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Is the Enneagram Helpful or Harmful?

By Michael Agnew
By Zabdi Piña
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In Got Questions
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In the past year, the Enneagram has gained popularity in numerous circles, especially the Christian one. And because I've studied the Enneagram in depth, people have come to me with their questions and comments. One particularly common question asks if the enneagram is helpful or harmful. And so, I'm here to tell you, YES!

The enneagram, just like anything else can be used for harm, but it can also be a very helpful tool in your Christian spiritual formation. By creating new awareness and having language around behaviors, the enneagram has changed and transformed many lives, including mine. It teaches who we are in Christ and how to be the truest, healthiest version of who He created us to be.

What is the enneagram?

The enneagram is an assessment that has gained popularity recently but has been around for hundreds of years in one form or another. The word enneagram is Greek for nine-diagram, and the enneagram teaches that there are nine personality types and that every person fits into one of those types. Each of the nine types has a core fear (what you are running away from), a core desire (what you are running toward), and a core weakness (a core sin) that is your mode of operation. Another way to explain it is to compare the enneagram to a GPS for life. It plots where you currently are and where you want to be, then shows you the pathway to get there. By gaining new awareness about yourself, the enneagram helps you recognize when you have driven into the ditch on the side of the road and gives you tools to get back into the correct lane.

What does the enneagram tell me about myself?

The enneagram answers the question of why you behave the way you do. Weaknesses often keep us imprisoned, and the enneagram reveals truths beyond your natural behaviors that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It helps you see your blind spots so that you can move from unhealthy to healthy. But it even does more than that. It allows you to give yourself grace and compassion where you need it, and once you learn all nine of the enneagram types, you will be more accepting and patient with others because you don’t just understand their actions – you understand the motivations behind the actions.

John Calvin says:

There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self. And no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.”

How can the enneagram be helpful?

Enneagram work and self-discovery is not something to be taken lightly or to do quickly. Each person must learn as much as possible about each of the nine core types to find which one he or she most resonates with. As you begin to recognize yourself more clearly, you can see what God sees in you, therefore, leading you to a new understanding of Him.

As you go deeper with the enneagram, you will learn that each core type has its version of what it looks like to be healthy, in auto-pilot, or unhealthy. When you are healthy, you are living as God’s beloved child, behaving as if He is the antidote to your core fears, desires and weaknesses. When you are stagnant or in autopilot, you have wandered off and begin leaning into your personalities and out of your own strength. Unfortunately, this is where most people spend the majority of their lives. Lastly, when you are unhealthy, you live life as an orphan and forget that you belong to God. It is in your unhealth that the most destructive patterns and addictions can emerge.

How can the enneagram be harmful?

All of this sounds great and if this is true, how can such a tool be used negatively? Just like anything else, if used incorrectly, it can do real damage. There are plenty of people who simply do not want to do the work required to understand themselves better. They choose to stop after finding their core type without learning about the other eight. Or they hide behind their type, uninterested in learning what pathways to take to be free of the fears and desires that keep them stuck in negative behaviors.

It should also be noted that a harmful shortcut we sometimes take is to label those around us and never get to know them personally, which is very harmful.

Two easy tips to keep in mind are:

1. It is not your job to type other people. Please do not rob others of the chance to do their own self-discovery.

2. You should never use the enneagram as a sword to poke at other people or as a shield to hide behind. If you are unwilling to use this tool to mature and grow in your formation, you have missed the point and need to move on.

What does the Bible say about this?

Matthew 7:3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Psalm 139: 23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

Ephesians 4:22-24 If we put off our old self, which is from our past life; and we allow Jesus to put on the new self, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds then we will be created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness

I am so glad I have a Savior who loves me enough to gently show me what is offensive and then covers me with His forgiveness and mercy. A Savior who reminds me that I can cast my fears upon him, and that he alone provides the desires of my heart so that I don’t have to operate out of sin or weakness. I am also grateful for the enneagram, because God has used it to open my eyes and pointed me in the direction of freedom and renewal.

What are the Nine Enneagram Types?

If you are still interested in learning more about the enneagram or trying to discover your core type, here is a snapshot of each:

Type One-Reformer. Their focus is to make the world 'right' in their eyes. They are conscientious, principled and can be very purpose driven.

Type Two-Helper. Their focus is to take care of others needs to feel loved and accepted. They are generous, empathetic and can be very humble.

Type Three-Achiever. To be perceived as successful in the eyes of others is their goal. They are assertive, like to be the best, and have a focus on winning.

Type Four-Individualist. Artistic, with an eye for beauty, this type is highly attuned to their own emotions and that of others. They are the consummate romantic and can retreat into their inner fantasy world.

Type Five-Investigator. With a passion for knowledge/ideas, and an ability to focus along with a keen intellect this type is a visionary, able to articulate whole new paradigms. They have also earned a reputation as the 'absent-minded' professor.

Type Six-Loyalist. Full of courage and ability to stay the course, this type is trustworthy and self-reliant. When not filled with doubt they are very decisive and committed.

Type Seven-The Enthusiast. Joyful, playful and spontaneous this type can savor the richness of the world. If not distracted or scattered, they have huge potential for accomplishment.

Type Eight-The Challenger. Intensity! They are self-determining, big-hearted and powerful. At times their need for control can be overwhelming.

Type Nine-The Peacemaker. Peace and harmony is the driver for a Nine. At their best they are patient, unpretentious and can recognize the highest potential in others.

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