Enneagram basics

Basic concepts

Types, wings, and instincts

 

Basic concepts

What is the Enneagram?

 

The Enneagram is a personality framework that clusters people into nine types based on distinct fears, desires, and tendencies. Once you know your own Enneagram type, you’re better equipped to notice the automatic perceptions and behaviors that can mislead you, and you can make better, more fulfilling choices instead. Knowing others’ Enneagram types can help you relate to them in more empathetic and accepting ways. It’s simple to start using, but it offers depths that can benefit you over the course of your life.

Read more about this topic on our blog.

 

What is the history of the Enneagram?

The Enneagram has ancient roots but gained most of its modern applicability in the past century. History is hazy about the first recorded use of the Enneagram symbol, suggesting its origin around 2500 B.C. in either Babylon or ancient Greece, and with ties to the philosopher Pythagoras. The visual representation of the Enneagram is a nine-pointed symbol, with each point corresponding to each of the nine personality types and showing relationships between them.

We've put together an entire history of the Enneagram in this blog post.

How could the Enneagram be helpful to me?

 

The Enneagram is a tool that can help you be more self-aware, grow to be a better person, and improve your relationships and communication with others.

 

Our brains use pattern recognition to make quick judgments as we go through life, especially when it comes to human interaction. Many people have found that using a well-studied personality model like the Enneagram is an incredibly beneficial tool for categorizing and relating to others, far more predictive and useful than gender, job role, physical appearance, or any other superficial framework for making fast decisions about how to interact with someone. 

 

When applied to yourself, the Enneagram can help you see your common patterns of thinking and behavior, giving you more awareness and control over how you perceive and engage with the world. It gives you a set of warning signs that show you when you’re slipping into a less healthy version of yourself. It shows you what you’re capable of when you’re at your best self. It helps you see your blind spots and address them. It’s often said that the Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box; it shows you the box you’re already in. 

 

When applied to others, the Enneagram helps you understand that other people rarely think, act, and process the same way that you do. They may need to hear criticism phrased in a different way, have concerns you’d never imagine, focus on issues that matter little to you, and much more. The Enneagram is a window into a more compassionate and comprehensive understanding of other people. It gives you a framework to form stronger, deeper relationships and communicate more effectively.

 

Is there a wrong way to use the Enneagram?

 

You’re free to use the Enneagram however you see fit, but we’d advise against the following use cases.

 

First, don’t use the Enneagram to reduce people to nothing but their type. People are complex, and their Enneagram type is just one aspect of them. Just because you know their type doesn’t mean you understand them truly and deeply; that takes far more work. 

 

Second, don’t use the Enneagram as an excuse for your behavior. This more often applies to negative behavior (e.g., “I’m a Seven, so of course I’m not going to be able to focus”), but can also apply to discounting positive behavior (e.g., “Sure I was extremely helpful, but that’s only because I’m a Two”). 

 

Third, don’t assign other people their type unless they’re open to you doing so. You may have a strong feeling that someone is a certain type, but pointing at someone and declaring what type they are can feel invasive. It’s okay if they’re curious and participating in the discussion, and public figures are fair game for this kind of conjecture, but it can be awkward if you do it to someone you know.

Fourth, don’t use the Enneagram, this app, or any of its content to harm anyone else (or yourself). We are providing you this information, but we have no control over how you use it. We simply hope that you harness it to make your world a better—not worse—place.

 

Is there scientific evidence supporting the Enneagram?

 

Yes, many peer-reviewed academic studies have supported the validity and applicability of the Enneagram across different use cases:

  • In a 2004 study, Newgent et. al. found significant correlations between the nine Enneagram types, as categorized by the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) test, and the Big Five personality traits of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Openness to Experience, and Agreeableness

  • In 2005, Brown and Bartram found that the Enneagram types had predictable and strong associations to the Big Five traits, making it possible to classify 70-75% of people accurately

  • In 2011, Scott found that the Enneagram’s nine personality types were consistent across sex and were unaffected by whether participants already knew their type before the study

  • In 2013, Sutton et. al. examined the use of the Enneagram in the workplace and concluded that it predicted job-related variables and was a useful typology for understanding individuals’ behavior at work

  • In 2018, Matise examined correlations between the Enneagram and well-known psychiatric tools, including the criteria for mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV, using patient case studies to demonstrate effectiveness.

