A white-hot anger swelled up in me. Twenty-eight years of feeling misunderstood was rising to the surface, and I sat stunned in the bewilderment and promise of seeing my true face for what felt like the first time.
A year prior my husband, Ryan, and I had started a two-year program called the Soul Care Institute led by Crosspoint Ministry. There we learned about the Enneagram, an ancient tool for spiritual formation. From the framework of a Trinitarian understanding of personhood, I began to see the Enneagram as a profound tool for transformation. Today, you probably know it as a popular personality typing system.
Recognize the Ditches in the Typing Process
We were the first of our friends to deeply engage the Enneagram, so we unwittingly blundered through the typing process. My husband and I careened into two separate ditches, ones I’ve seen countless others stumble into as well. We’ve since crawled out and both have come to more deeply respect and empower one another in our respective journeys. But illustrating our fall into these ditches might help you recognize and navigate your own.
Ryan toppled headfirst into the ditch of misplaced confidence in typing me, placing too much stock in his preliminary grasp of a system as complex as the Enneagram. In our training, we took a comprehensive Enneagram assessment, and my results demonstrated nearly equal scores for types One and Four. I had always identified as a recovering idealist, and so Ryan neatly placed me in the box of the type One, the Perfectionist. Doubting, I asked our facilitator his opinion. “Sometimes it’s really hard for Ones to accept their type,” he replied.
Here was my ditch: dodging dissonance. The narrative of the type One was partially true, but I felt I had learned many of its lessons—patiently accepting the world as it is and turning toward myself with unconditional love. My pride momentarily surged—if perfectionism and self-criticism were my main issues, then I was doing great in life. I temporarily dodged the doubts stirring inside.
But I never felt exposed. And I did feel confused. And then misunderstood.
Placing my story alongside the narrative of type One, the growth I had experienced suffering with autoimmune disease for the last 10 years seemed minimized into a supposed pattern of unhealthiness. Why then did it seem like I had become a truer version of myself through suffering?
But Ryan agreed with our facilitator. I must just not want to be myself, a One. With my inquisition snubbed, I eventually decided to stay curious privately.
Tread the Terrain of Your Larger Story
Some immediately recognize their type, as my type Nine husband did. But for others, it can be an agonizing, lengthy process. Typing plunged me into frustration, but I emerged carrying gifts of self-awareness, humility and the joy of claiming my purpose.
Often, the surest guide to finding your type is to tread the terrain of your story. It’s not easy, and it requires a willing grip on the compass of emotion.
The feeling of being misunderstood became a better guide in the following months than any Enneagram resource. Through it, I traced an overlooked thread of hurt, weaving back to my youth. Feeling misunderstood, I learned, is a core experience of being a type Four. This wound had healed poorly, like the scar on my shoulder from a childhood collision with a screen door hours from a hospital. Injuries sometimes need careful stitches, and scar tissue often forms in the absence of the care we need.
After months of exploration internally and with friends, I began to share my blossoming self-knowledge with my spouse. But he remained unconvinced. However, his unintended dismissal became an arrow toward truth, for it was in the fumes of being misunderstood by the one who loved me most that I found the courage to own who I really am.
As Ryan aptly described later, learning I’m a Four was like coming out of a proverbial closet. He soon felt silly for how obvious it is I’m not a type One—we still laugh about it. After hiding my inner world in the context of a conservative Christian upbringing, I started owning my internal artistry. Likewise, in the freedom of exposure, I began to see the immense unconscious energy I had been pouring into being seen as deep and different and instead leaned into the security of being seen and validated by God.
Engage Wholeheartedly, Slowly, with Others
In concert with Scripture and a community of Christ followers, the Enneagram can lead us to the heart of God. (I’ve previously unpacked this for RELEVANT here.) But it’s a path best walked wholeheartedly, slowly and communally.
With the Enneagram’s rise in popularity, many see types as simple labels, akin to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But I urge you to cast aside any notion of quickly slapping a label on yourself or others. Rather, I invite you on a slower, relational path to knowing the true self God created you to be. Here are some trail notes for your journey:
There is no better way to both discern and engage your type than through community and story. The path of the Gospel and the Enneagram is the restoration of your relationships with yourself, others and God. It is an invitation to live in the truest story of all—the redemption and reconciliation of all things by God through his people.
Such a massive invitation should be met with an open, prayerful heart. Know you have been living according to a specific storyline your entire life, and the forces of decay in you are not going to give up easily. So go gently and go slowly. Sustainable change happens over years, not days or months.
Learn through story:
- As someone with expertise in psychological assessment, please don’t waste your time taking the free “tests” on most Enneagram websites. Scientifically, most are a load of nonsense. Rather, begin exploring with a tool like the Narrative Enneagram’s Enneagram Paragraph Test.
- An excellent formal assessment is the Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales (WEPSS). It’s the only Enneagram test reviewed in the Mental Measurements Yearbook, the standard text for evaluating psychological assessments. You can take the test for $10 here. (Excuse the horrible site design!)
- Rather than just accepting the results, explore further. Scroll to the report’s final page and examine the percentile scores box to see which types you are most dominant in as well as how much you identify with the gifts and vulnerabilities of each type. A good rule of thumb is to consider the type descriptions of your top three “total scores” and anything over the 50th percentile.
There is no better way to learn than by sensing where you fit in relation to others’ stories. Use the tests above or simply read summaries of the types to narrow down to two or three possibilities. Resist the temptation to believe you don’t fit into any of the types—there is far more complexity in the nine types than you realize. Next, try podcasts to hear what life feels like for each type. I especially love Ian Cron’s Typology Podcast, as he regularly includes panel interviews with individuals of the same type.
As you hear other’s stories, listen for the echo of your life story. The Enneagram should articulate the story God has already been writing in your life while also exposing patterns you’ve used to survive without realizing it.
Learn in community:
- Share what you are learning with your closest friends. Take a risk by asking them to honestly share how they experience your presence. If you don’t have friends you can be this vulnerable with, seek them in the safety of a church small group or by inviting yourself into the lives of older, godly people.
- Notice the motivations you have in relationships instead of simply how you behave. What are you seeking? How do you operate when under stress? Not sure? Again, ask a friend or family member.
- Finally, allow the narrative of your type to hang in the background of your relationships. For example, as a Four, I struggle with envy, emotional lability and withdrawal. I try to observe how these dynamics emerge in my relationships, and my husband and friends have the permission to lovingly acknowledge my struggles.
After reading my story and tips, you probably have ascertained that finding your Enneagram type is not always straightforward. But the process is part of the reward. When we engage our stories with honesty, learning we are loved by the God who entered the human story, we are empowered to enter our own stories with new hope and ownership. So begin or re-engage your Enneagram typing journey, knowing the Spirit will breathe energy to step past stories of shame, fear and anger and into the story of the Kingdom of God.