Self inquiry is enriched when we have terms to reflect on or identify with. The Enneagram illustrates nine basic personality types, giving insight into what motivates people and the diverse ways that they interact with each other. We are dynamic beings, ultimately not definable if we keep growing and evolving, yet it never hurts to consider our dominant traits and patterns. These nine types may help you know yourself better as well as bring a deeper understanding to the people that you attract and surround yourself with.
Identifying can lead to over-identifying which is problematic. I like to consider these different systems of understanding personalities as mythical stories, or the interplay of archetypes. Though there is value to identify with one particular type, there is also value to consider that you are all nine types but some assert more presence in your life than others. Below I have created an amalgamation of type descriptions for you to explore.
Type 1: The Reformer
Let’s face it, most of the time we are motivated by fear or desire so identifying these drives within each type is crucial. The Reformer is afraid of being corrupted or evil, they desire to have integrity, to be “good”, morally upstanding. These are certainly things that we can all relate to, but for Ones these issues tend to dominate. Many who possess these traits become leaders, political or spiritual. Sadly, sometimes the things that we push away the most are the things that we attract.
Reformers are on a mission to improve the world and very often they succeed at it. Willing to leave their comfort-zone, Ones make sacrifices to show the power of moral character. They often influence many people with their idealism whether they are able to obtain it or not in their own personal lives. The Reformer is always searching for rationales that support their often irrational quest to make the world a better place as they are driven by a deep passion that defies cultural norms.
Notable Reformers in history include Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Noam Chomsky, Bill Moyers, Plato, Confucius.
Type 2: The Helper
Just by it’s title we can tell that The Helper fears not being loved and desires to be accepted. When a person becomes obsessed with pleasing others, they often neglect themselves. Whether others express appreciation for them, or if they are able to accept and allow that love to fill them up, Helpers are an asset to any community. Tending to be genuinely warm-hearted, empathetic, and sweet, people who exhibit this trait are often drawn to some sort of service. Since they see their contribution as not being so grandiose as Ones, they may be drawn to become a social-worker, a religious leader, a counselor.
The Helper part of me sees this attribute of “adding color to others dreams” as one of the highest aspirations one can strive for. Whereas Ones may inspire our minds with idealism, Twos will open our heart and remind us of the importance of family, furry pets, children, and emotional connection. That’s why people like Ammaji (The Hugging Saint), Bishop Desmond Tutu, Eleanor Roosevelt, Paramahansa Yogananda or musicians like John Denver, Stevie Wonder, and Dolly Parton are considered Twos.
Type 3: The Achiever
Also known as the charmer, this type is afraid of feeling worthless and will go to great lengths to exude success. These are often our stars, our heroes, the ones who exemplify what it means to make the most of themselves, always excelling at personal mastery. They are often great role models who internally struggle with their obsession of self-image, workaholism, and being overly competitive.
The thing I love about exploring these types is that it becomes easy to see how a character strength can also be completely entwined with its weakness. The Greek Myths teach us this but most of us don’t have time to remember them (or only read the Cliffs Notes to begin with), or would prefer to read an article like this instead of committing to a long book written forever ago. The Achiever may have only read the Cliff Notes, but if they got an “A” in the class it will suffice if the required status is achieved.
Refusing to be a “nobody”, these people are often very confident and willing to do what it takes to wear the honor of being considered successful in their circles. Sometimes their quest for this type of acceptance from society leaves them unclear about who they really are and what they really want for themselves. In our eyes, people like Madonna, O.J. Simpson, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Sting, Whitney Houston, Jon Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber will always be glimmering stars even if their shortcomings are visible.
Type 4: The Individualist
Sensitive, self-indulgent, dramatic, expressive and introspective, the Four is afraid of having no identity and strives to create a unique persona. These people are great at re-inventing themselves, even if they drown in their own melancholy at times. They are often creative geniuses. Individualists often enjoy attracting a rescuer and love to be surrounded by beauty as their emotional needs seem to trump everything. My favorite thing about this personality type is their unfiltered honesty with themselves as they own (or overindulge) their feelings and their motives, contradictions, or emotional conflicts without shame.
This often causes them to need to withdrawal, but it is also why they are such creative powerhouses. Emerging with brilliance and surprises, we rise and fall with them, living vicariously through their vibrant expression. Even though they are sometimes socially awkward, they need validation and connection from people around them like we all do. Prince, Rumi, Edgar Allen Poe, Rainer Maria Rilke, Frida Kahlo, Billie Holiday, Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Nicolas Cage are fine examples of this archetype.