 

Do companies and organizations use the Enneagram?

 

Yes, many companies, organizations, and institutions use the Enneagram for various purposes. Some of the many use cases we have seen include administering it to potential hires during job application processes, personalizing media training for press appearances, using it as a tool for managers to better understand and communicate with their direct reports, assessing jurors during court cases, improving team morale and productivity, maintaining a public list where company employees can opt-in to post their Enneagram type, coaching professional sports teams, making investment or co-founder decisions, helping break the ice in academic programs, tailoring therapy and mental health interventions, and more. A few of the groups that use the Enneagram include Shopify, Stanford Business School, Disney, the CIA, and Salesforce.

 

Is the Enneagram religious?

 

The Enneagram is not inherently religious. It is not associated with, or meant for, any particular religion. That said, many people use it for spiritual development and find that it complements their religious practices, and some organized religions have embraced the Enneagram.

 

Is the Enneagram similar to astrology?

 

Not really. Although there is likely some overlap in the types of people who are interested in both personality models and astrology, and (broadly) they’re both tools to examine and explain people, the two are quite different. Astrology uses the movements and positions of stars and planets to explain human affairs and terrestrial events. The Enneagram is a psychology-based personality system that clusters people into “types” that share common motivations and behaviors. Its closest comparisons are Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

 

How does this relate to other personality models?

 

There are certain archetypes of people who are driven by the same things and show similar mannerisms. We see these archetypes in well-written books when we feel like we know a fully-developed character. We relate to them in movies when actors and scripts combine to create a person who feels like a friend from our own lives. We can also tell—to our annoyance—when fictional characters act in ways that are inconsistent with their personalities. Our sense of archetypes is strong; we can sense when a character or a person in our lives is behaving authentically and consistently, or not. 

 

The personality theory of psychology has existed since at least 400 B.C., beginning with the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, and many systems have arisen since to try to organize people into useful, accurate groups. From Freud to Jung, from DISC to MBTI, these systems all try to accomplish the same fundamental task: to categorize people—including ourselves—in order to better understand them, predict their behavior, communicate efficiently, and help them evolve into their best selves. But no matter how these different approaches end up organizing different people, broad trends emerge.

 

The Enneagram uses nine archetypes to group people by unique fears, desires, and perceptions. Although all personality models can be helpful tools for exploring what makes us “us,” many have found the Enneagram to be the most useful because of its blend of simplicity and detail. The nine types are sufficiently different and fleshed-out to describe the scope of human personality, yet learning and understanding only nine types is not overwhelming to accomplish. And many Enneagram users report that the experience of reading about their type and wing combination (their subtype) for the first time is shocking in how accurate, deep, and personalized it feels. Although it can be easy to convince yourself that any personality test results could sound like you, the Enneagram tends to have the effect of staring you straight in the face with the reality of your own personality, both the good and the bad; you realize that you couldn’t be any other type. The Enneagram also points out blind spots and growth areas for self-improvement and strengthening your relationships with others. You may find that combining the Enneagram with other personality models is useful, too. 

 

Why don’t you have (dis)integration, Tritypes, etc.?
 

The Enneagram is a rich system for understanding and explaining personality, and there’s always more to explore. Although we love all of its nuances, there’s simply too much to cover everything in one app. Blueprint contains over 800 pages of content on what we consider to be the most important and essential topics. We are monitoring emerging research, use cases, and cultural developments, and may expand to cover additional areas in the future.

 

We opted not to include the direction of integration and disintegration because 1), it’s a complex concept, and 2), emerging Enneagram scholarship suggests that a type can move in both positive and negative directions on both lines of connectedness. For example, an Eight may not move to Five only in low health and Two only in high health, but can exhibit the good and bad aspects of both of these types.

