What are enneagram personality types?

This girl isn't likely to fall into a personality type that values conformity.

Throughout recorded history, writers and storytellers around the world have populated their myths, legends and adventures with distinct characters that each have specific traits. Regardless of the era or location of the tale's origin, heroic characters from one tale share traits with heroic characters from another tale, and the same holds true for the fool of the tale, the helpful assistant and the bad guys.

These archetypes (prototypes of different personalities and life paths) pop up again and again throughout ancient and modern storytelling, religion and even the naming of children (nobody names their son "Hunter" in hopes that he'll languish in middle management one day).


These archetypes can be found in Greek mythology, the Chinese zodiac and the enneagram personality types. What's an enneagram? It's a geometric figure consisting of a circle with nine points spread evenly along its circumference. The system of enneagram personality types uses the shape to define nine basic human personality types. The points connect in multiple ways to each other across the circle, showing personality subtypes for each variation within one of the nine primary personalities.

Though often passed off as "ancient knowledge," the personality types were actually developed fairly recently (though the enneagram shape itself has been around at least as long as Pythagoras). While not the most rare personality type it does have a certain intrigue that peak people's curiosity.

The use of the enneagram shape with mystical concepts was introduced by George Gurdjieff, a spiritualist who founded a school for "inner work" in the early 20th century that featured the symbol in some rituals, as well as Sufi teachings (causing many to later mistake the enneagram personality types with Sufism). Gurdjieff didn't teach about personality types, but a student of his, Oscar Ichazo, eventually blended other teachings and insights he encountered in later years into a new system involving enneagram personality types, beginning in the 1960s.

Ichazo developed more than a hundred different enneagrams, categorizing nine different "Personality Types," "Holy Ideas," "Ego Fixations," "Passions," "Virtues" and so on. Since its invention, this system of personality types has been expanded upon and analyzed by spiritualists and psychotherapists alike.

Let's take a brief look at the different types.


The Nine Enneagram Personality Types

Now that we know the origins of the enneagram personality types, let's take a closer look at each one:

  • Type 1: The Reformer/Idealist. A perfectionist, the Reformer maintains a flawless façade and is an organizational marvel with a sense of purpose, but can fall into self-righteousness and intolerance.
  • Type 2: Caregiver. The Caregiver is helpful by nature and builds an identity around that trait. This focus on being nice can lead to a sense of bitterness and resentment from placing the needs of others above the needs of the self.
  • Type 3: High Achiever. Driven by success, this type rises to the top of any chosen field. Often a workaholic, the High Achiever's worst fear is being a "nobody."
  • Type 4: The Individualist. These types have a need to create and express themselves generally through art. Proud of being "different," these sensualists can also be self-absorbed and get lost in fantasy worlds.
  • Type 5: The Investigator. This type spends a lot of time alone in thought, and often substitutes knowledge about the world for a search of knowledge about oneself.
  • Type 6: The Loyalist. As the name implies, this type has a strong sense of loyalty to friends, romantic partners, beliefs, systems, organizations and superiors. Reliable, dependable and trusting, the Loyalist can also be highly anxious and indecisive and seek out a sense of security in underhanded ways.
  • Type 7: The Enthusiast. An extrovert, the Enthusiast enjoys a wide circle of friends who are drawn to the Enthusiast's spontaneity and enthusiasm for experiencing the joys of the world. The Enthusiast has trouble saying "No" to material goods and intoxicants, and attempts to boost the diminishing sense of joy those things bring by increasing consumption.
  • Type 8: The Challenger/Warrior. This "alpha" personality type is self-confident, dominant and assertive. A natural leader, the Challenger is dependent on no one, but forms no deep emotional bonds. Prone to bad temper and big ego, the Challenger uses strength as a means of protecting the weak.
  • Type 9: The Peacemaker. Making, maintaining or restoring the peace is the goal of the Peacemaker. This type dislikes conflict and will do a lot to avoid it.

You may be able to immediately pick out your personality from this list, or relate to several. So what good could come of any of this? Keep reading to find out.


Learning About Yourself with Enneagrams

Some people believe that by revealing your specific personality type, enneagram personality types can help you gain a better understanding of yourself. Psychologists such as Carl Jung have long studied personality types and identity archetypes, and corporations even use personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a means of identifying applicants' and employees' probable strengths and weaknesses.

While it's hard for us to generally identify our own specific personality traits and faults with much accuracy, those around us have a much easier time pegging us for what and who we are [source: Washington University in St. Louis]. This blindness to oneself can lead to a worsening of negative traits that have gone unchecked, or a lack of confidence in one's positive traits. Using the enneagram personality types might enable a person to spot his or her type through either the identification of positive or negative traits. The person might also be able to identify corresponding traits for that type that may have gone previously ignored or unacknowledged.


Studies have shown that we alter our perceptions of physical attractiveness once we learn more about a person's personality -- positive personality traits like helpfulness make people more attractive to others, while negative personality traits like selfishness or pettiness make others lower their perception of how physically attractive that person is [source: Blackwell Publishing]. Your personality even plays a role in the likelihood of having children. Those who are more aggressive and show leadership skills (such as the Reformer, the Challenger and the High Achiever) tend to be more successful in their quests for producing offspring [source: Wiley-Blackwell].

What's the bottom line? Learning more about your personality type may help you to be more self-aware -- and make your interactions with other people a little smoother.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Blackwell Publishing Ltd. "Personality Traits Influence Perceived Attractiveness." ScienceDaily. Nov. 30, 2007. (Mar. 21, 2010)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071129145852.htm
  • Boston University. "Researchers Identify Personality Traits Of Centenarian Offsprings Which May Influence Longetivity." ScienceDaily Apr. 6, 2009. (Mar. 21, 2010)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090403114823.htm
  • Enneagram Institute. (Mar. 13, 2010)http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/
  • Hsu, Caroline. "Mary and Martha are Biblical Favorites, but Who Were They?"U.S. News & World Report. Jan. 25, 2008.http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/religion/2008/01/25/mary-and-martha-are-biblical-favorites-but-who-were-they-.html
  • NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). "Introverts Experience More Health Problems, Study Suggests." ScienceDaily. Nov. 18, 2009. (Mar. 21, 2010) http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2009/11/091118120314.htm
  • Oz, Lisa. Us: Transforming Yourself and the Relationships that Matter Most. Free Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4391-2392-8.
  • Purdue University. "Personality Traits Associated With Stress And Worry Can Be Hazardous To Your Health." ScienceDaily. Aug 19, 2009.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090818130552.htm
  • Riso, Don Richard; Hudson, Russ. Personality types: using the enneagram for self-discovery.
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996. ISBN 0395798671, 9780395798676.http://books.google.com/books?id=pmdARxbC1SUC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  • Washington University in St. Louis. "Others May Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves, Study Finds." ScienceDaily. Feb. 27, 2010.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100226093235.htm
  • Wiley-Blackwell. "Personality Influences Reproductive Success." ScienceDaily. Mar. 26, 2009. (Mar. 21, 2010)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090325132149.htm