What Makes You Tick?
Exploring the Enneagram System

How often do you stop in the midst of your busy life and reflect on who you are and what motivates you?

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t do much more than faithfully recite the popular 21st-century mantra “I’m so busy!” as you hurry from one obligation to the next.

But taking time to explore what drives you at your deepest level is important for your well-being and happiness. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, founder of MetaIntegral — a training academy, consulting firm, and philanthropic think tank — believes “exploring what drives and motivates us can give us important insights into our unique gifts and our blind spots.”

“The more we explore our interior life and work to have a congruence between it and our exterior life, the more whole and complete we feel and the more at ease we are in our own skin,” says Sean. “We experience deep peace and greater happiness when our exterior life is an expression of our interior life.” One of his favorite tools for guiding this exploration is the Enneagram.

What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a personality typing system that addresses how you relate to yourself, others, and the world. There are nine types, and “each Enneagram type has a different pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting that reflects your deeper inner motivation or worldview,” according to the organization Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition.

“The Enneagram is a powerful system of personal transformation that reveals the deep structures of how each of us is wired,” says Sean. “It shines the light on the core patterns in our life that can get in the way of us being the people we want to more consistently be. And it gives us a way to map the dynamics of our life to help us get from where we are to where we want to be, whether we want to become a leader or a better parent or a kinder person.”

While some people may worry about being typecast — pigeonholed into a specific personality box — Sean thinks the layered approach of the Enneagram prevents this from happening. “If anything, I would suggest that the Enneagram is very effective in shining the light on the ways we are trapped in our own patterns and hands us a key to unlock the boxes we’re already stuck in.”

What Can You Learn About Yourself and Others?

There isn’t an area of life that can’t be addressed by understanding how you see the world and relate to others in it. The Enneagram builds on three primary centers: the head (psychological), the heart (emotional), and the body (somatic). “The power of the Enneagram largely lies in its ability to balance and integrate these three centers. An embodied life is the result of developing and integrating all of them,” says Sean. As you begin to understand the nuances of your type, you start to see how it affects your response to situations and people. And you begin to see why those around you act as they do. For example, if your boss criticizes a project you and a colleague worked on together, you may respond with anger and shame, which is not unusual for a Type One. Meanwhile, your colleague might try to mollify your boss and make peace among the team, a typical response for a Type Nine.

Or perhaps you are a parent with two kids who are extremely different. Maybe your daughter, who is a Type Four, comes home from school invigorated, telling elaborate stories of her day. Meanwhile, your Type Five son quietly retreats to his room and barely speaks.

When you realize we all innately approach things differently, you can be more accepting of your own and others’ actions. Understanding people’s differences can also help you offer support it in a way that’s truly helpful. You can see that telling yourself (a Type One) not to get angry when you’ve been criticized or trying to get your Type Four daughter to not be so expressive would not be the most helpful approach for either situation.

Making Changes Inside and Out

When you take the time to examine your own unique way of seeing and acting in the world, it gives you a little perspective. And the ability to take a new perspective is necessary for any change, internal or external. “The process of self-exploration helps us become curious about who we are and what it means for us to thrive. It frees us from the unconscious dynamics that run our lives,” says Sean.

Take Chris, a 30-something professional who worked with Sean. “We used the Enneagram to better understand why Chris so often got lost in abstraction, withdrawing into information, facts, and books. This tendency was interfering with Chris’ ability to lead his team at work and impacting his ability to connect emotionally with his colleagues and clients, even though he wanted to.”

“As we worked with the Enneagram to understand these dynamics better, we followed the path of growth the Enneagram suggests for his type. The results were stunning. Within months he was showing up differently at work and in his personal life, and people were noticing and commenting on it. A big part of Chris’ transformation was around connecting more to his somatic sensations and staying with his emotional experience. As he began to disidentify with his strong mental orientation, he began to integrate the three wisdom centers and find a balance between his head, heart, and body.”

By knowing your type and working with the wisdom of the Enneagram system, you can connect to your inner drives and discover your own best path to personal and professional growth. As you begin to create the life you want, you may find your mantra shifts from “I’m so busy” to “I love my life!”

Curious to know your type?

You can take a simple, free online test here. Or get a more accurate and in-depth assessment here.

Do you know your Enneagram type? If so, what characteristics do you resonate with?

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  • Rebecca Stone says:

    I am an Enmeagram type 9. I have worked with this system for several years starting with Palmer and exploring other teachers and writings. I am interested in this material as it is new to me. Thank you for bringing it forward.

    Rebecca Stone