 

Some online Enneagram communities discuss Tritypes, a trio of your primary type plus one dominant type from each of the other two Center triads. For example, someone who’s a type One is in the Instinctive triad, so they’d choose which type resonates most strongly with them out of the other two triads (Feeling, which has Two, Three, and Four; and Thinking, which has Five, Six, and Seven). Thus they could have a Tritype of One, Three, and Seven. Although we find Tritypes interesting, they are complicated and not discussed in the literature that we trust most.

 

What are good Enneagram resources to learn more?

 

Our favorite Enneagram books include the following, with special emphasis on those by Richard Riso and Russ Hudson:

 

 

Additional resources include:

 

  • The Enneagram Institute, founded by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, is an excellent overall resource.

  • The Enneagram of Personality subreddit has many useful discussions, as well as specific subreddits for each of the types (although some types are more active than others).

  • You can find many therapists, psychologists, and coaches who use the Enneagram in their practices. They do a range of one-on-one, small group, and large group work, and usually describe their expertise in their personal profiles online.

  • On social media, look for hashtags around the Enneagram and specific types for memes, podcasts, and commentary. The quality ranges, but you’ll likely be entertained.

Types, wings, and instincts

 

What is a type in the Enneagram?

 

Your Enneagram type (sometimes referred to as a “base type”) is represented by a number ranging from One to Nine. This type describes how you tend to view and interact with the world. It is a shorthand way to summarize a mix of deep-seated psychological traits that make you “you.” These traits include your core fears, desires, vices, virtues, avoidances, focuses, manipulation tactics, and more. You only have one type, and your type does not change over time. That isn’t to say people don’t change, but rather that you can become a better or worse version of yourself rather than an entirely different person. Understanding your type’s unconscious habits and patterns can help you move towards becoming the best version of yourself. 

 

What is a subtype (or a wing) in the Enneagram?

 

In Blueprint, the combination of your type and your wing is called your “subtype.” If your base type is the main course that covers most of your personality, your wing is like a side dish that adds some flavor. Picture the nine Enneagram numbers as a circle: the wing possibilities are located next to the type, on either side of it. For example, a type Nine can have either a One wing or an Eight wing, sometimes written as “9w1” and “9w8.” 

 

Each type can only have one wing, resulting in 18 personality subtypes in the Enneagram. It’s common for a person to read about their type and find that it sounds mostly like them, but it’s too broad. It is often when they read the type/wing combination that they feel the description truly fits.

Your wing must fall to one side of your base type. For example, a type Six can have either a Five wing or a Seven wing, sometimes written as “6w5” and “6w7.” You cannot have a wing that’s not adjacent to your base type (e.g., there’s no such thing as a Six with a Nine wing).

 

Your base type is always dominant compared to your wing, but the relative role of your wing can vary depending on who you are and what you’re going through in your life. For example, a Nine with a strong One wing (9w1) may feel almost split between the Nine and the One, as if they’re 51% Nine and 49% One. In contrast, a different person who’s also a Nine with a One wing may feel like their wing has very little influence on their personality, as if they’re 99% Nine and 1% One.

 

Some Enneagram scholars believe that the relative influence of your wing may change over time. For example, a Nine with an Eight wing (9w8) may feel that their Eight wing is gaining traction at certain periods in their life versus playing less of a role at other times.

 

How do I interpret my results (type, wing, and instinct)?

 

Think of your results as three tiers. First, you will have a base type (e.g., Nine). This type most closely describes how you view and interact with the world. It is the most important number in the Enneagram system.

 

Next, each type has one wing that further defines it. If your base type is the main course that covers most of your personality, your wing is like a side dish that adds some flavor. Picture the nine Enneagram numbers as a circle: the wing possibilities are located next to the base type, on either side of it. For example, a type Nine can have either a One wing or an Eight wing, sometimes written as “9w1” and “9w8.” Some people have very strong wings and feel their impact quite clearly. In Blueprint, your type plus your wing is called a “subtype.” 

 

Lastly, each type has one of three instincts that shapes how that type perceives and relates to their surroundings: Self-Preservation, Relational, or Social. For example, you could be a Self-Preservation Nine with a One wing. There are 54 unique combinations of type, wing, and instinct in Blueprint’s formulation of the Enneagram model. 

 

I can’t seem to choose which type I am; how do I figure it out?

