websites called the Enneagram Institute, and the Institute was created in 1997, to focus on researching and further developing the Enneagram. And there’s a quote that says “the Enneagram of personality types is a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions. But the person who originally put the system together it was Oscar Ichazo.” Ichazo was born in Bolivia in 1931, and was raised there as well as in Peru. And as a young adult, he moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to learn from what the Institute calls a school of inner work. He then went to Asia to, quote, gather other knowledge and return to South America and put these ideas together into a system. That was the beginning of what we now know as the Enneagram. After spending many years developing the system, he created the Arica School to teach this knowledge. He taught in Chile in the late 60s and early 70s, and then moved to the US where he still lives. During his time teaching in South America some Americans, including psychologists, Claudio Naranjo, and John Lilly came to study at the Arica School with Ichazo. Ichazo’s teachings focuses on psychology and self actualization, but also cosmology, metaphysics and spirituality. Combined, the system was meant to bring about transformations of human consciousness.
So the Enneagram is commonly known by its recognizable symbols, nine points with interconnecting lines, and it makes a sort of a star shape which serves as a visual representation for Ichazo’s teachings. This symbol is said to have its roots in antiquity and can be traced back to the works of Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher. The symbol was reintroduced by George Gurdjieff—for the listeners, it took me five times to say that properly—who taught the symbol primarily through a series of sacred dances and movements. Though Gurdjieff didn’t associate the symbol with personality, he did reveal to his advanced students their quote unquote chief feature which is what he called the person’s basic characteristic, which he saw as defining them. To do so Gurdjieff styled this according to similar Sufi practice. The link between Gurdjieff’s work is why there is an association between the Enneagram and Sufi teachings. Some websites online, and some books will say that the Enneagram was an ancient Sufi practice. But as we’ve seen in this history, it is much more of a blend of traditions than it is coming from one singular tradition. Some of these blended traditions include components from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism and ancient Greek philosophy, particularly Socrates, Plato, and the neoplatonists. As well, there are clear connections to psychology, such as the use of the idea of the ego. We obviously won’t be able to go into detail about all the influences here, but those who are interested should definitely look into it. There are influences of Plato’s divine forms, the Kabbalah diagram of the tree of life, teachings of the Christian Desert Fathers, etc.
So I saw this article on the links between Enneagram and the occult, and Jacqueline has a little bit of information on that. So Jacqueline, why don’t you tell us about that?
Yeah, so as we know, a lot of Christian circles actually use the Enneagram. But there are also some Christian circles, who are aware of the history of the Enneagram and find it concerning. They use the word, the occult, and so this critique of something being linked to the occult is a criticism that we hear quite often in, like Christian criticisms. It’s used as a derogatory word and it’s linked to the devil, which our listeners may remember similar to how the term witchcraft has been used. And so a question might be like, what, what does occult mean? And why do we use it negatively like that, but first we need to talk about a related word: esotericism. So it’s from the Greek esōterikón, which means the internal. In antiquity, the term was used to describe the teachings and intended only for initiates of a tradition due to them being deemed too difficult or dangerous for the masses. This term was used in contrast to exoteric, which refer to the teachings accessible to the masses. So similarly, occultism is from the Latin occultum, meaning the hidden. The term occultism started to be used to describe the paranormal, or extra sensory phenomenon in the 19th century. The term differs from esotericism in that it focuses on the hidden knowledge of as yet unexplained natural and psychic phenomena. The modern day associations of the term are diabolic and or demonic. With these modern definitions in mind, I would more so say that the Enneagram is esoteric and occult. Because when I think occult I think paranormal and when I think paranormal, I think of The X Files and not the Enneagram. Regardless, as we have seen by the patterns of Gurdjieff and Ichazo, these teachings were hidden. You have to be taught by the holders of these secret knowledges, and as you spend more time learning and becoming closer to the inner circle, you will learn more knowledge. This, of course, is a common educational practice. I have learned more intricate theories as a gra—as a grad student, than when I was in middle school. The difference with esoteric and occult knowledge is that it is seen as secret, which isn’t the case with knowledge produced in universities. While there are definitely ways in which the Academy is not accessible for non academic folks, in theory, the knowledge can be found and used by the masses. Someone could buy an academic book or get a subscription to an academic journal. I could right now go and subscribe to a journal in chemistry.
