Response: "The Problem with Those 9 Personality Types"

I love the Complexly production company and the work they do producing free, informative, entertaining content with the purpose of educating the general public on a broad range of issues. They produce the YouTube channels “SciShow” and the spin offs “SciShow Space” and “SciShow Psych.” I’m a subscriber and regular viewer of these channels. I really dig what they’re trying to do.

On February 21, though, they released a video challenging the claims of the Enneagram. You know I can’t just let that one slide. Haha

I watched it yesterday, and I actually agree with most of what’s said. However, I don’t think they quite understand what the Enneagram system does and what it’s really about. Here’s the video. Watch it, and then I’ll give some comments on it below.

First of all, the scenario she opened with is not what the Enneagram is about. You should NEVER use someone’s Type to shame them or call them out on something. I’ve failed in this before, and it’s never a good idea. Don’t ever say “you’re such an Eight” or “you’re being so Four right now” as an insult or jibe at someone. Just don’t.

Brit Garner, the host, then goes on to point out that the Enneagram doesn’t have much scientific support or validation behind it. And she’s completely right. No Enneagram expert or teacher or book would ever make that sort of claim. The Enneagram is not science. I lead with that almost every time I talk about it. Some may view that as a weakness and a reason to be skeptical. I understand that 100%. The Enneagram is more of an art than a science. It comes out of a longstanding wisdom tradition and has been used among various religions and cultures throughout the centuries.

Just because something isn’t scientific doesn’t mean it’s not True. Science does not have the corner market on truth. Wisdom and science shouldn’t compete with each other but should inform each other. I think that’s what the Enneagram does well. I think that’s one of its strengths.

Garner claims that the purpose of the Enneagram is to “encourage [people] to become the best version of their personality type.” Not exactly. Our personality type consists of all the walls and defenses that we have built up over a lifetime. We have different ways of surviving in the world that comprise what we call a “false self.” Most Enneagram teachers will emphasize the truth that you are not your type. Your type is a false self. The Enneagram helps expose that false self so we can actually shed those masks and defense mechanisms, tear down the walls, and become our True Self, a more whole, integrated person. The purpose of the Enneagram is NOT to become the best version of your type.

The “fundamental flaw” in the system, she says, is that each type can be relatable for almost everyone. Again, most experts will tell you that we have a little bit of each type within us. I’m dominant in Type Three, but I also relate well to types One and Five. I see a lot of myself in those other types. I’m also influenced by my Two wing and my lines to Six and Nine. The Enneagram recognizes and affirms the complexity within each individual person. Every one of us contains elements of all Nine, but we are only Dominant in one type.

She also points out the very real problem that we can get different results based on the tests we take. I agree 100% that this is a problem. That’s why YOU DON’T RELY ON A TEST TO FIND YOUR ENNEAGRAM TYPE. Did I say that strongly enough? Haha

Tests are one of the least effective ways to discover your type. Every Enneagram expert will tell you that. It’s a journey of self-discovery. A test can help, but it should not be your go-to.

Then Garner points to the “Barnum Effect” in relation to the fact that people can relate to each of the types. On a mere surface level explanation of the Types, I can see how that might be the case. Sometimes the basic introductions do come across as vague generalities that can apply to almost everyone. That’s why you must go deeper. The real strength of the Enneagram lies in its ability to reveal your dark, hidden areas, or your “shadow side.” You know you’ve hit your Enneagram type, not when you feel good and agree with it, but when it punches you in the gut and you feel like hiding. I can remember the moment reading through the types when I got to Type Three. My jaw dropped. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I felt nervous and vulnerable. These people were openly describing parts of me that I wanted to keep hidden at all costs. I didn’t get that feeling from any other number.

The Enneagram does NOT rely on the Barnum effect. You just have to go deeper.

Finally, she expressed the fact that the Enneagram relies on “self-validation” as a weakness to the system. Again, the Enneagram never claims to be a scientific system or a grand unifying theory of personality. It is a tool for personal self-discovery and transformation. I cannot name anyone else’s type, because your type is determined by inward motivation, not outward behavior. Only YOU can know why you do what you do. Only YOU can validate your Type and know it to be true. No one can do it for you. No therapist or standardized test can do it for you. If you cannot be brutally honest with yourself, then you are not ready to learn the Enneagram.

