Using Enneagram Numbers For Greater
Self-Understanding

I first discovered the Enneagram in 2016, and soon after immersed myself in any book or podcast I could get my hands on. A year later, a friend and I embarked on a cross-country road trip to Omaha, Nebraska where we stayed for the weekend in an attic Airbnb while attending an Enneagram workshop. We’d spend all day talking with strangers in an art space about our numbers and wings and self-revelations, and then my friend and I would take our conversation to a seemingly misplaced French restaurant on the cobblestoned main street. We’d talk for hours, until the restaurant closed, eating tartines and fromages in the Nebraska heat and feeling alive with this newfound knowledge. We finally had language for the fears and feelings buried deep in our souls.

It sounds cliché—to say that it changed my life—but learning about this ancient tool has been essential for self-understanding and growth.

Ever since that experience, the Enneagram has been sacred for me. It sounds cliché—to say that it changed my life—but learning about this ancient tool has been essential for self-understanding and growth. It’s also transformed my relationships with my loved ones; this is especially true in my marriage. Just the other night my partner and I were pondering at how we even functioned as a couple before knowing our Enneagram numbers.

If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, I’ve included a few resources at the end of this post that you may want to visit before continuing with this article. I am by no means a teacher or expert, so please refer to the recommended reading for in-depth information about the history, function, and present-day use of this sacred tool.


Discovering Your Number

Unlike other personality tests and self-identifying tools, discovering your Enneagram number is not as simple as taking an online survey. While there are tests out there to point you in the right direction, most Enneagram teachers will tell you that discovering your number can only happen through reading (plus a lot of self-reflection and meditation). Plainly put, you need to learn about the numbers and listen for the one that speaks most to you; pay particular attention to the core fears and motivations. Only then should you start asking your family and friends—preferably those who also know the Enneagram—to confirm your number or suggest alternatives. Many times our loved ones see truer versions of ourselves and the characteristics hidden in our blind spots.

Everyone’s discovery process is different. Your number may be incredibly obvious to you, or it may take years to reveal itself.

It should also be noted that everyone’s discovery process is different. Your number may be incredibly obvious to you, or it may take years to reveal itself. I’ve mistyped myself on more than one occasion and, while I can look at that as a waste of time, I’ve learned as much about who I am through mistyping myself as I have in discovering my number. Take your time with the process and allow your number to speak to you when it’s ready. 

And also remember that the Enneagram is not all-encompassing. Instead, it’s a tool helpful for growth and awareness. I’m not of the belief that people are the sum of their Enneagram number or any other typing system for that matter. We are all entirely unique, even those of us with the same numbers. I’d ask that you do this work through that lens, realizing that, while your type is helpful in better understanding your inner wiring, it is not reductive, nor is it a complete reflection of who you are.


Thriving in Your Number

Discovering your number is not the end of the Enneagram journey, it’s actually the beginning. You know that saying “ignorance is bliss”? Well, sometimes that can feel true with this work. Unlike many personality typing systems, the Enneagram invites us to confront, explore, and work through our shadow shelves, and this can feel more than discouraging at times. 

The good news is, growth happens when we learn to see and name our shadows, as well as celebrate our unique strengths. Through honest self-reflection and conversations with loved ones, we can learn to step outside of ourselves and recognize when we’re entering an unhealthy state. We can then adopt tools and self-care habits to move us towards wellbeing.


Type One: The Reformer

Ones are said to have the strongest ‘inner critic,’ and this is especially true for my partner, who identifies as a one. No matter how well he performs throughout the day, there is a small, nasty voice in his head critiquing his performance and overall existence in the world. It’s essential for him to seek out spaces where his inner critic is silenced, as well as lighthearted and fun experiences. For him, that looks like spending time in nature camping, hiking, or surfing. He’s also uses the Headspace App to ground himself each morning.

Thriving Tips for Ones: Seek out lighthearted and inconsequential experiences, make to-do lists to clear your head, meditate, and keep a gratitude journal (specifically one that acknowledges your strengths).


Type Two: The Helper

I have a sister who is a two and she is one of the most selfless people I know. This is because twos are naturally intuitive to the needs of others and have a genuine eagerness to care for their loved ones. Sometimes though, this means a two’s needs go unmet. Self care can also be difficult for them because it feels selfish. My sister claims she thrives most when first caring for herself in practical ways, like eating whole foods, exercising, listening to podcasts, and reading inspirational books. She’s also told me that she loves creative projects because it reminds her of her individuality. 

Thriving Tips for Twos: Anything that gifts you alone time—exercise, self-pampering, cooking yourself a delicious meal, creative projects, and solo dates.


Type Three: The Achiever

The friend I went to Omaha with is a three, and this is also “my wing” number (the second side of your personality). Threes are known to be productive and successful, and they have a tendency to overwork themselves. They are also incredibly image-conscious and can often get caught up in tasks that they believe make them look successful rather than jobs they love. If you identify as a three, take time to explore activities you genuinely enjoy, especially ones that go unnoticed and are solely for you. Social media breaks are also essential for wellbeing. 

Thriving Tips for Threes: Set healthy and realistic work and screen time boundaries, incorporate non-performance activities into your week and keep a gratitude journal.