I think the difference too, is that you don’t necessarily need a teacher who’s considered an expert. Like you could go and try to learn that on your own. Whereas I think with esoteric knowledge, especially like going back to the ancient Greek origins of that kind of initiate knowledge is you’re taught it by those that are in the inner circle.
So why is the occult seen as a bad thing? That lies largely in the institutional history of the Christian church. So sometimes church leaders would disagree on theological ideas. Sometimes having contradictory theologies was seen as dangerous as it could potentially create a divide in the church. So there would be decisions by church leaders, often involving a council and the Pope, about which doctrine was orthodox and which was heretical. If the heretics wouldn’t give up their belief, they may be persecuted, excommunicated, or they may just go into hiding with these ideas and form some sort of secret group to discuss these forbidden ideas. So while one might assume that these ideas must have been unbiblical, that’s actually an untrue assumption. So for example, Pelagius was seen as a heretic because he disagreed with Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. Both theologies were founded on Christian scripture, but Pelagius’ idea was declared heretical, likely due to the fact that Augustine had more influence than Pelagius. Just because something was called heretical by the Christian church doesn’t even necessarily mean that it was unbiblical. Regardless, to this day, there’s often a moral judgment attached with the idea of heretical or secret occult knowledge. So historically, the occult and esotericism have been seen as opposite to Christianity and thus demonic and ideas of heresy in the occult, are seen as synonymous with evil. This is obviously still something that continues today. So something you may have noticed about things in the West that are labeled with the occult or esotericism is that there seems to be a lot of mystery involved. This is a lot to do with the mystification and exoticization of the unknown or the quote unquote other, most often the quote, orient that occurred as a result of increased trade. For example, there are theories that the myth of the mermaid came from sailors seeing manatees for the first time. This mystification was true also of items like decks of cards, which came to Europe from China and plays a large part in the development of the practice of tarot. It was also true of ideas and practices like how Ichazo toured the world, learnt philosophies from religious teachers of different traditions, and combined it into a system which he can vaguely claim as secret knowledge from the world’s ancient traditions. This amalgamation of non Western ideas as demonstrated in the Enneagram, like with Greek philosophy, Sufism, etc, is a common feature of what is known as Western esotericism. And you’ll also see similar trends in the development of Western forms of yoga and meditation, which are often involved in these esoteric practices. To oversimplify one might say that it’s the cultural appropriation of antiquity, and particularly antiquity of the other, though it can also be seen in New Age and Spiritual But Not Religious movements today. So to us the concern about Western esotericism and the occult is not due to a believed link to the Christian devil. Rather, we’re more concerned with the histories of cultural appropriation and of cultural knowledge extraction, which have often been done for the profit of white Westerners. Awareness of the harm of cultural appropriation seems to be growing among various practitioners of various forms of Western esotericism. If you remember, in our witchcraft episode, Meghan cautioned anyone looking into witchcraft to first look at their own cultural roots before using practices of other cultures, such as the use of white sage used by various North American indigenous groups.
So not many people who use the Enneagram know this history. Most people think of it on par with any other personality test that is often used in psychology, or even in pop psychology, like the Myers Briggs personality test. So I’m curious and I think some of our survey respondents kind of give insight about this, about what people like specifically about the Enneagram, and how it compares to things like the Myers Briggs.
