What Does True Belonging Look Like for an Enneagram Four?

what does belonging look like as an enneagram four

Christine Yi Suh shares how true belonging as both an Enneagram Four and a Korean American woman starts with spiritual practices of radical self-love and acceptance.

One of the main longings I’ve carried throughout my life as an Enneagram Four has been a desire to belong. 

And for the majority of my life, I tried to find belonging by shrinking myself to fit within the expectations set for me by societal, religious, and cultural structures. I strove to be a meek and submissive woman within Korean patriarchal church contexts and an invisibilized, tokenized Asian within dominant white spaces. As I sought belonging in these communities, I rejected the embodied parts of who I was—my womanhood, my Koreanness, my personality, story, and voice. At the time, I didn’t realize that the longer I stayed in these communities, I would lose the very person God made me to be.

Has your need for acceptance or belonging ever motivated a betrayal of your true, embodied self? Did you ever feel the need to disguise or suppress parts of yourself in order to better fit the expectations of others? 

Brene Brown in her book, Braving the Wilderness says “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world. . . . True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

These past years, I have been on a journey of believing in and belonging to myself. I have been reframing and transforming my Four longing to belong into spiritual practices of radical self-love. In doing so, I am shedding decades of internalized oppression and self-rejection. I am following the courageous, liberative path of Korean women before me who resisted narratives of erasure and self-hatred, and sought their own flourishing, healing, and belonging. I see clearly now that true belonging first begins within me. 

My fellow Four siblings, I believe our journey for acceptance must become an inward reality rather than an outward search for belonging. The struggle to find outward affirmation will always be there, but we can also cultivate practices and narratives that remind us of our inherent worth. We are always being invited to come home to the abundant, singing voice of God who says to each of us, “You are my beloved child. . . . I am so pleased with you.” Can you hear this Voice deep within you? Your existence is a gift. You are beloved, you are enough, and you belong—just as you are.

About the Author

Christine Yi Suh is a writer, spiritual director, pastor, and the author of Forty Days on Being a Four. She has previously served as a pastor of spiritual formation and as the assistant director of spiritual formation and care at Pepperdine University.  She and her spouse, David, live with their two children outside of Los Angeles.

Seeing Beyond the Darkness as an Enneagram One

Seeing Through the Darkness as an Enneagram One

Pastor and spiritual director Juanita Campbell Rasmus shares about her dark night of the soul and how the Enneagram has helped her go beyond the One’s black-and-white, perfectionistic mindset.

From my earliest memories as a child, I have been striving and pushing for all that is right and good. My personal narrative has driven me into the depth of depression, exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, and into a dark night of the soul as St. John of the Cross wrote way back in the 16th century. Some time ago I came to a critical point in my life where all the good things that I had worked for, longed for—you know, happy marriage, great kids, vibrant career, comfortable lifestyle—had sucked the life out of me. I had begun to wonder: can your narrative kill you?

Now I know it can, or at least it could leave you for half dead. My life had imploded. No extramarital affair for this pastor, no inappropriate public behavior, no reckless use of funds personal or otherwise, just an emptiness that made sleeping my life away seem far too appealing. I went to bed one day and woke up in a dark pit, lethargic, empty, and desolate. Medication, therapy, and long days of silence, solitude, and reflection began to offer me hope for recovery.

In the process I found the Enneagram. What an incredible answer to my prayers and my sighs. In the Enneagram I came to see I had been living my life all in the dark, as though I had been born blind. The Enneagram turned on the light for me even in the pit. As an Enneagram One, my drivenness toward perfection, people pleasing, and needing the acceptance and approval of others had come from a very deep place within me rooted in fear. I had never considered myself to be a particularly fearful person until, along with the depression, I began to have panic attacks that were managed only by medication. Later, I would learn new coping mechanisms.

The Enneagram gave me insight and helped me see that my fear was rooted in punishment, in my case, for not being good enough. As a One I was fearful of being labeled, condemned, or judged for not having “what it takes.” So early on I became a “striver.” I was striving, pushing, and ultimately exhausting myself to death. My motto was work harder, do more, stay in the game at all cost.

I had literally spent my life up until then avoiding mistakes or failure, creating rules I believed would keep me disciplined and structured, free from chaos, confusion, and disaster. None of that really worked, but in my mind it appeared to. I had hoped all my rule-following would keep me safe from the wounds of being human. Needless to say, my way did not work. It is the way of the One to want to avoid failure, mistakes, and judgment. Along the way, I suppressed both anger and resentment which slowly brewed on the back burner of my subconsciousness.

My therapist once told me that depression is anger turned inward, and I was blown away by her comment. She said in the long run I would need to learn to live with my anger and it would prove healthier than depression as a coping mechanism. One of the gifts the Enneagram gave me was being able to see I could release my unrealistic expectations of myself as well as the silent unrealistic expectations I had of others. They were, after all, just thoughts I had created as a part of my narrative. Since I authored this saga, I had the power to rewrite the narrative. I had to let go of believing the standards, values, and principles I had set were fact! Shocker—they were simply the reality I had created in my black-and-white world and it was exacting a huge toll on my life and my relationships.

