Why I Love the Enneagram (And You Should Too)

Gina Butz growth, personal 6 Comments

Why I love the Enneagram

photo by Michael D. Beckwith

About 8 years ago, when I was coaching a leadership program for our ministry, the other coaches began pulling out these “Enneagram” books. Having a love/hate relationship with personality tests, I was intrigued. I skimmed one of the books, saw myself in half of the 9 numbers, and came to the quick conclusion that the Enneagram is a crock.

But those other coaches were wise people, so I persisted. I narrowed myself down to 1, 3, or 4. My friend, Iris, who is an Enneagram 3, suggested that I was also a 3. Secretly, I wanted to be anything other than a 3.

So I decided I was a 1. I texted Iris this news, and she texted back, “if you say so.” She was unconvinced.

A few weeks, and several conversations with close friends later, I came to the conclusion that I am, in fact, an Enneagram 3.

This was devastating to me. I called Iris, in tears, “Iris, I’m a 3!”

She said, “Oh honey, I know . . . when I realized I was a 3, I was up all night. And in the morning, I thought, ‘if I’m a 3, it’s cause God made me a 3, and that’s a good thing!'”

“Ok,” I choked.

Since that conversation, I have not only embraced my 3ness, but the Enneagram itself.

So why do I love the Enneagram?

  1. The Enneagram doesn’t just tell us what we do; it tells us why we do it.

    If we want to grow or change at all, we have to know the motivation behind our behavior. (this is also a reason why it can be challenging to figure out which type we are-it gets below the surface).

  2. The Enneagram doesn’t just tell us where we are; it tells us where we could be.

    This isn’t a static assessment. Each of the 9 numbers has levels of maturity, so although you’ll never be a different number, you have a vision for growth within your type.

  3. The Enneagram is nuanced.

    While there are 9 types on the Enneagram, there are subtypes, wings, integration and disintegration, on top of the levels of maturity, that all reveal our uniqueness. So you and I might both be 3s, but we can still be our own people. It captures our complexity.

  4. The Enneagram helps us see our depravity.

    Yes, I know that doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s necessary. Because if we can’t see how we’re trying to save ourselves and bring it to God, then we miss redemption. You know why I didn’t want to be a 3? Because I recognized the depravity of a 3, and I didn’t want to own it (guess what-every number has depravity. We can’t escape it).

  5. The Enneagram shows us how to love the people around us.

    It’s revolutionized our marriage by helping us both see the deeper motivations behind our behavior. Recognizing our kids’ numbers helps me understand what drives them and how to speak into it. Knowing my friends and co-workers on this level helps me see life from their perspective and speak their language.

  6. The Enneagram can lead us back to God.

    Each number has a root fear that drives it. The more we let God speak to our root fear, the more rested and free we are to live our true selves. When I see myself acting out very typical 3 behaviors, it gives pause to say, “What am I trying to get from others that I should be looking to God for instead?” It opens our eyes to our self-saving strategies.

They say our Enneagram type is the lens through which we see the world. Our lens will never change, but the more we understand our own lenses, the more we will recognize how we are trying to do life on our own, and how God is calling us to live more freely and expansively. And, we can develop compassion and grace for others who see the world through a different lens.

So that’s why I love the Enneagram. If you’re interested in learning more about it, I encourage you to check out The Road Back to You, by Cron and Stabile, or The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Riso and Hudson. Or check out The Enneagram Institute.

Or just talk to me. Give me a little time, and I’ll have you loving the Enneagram too.

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Comments 6

  1. This is a great post; thank you. When I found out I was a Six (as opposed to a Four, which I originally thought I was), it was like “Oh crap. I’m a boring, insecure worry-wart.” Not like any of that was really news. 🙂 But I am learning to embrace the positive aspects of my number (reliability, excellent troubleshooting/problem-solving skills) and to be more aware of the patterns caused by its more negative aspects (anxiety, distrust, excessive ruminating, etc.). And when I know what type another person is, it helps me understand and empathize with them better.

    1. Yes, I find most of us have that, “oh crap, I’m . . . ” (fill in the blank) kind of response when we hit on our type. But you’re right-there is a redeemed version of all of us, and God wants to lead us there. Glad it’s been helpful for you!

  2. Dear Gina,
    This “system” for “understanding” personality is a fantasy, a delusion, and a type of hoax. It entails a subtle “labeling” of others that implies condemnation. It is not scientific. It violates the truth of the Christian spirituality that it “cherry picks” for its own “magical” purposes. For example, all of us are capable of all of the seven deadly sins. We actually do not “specialize,” and if we think we do our examination of conscience is shallow. The enneagram, essentially, is misleading nonsense. It is, if anything, more insidious than the equally ridiculous Briggs-Meyers inventory that finally is being recognized for its fictitious maundering. Untold millions of people have been mislead by that imposter. Business organizations seized on it because in sounded as though it might be scientific, as the enneagram pretends to. It is not. And the real science has arrived.