The Enneagram helped me see my struggle is an archetypical one that others before me and after me have also struggled with. It gave me a path to seeing myself and my way towards wholeness, it has helped me understand a lot of friction points between myself and others. The Enneagram gave me grace and understanding for myself, it helps me understand how I move in the world, as well as how others move differently than me. I’ve learned how to check in and connect with my gut level instincts more. I’ve also learned to lean into vulnerability and authenticity. It gives me a language and a framework to express, notice, and live in a more connected way in the world.
Seeing as I’ve taken the Myers Briggs test several times, and I’ve always received the same result, but in the case of the Enneagram tests have received different results with every test, I don’t take it all too seriously. I take it more as a temporary reflection of the present moment, than an insight into my character. I’ve always identified as an INTP, while also knowing that the Myers Briggs test was horsesh*t. But really, I feel so seen and represented by the INTP label. So when I found Enneagrams and got type five, it felt really natural and fitting, but also that the science behind it was not very legit. So like, I like that it can be used as a tool to understand myself better. But that’s all it is, a tool. It’s been really interesting to learn about what my motivations are, and how a lot of my behavior is motivated without me even realizing it right away.
As we heard in these reflections, many people appreciate it as a tool for self reflection. There was mention of the gut instinct as well as motivation, which is unique to the Enneagram. Oftentimes, people find that this puts you in a box a little less than some other tests like the Myers Briggs. For example, on the surface, Myers Briggs appears to have more possibilities. So there are 16 possible types, and the Enneagram only has nine. But with the possibility of wings and the fact that people move between the types according to their health, there seems to be a bit more leeway. Of course, some people still find it a bit boxy. This is a stereotype of four.
So yeah, that’s, that’s a way that I was often mistyped was four because I would say I get a little bit claustrophobic sometimes with personality, personality tests. And so when I would say this people would often be Oh, you’re a four and it’d be like, No, I’m actually a one I just don’t like being put in a box.
I think that’s funny because my biggest critique of this was that it puts people in a box and I’m a four. So there’s also a ton of literature on the Enneagram. It has way more nuances than even described so far in this episode. But a useful tool, it has is reflections on the compatibility of multiple types, their strengths and relationships, possible areas of conflict. Enneagram as a tool in conflict and for understanding differences, has been an important thing for many respondents.
Voicemail 2 35:26
I learned about my Enneagram as I was deconstructing from the religion I was raised in, which was very conservative, evangelical, Midwestern, white. And I had joined a house church, because we couldn’t continue to attend the church we had been attending for a long time, because we felt so disconnected. As we saw the politics of the day overtaking the beliefs of those in our community, and everything that we knew to be true about character mattering and about following the ways Jesus was clearly not what mattered most to so many of the people in our church community. So we left. And as we continued to learn from our peers in this house church community that was kind of just a ragtag band of people who still wanted to explore spirituality and social justice, but away from the normal confines of a church setting, we all took the Enneagram test and realized that it was very helpful for explaining how we saw the world, and how others see it differently than us. And it helped me understand more about why, why I felt differently than some people about really important things, for example, my parents. So that’s where I started the Enneagram. And from there, it has been really helpful just to learn more about relationships.
