The Hip Mom Dives Into the Enneagram

Have you ever wondered why certain people dumbfound you with their actions? Have you ever had conflicts with your children or your spouse that seem mystifying or unresolveable? If so, delving into a little personality theory can be illuminating – if not life changing. There are several theories of personality out there – maybe you’ve heard of Myers-Briggs, or even Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” (Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel). All of these are useful models. But I’ve found endless inspiration and self-awareness with the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system which helps people understand who they are and what makes them tick. This might sound like an exercise for psychology students or old people with too much time on their hands, but it comes down to an important part of a meaningful life: self-knowledge.

As Brother Dave notes in The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, “What we don’t know about ourselves can and will hurt us, not to mention others. As long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we’re prisoners of our history. We’ll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us. Eventually we become so accustomed to making the same mistakes over and over in our lives that they lull us to sleep. We need to wake up!”

Well, doesn’t it sound like that kind of self-knowledge has pretty important ramifications for us as mothers at the helm of our complicated, messy families? Knowing ourselves better, and knowing our children and spouses better, can radically improve our understanding of our loved ones’ feelings and motivations, our own fears and weaknesses, and greatly improve our family life.

So where to begin? There are tons of resources on the Enneagram; you might want to start with taking a test to discover what your type is. The website www.enneagramtypetest.com is a approachable and accurate – and quick! – test. The Enneagram Institute has a more thorough, 40-minute test for a mere $12. When I took the test for the first time, I felt like my skin has been unzipped and my guts had been spilled out in front of me, splayed out for all to see: that’s how insightful the Enneagram is to one’s inner fears, inner desires and inner life!

Here’s a great description of all the types from the aforementioned The Road Back to You:

Type 1: The Perfectionist. Ethical, dedicated and reliable, they are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.

Type 2: The Helper. Warm, caring and giving, they are motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.

Type 3: The Performer. Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, they are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.

Type 4: The Romantic. Creative, sensitive and moody, they are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their oversized feelings and avoid being ordinary.

Type 5: The Observer. Analytical, detached and private, they are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy and avoid relying on others.

Type 6: The Loyalist. Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case scenario thinkers, who are motivated by fear and the need for security.

Type 7: The Enthusiast. Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.

Type 8: The Leader. Commanding, intense and confrontational, they are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.

Type 9: The Peacemaker. Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, they are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others and avoid conflict.

Isn’t that fascinating? And while there are a million permutations of each type, each and every seven billion of us falls into one of these nine types. You can see that no type is “better” than the other; they are all just delightfully different.

The nine types are just the tip of the Enneagram iceberg. Another Enneagram concept is “Wings.” Wings are the numbers to your right and left. For example, I’m a 4 (sigh! Maybe this is why I write the the way I do, what with all the emoting!). My wing is a 3 (The Performer) since I’m inclined to dress up, be goofy and love parties. If my wing were a 5, I’d be more introverted and withdrawing.

Another concept of the Enneagram: you can see the arrows pointing to and away from different numbers. These indicate each number’s stress and security number. Your “Stress” number is the number your personality moves toward when you are stressed out, over taxed, and generally not living your best life. So when I’m stressed out, I take on the less-great qualities of a 2: I become a martyr and repress my own needs.

The “Security” number – the number pointing toward your number on the Enneagram – indicates the type your personality moves toward and draws energy and resources from when you’re feeling secure. So I would take on the better qualities of a 1: I actually get motivated to buckle down and do something about all the whacky creative ideas knocking around in my head.

And now, if you really want to go deep, the Enneagram also associates “Deadly Sins” with each type. Of course it’s difficult to look at the underbelly of our ugly selves, but as David Benner cautions, “No one should work with the Enneagram if what they seek is flattery. But no one should fail to do so if what they seek is deep knowing of self.”

My great struggle is with envy, which makes so much sense when I reflect: All my life, no matter how seemingly fabulous my present circumstances, I have let prettier, more talented, more wealthy people mar my happiness. “Fours believe they are missing something essential without which they will never be complete. They envy what they perceive to be the wholeness and happiness of others.” Well, poopy – but at least I know that about myself now!

But that’s just me. Now I’m a little better aware of my own strengths and foibles, how much can I learn if I suggest (force) my family members to take it? It turns out PVT is a 5, which makes perfect sense – he is terribly intelligent, analytical, does spreadsheets for fun, and spends lots of time in his own head. Early in our marriage I would want him to “come out” more, but I know now that he needs time to recharge before he can chat and interact. Knowing this has given me so much peace!

And then my older kids take it. I’m shocked to find out one of my kids is a 9 – a Peacemaker – but then it makes sense. He never complains or causes conflict, goes along with the flow, keeps to himself, but then once every few months or so, boom! All the feelings come out. Now I know to encourage him to share and talk more, and that I shouldn’t assume everything is OK because he is conflict-averse.

And another son is a 3: The Performer. Aha! So that’s why he cares so much about the name of what college he attends, why he likes his Lululemon, why his public persona is so important to him – and why he’s so afraid to try anything new. He might fail for all to see! Now it’s my job to gently help him overcome this fear. Just a little bit of knowledge about your children can really enrich your relationships with them, and provide insight into nuances of their personality which you didn’t see before.

Intrigued? There are numerous books (The Sacred Enneagram), podcasts (“The Enneagram Journey”), and even theme songs for each type (“The Sleeping at Last” podcast). Take a look! But remember, don’t make excuses for yourself once you find out your type. I’m prone to this: as a 4, if I don’t feeeeeeeeeel like doing something, I won’t do it. I need to quash this tendency of mine. Be aware of your weaknesses. But in the end, be tender with yourself, your spouse, your children – because we are all beloved!


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