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How does the Enneagram Work?

There are several key terms you need to know before diving into the actual Enneagram personality types themselves.


  • Nine Personality Types, also known as ego fixations or world views defined predominantly by our a core fear & core desire.

  • Wings = shared attributes with the enneagram type directly to the left or the right of your primary type. Your wing is like being right or left brain dominant.

  • Instincts = either social, sexual, or self-preservation. Your instinct guides the daily expression of your core type.

  • Movement of Integration = how we change behaviors in healthy, self-accepting moments (triangle, and hexad)

  • Movement of Disintegration = how we change behaviors in stressful, unhealthy moments (triangle, and hexad)


The Enneagram, at its core, is a system of 9 interconnected worldviews/personality types/ego fixations that describe the different ways people behave based on their deepest fears and their deepest desires.

I know that sounds so intense it almost seems like a joke, right? Well, it's not. The enneagram is super personal, extremely critical, and deadly accurate in the ways it describes the "WHY" behind all "WHAT you do." That's probably the reason it has become so popular in recent years. But with popularity, comes generality. And it's often trivialized into some sort of parlor trick full of cliche stereotypes and basic psychology. BUT i'll save that rant for another day - and get back to describing the 9 personality types.

There are various names for each of the 9 personality types - but I always use the names I first learned from the Enneagram Institute because Riso & Hudson are the original Enneagram pioneers in my book. So here are the names as I know them:

Type 1 is the Reformer.

Type 2 is the Helper.

Type 3 is the Achiever

Type 4 is the Individualist.

Type 5 is the Investigator.

Type 6 is the Loyalist.

Type 7 is the Enthusiast.

Type 8 is the Challenger.

And finally, Type 9 is the Peacemaker.

(I’ve provided very basic core descriptions for each type here.)

STEP ONE: Find Your Type

So the first step to using the Enneagram is actually the HARDEST step, and that's finding out which of the 9 Enneagram types is your type.

Some people say you have to take a personality test, either online or in a book like this, and other people say you can just tell which is your type by reading the descriptions and seeing which one makes you feel the most called out, like someone read all your journals and knows your life story.

Honestly, a good place to focus is on the one that you really don't want to be.

At the end of the day, there's no right or wrong way to find your Enneagram type. But you should definitely listen to those closest to you. I think a good clue is also whether or not someone laughs when you read them your personality description. Because our loved ones can't help but enjoy it when we endure a surprisingly accurate and self-critical burn.

STEP TWO: Find Your Wing

OK, once you've found your primary type, the next thing you do is find your wing.

Your wing is either directly to the left or to the right of your primary type. It is not the second highest score you got on your enneagram test - if you took one. Although sometimes it does test high if you're a pretty self-aware person.

So for example, I'm a Type 1. That means I can either have a 2 wing, or a 9 wing.

These wings have a great deal of influence over the way your personality type plays out, it's kinda like being more right or left brain dominant.

And some people, like Richard Rohr, even teach that you shift from one wing to the other as you get older.

Once you know your wing, it's time to find your primary Instinct, which some people call your variant or instinctual variant.

(Click here to read more about the Enneagram Instincts)

STEP THREE: Find Your Instinct

Some people call the instincts a "subtype," but that's not an accurate description since your instinct is actually the top most layer of your personality.

The three instinctual variants are the social instinct, the self-preservation instinct, and the sexual instinct.

FYI: The sexual instinct is not about wanting to have lots of sex, although it could be, it's more about a desire for intense, energizing experiences.

While we have all three instincts within us, we each lean on one instinct more than the others (and we tend to repress one more than the others) and that greatly influences the way our primary personality type gets expressed.

(Click here to read more about the Enneagram Instincts)

STEP FOUR: Learn Your Movements

Alright, last but not least, each type has a particular movement of "Integration" and "Disintegration."

The theory behind these terms is that you reflect the characteristics of a different enneagram type depending on how healthy you are.

So if you're super stressed out and not coping well, you "Disintegrate" into the characteristics of a different type than your primary type. And if you're doing super well and feeling emotionally stable, you "Integrate" the characteristics of another type.

That's what the lines of the Enneagram are depicting. The triangle and the hexad - they reflect these movements of integration and disintegration.

So for example, if you look at Type 1, you'll see lines connecting it to Type 7 and Type 4.

That means in health, 1s movement of integration is to go to Type 7.

One's take on the 7s best characteristics and become far less rigid and far more spontaneous, fun loving, and adventurous. In stress, one's movement of disintegration is to go to Type 4. Which means they take on the most unhealthy characteristics of Type 4 and one's ditch their moral, self-controlled demeanor and become moody, irrational, and self-absorbed.

STEP FIVE: Putting It All Together

Ok now you know the most basic aspects of the Enneagram system. The 9 personality types, two wings, three instincts, and movements of integration and disintegration.

So when you finally describe your full Enneagram type, it should sound like "I'm a (your type) wing (your wing) with a (your instinct) instinct."

For me, that sounds like this, “I’m a 1 wing 9 with a self-preservation instinct.”

As you get more familiar with the Enneagram, that one sentence will tell you an insane amount of information about a person.

But until then, happy ennea-learning!

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