Enneagram Personality Test: What Therapists Say It Reveals

The popularity of personality tests

Personality tests on the internet are a dime a dozen.

Plug in your favorite ice cream, your favorite dog breed, and the last movie you saw, and you’ll get a detailed explanation of how your inner self works in less than a minute. Or at least an overview of which Disney princess you most resemble.

Or you can pay hundreds of dollars and have a professional give you an hour-long personality assessment that can pinpoint each unique trait in great detail, using well-known tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

These personality tests are so common and compelling because they answer a fundamental question that almost everyone has: “Why do I do the things I do?”

Your personality is at the heart of everything you do and are, so it makes sense that you want to learn all about it.

One personality test circulating on the internet is the Enneagram. The test is based on the Enneagram theory and uses a nine-point system that addresses the different qualities you possess. Basically, it tells you which of the nine Enneagram personalities suits you best.

It differs from other personality tests in that it focuses on how you deal with trauma. The MBTI test, on the other hand, focuses more on your judgment and perception of the world around you. It’s more nurture versus nature.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Enneagram test, including the basics of Enneagram theory, the different personality types, the benefits of knowing your personality type, and how accurate they can be.

Enneagram types

Some of the most popular “pop psychology” personality tests are based on the Enneagram of Personality Types, which dates back to the 1900s.

This model divides people into nine main personality types, known as Enneatypes, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. It also focuses on three centers including instinct, feeling and thinking.

Your Enneagram type indicates which of the three centers is your dominant emotion.

They are often represented on a nine-pointed geometric figure (an Enneagram), with each type placed on a point and connected by lines to show how the types interact with each other.

The nine Enneatypes are:

Type 1: The Reformer

Perfectionist, principled and purposeful, reformers are often very rational and idealistic in their worldview. They can also be brittle and uncompromising.

Type 2: The Helper

Helpers are loving, caring, and generous, but can also be chronically pleasing and possessive.

Type 3: The Performer

Goal-oriented and motivated, Achievers know what they want and will act decisively to be successful. However, they are often very image-conscious and overly driven.

Type 4: The individualist

Individualists live in their own world and can express themselves well, but can come across as egocentric, temperamental and dramatic.

Type 5: The researcher

This type has a very cerebral way of interpreting the world. They are observant and curious, but can also appear very intense, secretive and isolated.

Type 6: The Loyalist

Loyalists are the foundation of any strong community and value responsibility, safety and the well-being of the whole. However, they can also appear anxious and suspicious.

Type 7: The Enthusiast

Always the life of the party, Enthusiasts are energetic and cheerful people who enjoy spontaneous adventures. They can also be scattered, disorganized and easily distracted.

Type 8: The Challenger

Challengers are confident in their abilities and radiate authority and power. They are natural leaders, but they can also appear dominant, opinionated and argumentative.

Type 9: The Peacekeeper

Easy going and reassuring, Peacemakers are there to smooth things over and are good at finding compromises. However, they can do this at their own expense, making them overly self-deprecating, agreeable, and complacent.

(Here’s what your fears say about your personality.)

How do you choose which test to take?

Enneagram personality tests ask a variety of focused questions to see which type you most identify with. It is possible to identify different types, expressed as a percentage, because they work together in different ways. Usually, however, one will be the most dominant; this is your ‘type’.

There are dozens of personality tests and quizzes based on Enneagram principles, but they are not created equal.

And herein lies one of the biggest problems with the test, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City. Because it is not standardized, it is difficult to use an Enneagram test as a measurement tool.

“You need to see how the test has been scientifically validated so you know it’s reliable,” she says. “The most reliable one I like to use is the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator.” (This one costs $12. There are other free tests you can take online, but that generally requires you to enter your email address or sometimes pay more for the full results, or offer shorter versions of the test.)

Are the tests accurate?

“Accurate” is subjective when it comes to personality testing because only you can really know what is true for yourself.

However, they can be helpful for people looking to improve themselves, Hafeez says.

“It works best as a tool to help you understand your behavior patterns, goals, motivations, fears, weaknesses, and strengths,” she says. “They are helpful in developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and others.”

The theory has been around since the 1960s, and variations have evolved as tools to help people grow individually, spiritually, in business settings, and in relationships. There is some research showing that it can have a positive effect in these areas.

A literature review found that people who learned their Enneagram type were able to identify strengths and weaknesses that enabled them to “transcend the strengths and limitations of their value system.”

Meanwhile, a 2018 study in the Adult Development Magazine found that people who took 40 to 50 hours of intense training on Enneagram types experienced greater psychological growth and ego development.

Essentially, the tests are as useful as you want them to be. Positive results will depend more on what you think about it and how you use them than on the test itself, says Christine BL Adams, MD, a psychiatrist and researcher who has studied personality development for more than 40 years.

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Benefits of learning your enneagram type

It may not be “scientific,” but your Enneagram type can be helpful in helping you analyze yourself and set goals. Learning about your personality style — whether through therapy, a book, a video, or a test — can help you explore the “why” of your behavior and understand your underlying motivations, Dr. Adams says.

There are some specific benefits to knowing your Enneagram type, Hafeez says. With information about your personality type, you can:

  • Understand your decision-making process
  • Learn how to adapt to your environment
  • Identify and stop unproductive habits
  • Control your emotions better
  • Develop compassion for others
  • Boost your emotional intelligence

Don’t rely on the Enneagram personality test for answers

There are some potential problems with the test, starting with its oversimplification of personality.

“These tests can be a fun pastime, like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but they’re generally too superficial to really provide insight into your personality,” says Dr. Adams.

In some cases, these tests can even lead you astray if they give you incorrect information about yourself.

“These tests are easy to play, to tell you what you want to hear about yourself,” she says. “You also have to ask yourself what you get out of it. Say you’re an introvert. What do you do with that?”

Another problem is taking the results too literally and using the test to justify negative traits or bad behavior rather than correcting them, Hafeez says.

For example, someone who has tested strongly as a “challenger” may refuse to retract an argument or compromise because “that’s just how they are.”

Be careful when using it in the workplace

One area where enneagram testing has really taken off is in the business world — and that’s a problem, says AJ Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida.

“These kinds of tests are easy to fake and don’t predict job performance,” she says, adding that you should be wary of an employer asking you to take one. If you are a manager, do not use one as a tool for hiring or developing employees.

It takes a lot of preplanning, research, and data analysis to scientifically develop a valid and reliable personality test that companies can use to develop or hire their employees, and most Enneagram tests don’t meet this standard, Marsden says.

“Besides,” she says, “even the most thoroughly studied personality tests will only account for about 20 percent of the variability in hiring new people, so it’s not exactly the best way to hire your staff.”

Take your results with a grain of salt

If this framework helps you better understand yourself and motivates you to make positive changes, feel free to use it as a resource, but take your results with a grain of salt, Hafeez says.

“It’s important to remember that this test isn’t scientifically proven and your results don’t encompass your entire identity,” she says.

Rather than seeing your Enneagram type as the definition of who you are, use it as a starting point to learn more about yourself, Dr. Adams says.

For maximum benefit, she recommends taking your results to a therapist trained in personality development who can help you dig deeper and develop an individual improvement plan.

Next, here are the many ways to be happier.

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