If you want a scientific blueprint of personality, by all means explore “The Big Five.” That’s a lot more scientifically accurate than the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs. But my question is…so what? The Big Five Personality Inventory can map your personality across five scientifically validated traits. But then what? What’s the point in learning your personality traits just for the sake of knowing?

The wisdom of the Enneagram sets you on a journey, a trajectory of transformation. I love what Suzanne Stabile says: “The Enneagram does not put you in a box. It shows you what box you’re already in, and it shows you how to get out.”

3 Benefits of the Enneagram

If you’ve been paying attention to Christian books, podcasts, Twitter, and YouTube, then I’m sure you’ve at least heard of something called the Enneagram. You may be familiar with it, or you may have no idea what that term means. I’m no expert, and I’ll direct you to some helpful resources in a coming post. But for now, I want to mention just three key ways my life has improved because of this tool called the Enneagram (inn-ē-uh-gram).

1) The Enneagram has introduced me to myself.

At its most basic, the Enneagram is a personality typing system. You may have taken some kind of personality assessment before, like the Meyers-Briggs (I’m an ENFJ, whatever that means). The Enneagram spells out nine different personality types represented by a number along a circular figure. Each number represents a different way of viewing and interacting with the world.

You may wonder what’s the big deal. But it’s more than just picking a number or taking a test online. As you’re reading through the descriptions of the numbers, there will come a point when you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. You’ll get a sinking feeling in your stomach because suddenly you feel exposed for all the world to see. The Enneagram knows your deepest fears, shortcomings, and desires. The Enneagram knows how you react in stress and how you react in security. It reveals healthy and unhealthy patterns of behavior that creep up in your life.

I remember having that experience. I identify as a dominant Type THREE, sometimes called the Performer or Achiever. In times of stress, according to the Enneagram, I take on the unhealthy characteristics of a Type NINE, the Peacemaker. As I read the description of what that looked like, my jaw dropped. I think I got goosebumps. I felt nervous – in my bedroom alone reading this to myself. The way it described a THREE in stress was exactly what I found myself doing when I was going through times of “disintegration,” frustration, and stress.

It was like I was finally seeing myself clearly in the mirror for the first time. Warts and all. It isn’t a fun process. You may not like what you learn about yourself. But somehow you will know it’s all true.

2) The Enneagram has given me a new language.

I’ve never really been good at emotions and feelings. Chalk that up to being a THREE, I guess. But the Enneagram has given me a whole new vocabulary with which to communicate more clearly about my feelings.

Katelyn and I have been married for almost ten and a half years. We dated four and a half years before that. We’ve known each other for over fifteen years, and it’s just been in the last couple of years that we have really started to understand each other. She has learned things about me that I didn’t even know how to tell her – because I didn’t have the language for it. I’ve learned things about her that I never really would have known otherwise. We have been able to connect on a deeper level than ever because of the Enneagram.

Not only that, but it has helped me in my ministry. I work with teenagers full time. They are growing and developing their personalities at breakneck speed. They don’t know what’s going on inside them. But in listening to their stories and hearing how they describe themselves, their fears, their desires, their insecurities, I am better able to connect with them. The more knowledge I gain of the other eight types, the better I am to connect with people where they are and truly begin to understand what they’re going through and how they see the world.

3) The Enneagram has taught me what it means to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

The Nine types of the Enneagram have been called “The Nine Faces of God.” Each type reveals something of God’s own nature. Each type is also a path toward transformation in Christ. It’s not just a way of being, it’s a way of becoming who we were made to be. The Enneagram reveals the defense mechanisms we put in place to keep God and people at a distance. It also shows us what it looks like to break down those walls and allow ourselves to be fully known and loved.

The Enneagram is teaching me what it looks like to love God with my whole self, not just my intellect, not just my instincts, not just my emotions, but all of it. The Enneagram urges us to integrate head, heart, and hands. True worship and spiritual transformation is a process that includes thinking, feeling, and doing. Each of us is dominant in one area and regressive in another. Our task to to lean into the areas of weakness to become a fully integrated worshiper of God.

Through learning the Enneagram and confronting my “shadow side,” I am brought to a place of self-love and self-acceptance. Out of that place of inward health, I am better able to show love, grace, and forgiveness toward others. In other words, the Enneagram is a tool for developing empathy.

Jesus said the greatest command in Scripture is to love God with all you have and to love your neighbor as yourself. I have not found a more practical tool for learning how to love than the Enneagram.

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? What’s your Type? How has knowing the Enneagram helped you? Let me know in the comments below.