So this idea of using the Enneagram to help them understand like difference in their life is a very common theme, as we’ve discussed. Another aspect of this voicemail that I want to draw attention to, is just this fact that this person learned about the Enneagram in a religious setting, which as Steph noted a little bit earlier was quite common in at least the survey that we put out. And it can also be a very powerful tool in building a community, especially as the story of this person of like leaving a community and then looking for a community it can, it can be a very important part of building a new community with maybe shared value. So something that I wanted to talk about too, was about the community that forms around the Enneagram itself. So people who like the Enneagram tend to like to talk about it a lot. There are a lot of Facebook groups for the Enneagram as well as for, like each type has their own Facebook group. So if you’re on one of these groups, you would see common questions like Oh, my, my husband, is a for what should I buy him for his birthday? Or like a very specific question about a situation and then, Have any other sevens experienced situation X exactly like this. It’s kind of funny to read, sometimes. There’s a whole lingo and it makes people feel part of something and provides a way to explain situations and relationships that they might have not had before using the Enneagram. And so yeah, it can, by having this, this specific language, it helps. Like there’s sort of an in-group that forms and this tight knit community that develops as you talk about talking about the Enneagram. In a way, you could say that it provides a belief system and a community similar to what a religion, a religious community provides. I’ve noticed that the Enneagram is quite influential in what is called the ex evangelical group. So these are people who grew up evangelical but no longer identify that way. And so a large way that this has become popular is through a podcast called The Liturgists, who was started by two people who are ex evangelicals, and they do a bunch of specials on the Enneagram. And it received like a really, like really strong following, the podcast in general, but also like, specifically the episodes on the Enneagram and people got really into it. And something that I was wondering is that in this population where, you know, they grew up with this very maybe like structured belief system where, like, religious leaders in their lives, like told them what was right and what was wrong, then they leave this group. But then they feel like they lose this community and they lose this worldview. And they might be looking for kind of like a new something to fill the place. And I was wondering a little bit about if the Enneagram functions in a way that kind of like adds structure to these people’s lives, helps them build communities of people with similar values of like introspection that comes along with the Enneagram, how it can be helpful to with like, the trauma of these religious experiences, and working towards healing by using the Enneagram. Of course, not everyone loves the Enneagram. For some, like I know, for myself, I have found the jargon of the Enneagram to be alienating at times. When you’re unfamiliar with Enneagram, it can be really difficult to engage with a conversation that sounds like people just listing numbers. But also as one of the reflections voiced earlier, some may just not identify with the type and may not find it very useful.
So something I found really interesting was you bringing up this idea of the Enneagram communities, almost replacing what people used to find in these religious communities. And I think that’s interesting, because in each of these types, there’s obviously values put in place, right, we were talking about that earlier, where if you’re the healthiest version of this type, then you have certain traits and values. And just like in a religious community, everyone is striving to have those values and live up to those values and those kind of high functioning versions of themselves. So I think as well, because you find these communities, so you’re saying, you know, if I wanted, I could go join a community on Facebook, that’s all fours, which we would all have very similar values, obviously, like if we all value, kind of that deep emotional reflection, and things like that we would all have very similar things to talk about. So I think it kind of makes sense how this could very easily kind of take the place for people who previously relied on these religious communities to kind of guide them and provide answers to big questions. And then to kind of turned to these Enneagram communities, again, with all the same values to lead them and guide them to kind of be their best self, right.
There’s also Enneagram communities firs—like fours that are Christian, for example. And that, so then there would be like, that would be returning to the religious group as well. But like, just like that, like having that tight knit community of people who are like exactly like yourself, yeah. And that’s something we’ll be talking about, we’ll be having a guest on after Christmas, um, that talks about, like using Enneagram, within, like, Christian spiritual direction. And so there are a lot of books too that, like, talk about, like the spirituality of type fours, and maybe specific ways that fours would relate to the divine or things like that, that can be used in a spiritual direction setting.
Voicemail 3 43:22
Hello, Laura here. So I don’t know if I would say that my relationship to the Enneagram is mainly spiritual. But it does have a tremendous part in my self growth journey, specifically as a type four, wing three. I’ve been learning a lot in the past few years, about how that shows up in my life. And it’s just giving me really good pointers around what I can work towards having a better handle on and the parts of me that I can look at a little bit more intently. The big one for me is melancholia. Type fours, we often get very in our feelings. We end up in little fantasy words, worlds of our own and kind of trapped in emotions and a big one is sadness and melancholia. Type fours, typical sadboi kind of type. So I think I’ve been trying to learn how to not identify with it as part of my personality, but to really look at it and look how, look at how harmful it can be if it goes unchecked and if it’s over solidified through identification with it.