Type 5: The Investigator
Introspective, intense, thinker-types like The Investigator are often secretive, perceptive, and innovative. These individuals are afraid of being helpless and strive to be competent in their lives. Because they are curious and able to invent whole universes in their mind, they can sometimes become deluded or lost in their own larger-than-life imagination. Since Fives are visionaries, often ahead of their time, they can help us to see the world in new ways, but they can become loners that have trouble with cynicism or nihilism.
Investigators love to learn, they are not afraid of the unknown, and they enjoy asking “why”. This can be applied to the entire universe, or a grain of sand in the external world, but exploration doesn’t end there. This character is happy to investigate the deeper meaning and unknown depths of the human spirit.
Albert Einstein, Siddartha Gautama Buddha, Stephen Hawking, Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvador Dali, Emily Dickinson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Stephen King, Ursula K. LeGuin, Mark Zuckerberg, Jane Goodall, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, Tim Burton, are all generally considered to be Investigators.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Type Sixes are dependable people who fear a lack of guidance and crave security. This makes them trustworthy and responsible hard-workers who are sometimes clinging extra tightly to the rules because it gives them purpose and security. This does not mean that they can’t be defiant, rebellious, evasive, and indecisive. In fact this tendency can also upset the security that they so desire which is why they also tend to have a certain level of anxiety. This is the kind of friend that you want to have in your corner so long as you don’t trigger their reactive propensity.
Their undying loyalty is not only to their friends but also to their beliefs which, for better or worse, will have them clinging to a sinking ship. In relationships, they will be the last one to give up and we all have a lot to learn from their ability to commit. This can be commitment to an idea, a group, or a lover. Frodo Baggins, Rush Limbaugh, Ellen Degeneres, Andy Rooney, Katie Couric, and Michael Moore are emblematic of this personality type.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
These people crave contentment and fear being in pain or being trapped. Generally, this extraverted type is optimistic, spontaneous, and can go with the flow, but this playful way of being often gets them into trouble by over-extending themselves or becoming scattered and undisciplined. Always on to the next thing, they crave variety and can exhaust themselves with new experiences that can distract them on impulse.
This “kid in the candy store” kind of enthusiasm is contagious and lots of fun to be around so long as you can keep up. Sevens like to inspire others and tend to uplift those around them. They are good at improvising on the go, enjoy the spontaneity and brainstorming required to launch a new project but they may not stay through to the end. Dalai Lama, W.A. Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, and Amelia Earhart are fine examples of this personality type. Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Noel Coward, John F. Kennedy, Joe Biden, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, and Russell Brand are others who can be said to fall into this category.
Type 8: The Challenger
These assertive, wilful, dominating individuals are not afraid of conflict and are the best people to turn to if you really need to get something done. They fear being controlled by others and are proactive to dominate situations in order to make sure that never happens. Self-reliant and independent people like this rarely like to show their vulnerabilities, are quick to lose their temper and oftentimes come across as intimidating. This is great when it comes to direct communication, decisiveness and other qualities that make for good leadership.
The charisma of the Challenger is good at convincing others to join their cause even an impossible cause. They don’t mind being challenged because they understand that this sharpens them, and for this reason they will have no problem challenging you especially if they think it will help you grow. They will respect you for challenging them, and their abundant vitality can convince you that they are almost super-human. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Oskar Schindler, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lyndon Johnson, Mikhail Gorbachev, Saddam Hussein, and Senator John McCain are fine examples of the Challenger Type.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Where would the world be without the easy-going, agreeable, reassuring peacemaker? Their modesty allows others to dominate the spotlight while they inconspicuously keep the whole operation running smoothly. This is because they fear separation and know that getting along is the best way to create success.
Their desire for peace in the world is equalled by their desire for inner peace which often makes the spiritual seekers. This quality makes them grounded, magnetic, in touch with the elements as well as their own instincts. Nines are considered the top of the enneagram because they are good at incorporating the best traits of all the other types. Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Jim Henson, Garrison Keillor, Walter Cronkite, Carlos Santana, James Taylor, Jack Johnson, and Audrey Hepburn are personalities that resonate with the characteristics of The Peacemaker.
Identify but Don’t Over-Identify
Hopefully this brief introduction to The Enneagram will inspire you to explore deeper. The Enneagram Institute is a solid resource for learning more. It is enjoyable to ponder all of the complex ways that we humans assert ourselves into the world through character traits. Though it is valuable to study these generalisations, it is important to recognise that none of us are limited to any one type. We are always evolving and perhaps we spend some time in one character trait until we master it and move on to the next. Let this practice be liberating instead of limiting. Remember that you are a being with infinite depth and possibility along with everyone around you!