Originally published May 31, 2020
Could the Enneagram help you be a better writer?
I started asking myself this question earlier this year as I began to delve into this ancient personality typing system that has seen a resurgence of popularity and been thrust in the mainstream in the past few years.
The Enneagram teaches that there are nine different personality styles in the world. Each type has a distinct worldview and underlying motivation that affects how that type thinks, feels, and behaves.
I am an Enneagram Type One – the Perfectionist. And I do believe I owe a lot of my success to my personality. I have a lot of self-discipline. And that discipline helped me build a business and grow a freelance writing career while teaching full-time. If I say I will do something, I’ll do it and I’ll do it right. That’s helped me be someone that people feel they can count on.
But being an Enneagram Type One is exhausting! We have a hard time relaxing because we always feel as if there’s more work that should be done. We’re also pissed off all the time.
You see, we Type Ones believe in order. And when someone messes up that order, we get mad. And we stay mad for a long time.
In the book The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, the authors state that a Type One would hate to see a person in the express lane at the grocery store with more items than allowed. When I read that line, I leapt from my chair and yelled “Hallelujah!”
I don’t like it when people don’t follow the rules (unless I think the rule is dumb or unjust). And I don’t like it when people don’t do what they say they’re going to do. So, I can be very critical and judgmental. However, you may not know this about me because we Type Ones also don’t like rudeness. So, judging you out loud feels wrong.
But if you think I’m hard on you, you better believe I’m 10 times as hard on myself. I beat myself up for days, weeks, or even months when I make a mistake.
And think about how perfectionism can hinder the creative process as a writer. It can keep you from sharing your work with others or even writing at all.
So, the question remained, could knowing these things about myself make me a better writer?
I needed to learn more.
How I Got into the Enneagram
My therapist was the first person to suggest I explore Enneagram and, to be honest, I simply brushed it off. At the time I was dealing with intense anxiety that was sending me into frequent panic attacks. I needed serious therapy, not some silly personality test, I thought.
But after everybody and their auntie started talking about Enneagram and people were saying it had saved their jobs and even their marriages, I decided to do some digging.
I signed up for a church small group with Jamie Golden. You may know Jamie as one-half of the hilarious duo behind the wildly popular podcast The Popcast. But this Enneagram Type 7 has a serious side, too. She’s also a dear friend and a woman of strong faith and wisdom. She’s been leading small groups, workshops and even professional development trainings on the Enneagram for years and I was eager to learn from her.
“I discovered Enneagram where many good things find me which is on the internet,” Jamie says. Her online friend Leigh had launched an Enneagram coaching business and Jamie agreed to be a beta tester for her work.
“She moved on from that business while I started diving deeper,” Jamie says. “Many personality typing systems can finish the work at revealing your weaknesses and challenges without helping you move past them. Enneagram introduced me to myself, then walked me through the methods of becoming the best version of that person.”
And to be more successful at writing – or anything for that matter – this is what we need to do. We must work to be the best version of ourselves.
One of the first things Jamie said to me and the rest of the small group was to remember that Enneagram doesn’t put us in a box. We’re already in a box; Enneagram can help us get out of it.
So, this isn’t about using your personality as a crutch or an excuse for being lazy, being unreliable, or being a jerk. Once you know why you do what you do, you need to do something about it.
The Nine Enneagram Personality Types
For our small group, Jamie had us read and discuss the book The Road Back to You. If you really want to learn more about the Enneagram, you need to read some books on it. Sure, you can take a simple online quiz if you want to know your personality type, but if you want to actually make good use of that knowledge, you’ll need to do some further study.
The following descriptions are from The Road Back to You, which I highly recommend:
Type One: The Perfectionist is ethical, dedicated, and reliable. Type Ones are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault or blame.
Type Two: The Helper is warm, caring, and giving. Type Twos are motivated by a need to be loved and needed and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.
Type Three: The Performer is success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity. Type Threes are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and avoid failure.
Type Four: The Romantic is creative, sensitive, moody. Type Fours are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their oversized feelings, and avoid being ordinary.
Type Five: The Investigator is analytical, detached, and private. Type Fives are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy, and avoid relying on others.
Type Six: The Loyalist is committed, practical, and witty. Type Sixes are worst-case scenario thinkers who are motivated by fear and the need for security.
Type Seven: The Enthusiast is fun, spontaneous, and adventurous. Type Sevens are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.
Type Eight: The Challenger is commanding, intense, and confrontational. Type Eights are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling vulnerable or weak.
Type Nine: The Peacemaker is pleasant, laid back, and accommodating. Type Nines are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others, and avoid conflict.
You can find your personality type with this quiz.
If you want to learn more about Enneagram, here are some resources Jamie recommends:
Website: The Enneagram Institute http://www.enneagraminstitute.com
Books: The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile; The Enneagram and You by Gina Gomez
Podcasts: The Enneagram Journey, Fathoms
Instagram Accounts to Follow: @ginagomez.co; @rudeassenneagram; @christinaswilcox; @enneagram.life@enneagramandcoffee
How I’m Using the Enneagram to Be a Better Writer and a Better Woman
The authors of The Road Back to You offers each Enneagram personality type a list of 10 paths to transformation. The first suggestion for us Perfectionists is to keep a journal. Of course, my writer’s heart swooned when I read this. This year, I’ve made journaling a daily practice.
Another recommendation – relax and have fun! I know that some of my best ideas come to me when I’m doing exactly that. So, I need to keep this in mind when I feel the urge to work, work, work. In fact, The Road Back to You suggests that we Type Ones find a hobby – that we’re not good at – and do it just for the love of it.
And remember Enneagram isn’t all about you. The beauty of learning about the nine personality types is that it helps you be better at relationships.
“Many, if not most, conflicts in relationships are a result of unmet expectations,” Jamie says. “Enneagram reframes our expectations as we learn not only about our own number’s fears and desires, but also as we learn about those fears and desires of those we love the most. As we begin to understand our type, we can become highly attuned to our own reactions, stressors, and hopefully opportunities for growth. The Enneagram takes the edge off of every person when we realize we are all motivated by something different.”
I believe the Enneagram can help you improve your relationship with yourself, too.
The biggest breakthrough I had thanks to The Road Back to You is learning how to handle my inner critic.
In the past, I’ve just tried to silence my inner critic. I even called her my inner mean girl. We all know that an inner critic can keep a writer from sharing her work with the world or even writing in the first place. So, I just wanted her to shut up!
But because of my personality type, she’s not going anywhere. Instead, I’ve got to find a way to deal with her. The Road Back to You suggests that when I hear my inner critic I should smile and tell her I hear her and appreciate that she’s trying to help me improve or avoid making mistakes but that I’m taking a new path to self-acceptance.
I accept that I don’t have to be perfect to be good. I don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
And in the end, it is this self-acceptance that will make me a better writer and a better me.
What’s your Enneagram type?