So Laura also said in an email to us that women tend to misidentify as a two, which is the Helper. So Laura said to us, I was misidentified as a type two, like a lot of other women, because people tend to over identify type two qualities with so-called feminine qualities of nurturing and over giving. Maybe I was conditioned enough for my surface character to resemble a type two. But deep down in my true essence, I definitely am not.
So this is something that I was thinking about, because as I said, I’m a one with a two wing. And after receiving Laura’s email, I started thinking about, hey, like, is my two wing because I’m a woman and I may be fulfilling, like gender roles without even realizing it? Or is it, is it more ingrained in my personality? And to be honest, I don’t know.
I think it’s interesting too, because one of my criticisms with the Enneagram, and with all personality tests, actually, it’s really not specific to this. But I noticed within myself, and I think it’s common with other people as well, that you, when you’re doing the survey, it’s quite easy to pick the values that you want to identify with more than the values that you actually identify with. And so I think, too, if it’s been ingrained in you so much that to be a good person, you have to be helpful and giving and caring and nurturing, whether that is from a gender standpoint, but it can also just be from you know, the environment you’ve grown up in, are you then more likely to be type casted as that rather than actually have that be reflective of who you are as a person? And I even could see that in mine, because I think that, for me, the values that I really hold dear to myself are being emotionally vulnerable with people, and having that kind of deep connection with people, appreciating beauty and art and creativity. But you know, when it comes down to it as well, sometimes I’m not necessarily emotionally vulnerable with people, you know what I mean?
So, one of the sites that I came across while researching for this episode, broke down which types are or should be, at least in this person’s opinion, considered masculine, feminine and androgynous. So, just to give you an idea of masculine would be, according to this eight, seven and five, feminine would be two, nine, and four and androgynous would be six, one and three. And it’s interesting to me that two out of three types in the feminine category also correspond with the feeling types that we were discussing earlier. While, two out of three types in the masculine category correspond with thinking, which are gendered stereotypes.
Well, and I’m sure there’s a certain element of like, well, there is definitely an element of social construct in this just because again, we define feminine characteristics as often being feeling and emotional based, when that’s just kind of how we’ve developed over time that’s not necessarily scientifically backed, you know what I mean?
Yeah, like the stereotype that women are the heart and men are the head. That’s, at least on this site, reflected in its masculine, feminine, and androgynous categories. So during my undergrad while I was completing my psych degree, I studied a bit of personality psychology, as well as psychometrics, which is the field dedicated to studying psychological testing. So while researching, I discovered that there’s been very little psychometric testing done on the Enneagram, and that which has been done apparently isn’t accepted as valid or reliable by academic communities. I found a chart earlier that shows the different distributions across genders of each type. What the data showed is that there are a lot more female type twos, fours, sixes, sevens, and nines, for instance. But this is not necessarily accurate or valid data. These results are probably skewed because the chart itself is based on test returns only, showing us that the number of male participants included in the chart is just under 4000, while the number of female participants is over 6600, which means that more women overall took the test, and perhaps more women of these particular personality types I mentioned are more likely to voluntarily take personality tests. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that women are more likely to be twos, fours, sixes, sevens, or nines. It just means that more women have taken these tests and shown up as twos, fours, sixes, sevens, or nines.
