The Beginner's Guide to Determining Your Enneagram Type

Tue Jul 11 2023

two Greek statues figuring out their Enneagram type

Ever felt misunderstood?

Have you ever felt like you did not understand someone else?

People are different, and a personality system called the Enneagram can help demystify others and yourself. The Enneagram offers a framework for understanding people’s core fears and motivations.

I remember how life was before I discovered my Enneagram type.

My wife and I often had disagreements we couldn’t resolve. We would argue about who was right, disagreeing over the facts and trying to impose our versions of the truth on each other. We thought we already understood each other’s perspectives, but we did not slow down and dive deep into where we were each coming from. The Enneagram helped us slow down. It was a tool and a lifeline for our relationship. The more we dove into the Enneagram and each other’s type, the more we began to see into each other’s inner world.

It helped us resolve our conflict then, and we continue to use it now.

In this guide, I’ll simplify the complex world of the Enneagram. I’ll show you exactly how to determine your type so that you can better understand yourself and others.

Enneagram Overview

What is an Enneagram?

There is much to cover, but we will cover the broad strokes.

The Enneagram is a personality system. A personality is a grouping of characteristics that explain how people are similar and different. The Enneagram looks at thoughts, feelings, and actions and identifies “types” or archetypes. There are 9 core types, and you might have heard someone mention that they are an 8 or a 4.

How your Enneagram Type is Formed

It is said that your type/ personality is formed in childhood as a response to some unmet need (e.g., a childhood wound). Your type can be thought of as a coping mechanism or a survival strategy that you developed and still use today. Parts of your personality help you survive, and parts hold you back.

For example:

  • A child who was constantly criticized may grow up to be an adult who second-guesses their every decision, never believing their efforts are good enough.
  • A child who grew up in a chaotic environment might cope by distracting themselves, always looking on the bright side, and avoiding uncomfortable or painful situations.
  • A child who was only shown love and affection when they achieved something might grow up to be a workaholic who believes they must win at everything; otherwise, they are worthless.

A childhood wound can develop in many ways. The important part is the negative emotion that stays with you. The three negative emotions are fear, shame and anger.

Now, let’s dive deeper into how you can determine your type.

Steps to Determining Your Enneagram

1. Identify Your Core Emotion

The first step in identifying your Enneagram type is understanding the three core emotions that form your “type.”

Ask yourself, “Which of these emotions comes up for you the most in daily life?” You either:

  • feel that emotion and use it to motivate you
  • feel that emotion and push it away
  • feel that emotion constantly in the back of your head (subconsciously)

Another way to identify your core emotion would be to ask which emotion you have the most access to. Which emotion is easy to express? Or if someone else was feeling anger, fear, or shame, which emotion would be easiest for you to empathize with?

2. Consider the Connection Between Emotions and Centers of Intelligence

In the Enneagram, these core emotions relate to centers of intelligence.

The negative emotion you feel forces you to develop coping mechanisms that help you survive. You develop a special “intelligence” to cope with that negative emotion.

  • Fear relates to intellectual intelligence
  • Shame relates to emotional intelligence
  • Anger relates to instinctual intelligence.

If you can consistently sense what other people are feeling, you may have high emotional intelligence, and your core emotion may be shame. If you are always in your head or have been told that you “overthink” things, you might have intellectual intelligence that you developed in response to fear. If you go with your guy a lot to make decisions, you might have instinctual intelligence and wrestle with anger.

The crazy thing to think about is that other people have different intelligences that may come off as superpowers.

Conversely, your own intelligence/ superpower might be a blind spot to you but not to other people.

3. Consider How Your Core Emotion Shows Up

When trying to identify your core emotion, you need to consider how each type “uses” that emotion.

Each type handles its core emotion differently. There are three Enneagram types for each core emotion. The different ways of handling the emotion are the following:

  • Actively using the emotion as a form of empowerment or motivation
  • Actively suppressing the emotion in an attempt to escape the uncomfortable feeling
  • Unconsciously using that emotion or having that emotion constantly in the background

With that in mind, you are now ready to determine your Enneagram type.

4. Find Your Type

Each type has a core emotion, core motivation, and core fear. Look through the following to get a sense of what your type might be.

Type 1 - The Reformer/ Perfectionist

  • Core Motivation: Desire to be good, ethical, and correct.
  • Core Fear: Being corrupt, defective, or imperfect.
  • Core Emotion: Anger
  • Childhood Wound: Ones often felt disconnected from the protective figure in their life. This could have been due to the parent needing to be more focused, overly strict, or lenient. Ones made themselves their judges and critics, developing their strict code of ethics and rules to cope.
More on type One

Type 2 - The Helper

  • Core Motivation: Desire to be loved and appreciated.
  • Core Fear: Being unwanted, unloved, or dispensable.
  • Core Emotion: Shame
  • Childhood Wound: Twos felt a lack of nurturing, guidance, or structure came from the protective figure. They developed the underlying feeling that they could only earn love through selflessness, goodness, and repression of their needs.
More on type Two