    I have spent some of my youth and all of my adult life seeking to understand personality. Long story, as I was 66 when I made my pivotal discoveries. I have taken many approaches to learning, through drama, academic study, fieldwork, and spiritual development and counseling in various churches. I have encountered not only many successes, but significant failures and dead ends as I sought to help people with intractable problems. Then, while caring for our schizophrenic son, I began to notice symptoms that had been overlooked or insufficiently studied by psychiatry. I began to realize I was learning more about aspects of Daniel’s illness than our family doctor understood. I noticed particular characteristics of his speech. Peculiarities about his gestures and use or non-use of his hands. I struggled for 10 years to understand and help him (while other family members were ill and also in need of my attention). I tested him and proved his cognitive states fluctuated every two minutes. Then, Daniel reached out for music and I discovered his schizophrenia could be healed. This application of music was unheard of (amplified violin music applied to the right ear) although music was used in mental hospitals for decades before drugs were developed that suppress behavior — but usually do irreparable harm. As I put my research skills into finding out who in the field of behavior had noticed the same things I had noticed about schizophrenia, I eventually realized my learning was unique. I had performed a very simple experiment that had laid bare an essential mechanism of the brain: the dominance of the left-brain in the integrative activities of the two cerebral hemispheres. Music focused on Daniel’s right ear made his left, rational brain stronger. Left-brain dominance is driven primarily by the stream of sound energy through the right ear. My discovery, which has astonishing power to explain all human behavior, is scientific. It meshes seamlessly with other findings about the power of music to heal other conditions. It explains changes in brain function as originating with a tiny muscle in the ear that is strengthened by the vibrations of high-frequency sound. That muscle must be strong to accurately and consistently convey the higher frequencies of sound (the ones that form speech as well as shape music) into the brain. If you want to better understand yourself and others, I strongly recommend you learn about the role of the ear and hearing in human behavior. The discoveries of Alfred Tomatis, Guy Berard, and myself in this field are scientific. My personal journey was spiritual, because I am a Christian, and I relied on all the benefits of my faith in Jesus to pursue the goal of healing for my family. I had no idea I was being led to make one of the most stupendous discoveries ever made in that academic/medical field. I am not a doctor or medically trained. But I was able to learn enough neurology to explain my discoveries in those terms. As Berard has written in the title of his book, Hearing Equals Behavior, audio-processing deficits are the primary causes of incorrigible behavior. If those deficits of the ear are healed with music, the person will be able to learn how to enact the teaching he or she has received or will receive. Learning to be “holy” is partly a matter of learning to dominate with the left-brain’s energy the tendencies expressed in the emotions that constitute the right-brain’s mix of primal urges and sensory experiences. People who have greater trouble than normal in learning to dominate their feelings may need to strengthen their ears with music. When that tiny ear muscle is strong and flexible (tonic) it can respond to the adjustment of cerebral integration speeds that produce states of prayer, of prophetic listening and speaking, of glossolalia and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Right teaching, which should come from churches but often does not, is essential to the person’s search for right(eous) thinking and behavior. Not only schizophrenia, but virtually every psychiatric category of “mental” illness can be cured by stimulating the right or the left ear, or both, with high-frequency sound. And that healing of the ears is the platform for learning of every kind, including the learning to “be good” that Christians (and others) value. You will do more for your spiritual and physical health by singing God’s praises for two hours per day (join a choir or two) or by listening to violin music (e.g., Bach and Mozart) for two hours a day than by studying the misleading geometry of Enneagram. And you will understand others better when you understand how well their ears are functioning. I promise you that this study of human nature is fascinating, true, testable, and far more gratifying than your preoccupation with the enneagram can be.

    1. Laurna,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I understand your skepticism about personality assessments-I’m not a fan of Myers Briggs for many reasons myself. And I agree that each of us are capable of all seven deadly sins. We’re all also able to see ourselves in all 9 types. I do think though that we are all inclined toward certain patterns and fall more easily to certain temptations than others. Self-awareness is important in the Christian life, because in the pursuit of holiness we need to see what it is that we are most susceptible to. For me, the Enneagram has helped me see that. It’s also helped me see how God wants to lead me away from my self saving ways. I never claimed it was scientific, but I believe it is something God can use to help us mature and depend more fully on Him. If you have found something else that serves you better, I’m glad.

      1. Hi, Gina!

        I enjoy enneagram and have found it helpful in processing some of my weaknesses, strengths, and appreciating how I need to grow, however I never really use it as “spiritual guidance”. A lot of my Christian friends are concerned about its origins and about using it and how others have used it, saying that we as Christians shouldn’t. How do you respond to people when they say this and bring up their origins?

        1. Caroline,

          Great question! What I tell people is that the origins of the Enneagram that people claim dating back to different traditions are questionable. The Enneagram as we know it in its present form really was developed in the mid-20th century. As for using it spiritually, I would say that it is a tool that can be helpful in understanding ourselves when we look at it through the lens of our faith. Other faith traditions might use it for their own purposes, but I don’t think that makes the tool itself wrong. I would recommend The Sacred Enneagram and Self to Lose, Self to Find as two books that look at the Enneagram through the lens of Christian faith in ways that are helpful and I think biblical. Hope that helps!

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