So I think on the thread of stereotypes, there’s also the fact that there is a stereotype associated to each of the Enneagram types as well. So as we saw in when we were first describing all of the types, oftentimes, it’s really easy to to look at a four and think of the first three characteristics that you see which is often emotional, selfish, needs to be unique. And those can be very negatively viewed, especially when you take the typical stereotypes of those. And I think it’s interesting when we use these, especially when we use these on other people. So for example, I’m just thinking about when workplaces will make you take a personality test to try to, you know, and maybe their intentions are good, because they’re trying to just find a way to look at how they can navigate conflict with you, or what areas and what types of people you might work best with. But I think it’s so quick that it can just pigeonhole you and stereotype you into a certain personality. Because, for example, if I walked into a job right now, and they made me take or asked me what my Enneagram was, and I said, four, and in their mind, they’re like, Oh, well, fours are highly emotional, like, you probably wouldn’t be good for this job, because this is a very organizational job and you need to have a clear head on your shoulders, and Oh, my gosh, an emotional woman can’t be the president, they’re gonna send a nuke, you know, and things like that, right. And so I kind of take issues with some of that, especially as it pertains to stereotyping. Because I think it pigeonholes people into these boxes, especially, you know, we talk about like, the esoteric nature of things like the Enneagram, where you only know so much until you really dive into it. So, you know, prior to actually doing research on this, if somebody had come up to me and said, I’m this, like, I’m the Challenger, I would have been like, Oh, so you’re just super confrontational all the time. Obviously, I don’t want to hang out with you, because I’m not confrontational. Whereas when you actually take the time to look, you see that it goes beyond those stereotypes, but I think it’s very easy to pigeonhole people into those.
Yeah, I think an important part of that is like, it can be very useful if you already know the person or the people that you’re working with in a team. And then you take the test, because then like, you already have something to go on. And you’re not stereotyping a person without knowing them. And so I’ve taken these tests in groups that I like, that, that fit that description and I found them to be quite helpful. But I did also find, like, when I was in high school, I worked at a summer camp, and we did the Myers Briggs and that one, so that’s more like, are you introverted, or extroverted? Or do you make a decision based on thinking or feeling? And so those can be more helpful, I guess, when like, as you’re getting to know someone, because the stakes aren’t so high, and there are less maybe negative stereotypes associated with those types. And so I found that to be quite helpful to get to know people. But yeah, you’re right. Like, when I think of a seven, like I definitely, like have a certain idea or an eight, like, you know, yeah, like, the stereotypical eight kind of scares me. But I also have friends that are eights. So like, it can be unhelpful in the boxing aspect.
I think, too, there’s something to be said about the fact that I believe that everybody has an internal and an external personality, right. And so based on how the testing of the Enneagram goes, I really think that it’s more indicative of what your internal personality is. So I think if you were to use this in a work setting, or a school setting, it could be good if you’re trying to look for that kind of deeper connection with people. But when it comes to just kind of your workflow or your ability to function in an office setting, it doesn’t necessarily speak to that as much. And maybe like Myers Briggs, I think that is a bit more of like the external personality than really, like it still interacts with your internal. But you know, like whether you’re an introvert or extrovert is pretty obvious from like, an external perspective, or at least to an extent. I say that, but that being said, I’m an introvert that often presents as an extrovert. So but you know, there’s still something to be said about, like, how much do you want, you know, your workplace to know about you? Right? And, you know, you kinda mentioned that you did the Myers Briggs at your camp, and we did something at my camp that was called the DISC test, the disc test, and I’ve only ever interacted with it there. And, you know, I felt very uncomfortable with that because I felt very isolated working at my camp, I didn’t really fit in with most people. And I do feel like, did that kind of play into it, right? You know, my boss didn’t seem to get along very well with me and never really gave me a chance and was that maybe reflective of what my personality test said, you know, and how they viewed me, based on this, like two second interaction we did in training week. You know, and maybe this is just like my personal strife with this, maybe most people don’t have this like negative view of it, but.
No, I agree, because so for example, some of the negative stereotypes with fives is they can become reclusive, or even, like rejecting towards other people. And I mean, yeah, maybe so for me, but I don’t want a prospective employer to think that I wouldn’t be a good part of the team just because sometimes I can, you know, retreat within myself. I can still be, you know, a team player, I can still work well with other people. And I wouldn’t want somebody to just make judgments based off what this personality test just told them about me.