While it was unnerving to begin to see that all I had believed was not absolute truth, it was also quite freeing. You see, I had always been very dualistic in my thinking about life and relationships. All of that is just a nice way of saying that at the core, we Ones can be judgmental and condemning to all that does not line up to our rules of engagement. The growth for me has come as I am learning to be more respectful of the beliefs and values of other people.

I used to live in such a black-and-white world that I often prayed, “God, show me in black and white so I don’t mess this up.” God has graciously used the Enneagram to show me a myriad of truths in colors as intensely beautiful as the rainbow, and I am learning to be open to new ways of seeing and being freed from the restrictions of perfectionism. I am actually learning to live with the tension and the reality of mystery and it has been a great and joy-filled way of coming into the light of life.

About the Author

Juanita Campbell Rasmus

Juanita Campbell Rasmus is a speaker, writer, spiritual director, and contemplative. She copastors the St. John’s United Methodist Church in downtown Houston with her husband, Rudy. Pastor Juanita has served as a member of the board of directors of Renovaré and she cofounded Bread of Life, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, with Rudy in 1992. Juanita most recently teamed up with Tina Knowles Lawson and Beyoncé to help forty thousand flood victims recover in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. She is the author of Learning to Be and 40 Days on Being a One.

3 Ways of Navigating Life with the Enneagram: Thinking, Feeling, and Doing

Three Ways of Navigating Life with the Enneagram- Thinking, Feeling, and Doing

Pastor Todd Wilson explores how each Enneagram type draws on one of three Centers of Intelligence in this excerpt from his book The Enneagram Goes to Church.

Early on in life, before first grade, each of us learns to prefer one dimension of personality over the other two. We learn to lead with thinking or feeling or doing. We find it works for us and helps us get our needs met. We look to one of the other two dimensions for support, and we then let the third dimension, whichever that is for each of us, sit idly by or fall out of use. In a word, we neglect it.

In a nutshell, this is the Enneagram theory of personality. The nine personality types at the heart of the Enneagram are the result of these three dimensions of personality coming together in nine different combinations. Some lead with thinking, others with feeling, still others with doing. Some support with thinking, others with feeling, still others with doing. And some let thinking fall into disuse, others feeling, and still others doing.

These three aspects of experience—thinking, feeling, and doing— make up nine different combinations of personality types. This is the deep logic of the Enneagram.

But the Enneagram also claims that the way each personality comes together is through the overuse of one of the centers (known as the Preferred Center), the misuse of a second (known as the Support Center), and the underuse of a third (known as the Repressed Center). Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

Your Preferred Center (or Triad)

The Enneagram arranges the nine personality types into three sets of three, according to which dimension of personality plays the lead role in our life. These three clusters of three are known as Triads. Your Triad identifies which is your Preferred Center.

Each of us takes in information from the world around us with either thinking, feeling, or doing. We draw on one of the three Centers of Intelligence to help us make our way in the world. This is the how we process the information coming at us.

I like to think of it as the way we read the world. What are you quick to notice? What immediately catches your eye? Where does your attention tend to go? What do you see that others may not see? Is it the action or actors in any given situation? Or the emotional dynamics of the people involved? Or the ideas, perspectives, or possibilities at play?

If you read the world with feeling, you are in the Heart Triad. If you read the world with thinking, you are in the Head Triad. And if you read the world with doing, you are in the Body Triad. One of them will be your preferred strategy for living in the world and making sense of it.

Each Triad has its own unique traits. Let’s take a closer look at what they are.

The Heart Triad

Those in the Heart Triad know what they know about the world and relationships through their hearts, through their intuitive emotional grasp of a situation. People in this Triad lead with their hearts, which means they read the world with emotions or feelings. Heart Triad people are often highly emotionally intelligent. They’re generally very good with people and have little trouble showing empathy, compassion, or understanding.

All the social geniuses of the world are in the Heart Triad. They’re the kind of people who gravitate toward other people and find relationships come very easily and naturally. You won’t find many socially awkward people who are in the Heart Triad. Interpersonally, they’re smooth. Because they’re so relationally attuned, they tend to be overly dependent on people’s opinion of them, especially when they’re working in an unhealthy space. Heart Triad people can be good listeners and warm conversationalists. But they can be beholden to the approval of others, emotionally reacting to rather than thoughtfully engaging with people in their lives.

In a word, Heart Triad people crave validation from others, which can make them needy. And while presenting themselves as others-focused, it can ironically be all about them—their own validation, affirmation, or accomplishment. This is a shadow-side of the Heart Triad. Deep down, they struggle with shame and worthlessness, which is why they cultivate an image of themselves that wins approval and affection from others. When this is brought into balance, they are exemplary individuals who love to love and be loved. But when it is overdone, it can lead to cloying, self-serving dependence on others.

