The Enneagram is a personality typing system that holds layers of tools that can be used to increase self-awareness and promotes psychological growth. There are Nine Types on the Enneagram and all people will only have one core type. However, various layers distinguish the core types from each other and customize our core type to speak more deeply to our individual experience. Layers of the Enneagram include but are not limited to Wings, Triads, and Stances.
While there are various free online quizzes to help you determine your core type, they are often inaccurate. Part of the reason for "mistypings" is the very nature of the Enneagram. While many personality tests are rooted in external behaviors, the Enneagram bases Types on internal drives, which is more difficult to determine with a quick quiz. Though a quiz may be a helpful place to start, I highly recommend reading through the types and coming to your own conclusion of what resonates.
Quick Tip: If you have no aversion to your Type, it is unlikely the right fit (or you haven’t explored the Type thoroughly). When the Enneagram resonates, you will likely feel uncomfortable because you will be confronted with parts of yourself that you do not like.
The Enneagram is a physical shape that outlines the possible movements of each Type. All Types are connected to two others by lines; one number is moved toward in times of stress and the other is moved toward in times of security. For example, a Type One (often considered disciplined, principled, and perfectionistic) is connected to Type Seven and Type Four. In times of stress, Type One will adopt traits of a less healthy Type Four (such as a tendency toward self-pity and wallowing). In times of security, Type One will embody traits of the healthier Type Seven (e.g. more willingness to be spontaneous and playful). However, the core type will always remain the same regardless of where Type One is moving toward. In other words, the person who identifies as a Type One will remain rooted in their core motivation, even if their behavior appears to be that of another Type. After generally understanding the structure of the Enneagram, read through your core type and begin exploring the layers. In this post, I talk about a few of the layers of the Enneagram, all of which have been helpful in my personal growth.
Wings are one of the ways that our Type is customized; it is one way that the diversity within Types is explained. Let’s work with Type Nine. Using the Enneagram shape, we can see that Type Nine is bordered by Type One and Type Eight. Therefore, an Enneagram Nine will either have a dominant One Wing, a dominant Eight Wing, or neither/both. At times, Enneagram Nines with a One Wing may express themselves similarly to Ones (e.g. focusing on organizing their environment as a means of self-soothing) and Nines with an Eight Wing may express themselves similarly to the Type Eight (e.g. expressing anger more readily). However, to reiterate, the core motivations/desires/etc. would remain the same across the Type Nines, even if their behavior differs.
Some Enneagram teachers suggest that during the ‘first half of life,’ a person will have one dominant wing and during the ‘second half of life’ a person will lean into the other wing. Other teachings say that a person can go back and forth and utilize the strengths of both sides (and fall into the slippery slopes of both sides). It is all about what resonates.
Wings can be used to better understand our behavior and the possible ways our behavior is helpful or harmful. They can also be used as a means of relating to others (specifically the types on either side of our core Type). Wings can also be a tool to draw us out of our core type and to lean into the strengths of other Types, which can provide balance.
Within the layers of the Enneagram, we will notice that the Nine Types are often divided into three groups of three.
Regarding the Three Triads, the Nine Types are divided in a straightforward manner when looking at the shape itself. The Triads are often used to highlight the underlying emotion that the Types (consciously or unconsciously) experience as well as bringing attention to the dominant Center of Intelligence. However, some Enneagram experts will highlight additional layers to the Three Triads, such as the core struggles and defense mechanisms within each triad.
One way to use this information is to begin observing the self and how the core emotion and struggles manifest. It is not always straightforward. For example, some Type Sixes do not experience themselves as fearful because they may move toward their fears and face them frequently. However, just because they emulate courage and willingness does not mean that fear is not a driving force within.
Another layer is the three Stances. One Enneagram Teacher (Suzanne Stabile-see resources below) highlights the accessibility to changing our behavior and addressing problematic patterns through the wisdom of Stance work. You will notice that the Nine Types are divided into three groups, but that they are allocated differently than with the Triads. A Type’s stance highlights the Center of Intelligence that is repressed. All of us will need to intentionally cultivate one of the Centers to promote more balance in our lives.
One thing I love about the Enneagram is the way it provokes critical thinking and speaks to nuance. We see that there are three numbers, Types Three, Six & Nine, that are both dominant and repressed in the same center—how does this make any sense??
Basically, these three types use their dominant Triad to absorb and organize information from their environment, while ALSO having great difficulty in using that Center in any productive way. For example, the Type Three takes in information using feelings; they are generally aware of how others may be feeling and are adept at ‘reading the room.’ However, they have difficulty using feelings to connect with others, to make decisions, or as a guide for authentic expression. Threes repress feelings by stuffing their own deep inside and focusing on appearing successful in whatever way they define the term
To begin stance work, frequently ask yourself one question to cultivate awareness around the repressed center.
With this practice, you can decrease how often you fall into unhelpful patterns while also exploring ways to shift toward more balance and fulfillment.
What is mentioned in this post is only a fraction of the ways the Enneagram can be used to build self-awareness and cultivate change. If you dive in, consider ways you can laugh at yourself, let go of denial, and build compassion for all. The Enneagram shall not be used to justify bad behavior, but rather to address it and to reconnect with the most authentic version of the Self.
(Please note that because the Enneagram is a bit trendy, there is a lot of superficial information and misinformation out there. These three resources are reliable.)