All right, I know, I have a lot of criticisms, but I promise this is the last one. And I should also mention that like, I actually, like got really into the Enneagram, researching this for this week’s episode. So clearly, I still enjoy it. So but one of my other criticisms was that when I took the test, so I took the official Enneagram Institute test. And I just found that basically, if you haven’t taken it before, they give you two options. And it’s kind of an either or situation. So you’re supposed to pick which option you identify most with. And I often found that it wasn’t, you know, necessarily opposite ends of the spectrum. Or sometimes it was two opposite ends of the spectrum. So you’d have to pick something that you actually don’t identify with at all. But it was, you know, like the better of both options. So for example, it would ask something like, I am highly organized and make rational and logical decisions. And then the other option would say, I’m a very disorganized person. And I just make decisions in the moment. For an example. For me personally, I am kind of neither of those things, I would say that I’m pretty organized. But I also don’t sit there and spend 20 minutes trying to make a decision. But I still think it through my thought—like my process of making a decision, you know, and that’s just one example. But I feel like then when you get to the end, and it kind of has your results there for you, it will say, Oh, well, you’re 20% of this type. Which is not necessarily true, it just means that the other option was like even less me, you know, if that makes sense.
Yeah, I noticed the same thing with the questions with the official Enneagram test, it was just so strange that sometimes they seemed like not at all relevant to each other. That’s where at least I started questioning the scientific validity of the Enneagram test.
I feel like before we end off, I want to kind of say, though, that, again, despite all these criticisms, I did find the Enneagram tool very useful, because I did find it very self reflective. So regardless of I think, like the scientific validity of it, or whatever, there is something to be said about when I read, you know what maybe my perceived flaws are, it is interesting to then look at it and even just, for example, on the Enneagram Institute website, there’s a section where it talks about like issues you may have in your relationships. And it was funny reading that and just going Oh, like that makes total sense. Like me and my partner bicker over this all the time, you know, and it was that kind of self reflective, you kind of you read that, and you figure out how that interacts with your own life. And I think there’s something to be said about all personality tests and kind of how they function in this. So I think regardless of the scientific validity of it, it can be a useful tool for personal growth and personal development, and just taking time to actually sit and think about your traits and the things that you project onto other people, but also as well, the kind of expectations you have of other people and how different people are obviously different types. So it’s important to remember that you may respond to a situation in a certain way, but not everybody else will. And I think that’s as well why this has been such a valuable tool for things like spiritual growth.
Yeah, I can totally see why it’s become super popular as a tool for spiritual growth. And if you’re curious some of the most notable resources on the topic we discussed today are the books, The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Hertz, as well as The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr, who is a Catholic priest of the Franciscan tradition. It is also used as a tool for spiritual directors and coaching. And after Christmas, we will be talking to a spiritual director by the name Steven van Kleeck, about how he uses the Enneagram in his coaching. So we will look further into this topic then. But in closing, we’ll listen to one more voicemail, which we feel shows the positive impact that the Enneagram has had on people’s lives.
Voicemail 4 1:00:20
Hi, my name is Justin, I’m an Enneagram seven. And I really enjoyed my journey with the Enneagram and learning more about myself, which, you know, as the seven is my favorite subject, but also learning about where my personality begins to create friction with other personalities. And, and seeing those places and being able to even prevent them. Being married to a one, and having family members that are all over the Enneagram spectrum, it helps me see our conflicts in a different light. And help me to understand and appreciate different viewpoints and ways that I don’t always help myself in relationships. And that was, that was really huge for me. I think also, my spirituality I always struggled with, I think because it felt like I wasn’t committed enough. And in some ways I over compensated and became too committed, really leaned into that, you know, stress point of one, and, you know, became a pastor and became really good at that. But also, I think feeling a lot of internal guilt over the ways my personality really pushed against the religious structures around me. And discovering the Enneagram really helped me be okay with that and to embrace it, and to find an ease and a joy and my expression of spirituality that I don’t think I would have found without it. And so for that I’m immensely grateful.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Nearly Numinous. You can subscribe on all your favorite podcasting apps. Just search for Nearly Numinous. You can also find us on social media under the same name. Have a topic you’d like us to talk about? Would you like to be a guest on a future episode? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai