The Enneagram: It has your number!

If you are curious about what makes you tick, what your basic nature is or how you may find your best personal self, your options may seem to be plentiful.  But many are far less helpful than others.  In my quick online search for personality tests, Google produced over 23 million personality tests in just 32 seconds.

Buzzfeed’s personality quizzes, alone, far outnumber all other Internet personality tests and “are crafted to create the illusion of truth, or potential truth,” according to The Atlantic magazine.  An employee of Buzzfeed told the reporter, “You sort of write them like horoscopes, with tidbits people can relate to.”

The Atlantic reporter commented, “People tend to have a sense of their own character, but this sense is never complete.  We know ourselves, but we don’t.”

The Enneagram is a far older system and more thorough personality assessment tool with its roots in philosophical and religious traditions dating back to the ancient Greeks.  Over the centuries, Christian Desert Fathers, Jewish Kabbalists, Muslim Sufis and Buddhists have kept this wisdom tradition alive.   During the 20th Century, the Enneagram evolved into its modern form and reached the United States in the 1970’s.

The numbers ONE through NINE circle the Enneagram’s round symbol, each representing a unique personality style.  Numbers appear more neutral and project less meaning than if each type had a descriptive name.

Lines across the circle point out a different number representing specific character traits that may nourish our growing spirit or work against our best interest.   If we overuse our strengths, they become weaknesses and knowing our weaknesses, teaches us the costs we incur when we don’t know ourselves and others better.

I was introduced to the Enneagram at Kanuga years ago.  At first, I found parts of my personality in most of the numbers, but when I began to absorb the subtle differences I could not deny number Seven as my primary personality trait.

A SEVEN – “The Enthusiast, can become highly accomplished and spirited OR be waylaid by impulsiveness and impatience,” according to Don Riso and Russ Hudson, founders of The Enneagram Institute. “Avoiding anxiety causes Sevens to become increasingly impulsive – they leap before they look.”

It’s humbling to see how others perceive those of us in this category.  Claudio Naranjo, an early proponent of the Enneagram in the Americas did not give the Seven a name, but quotes his teacher, Oscar Ichazo describing my type as “Striving for pleasure or comfort” and “with an urge to talk.”

Michael Goldberg, in his book The 9 Ways of Working, names the Seven “The Visionary,” but warns employers that, “Sevens generate possibilities as a way to avoid responsibilities.”

Some claim they are horrified to find their number, but the more I learned about both positive and negative aspects, it became clear that my gifts can be my worst enemies – depending on how I use them and with whom.

It’s fun to say, “that’s me in a nutshell” but not so easy to acknowledge the negative traits. Fortunately, the system points to positive ways to improve, if I choose.

My friend Judy Tighe, after completing her personal study with Father Richard Rohr, one of the earliest teachers of the Enneagram in the United States, told me: “It has been my experience that committees or teams work better together if they all have a basic grasp of the Enneagram and the insights it provides, both for oneself as well as interacting with others.  That self-insight is also a valuable tool to support spiritual growth.”

Bobbi Kennedy, also a long-time student of the Enneagram adds: “The study of the Enneagram often provides many ah-has and confirmations with new insights revealing themselves, often in surprising ways. Sharing the experience with others is rewarding.”

Several books include do-it-yourself tests to provide a glimpse of your inner workings.  A longer online version is available on the Enneagram Institute’s website. (

Getting together with others to study the Enneagram is probably the most effective way to learn.  The nine personality types in the same room provide evidence.

Joseph Howell, PhD, clinical psychologist and spiritual teacher educated at Yale Divinity School, UVA and Harvard, and author of Becoming Conscious: The Enneagram’s Forgotten Passageway, will lead an Enneagram workshop at St. Martins-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church September 28-29 (Friday, 7 to 9 pm and Saturday, 9 to 5) at the church, 5220 Clemson Ave. Columbia, SC 29206.  Register online at

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us that: “Unless you tame your devils, you will never know your angels.”



Susan Hendricks’ new 6-week afternoon and evening therapeutic writing groups begin September 6th for women seeking personal growth, improved health and greater life satisfaction. Social workers and other mental health counselors may earn CEU credits as well. Register online at


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