The Head Triad

If those in the Heart Triad are interpersonal and geared to relationships, then those in the Head Triad are impersonal and oriented to ideas, thoughts, and insights. This of course doesn’t mean that those in the Head Triad are socially inept, uncaring, or bad with people. It does mean, however, that they’re always looking for an objective perspective on life.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is a member of the Head Triad. Members of the Head Triad are often intelligent, insightful, and curious. The majority of the world’s sages and wisdom-people come from this Triad. They have great powers of perception, and interestingly enough, they tend to be highly emotionally invested in their way of perceiving the world. When Head Triad people move toward the excess of their personality, they can be as stubborn as a mule and as unyielding as a brick wall. Occasionally, this expresses itself as intolerance toward the opinions of others.

Those in the Head Triad are planners, analyzers, visionaries, and scholars. They like studying things, spotting patterns, seeing the world as predictable. The shadow-side of this, of course, is fear—fear of not knowing, fear of not having options or opportunities, fear of not having their environments be safe and secure. Head Triad folks are on a lifelong quest for security, which produces in them either fierce loyalty or recurring bouts of worry.

The Body Triad

People in the Body Triad lead not with feeling or thinking but with doing. They’re deeply connected to their bodies and read the world very instinctively and from their gut. They will have an intuitive sense that something isn’t right but may not be able to explain to you why. They just know it in their bones, so to speak. Because their preferred strategy in the world is to lead with doing, they tend to “think fast,” as social psychologists would put it—that is, with their bodies.

Body Triad people naturally value physical comforts and pleasures, whether that’s a five-course meal with fine wine, a restful bedroom escape, or an immaculately kept kitchen. Because they’re in touch with their bodies, which is our source of power and presence in the world, they often come across as commanding personalities, at times even demanding. They’re abuzz with instinctual energy, which can at times be overwhelming to themselves and others. As a rule, they don’t like being vulnerable and prefer to maintain control over any situation they find themselves in. Lurking beneath the surface of their lives is anger, and when it is directed toward individuals, we call it rage. This explains their vitality and intensity.

I’m an Eight, which means I’m in the Doing or Body Triad. In every situation, I’m asking, What should be done? or What am I going to do? I don’t consciously try to think this way; it just happens. This is the way I am in the world. I walk into a room, and I have an instinctive sense for what I want to do. I talk to a friend on the phone, and I’m processing the conversation in terms of action. I go for a walk with my wife, and I tend to talk about what we’re going to do or how we should strategize to make something happen. It’s my default way of working in the world.

I should mention the downside of this. Because our personalities take shape around our preferred strategy for approaching the world— whether thinking, feeling, or doing—we tend to overuse that dimension of our personality. This, in turn, puts us off balance. Rather than living more integrated lives, in which thinking, feeling, and doing are mutually supportive and closely interconnected, most of us tend to overuse one, misuse the other, and underuse the third. The Enneagram has a way of talking about our use—or misuse and underuse—of the other two dimensions of personality.

Taken from The Enneagram Goes to Church by Todd Wilson. Copyright (c) 2021 by Todd Wilson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, USA. www.ivpress.com

How Venmo Saved Christmas for this Enneagram Seven

How Venmo Saved Christmas for This Enneagram Seven

Artist and writer Gideon Tsang shares how his idealism as an Enneagram Seven came up against the frustrating reality of Christmas shopping during COVID-19.

As an Enneagram Seven, I love and hate the holidays. I love them because, well, Sevens—like Prince preparing for an entire year before Y2K—like to party. The lights, the smells, the sounds, the gifts, the food, the drink, the gatherings. I’ve been going since before 1999. 

On the other hand, as a frustrated idealist (Sevens and Fours!), holidays are the worst. Being stuck in holiday traffic headed towards a mall to wait in line for a gift for someone that you don’t want to buy a gift for is a living hell. Even Dante’s Satan, in his literal flaming hell, was like, “Uh, the mall in December? I’m good. I’ll stay in this eternal flaming inferno.”

This past COVID Christmas of 2020, I made the mistake of going to the grocery store on Christmas Eve (you know, to allow my idealism to blossom into frustration). I put on my coat and hat to brave the Texas forty-five-degree winter and drove two miles down the road to my local grocer, Central Market. As I turned on my left turn signal and waited for a mass of cars to pass, I could sense trouble. Cars were waiting in every aisle with signals claiming their parking spot like a dog peeing on a hydrant. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a line of masked shoppers wrapped around the plaza disappearing around the corner. “Ugh. . . why, God, why?” I muttered under my breath.

I saw a spot open up in the far corner of the lot and parked. With my mask on, I lined up at the back of the line outside of a card store. Forty-five minutes later, with a cart in hand, I was in. 

The reason for my outing was that my partner, Christie, was planning to cook two lasagnas for my boys the next evening—Christmas night. She put together a shopping list in the order of where I would find the items in the store. With the crowded aisles, it felt like a game of Mario Kart. I threw a few banana peels behind me just in case. 

Once inside the store, my quest began with veggies, then onto the meat section, then the wine, the spices, the sauces, the cheeses, and finally the fresh pasta. With my cart full, I traced the checkout line from the front of the store past the gelato, past the deli, all the way to the bakery at the very back of the store. I got in line. People were cordial and in a festive mood. Is this the end of the line? “Welcome, join our holiday misery!” smirked a bearded white Austinite with a baseball cap (Austin’s equivalent to a New York pigeon). 

Thirty minutes later, I was next in line. The conveyor belt moved to start the emptying of my precious goods. I started with the colorful array of vegetables and then the sauces and spices. All the colors coming out of my cart tickled my inner Seven’s need for variety and beauty. The woman in front of me paid for her bounty, rolled her cart towards the automatic doors and waved at me as she said “happy holidays.” 

Finally, my quest was near completion. I was at the checkout! Halfway through, I took a deep breath. The nightmare was almost over. I reached into my pocket for my wallet and to my horror, it was empty. I checked all my back pockets. Jacket pockets. I ran through all my pockets one more time. A stress sweat bead tricked down my back. I couldn’t have. I must have. I forgot my wallet. 

I quickly texted Christie. “You won’t believe what I forgot.”

Christie: “Shut up”

Me: “I might start weeping”

Christie: “I can come now!”

Me: “I took your car”

Christie: “What do we do?!”

Me: “Uber?”

I scanned my cart to see what I might be able to throw across the store. Maybe I’ll just walk away into the sunset and call it a life.

My Enneagram Seven quick thinking kicked in and I turn to the couple in line behind me. They were both wearing hooded sweatshirts. 

Me: “Hey, there. So I have a straaange question.”

Random Couple: “Uh, ok”

Me: “Sooo (I could hear my last bottle of wine beeping through the checkout) I forgot my wallet. What if. . .”

I could see them shift uncomfortably

Me: “It’s going to be a lot. But do you think I could Venmo you for my groceries if you put them on your card?”

I got a blank stare back. After a few seconds of processing the man shrugged, “Yeah, I guess I could do that.”

Me: “Sir, I want to kiss you right now but that might scare you and it’s COVID. But thank you, thank you, thank you. You just saved my Christmas. I kind of love and hate Christmas.”

Man: “I get it man. Congrats on making it out of here. Happy holidays.”

As an Enneagram Seven, that’s a sneak peek into my experience of most holidays. This is how an idealist coming against the frustrations of reality uses a bit of charm and quick thinking to come away with a positive story. Anything for a good story, eh?

About the Author

Gideon Yee Shun Tsang

Gideon Yee Shun Tsang is an artist, writer, photographer, and spiritual leader. He was the founding pastor at Vox Veniae in Austin, Texas, where he’s been living for the past twenty years. He originally hails from Canada. He can be found meandering the country in his van, bike camping in national forests, or cliff jumping into cenotes. He is the author of 40 Days on Being a Seven.

How Enneagram Nines Fight for Their Peace (and Yours) Every Day

How Enneagram Nines Fight for Their Peace (and Yours) Every Day

Writer Marlena Graves shares about her experience as an Enneagram Nine and how she’s learned to maintain the peace without giving up her identity.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve been a bridge builder and a peacemaker. It is easy for me to find and affirm the common ground human beings share with one another. We have our differences for sure, but our commonalities and shared humanity stand out to me much more readily than our differences do. It also helps that I’ve been among all sorts of ethnic groups—among the rural, urban, and suburban, the rich and poor, those with more education and those with less. And where do I stand among them? Well, I am the bridge.

That’s all well and good, but it also leads to feeling unmoored and dislocated—as if I don’t have a home of my very own. Enneagram Nines find it quite easy to merge with others but have trouble figuring themselves out because their “self” is so merged with others and also because Nines are mystics and experts at reading people. When I learned that, I instantly knew, “That’s me! I am a Nine!” If I am constantly merging with others, who am I then? Where do I belong? Where is my place in this world?

I’ve had to disentangle myself from others in order to figure out what I like and what I stand for. I’ve even had to be willing to tick people off with my stances on anything from immigration to politics to which branch of the Church I prefer. I do have opinions about these things, and through trial and error (and maturity) I have learned not to cave on what I think or believe simply because I might encounter someone who disagrees with me. I don’t give up my values and hard-won wisdom to do what Nines find it so easy to do: go along to get along. Indeed, I can sometimes be bold and blunt about what I think—that’s my Eight-wing coming out for you!

Related to all this is that desire for peace. If I am not living out what I profess to believe and stand for, there is tension within—a lack of peace. So, I don’t want to make proclamations personally or in writing if I am not living them out. I think anyone who practices what they preach has immediate and lasting credibility. I want to be one of those people, but it can be exhausting. I fall back on Jesus’s words to us, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). And I also fall back on the Lord’s injunction to us to “cease striving, be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Maybe this struggle and tension about feeling really unsettled if I am not practicing what I am preaching is a bit of a One-wing coming out in me—the perfectionist side.

The interesting thing about all of this is that you wouldn’t have a clue that this is going on inside of most Nines. We strive hard to maintain peace and part of that is not bothering you about our lack of peace. Our desire for peace is such that we don’t want to say or do things that might cause you to feel uncomfortable or lose peace. Nines are loathe to burden or bother others. That can come at a great cost and lead to distress in them and in relationships. Or sometimes, Nines hold things in for so long that eventually they explode at the drop of a hat and people around them wonder where that volcanic energy came from. The thing about Nines is that they don’t usually stay angry for long once it is out.

There’s so much more I could say about being a Nine and using the Enneagram as a tool for self-knowledge and self-awareness. No two Nines are exactly alike. We come from different environments, life circumstances, and perspectives. But hopefully you know a little more about my experience in being a Nine and about the Nines who are agreeable peacemakers in your life. Perhaps without Nines it’d be all war, all of the time. So, take a moment to see and affirm the Nines in your life and the role they play. They will appreciate your affirmation and the fact that you see them.

About the Author

Marlena Graves

Marlena Graves is a writer and adjunct professor. She holds an MDiv from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York, and is a graduate of the Renovaré Institute. She is the author of Forty Days on Being a Nine, The Way Up Is Down, and A Beautiful Disaster, and her writing has also appeared at Christianity Today, (in)courage, and Our Daily Bread. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Toledo, Ohio.

You Are More than Your Enneagram Type

You Are More Than Your Enneagram Type

Enneagram teachers and authors of Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram Clare and Scott Loughrige and Adele and Doug Calhoun introduce how the Harmony Enneagram theory makes way for spiritual transformation.

Transformation is the soul of the Enneagram. Anything short of transformation and it’s just another personality fad. Something here today and gone tomorrow. We find ourselves conflicted about Instagram Memes, Enneagram art, and Enneagram music. Often these vehicles are fun and give a new generation access to an ancient tool and they can keep us defined by “type” rather than transformation. And, let’s not lose sight of the value of the Enneagram as a tool that can heal relationships, open us to truth, draw us to God and bring about spiritual transformation.

Soren Kierkegaard writes: With God’s help, I shall become myself. The Enneagram gets behind defenses and rationalizations to the truth of who we are.

In Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram we write, “The Enneagram can help you recognize your unique melody as well as where you are off-key internally and relationally. The Enneagram reveals your tempos, soloist agendas, and dedication to your ‘playlist.’ Still, discovering the truth of your number can never encompass who you are. Nor does it automatically change you or your relationships. Relational repairs and healthy interactions take intention and attention. Enneagram insights have to be applied to the rhythms and grooves of ordinary daily lives to bring transformation and harmony.”

The Enneagram comforts and discomforts. It names how we default and defend ourselves from truth—especially truth about ourselves! Jesus continually struggled with people who were closed to new truth about God and themselves. During his last hours with his followers, Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12). Jesus’ friends just weren’t prepared to hear truth that contradicted their agendas and self-understanding. Two thousand years later, we are no more prepared to bear and practice truth than Jesus’ disciples were.

For us personally, God graciously used the Enneagram in our lives to get around our defenses and blind spots so we could practice truth. The Enneagram revealed the reality of our inner discord and its effect on others. Knowing our Enneagram number gave us eyes to see how image, wounds, lies, triggers, and default responses shaped us every bit as much as our faith. Yet, recognizing our number was just the beginning of a journey that is changing us and our ability to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves.

What Is the Enneagram, and Where Did It Come From?

What is the Enneagram and where did it come from

Spiritual director and Enneagram teacher Alice Fryling introduces the Enneagram’s history, Christian roots, and means for spiritual growth in this excerpt from her book Mirror for the Soul.

The Enneagram captured me from the first workshop I attended in Madison, Wisconsin. I had my doubts that the mysterious circle with its numbers, lines, and arrows could tell me anything about myself. But as the presenter described each number, I began to see not only myself but also my husband, my daughters, even my neighbors. I saw why relationships get so confused. And I saw why I was often confused with myself. I saw a description of my spiritual journey that was unlike anything else I knew. I was hooked.

Several years later I attended another conference about the Enneagram that did not go as well for me. It was a two-day conference on the origins of the Enneagram. I did okay with the history. The presenters described the influence of various scholars and teachers on the Enneagram over the course of history. I learned about Evagrius Ponticus of the fifth century, Ramon Lull of the thirteenth century, and Oscar Ichazo, Claudio Naranjo, and Robert Ochs, all from the twentieth century. Not that I really knew who any of these people were, but at least I got the history part. Then the presenters moved on to the diagram of the Enneagram. I sat in the audience trying to listen well and nod wisely. But I had no idea what they were talking about. That was partly because I do not have the scientific or mathematical expertise that the presenters had. But I have since learned that I am not the only one confused.

The Origins of the Enneagram

As I have read more and more about the Enneagram, I have learned that its origins are clouded in mystery. One Enneagram book admits that “the exact origins of the Enneagram symbol have been lost to history; we do not know where it came from, any more than we know who discovered the wheel or how to write.” Perhaps I was not so uninformed after all. We may never know the exact origins of the Enneagram or the Enneagram diagram.