 

Take our Enneagram type test (or any other) and use the results as a starting point for your exploration. In our experience, it’s unlikely that your type will be one of the lowest-ranking results; it’s far more likely that it’ll be one of the top three.

 

However, no test is 100% accurate, and no test or person knows you as well as you know yourself, so the best way to hone in on your Enneagram type is by reading more about the possibilities. Try to be deeply honest with yourself about who you are now and have been most of your life, not who you’d like to be. 

 

It can be easy to relate to the positive aspects of each type, but it’s often the negative traits that differentiate the most. Many people describe feeling a pang of guilt or shame when they read their own type’s negative traits. If it hits close to home and feels difficult to read, it’s a strong signal that you’ve found your type. 

 

You can also ask people who know you well to give their opinion on the types that you’re torn between: everyone has blind spots about their own behavior, and those you trust can shed a light on yours.

 

Can I be more than one type?

 

No. We haven’t seen any formulation of the Enneagram that allows you to be more than one type, and our test does not support it. Although everyone has bits of all Nine types within them (and at your healthiest, you can tap into them all), you have one base type that most closely describes how you tend to view and interact with the world. That base type is represented by a number ranging from One to Nine.

 

Many Enneagram tests, ours included, give your results in the form of the most likely to least likely type for you. Even if your results show that you’re tied or very close among a few types, it doesn’t mean that you are multiple types: you still have one base type that’ll be the best fit for you. Reading more about your top results and ruling out the less accurate types can help you land on the right one. Your test results can help guide you to your base type, but ultimately you’re the best judge of which type fits you most closely. 

 

Can I have a wing that isn’t next to my type?

 

No. The Enneagram numbers are ordered in a specific way to account for interactions between the types, which is why your wing must fall to one side of your base type. Picture the nine Enneagram numbers as a circle: the wing possibilities are located next to the base type, on either side of it. For example, a type Nine can have either a One wing or an Eight wing, sometimes written as “9w1” and “9w8.” In Blueprint, your type plus your wing is called a “subtype.” 

Your wing must fall to one side of your base type. For example, a type Six can have either a Five wing or a Seven wing, sometimes written as “6w5” and “6w7.” You cannot have a wing that’s not adjacent to your base type (e.g., there’s no such thing as a Six with a Nine wing).

 

Some Enneagram scholars believe that leaning into your non-dominant wing (for example, the One if you’re a Nine with an Eight wing) can provide a source of healthy perspective and balance to your overall personality. Although your main wing never changes, tapping into your non-dominant wing can give a sense of what’s missing from your dominant personality.

 

Can my base type or wing change over time?

 

No. Unlike other personality models where your type can change over time, the Enneagram holds that your base type and wing do not change. You are always “you,” but you can become a better or worse version of yourself. Your core fears, desires, and more are consistent and deeply rooted in your psychological makeup, even if they express themselves in different ways over the course of your life. You have more awareness and control over these tendencies when you’re at your best; you can react from a place of mindfulness and self-actualization rather than through reflex, habit, or fear. 

 

Some Enneagram scholars believe that the relative influence of your wing may change over time. For example, a Nine with an Eight wing (9w8) may feel that their Eight wing is gaining traction at certain periods in their life, almost as if they’re 51% Nine and 49% Eight. At other times, they may feel like their wing plays almost no role (perhaps 99% Nine and 1% Eight).

 

What is an instinct in the Enneagram?

 

The instincts are three different drives that influence your feelings, actions, and perceptions. The three different instincts are Self-Preservation, Relational (sometimes called “one-to-one” or “sexual”), and Social. You always have all three, but they tend to fall into a hierarchy where one is dominant, another is neutral, and the last is somewhat of a blind spot. Although this hierarchy tends to persist for long periods of time (e.g., someone having a dominant Relational instinct throughout their 20s), people still tap into all three of their instincts often, depending on life circumstances or what a given context requires. For example, the Relational instinct may be more prominent while on a date, the Self-Preservation instinct might show up when finances are tight or career becomes a priority, and the Social instinct may kick in more strongly while attending a group event. 

 

The Self-Preservation instinct is generally focused on survival, the body, the home, material possessions, safety, and protecting one’s resources. Self-Preservation instinct tends to correlate with introversion.

