In ninth grade, I gave a speech about the Myers-Briggs personality typing system. I enjoyed giving the speech so much that I, a relatively shy 14-year old, won speaker of the day. Personality assessments abound, and I’m fascinated by them: StrengthsFinder, spiritual gifts assessments, the Four Temperaments, the DISC assessment, the Highly Sensitive Person test, and I’m sure there are others I haven’t even heard of yet.
But the Enneagram is my favorite of them all.
Here’s why: the Enneagram goes deeper than other personality typing systems. It goes beyond describing what you’re like and explores why you’re like that. It tells you what difficult emotion lies just below your surface. It forces us to examine our shadow side. It asks essential questions: What need are you trying to meet? What are you afraid of? What false beliefs are tarnishing the most beautiful parts of your personality?
Many people resist the Enneagram because it feels too negative, and, while it’s true that the Enneagram is not a tool for flattery, I believe it’s full of hope: it tells us that the worst part of us can also be the place of our greatest healing. Our brokenness is often a distortion of our strengths. I have found the Enneagram to be the most compassionate system for understanding human personality because it helps me see the unconscious motivations driving our behavior.
There are two ways the Enneagram can help us as mothers.
First, it helps us identify and deal with our own issues. Our children observe us when our coffee spills all over us and the sidewalk, when we’re grieving, and when we get frustrated with them. Our children see our true selves. By growing in awareness of our struggles and wrongful coping mechanisms, we can begin to grow out of bad habits and untrue thought patterns.
Second, it helps us understand our children. While personality isn’t set until around age five, the Enneagram can give us hints about why our children might be acting in a particular way. By considering the motivation behind their actions, we can better address how to help them.
Here’s a brief overview of the nine types and how each type might shape you as a mother, and how you might parent a child of each type:
Eights, Nines, and Ones: The Body Triad
Driven by instinct and intuition and struggle with anger
Eights: The Challenger
Eights are confrontational, blunt, and fast decision makers who radiate energy wherever they go. Underneath their tough exterior is a passionate and tender person who fights for the underdog. They’re secretly afraid of betrayal and tend to distrust people easily. These mothers will fight fiercely for their children. As children, Challengers are motivated by rewards that allow them to have more independence and choices (interestingly, many Eights are self-employed), since they don’t like to be controlled. Eights are natural leaders with a commanding presence, so help them learn that while it’s good to lead, they’ll also have to follow sometimes.
Nines: The Peacemaker
Nines are calm, reassuring, nonjudgmental, warm, contemplative people who tend to merge with others in order to avoid conflict. They see all sides of an issue and make natural mediators. These moms are apt to forget their dreams and ambitions for the sake of helping their children accomplish their dreams. They believe the lie that they aren’t very important, so parents of these children need to actively draw out their child’s thoughts and opinions. They default to the preferences of others in order to maintain a sense of inner harmony. Nines need to know that true peace doesn’t come from false agreement but from honestly working through differences.
Ones: The Perfectionist
Ones are detail-oriented, responsible, self-disciplined, rule followers, and black and white thinkers who are interested in self-improvement. They are motivated by a desire to be ethical and are afraid of feeling defective. A Perfectionist mom has a merciless inner critic who makes her very hard on herself. It’s helpful to recognize the voice of that inner critic and learn not to listen to every corrective thing she says. Children who are Perfectionists are preoccupied with doing the right thing and can feel enormous guilt if they were wrong. The healing message* that these moms and children need to know is this: You can be imperfect and still loved.
Twos, Threes, and Fours: The Heart Triad
Driven by feelings and struggle with shame
Twos: The Helper
Twos are social, optimistic, empathetic, cheerful, and natural caregivers who don’t like to express their own needs. Much of their self-worth is derived from people needing and appreciating them. Helpers hide their vulnerabilities because they believe other people won’t love them if they know that they are needy. When they’re less healthy, their desire to be needed can become possessive and manipulative. Mothering gives ample opportunities to hide behind the needs of others, so moms who are Helpers need to develop genuine friendships with people who know their struggles. Parents of Helpers can help them learn how to create healthy boundaries in relationships and express their personal needs.
Threes: The Achiever
Threes are charismatic, efficient, productive, and goal-oriented leaders. They like to make things happen and prefer to do than be. Achiever moms are image-conscious and care a lot about how others perceive them and their family, which can cause them to put pressure on their children to look and preform a certain way. The healing message for these moms is that they are loved for who they are, and not for the images of success they strive to project. Parents of Achievers need to know that their child is tempted to believe they are only valuable when they’re seen as successful. Failure leads them to a deep sense of shame and they will cover it up at all costs. Parents can help them learn that failure is a healthy part of lifelong learning.
Fours: The Romantic
Fours are unconventional, intense, refined, melancholic, and creative. They are deep and complex and often feel misunderstood. They feel fundamentally different from everyone and tend to see “what’s lacking” everywhere they go, which leads them to feel envious of others. These moms can offer emotional honesty that other types struggle to express. Life with these children is filled with intense emotion because they like to amplify whatever they’re feeling. If they’re happy, they’re happy and you know it. And if they’re sad, they’re a child version of every Sufjan song. Fours benefit greatly from creative outlets, so help them find creative channels for expressing their emotions healthfully.
Fives, Sixes, and Sevens: The Head Triad
Driven by intellect and struggle with anxiety
Fives: The Investigator
Fives are good listeners, information hoarders, sensitive, knowledgeable, private, trustworthy, and objective. They would rather observe than participate. Investigators are afraid of running out of their inner resources (energy, time, affection, etc.) and withhold these things in order to save them up; therefore, these moms might express love for their children in quiet, less emotive ways like putting extra lunch meat on their child’s sandwich or learning about a topic their child is interested in. Parents of these children need to know that it’s okay for them to be alone and recharge themselves—that’s part of who they are and it doesn’t mean they’re sad or lonely.
Sixes: The Loyalist
Sixes are funny, indecisive, orderly, skeptical, and self-sacrificing people who are, above all, fiercely loyal. They like to ask lots of questions to make sure they’re prepared in case of a worst-case-scenario situation. These mothers vigilantly prepare for oncoming danger—whether real or hypothetical. Finding ways to deal with their anxiety can be especially helpful for them. Children of this type are worried they lack the support they need to make it through life and look to authority figures for security. Both moms and children need know that despite their fears, they can embrace the courage they have to make decisions with confidence.
Sevens: The Enthusiast
Sevens are adventurous, spontaneous, popular, and experience-oriented people in pursuit of the best things in life. But the dark side of the Seven is that they tend to use enjoyable experiences to mask pain in their lives. These mothers might keep themselves busy planning vacations, parties, and fun outings while brushing difficult issues under the rug. While they can and should enjoy making life exciting, they need to make sure they’re not using new experiences to escape from life’s pain. These playful children have a knack for getting themselves out of trouble with their charm and may need guidance from their parents to deal with their impulsivity.
Have any of you studied the Enneagram? How has it helped you grow as a parent?
Most of what I’ve learned about the Enneagram is from Typology podcast and The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile, and I highly recommend these resources if you want to learn more about it.
*Healing message thoughts referenced from The Road Back to You.