We do know that the Christian roots of the Enneagram probably go back to the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth century.

They are often considered the “spiritual directors” or mentors of the early church. As people sought them out for help on the spiritual journey, these teachers saw patterns of life that are reflected in the Enneagram. Since then the wisdom of the Enneagram has been passed down through oral tradition. This accounts for some of the confusion. Just as modern-day journalists give different reports about the same event, so historical and contemporary teachers of the Enneagram describe its history and content with a variety of words and perspectives.

In modern times this oral tradition has been passed down largely through the Catholic Church, but until the second half of the twentieth century the Enneagram was considered “secret knowledge.” Laypeople, it was thought, could not handle this information with care and wisdom. When Richard Rohr, a Franciscan teacher of the Enneagram, learned of the Enneagram from his spiritual director in the 1970s, he was told not to pass it on in writing or to let anyone know where he got it. But, says Rohr, discovering the Enneagram was one of the “three great overwhelming spiritual experiences of my life. I could literally feel how something like scales fell from my eyes, and it became clear to me in a flash what I had previously been up to: I had always done the right thing . . . but for false motives.” Breaking the silence, Rohr became a major influence in bringing the Enneagram to laypeople within the Catholic Church and, more recently, to Protestants. It took centuries, then, for the Enneagram to become accessible to someone like me.

The Enneagram as a Spiritual Journey

I wonder what the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth century would say about our understanding of the Enneagram today. Would they even recognize it after thousands of years of being passed down by oral tradition? Our current understanding of the Enneagram incorporates a variety of perspectives, different words, and different applications. The Enneagram is taught today from the vantage points of psychological understanding, the business world, and secular, nonreligious points of view.

My presentation of the Enneagram is from the perspective of a Christian’s spiritual journey, looking at God’s gifts to us, our failure to express these gifts in love, and God’s gracious response to that failure. The Enneagram identifies the gifts we have been given. When we are freely and lovingly expressing these gifts, we are not held back by self-serving compulsive motivations. But on the journey of life, even when we want to live out of a truly loving place, we hit daily roadblocks. The Enneagram identifies the things we fixate on that cause us to get sidetracked or stuck on the journey. It shows where these fixations take us: right back into our compulsive, false-self perspective. In the words of the Enneagram, our compulsions are our “passions.” Christians often call them sins. But from the Enneagram we learn that we are not left in our compulsions or sins. It also identifies the graces (or “virtues”) given to us to lead us to transformation.

This is not a linear journey, from compulsion to transformation. It is more like a circle, or even a figure eight, that we weave in and out of many times a day. Richard Rohr said in one of his many talks on the Enneagram, “The agenda of the false self is to look good, to pretend. The biggest problem with the false self is not that it is there, but that we start to believe it ourselves. You can tell when the false self takes over because you become easily offended. The false self,” he says, “is offended (about every three minutes) because it is fragile. The true self, on the other hand, is unoffendable.” God invites us, through the wisdom of the Enneagram, to notice when we are acting out of false-self motivation. Then God, in love, invites us to let go of that motivation and return to living out of the gifts and grace given to us.

The Enneagram describes a life of growth, change, failure, and transformation. I have changed as I have traveled this Enneagram journey. By the grace of God, I am a different person today than I was when I went to that first workshop.

The Theory of the Enneagram

As we begin, we will take a bird’s-eye view of the Enneagram. Don’t worry if this seems confusing at first. Human beings are confusing people. The Enneagram will eventually help sort that out.

The Enneagram suggests that we are all given particular gifts. Numbered one to nine, these gifts include goodness, love, effectiveness, creativity, wisdom, faithfulness, joy, power, and peace. We usually like our gifts. In fact, we like them so much, we become addicted to them. We cannot live a day without our giftedness being front and center in our lives. But as we try to do this, we find that we cannot express our gifts perfectly, others do not value our gifts as much as we think they should, and other people have different gifts that we may think look better or worse than our own gifts. When we become frustrated about these experiences with our gifts, it is as though we reach a roadblock on our daily spiritual journey. We try to circumvent the roadblock by exaggerating the gift we have been given. A person in the Three space, for instance, is often very successful and effective in what he does. This becomes so important that failure is totally unacceptable, something to be avoided at all costs. If failure cannot be avoided, the Three person unconsciously decides that a little deceit might cover it up. Or a person in the Eight space may be so enamored with her leadership and power that she tries to control everything and everyone. When this doesn’t work, she doesn’t know why and doubles down and tries harder to control, alienating her colleagues even more.

All of us live with some version of these examples. We all exaggerate what we value. We exaggerate the gift we have been given in order to try to look good, control life, and impress ourselves and others. When we do this, we are no longer free. We become compulsive about how we think we should express our gifts and how we think our gifts should be received. The Enneagram identifies the particular compulsions that accompany each gift.

