Stop living life on autopilot: discover your personality type with Enneagram

This increasingly popular personality assessment tool allows you to discover who you really are, what motivates you and the forces that shape your behaviour

29 September 2019 - 00:09 By Lisa Witepski
The Enneagram personality test has been described as 'waking up to yourself', to understand what drives your decisions so that you can start making better ones.
The Enneagram personality test has been described as 'waking up to yourself', to understand what drives your decisions so that you can start making better ones.
Image: 123RF/Teodoro Ortiz Tarrascusa

"Who am I?" As Fiona Thalmann, Enneagram practitioner at Typology Coaching and Assessments, points out, this is a question humanity has always tried to answer.

But it's no exaggeration to say that issues of identity are of particular concern to a generation that finds itself living in a confusingly complex milieu.

"This is why life coaching started gaining traction in the early 2000s," says Thalmann.

"The rising popularity of Enneagram simply expands on this because it's an uncommonly accurate tool, especially when it comes to uncovering your essence and the motivations that unconsciously drive you."

So what, exactly, is Enneagram? Like any other assessment tool, it relies on a series of questions to extract information about your personality. Based on your answers, you are classified according to one of nine personality types - but this is where Enneagram differs from many other tools, according to Thalmann.

Enneagram's nine personality types.
Enneagram's nine personality types.
Image: 123RF/artellia

"People are complicated beings, and the Enneagram reflects this. Although most people can be defined by one of the nine personality types, the tool recognises three subtypes that influence behaviours, along with a host of other variables that all have an impact on why we do the things we do."

Dirk Cloete of Integrative Enneagram Solutions says this is useful because many of us motor through decision-making and other activities on autopilot.

Because we don't consider the forces that shape our behaviours, we're doomed to repeat them - even when it is clear that they don't serve us.

"Understanding your core needs helps you choose a healthier alternative," says Cloete, describing this process as "waking up to yourself".

"Enneagram doesn't tell you anything new about yourself. Instead, it holds up a mirror - but it does so with compassion."

Nicky Wilson-Harris of the SA College of Applied Psychology puts it this way: "What if we were able to create the space to see our thoughts and feelings in action instead of being absorbed, swallowed and even overwhelmed by them? If we were able to grasp where and how we are captivated by our habits, we might be able to do something differently."

Enneagram doesn't tell you anything new about yourself. Instead, it holds up a mirror - but it does so with compassion
Fiona Thalmann, Enneagram practitioner at Typology Coaching and Assessments

Importantly, though, says Thalmann, the point of Enneagram isn't to "fix yourself" - it's to help you harness this knowledge to empower you to attain your goals.

Equally critical is the understanding that you are not your "type", says Wilson-Harris. The number that best describes how you respond to the world is merely your home base, the place you invariably find yourself when under pressure or at your absolute happiest.

"You have access to all the other types on the Enneagram, and can look at the world from their points of departure to enrich and integrate possibility and growth."

This is why Shane Kernick is an avid proponent of the system: by helping her understand her own motivations, and that of her husband, she says, it created a deeper comprehension of each other's innate needs - so, when they argue, they now understand the "why" behind their particular bugbears.

The result is more compassion, and a deeper connection.

But the applications go beyond the personal, says Thalmann: it can also help to build more cohesive, collaborative groups in the workplace by shedding light on a team's values, strengths and areas for improvement, going so far as to create a guideline for decision-making and outlining how to deal with conflict.

That said, as with any system, there are potential drawbacks. Wilson-Harris observes that it's one thing to know which type best describes your motivations, and quite another to sit on that information without unpacking it further.

And, for those who do choose to explore the possibilities presented by the Enneagram, it's foolhardy to expect change to come about from doing a five-minute online pop quiz. The system is best explained by an accredited practitioner; if not, the outcome is likely to prove unsatisfactory.

Wilson-Harris says she is convinced that the multi-dimensional nature of the tool ensures that it's not a buzzword.

She says it's a system that's stood the test of time, with the theoretical roots stretching back thousands of years. Influences on the modern tool are as varied as mathematics and psychology, and the system was already in use in the 1930s.

"The more we find out about this system, the more we understand about human nature - and so both evolve," says Cloete.

That said, he says he believes the Enneagram is particularly well suited to today's context: "We've never been more disconnected from each other, and each superficial interaction we have - whether online or in real life - merely exacerbates that disconnect.

"The Enneagram is all about helping you to connect again."

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