Why it took me 3 months to find my Enneagram number

If you’re new to the Enneagram, I have some resources to share with you.

  1. The Road Back To You. It’s a great introductory book on the Enneagram. It’s light-hearted/witty and easy to read. The authors also put on a podcast which I like, called, not surprisingly, The Road Back To You. (They were also guests on the Liturgists podcast, which is where I first heard of the Enneagram.) This book didn’t help me find my number, though.
  2. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective. I love Richard Rohr, and find him to be an extremely compelling spiritual teacher, yet this book was a bit too off in the weeds for me sometimes. However, it does have great illustrations, charts, etc. and some interesting perspectives on Jesus through the Enneagram. This book didn’t help me find my number, either.
  3. The Enneagram Institute. This is a great (and free!) resource yet can be a bit academic and dry. However, their “misidentifications” sections are helpful if you’ve narrowed yourself down but to two numbers but can’t decide. Didn’t help me, though.
  4. The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. If for no other reason, this book is great because it’s written by a lady named Beatrice Chestnut. WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER.

If you have zero knowledge on the Enneagram and have no clue what I’m talking about and why I would read so many books trying to figure out my “number”… here’s a brief intro.

The Enneagram is a personality typing system. There are 9 types. Unlike Myers-Briggs, however, which is a static system, there is much more to do with the Enneagram, as it is a fluid system that helps you grow. You learn, for instance, what your main “type” is (your number), what your “secondary type” (wing) is, and most interestingly, what you tend to do in stress and in growth. Here’s a great primer if you have time to read. (Since learning about it, it’s already helped me at home and in the workplace. I’ll share some stories some other time.)

The reason it took me so long to find my type is: my type is one of the “counter-types” – specifically, the “self-preservation 3.” Let me explain real quick…

                                 The Centers of the Enneagram

Type 3s are in the middle of the Feeling Center. Like 2s and 4s, 3s are said to be primarily driven by emotions, yet, because we are in the middle of the Feeling Center, we have the toughest time identifying and dealing with our feelings/emotions. This is true for me, I suppress/ignore my feelings usually because they don’t serve a purpose. Very droid of me. (Also note, 6s have a tough time trusting their “thinking” due to fear, and 9s have a tough time with their “instinctive center” which makes them have anger repression issues.)

Anyway, so I’m off to a bad start already, being in the middle of a Center, and not being able to deal with my emotions. I even deny that I’m emotional altogether. Why would I place myself at a 3?

Then, I’m a “self-preservation 3” – or, a 3 which is flavored by the primary instinct driving my personality. There are three of these instincts:

  • Self preservation: the need to protect oneself
  • Sexual: the need for one-to-one bonding
  • Social: the need for social acceptance/bonding

(I haven’t researched this enough to understand what causes my self-preservation instinct to be the most dominant, but anyway, I’m rolling with it. Maybe it’s common in only children.)

So, the traditional presentation of a 3 is always something like this (from the Enneagram Institute):

Threes are self-assured, attractive, and charming. Ambitious, competent, and energetic, they can also be status-conscious and highly driven for advancement. They are diplomatic and poised, but can also be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them. They typically have problems with workaholism and competitiveness. At their Best: self-accepting, authentic, everything they seem to be—role models who inspire others.

3s are said to want to have nice things (cars, houses) to impress others, or want to be uber attractive (flashy clothes, latest hair styles) to get mates, or flashy this and that, for social standing, etc. That’s not me, and is all kind of off-putting to me. But then I learned of how the instincts flavor the types:

  • Social 3: wants a nice car to impress his friends/neighbors
  • Sexual 3: wants perfect fashion to impress the ladies
  • Self-preservation 3: wants to appear humble (like, not a 3) to others, in order to impress them by how humble they are

Yeah, this gets ugly.

So my type is the type that is competitive, wants acknowledgement, wants recognition, wants to look great, wants to impress everyone… but won’t admit it – and in fact will scoff at any Social/Sexual 3 who is obvious about their “threeness.” The type that tries not to act like its type.

This is the counter-type.

I was pretty convinced that I was a type 1 for months. It was the one that sounded most like me. I have been a perfectionist since I was a kid. Yet, in Enneagram-land, the 1 is not a perfectionist in action, it is a perfectionist in intent. In other words, a 1 will insist on doing things the right way every time, because “that’s the way things are done, end of story” – but the type 3 may be perfectionistic about every last detail if it makes them look good.

Yep, that’s me.

I heard Beatrice Chestnut explain about all 27 sub-types (9 types * 3 instincts) on a podcast called Wild Crazy Meaningful Enneagram (which I won’t recommend except for the ones where she was a guest) and when she explained the self-preservation 3, I was like…. “oh help me God I’m a 3.”

Richard Rohr, and others, say that when you (finally?) figure out what number you are, you will probably feel a sense of shame, or a sense of being discovered, like “how did they know?” That was absolutely the case for me.

But once you Know Thyself, you can smash down the walls of your ego and begin to rebuild. (I’m working on it.)

More on the Enneagram to come, for sure.

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