The Enneagram does not leave us stuck in the mire of our compulsions. It suggests a grace to help us return to God’s love, love for ourselves, and love for others. The classic presentation of the Enneagram uses the word virtue for this quality that helps us return to our true self. I prefer the word grace, a word used by many Enneagram presenters. This is a word that hints at something given to us freely, that we do not have to earn. For each of the nine spaces, a grace, or a perspective on life, is suggested to help loosen the grip of our compulsive thinking. The nine graces identified all hint at the mercy and love God offers all of us all of the time. As we receive the particular grace of our space, we also notice the graces of the other spaces and begin to participate in God’s overwhelming mercy, indeed in God’s grace. This will become clearer as we look at each space.

Nine Perspectives on Life

People in the One space are gifted with goodness. They do things well, very well. They are conscientious and ethical, striving for excellence. But on the journey of life, they discover that things are not always good, that they themselves are not always good. The false self convinces them that they are responsible for making life not only good but perfect. When things are not as perfect as they think they should be, Ones experience anger, toward themselves, situations, and others. God invites Ones to receive serenity, which is the ability to accept things as they are and to become less reactive when things are not perfect.

People in the Two space are especially gifted to love. But as Twos journey on in life, they discover that they actually like to feel needed by others even more than they like to love unselfishly. As they compulsively try to meet the needs of others, they deny their own needs and develop a pride that leads them to hover and control in the name of love. The false self convinces them that they know what everyone else needs but no one can know what they need. The grace that leads Twos back to the true self is humility. As they begin to acknowledge their own needs and weaknesses, God transforms them to be better able to love others with authenticity and grace.

People in the Three space are gifted to be effective, to succeed in making things happen. But as they succeed in life, Threes may become vain about their successes. When threatened with a sense of possible failure, Threes, in their false self, give in to deceit, the compulsion to twist the truth to fulfill the self-image they have created. Truth is the grace offered to Threes to experience God’s transformation. The Enneagram reminds Threes to embrace and express truth about themselves, their abilities, their weakness, and emotions.

People in the Four space reflect the creativity of God. But because they cannot always make life and themselves creative and special, Fours give in to self-doubt, self-contempt, even self-hatred. This leads to envy, as they believe that everyone else has qualities they are missing. The grace offered to the Fours is equanimity, which gives balance to their emotions, allowing them to feel their feelings without getting stuck in them.

People in the Five space are gifted with wisdom. They are knowledgeable visionaries. But for Fives, the quest for knowledge and information is never ending. They become protective of their knowledge and may have an air of superiority. If they give in to the false self, they experience compulsive avarice or greed, taking in more and more knowledge but not wanting to give it out or let go of it. Detachment is the grace offered to Fives, allowing them to hold more loosely all that they know and move into their true self as they engage with others, even without knowing or understanding everything.

People in the Six space are faithful. They are loyal and easily influenced by authority. But they do not trust themselves. The false self says to Sixes that the opinion of others has more validity than their own ideas, and that they should embrace truth as others see it. Because they believe they must be prepared for every possible danger, their false self is especially prone to fear. God offers the grace of courage to Sixes. It takes courage for Sixes to learn to trust themselves and not assume that other perspectives have more validity than their own.

People in the Seven space are gifted with joy. But as they live with this gift, they are tempted to overstate the positive and to resist anything dark or negative. They protect themselves from the stresses of life by planning and dreaming. When the false self takes over, Sevens succumb to gluttony, wanting more and more of everything joyful or “happy,” in order to avoid inner pain. The grace offered to Sevens is sobriety. This grace invites Sevens to take only what they need and live with that. In their true self, Sevens can enjoy life even if it includes some darkness.

People in the Eight space are often leaders. They are gifted with power. But Eights may deny their own vulnerability. To cope with this fear of weakness, they come to believe that they need to dominate others. “It’s my way or the highway.” The false self demands more and more power, giving in to lust, an insatiable passion for power over others. God invites Eights to receive the grace of innocence, a childlike capacity to admit weakness and vulnerability.

People in the Nine space are gifted with peace. They are calm and content and remind us that God is peaceful. But because they fear change and conflict, Nines may become indolent, not willing to exert themselves, even for things that are important. As the false self takes over, Nines can become slothful or lazy. This may lead them to become neglectful, taking the path of least resistance. God’s grace to Nines is action. In their true self they are able to be more assertive, to state their own positions and preferences, and to become energized and involved in life.

Seeing the Enneagram in Ordinary Life

Lest this all sound too simple, it is. Humanity is not neatly divided into nine categories. But the simplicity of the Enneagram is part of its genius. In the complexity of our life circumstances, our private motivations, and our inner inclinations, we lose sight of the unique ways we respond to life and we forget to appreciate that not everyone responds as we do. The Enneagram, quite simply, helps us see what we are doing.