Type 3 - The Achiever

  • Core Motivation: Desire to be successful and admired.
  • Core Fear: Being worthless, unsuccessful, or unimportant.
  • Core Emotion: Shame
  • Childhood Wound: Threes felt deeply connected to the nurturing figure in their life but sensed that they were loved or valued for their achievements rather than who they were. They worked hard to gain approval through achievements.
More on type Three

Type 4 - The Individualist

  • Core Motivation: Desire to be unique, authentic, and understood.
  • Core Fear: Having no identity or personal significance.
  • Core Emotion: Shame
  • Childhood Wound: Fours felt disconnected from both parental figures. They felt their parents didn’t see them for who they were. They tried early on to accept what made them different.
More on type Four

Type 5 - The Investigator

  • Core Motivation: Desire to be knowledgeable and competent.
  • Core Fear: Being helpless, useless, or overwhelmed.
  • Core Emotion: Fear
  • Childhood Wound: Fives felt ambivalent towards their parental figures. They felt like “odd ducks,” forever on the outside looking in. Fives retreated from the outside world to cope and focused on mastering a unique subject of interest.
More on type Five

Type 6 - The Loyalist

  • Core Motivation: Desire for security and support.
  • Core Fear: Without guidance, support, or security.
  • Core Emotion: Fear
  • Childhood Wound: Sixes felt connected to the protective figure in their home but internalized their relationship with this figure and learned to depend on them for security or guidance rather than trusting their inner voice.
More on type Six

Type 7 - The Enthusiast

  • Core Motivation: Desire to be satisfied and content.
  • Core Fear: Being deprived, trapped, or in pain.
  • Core Emotion: Fear
  • Childhood Wound: Sevens felt disconnected from the nurturing figure in their home. To deal with this, Sevens learned to focus on “transitional objects” or toys and activities that would feed the emptiness inside.
More on type Seven

Type 8 - The Challenger

  • Core Motivation: Desire to protect themselves and control their lives.
  • Core Fear: Being harmed, controlled, or violated.
  • Core Emotion: Anger
  • Childhood Wound: Eights felt ambivalent towards the nurturing figure in their home. They decided to grow up quickly because they felt that by showing vulnerability or “softness,” they would be hurt, rejected, or betrayed.
More on type Eight

Type 9 - The Peacemaker

  • Core Motivation: Desire for peace and harmony.
  • Core Fear: Conflict, tension, or disconnection.
  • Core Emotion: Anger
  • Childhood Wound: Nines felt connected to both parents but learned to “tune out” the problems and try to numb themselves to the conflict inside. They learned to numb themselves to pain, deny their feelings, and stay in the background.
More on type Nine

If you identify with an Enneagram type or are trying to decide between a few, there is one more thing you need to know.

The Connecting Lines on the Enneagram

The Enneagram types are connected.

Enneagram integration lines

These connections represent how each type will appear depending on their emotional state. Each type will act differently depending on if they are “in stress” or “in comfort.” These lines are also known as the paths of integration (growth/ comfort) and the paths of disintegration (destruction/stress).

The Paths Explained

Path of Integration (Growth): This is the direction we move when growing, feeling secure, or operating out of our higher selves. We take on some of the positive traits of another type. For example, when a Type Eight (The Challenger) is moving toward growth, they take on some of the positive characteristics of a Type Two (The Helper), becoming more open-hearted and caring.

Path of Disintegration (Stress): This is the direction we move when we are under stress or operating out of our lower selves. We take on some of the negative traits of another type. For example, when a Type Eight is under stress, they take on some of the negative characteristics of a Type Five (The Investigator), becoming more withdrawn and secretive.

Here’s how it works for each type:

  • Type 1 moves towards Type 7 in growth and Type 4 in stress.
  • Type 2 moves towards Type 4 in growth and Type 8 in stress.
  • Type 3 moves towards Type 6 in growth and Type 9 in stress.
  • Type 4 moves towards Type 1 in growth and Type 2 in stress.
  • Type 5 moves towards Type 8 in growth and Type 7 in stress.
  • Type 6 moves towards Type 9 in growth and Type 3 in stress.
  • Type 7 moves towards Type 5 in growth and Type 1 in stress.
  • Type 8 moves towards Type 2 in growth and Type 5 in stress.
  • Type 9 moves towards Type 3 in growth and Type 6 in stress.

Examine how you feel when you are at your best and when you are at your worst and see if it aligns up with your connecting lines. To dive deeper into the connecting lines and see how each Enneagram type looks check out this article.

Avoid the Common Pitfall

The most common pitfall is identifying with the type that you want to be rather than who you are.

Considering your natural tendencies and daily behaviors is hard. Some people completely reject their Enneagram type at first because the childhood wound is too close to home. They might also reject it because they are active working on addressing their core fear.

We are all a work in progress.

Remember, this is a journey of self-discovery, and it may take time to fully understand your type. Please be patient with yourself and the process.

Wrap Up

You now have a better tool to understand your thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors.

Use what serves you; disregard what does not. Personal “development” is not just about knowing more things, feeling good about yourself, or changing your behavior. It is about understanding yourself and others and having empathy for how they became who they are.

As Socrates said, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and you need to know more because you should, and go ahead and do it, know more” (loose translation).

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