 

The Relational instinct (sometimes called “one-to-one” or “sexual”) is generally focused on deep connections with one person or small groups, feeling intensity, exuding energy, cultivating a sense of aliveness, seeking pleasure, and expressing passion.

 

The Social instinct is generally focused on group activities and inclusion, upholding and expressing important values, acting responsibly, engaging others, building bonds, and finding commonalities. Social instinct tends to correlate with extroversion.

 

After you take Blueprint’s instinct test, you’ll get a stack-ranking of these three instincts: at the top is the dominant instinct that your personality is currently preoccupied with. It filters how you process almost everything around you, and it can become an obsession if you aren’t careful. Second is an instinct that’s neutral, neither a focus nor neglected. This is often the most balanced instinct: you’re aware of it without needing to think about it. Third is the instinct that’s currently a blind spot for you. If you don’t actively think about processing the world in this way, you likely neglect it entirely.

What is a countertype?

 

For each type there is one instinct that runs counter to that type’s typical orientation, called the countertype. For example, Eights tend to accumulate resources and want to interact intensely with their environment, so the Self-Preservation and Relational instincts are both in line with their normal behavior. But an Eight with a dominant Social instinct is more willing to set their own needs aside for the greater group, which is counter to their typical behavior. Countertypes are more likely to be mistyped. Blueprint identifies both the countertype and its common mistypings in the Instincts tab in the app.

Can my dominant instinct change over time?

 

Yes. Your dominant instinct can change over time, unlike your base type or wing. You may notice that your instinct changes alongside major shifts in your life, such as a career transformation, a sustained period of stress, or a new romantic relationship. The stack ranking of your three instincts may flip or shift entirely.

 

Is my type especially compatible with another type for dating or other relationships?

 

Not necessarily. A person of any type can be compatible with a person of any other type; the most important factor for a good match is that both people are in a healthy place in their lives to be in a relationship. However, some Enneagram research has found patterns that suggest that certain types gravitate towards each other. These matches usually involve complementarity, where one person offers a counterbalance to something the other person lacks. We plan to run and share our own research on Enneagram type compatibility in the future.

 

Are some Enneagram types better than others?

No. Any type at their best is an exceptional human being with their own admirable talents to offer. To reach the highest levels of health, one must be incredibly self-aware and whole. In contrast, every type at their worst is struggling with major challenges and is difficult to deal with. Having a higher Enneagram number in the range from One to Nine is not “better;” the numbers have no association with value.

Of course, everyone has personal preferences and compatibilities with different personality styles, so it’s likely that you’ll come to favor certain types as you grow in your understanding of the Enneagram. That doesn’t mean that some types are objectively better than others, just that they may feel that way to you.

 

Are there gender differences between Enneagram types?

 

Broadly, no—anyone of any gender identity can be any Enneagram type. However, some Enneagram research has suggested that two of the types show some correlation with gender: Eights correspond to traditionally masculine energy and traits (like aggression, dominance, and a focus on being strong), whereas Twos correspond to traditionally feminine energy and traits (like caretaking, relationship-building, and empathy). For example, we have experienced workshops where an over-abundance of parents believe that they are type Twos because they spend a lot of time nurturing children and think of themselves as caretakers, yet further reflection revealed that only a few of them were actually Twos. What’s most important in determining your type is the core of your fears, desires, and more; it’s less about your gender or your role in life, and more about your deeply-rooted psychological drives.

What are triads?

The nine Enneagram types are uniquely different, but some of them are interrelated in deep and  meaningful ways. “Triads” are the mechanism that Enneagram scholars use to group certain Enneagram types together and highlight their important commonalities. 

 

There are three triads: Center, Social, and Coping. The Center triad groups Enneagram types based on the most influential part of their psyche (thinking, feeling, instinct). The Social triad groups types based on how they get their needs met in social situations (demanding, withdrawing, complying). The Coping triad groups types based on how they respond to conflict and pain (positive thinking, competency, reactive). To read more about triads in Blueprint, tap on the Reference tab, choose a type, then tap on the Triads tab at the top of the screen.

Read more about triads in our blog post about them.