Enneagram: Breaking out of my box

The summer of 2017 will go down as the summer of the Enneagram. At least in my world.

“Personality tests are all nonsense,” exclaimed my good friend. “They categorize your personality into a narrow box that is way too rigid. And besides, you can just manipulate your answers to get the result you want.” So-opined my friend as we sat in a comfy, screened-in porch at a cottage. It was the Canada Day weekend, and with fireworks exploding in the distance we were having our own conversational fireworks over the pros and cons of personality tests.

My friend’s skeptical, almost reflexive response would become a common reaction to my enthusiastic encouragement for all of my friends and family to take a personality test. There are many such assessments out there, including the Myers Briggs, True Colours, DISC and more. But I was trumpeting the merits of the Enneagram, a personality profiler that distinguishes between nine distinct personality types. While everyone has bit of each type in them, each person has a basic personality type they identify with most. That’s their dominant personality type.

Over the weekend, the 10 of us at the cottage completed a free online test to determine our dominant personality type. As we discussed the results it became particularly interesting to examine how we related to one another, especially when we were angry. Each type tends to respond to stress and conflict in different ways, and it was almost uncanny how accurate the results were. We witnessed that Type Fours become more emotionally volatile and demanding, while Type Nines become disengaged. Then there are Type Sevens, who might impulsively say whatever comes into their mind – even if it’s extremely condescending and biting!

Campfire conversations
The Enneagram made for excellent conversation at the cottage. So much so, that when my family was busy preparing for our annual camping trip a month later I encouraged (some would say forced) each member to take the free online test in advance. I thought it would serve as brilliant campfire conversation fodder, sparking fiery debate, laughter and thoughtful reflection. And I was right. While roasting marshmallows, we read aloud each of our types, and even researched how different numbers pair together as partners. Turns out two numbers, wedded together, will offer up fairly predictable marital spats. We laughed particularly hard when recounting one such spat my parents had endured that very day, which played out like a pre-written script.

I had become a believer in the Enneagram’s power. Not only could I see its value for increased self-awareness, but recognized that it also had the potential to dramatically increase my understanding of others. The lingo of the Enneagram began to pepper daily conversations with my wife. It gave us “light bulb” moments as we navigated normal routine marital ups and downs. “Oh. Right. You don’t care how much I know, until you know how much I care.” Simple insights into one another that were unique to our own numbers on the Enneagram.

Too simplistic you say? Too reductionistic? Balderdash. The truth is we all have behaviors and patterns that we repeat, often without thought or self-reflection. As for me, the more I examined the description of my dominant personality, the more comforting it became (after an initial feeling of self-scorn). It was as if someone was writing specifically about me and my inner workings. “How did they know I do that? That’s crazy, that’s exactly what I do!” And I observed others being similarly impacted. Some were reduced to tears as the Enneagram was able to mine deep truths about their inmost self, and bring those truths to the surface to be observed with astonishing clarity.

From trick to transformation
The Enneagram tool has found significant resonance within Christian circles as of late. The Jesuits were the first to begin utilizing, developing and deepening its insights, starting in the 1970s. However, its popularity has surged beyond this incubation among the Jesuits. Numerous books, podcasts and websites are now available, many of which approach the Enneagram with a distinctly Christian bent (though not all). Two excellent places to start are The Road Back to You: A Journey of Self-Discovery or Richard Rohr’s Enneagram: A Christian Perspective. For a more technical analysis, see works by Don Riso and Ross Hudson.

What is the point of this renaissance of self-knowledge, this deep inward turn? Perhaps the 500th anniversary of the Reformation presents a good opportunity to quote from Martin Luther’s Theologica Germanica: “to know oneself, is above all art, for it is the highest art.” Luther goes on to say that it doesn’t matter how much you know and understand about the world around you if you don’t know yourself first. Luther understood that the key to outward reformation begins with the high art of reforming oneself from the inside – shining the light of the gospel into the dark areas of my habitual inner workings. And this really is the point. Learn new insights about myself, understand my own dynamics, release the grip of self-defeating ways of living, so I can open myself to experience interior freedom as I work to grow in the likeness of Christ Jesus.

The point of the Enneagram is not to box you in. Nor is it to simply create fodder for good conversation. The Enneagram, as Richard Rohr states, confronts us with our own compulsions – the habitual behaviors under which we live, usually without being aware of them – and invites you to go beyond them. All nine types are in need of redemption from their own box, and all nine types have unique gifts which only they can fully bring to their community once they break out of their box. To use religious language, the Enneagram invites conversion. Transformation.

The summer of 2017 may have been the summer of Enneagram party tricks. As I delve deeper into this effective tool, I am hoping that the coming winter will be more about breaking out and being transformed by the renewing of my mind.  

Learn more at enneagraminstitute.com or take the (free) test at eclecticenergies.com.


  • Ken Dam lives with his wife Claire in rural Hamilton on a small-scale permaculture farm still in its infancy. Together they explore developing skills that nourish their relationship to the land, to food, to their community and to one-another.

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