Listen to how this might play out in an ordinary conversation when my husband and I connect in the late afternoon. If my husband asks me, “How was your day?” I would probably answer with a Four perspective, which can be a bit melancholic: “The committee chair didn’t get back to me about the brochure. Now I’ll be late with what they want me to do. The doctor never called about my test results. I don’t think he likes me. I didn’t have time to get the groceries so we have to eat leftovers.” If I were a Seven, I might be more optimistic: “The committee chair didn’t get back to me. Now I have extra time to work on the brochure. The doctor’s office didn’t call, so the test results must be okay. Oh, and I didn’t get to the grocery store. Let’s go out to eat.” Or notice the underlying anger in how a One might respond: “The committee chair didn’t call back. She should have! And I never heard from the doctor. We should switch to someone better. I should have gone to the grocery store, but lately they have so few cashiers, the lines are so long I didn’t have time.”

Each of us looks at life and relates to others within the perspective of our Enneagram space. Rohr often points out that “every viewpoint is a view from one point.” But this does not mean that everyone in each space looks or sounds the same. Human beings are much too unique for that. Not all Fives value the same aspect of wisdom. Not all Eights want to be powerful in the same situations. And not all Twos want to help in the same ways. But the categories are still instructive. We observe categories in all of creation. Consider the variety of roses and the many types of maple trees. Not all roses are alike, and not all maple trees are alike. But if we did not have tree and flower categories and rose and maple categories, we would not do well tending the backyard. The Enneagram gives words to describe nine categories of human beings.

Spiritual Blind Spots

One reason the Enneagram confuses us at first is that it identifies our blind spots. We are, by definition, unaware of psychological and spiritual blind spots. I don’t always know what I’m doing when I’m doing it. I can’t see what’s wrong with my compulsions. What’s wrong with wanting to be an expert in using my gifts? The One person might think, unconsciously, Why shouldn’t I strive for perfection even though nothing is ever perfect? Or the Nine might wonder, again unconsciously, Why shouldn’t I always be peaceful, even if I avoid conflict? We all have times when we don’t know why we are choosing to live life as we do, or we simply don’t see what we are doing. Other people experience us differently from how we experience ourselves. Jesus asked, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 RSV ). Our blind spots are the logs in our eyes. The Enneagram is trying to point out to me things about myself I can’t and don’t want to see.

Our Enneagram compulsions are like rocks on a dark path. We stumble over them because we cannot see them. People in the Two space, for instance, stumble over their invasiveness and control as they compulsively try to help people. Those in the Six space stumble over their fear of disloyalty or disobedience as they give in to the compelling influence of authority figures in their lives.

The problem with our blind spots is not just that we are frustrated with life, others, and ourselves. Our blind spots are powerful deterrents to our spiritual growth. To the extent that we remain unaware of what is motivating us, we are not free. Learning about the Enneagram has helped me embrace the truth that God gave me gifts because God loves me and has equipped me to love others, not because my gifts are so impressive. God does not love me more because of my gifts. This truth has been immensely freeing for me. But it is counter-intuitive and contrary to my normal thoughts and feelings.

My Native Language

Jesus said that the enemy of our faith is the great deceiver. “When he lies,” Jesus said, “he speaks his native language” (John 8:44). I have learned the language of the great deceiver well. In many ways it has become my native language. In order to grow spiritually, I need to translate my inner language into the language of God. Through the Enneagram I can see that my particular native language is the language of the Four. The lies I believe are second nature to me. Among other things, I believe that even though I am gifted in creativity, I must be extraordinarily special in all that I do. I believe that I am uniquely burdened by being sensitive and that others always have something I am missing. I did not even know I believed these lies until I learned I was a Four. In fact, when I first picked up a book about the Enneagram (to prepare for that first conference), I knew for sure that I was not a Four. That’s how blind I was!

Looking beyond our blind spots to the truth of who we are is a difficult process. It is no surprise, then, that finding our “home space” can be a challenge. Chapter seven is devoted to practical ways we can meet this challenge and find the space that best describes our gifts as well as our compulsions.


Learning the language of the Enneagram invites us into deeper self-awareness. Who in the world am I? This is not a narcissistic question. If I do not know who I am, I cannot see the log in my own eye, I do not know the full extent of God’s grace, and I am trapped in ongoing patterns of living that are not life giving. As I have continued on in the journey of learning the truths of the Enneagram, I have become more and more grateful that the knowledge it gives increases my own self-awareness, even if at first I don’t like what I see.

I am willing to journey on because this kind of awareness is essential to spiritual growth and intimacy with God. John Calvin wrote, “Nearly all wisdom we possess . . . consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. . . . The knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”

David Benner wrote more recently, “Lack of awareness is the ground of our dis-ease and brokenness. . . . Choosing awareness opens up to finding God in the midst of our present realities. . . . Awareness is the key to so much. This is why it is, in my opinion, the single most important spiritual practice.”

These are strong words from respected Christian leaders teaching hundreds of years apart. We would do well to listen. Our spiritual blind spots are not just a matter of stumbling and bruising the knees of our soul. Our blind spots keep us from knowing the love of God. If I am hiding behind a blind spot, I am unconsciously trying to keep God, others, and myself from the love that God offers. Knowledge of the Enneagram has led me into a self-awareness that has drawn me closer to the heart of God.

Adapted from Mirror for the Soul by Alice Fryling. Copyright © 2017 by Alice Fryling. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, www.ivpress.com.