Type Four: The Individualist

What I love most about the Enneagram is that as soon as I learned I was a four, I developed language for so many unnamed feelings (and us fours have A LOT of feelings). I began learning how to recognize my triggers for mood swings and withdrawal, as well as the importance of pouring myself into creative projects. I also learned how to be skeptical of my feelings, and how to ask myself hard questions, such as “How do my feelings differ from reality, from what I know to be true vs. how I feel?” Often these are very different things. I may feel misunderstood or like I don’t belong, but a chain of texts from loved ones say otherwise. As a four, my thriving also depends a lot on physical activity and embodiment. Because I live in my head, it’s necessary for me to engage in activities that force me to re-enter my body. Exercise, eating nutritious meals, walking my dog, and even stretching breaks help me to thrive throughout the day.

Thriving Tips for Fours: Yoga, exercise, regular walks, hands-on projects. When feeling withdrawn, write down your feelings and then write down measurable truths to combat those false realities.


Type Five: The Investigator 

More so than type fours, fives are in their head. They love to analyze, exhaust ideas, and they feel more than comfortable in isolated environments. For a five, overthinking can become a downfall, so thriving simply looks like taking action and getting out into the world. If you’re a five, try committing to a project this year (preferably one with accountability), and be intentional with your relationships. Remember that you can still ask big questions while being physically present in the world, so do something every day that keeps you grounded in the physical realm and committed to a task. Some ideas include training for a physical event, starting a garden, or a creative project. 

Thriving Tips for Fives: Like fours, work to stay embodied through exercise, being outside, and hands-on projects. Create space to honor your intellect and big questions. Consider joining a book club, keeping a journal, or starting a blog to channel your thoughts.


Type Six: The Loyalist

Sixes are loyal—to a fault. They are the ‘go down with the ship’ number and are driven by responsibility and the need for a secure environment. Sometimes though, they struggle to trust their own instincts and allow fear to keep them from making decisions. They struggle to move forward. My brother is a six, and he’s explained to me how he can often get ‘mentally stuck’ or frozen due to his suspicions and fears. To thrive and become the best version of himself, he says he needs to feel safe and assured in his steps. By writing down goals and mapping progress, he feels more grounded and confident about his decisions, especially on anxious days. 

Thriving Tips for Sixes: Write down your long-term goals and the practical steps you need to take to get there. Keep your living and work environment clean and organized to avoid unnecessary chaos. Exercise, meditation, and routine are all essential for this number.


Type Seven: The Enthusiast

Sevens are often pegged as the fun ones on the Enneagram scale. I once heard Bob Goff describe himself (a self-proclaimed seven) as the kind of person who, while everyone else is panicking about the house burning down, will exclaim, “At least we can build a new house!” Sevens are incredibly enthusiastic about life and know how to have a good time. They also love to be busy and around people. Sometimes though, sevens can avoid going deep, and they struggle to embrace harder feelings. They may avoid alone time and sitting with their emotions. It can be helpful for sevens to keep a journal or allocate time each week to get in touch with their feelings, whether through nature walks, meditation, or a good conversation with friends. 

Thriving Tips for Sevens: Direct all your energy and enthusiasm into only a few tasks, and practice doing nothing (like stretching in silence) for a few moments each day. Journaling, meditating, reading, and alone time in nature are also helpful for getting in touch with your deeper and possible hidden feelings.


Type Eight: The Challenger

I love eights. They are one of my favorite numbers on the Enneagram, and I’m often drawn to friendships with them because, like fours, eights desire authenticity and seek out honesty in conversations. Eights are also incredible leaders. They often fight for the underdogs and love challenging systems. They are especially valuable in social justice and human rights roles. Eights can also be confrontational and cynical though, as they fear losing control and being exposed as weak (this can manifest as anger). To help with this, Enneagram teachers recommend giving back and spending time helping others. Listening exercises, allowing others to lead, and learning to recognize anger as a sign of fear can also help an eight to thrive in the day-to-day.

Thriving Tips for Eights: Spend time alone each week doing an activity you love and keep a gratitude journal for reflection. Use breathing exercises to center yourself when feeling angry or cynical. Practice allowing others to speak and lead; resist the urge to always take charge. Instead, channel your leadership skills into volunteering for charitable organizations and causes you truly care about.


Type Nine: The Peacemaker

My brother-in-law is a nine, and I had to laugh when I read his response to my question about his self-care tips. “Junk food, Netflix, and don’t talk to people,” he wrote. Nines are peacemakers, and they are the one number that can identify with everyone else on the Enneagram, aside from themselves. Nines often get lost in the mix and forget about their own desires, much like twos. Self care can be a challenge because they are so genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of everyone else. This is a beautiful trait, until they realize they have nothing left to give.

Thriving Tips for Nines: Spend time exploring your own passions, desires, and needs. Set time aside each week for intentional self care, such as exercise, reading, and journaling. Practice making decisions in group settings and voicing your opinion from time to time. Oh, and eat junk food while watching Netflix!


// Enneagram Resources //


Books Decolonizing Western Enneagram Teachings

In his book, The Sacred Enneagram, Christopher Heuertz is quick to point out that the Western Enneagram community lacks “ethnic diversity among its leading experts” and is taught through a predominately white, North American lens despite it being “codified and propagated by Óscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo” (both South Americans).

Thankfully though, there are teachers who are doing the work to “decolonize some of the cultural bias overlaid on much of the contemporary Western Enneagram material,” and I’d like to point you first in their direction as leading Enneagram experts. Heuertz has a comprehensive reading list on his website with links to books and articles by these diverse-thought leaders. It includes the works of A. H. Almaas, Laleh Bakhtiar, Beatrice Chestnut, Fátima Fernández Christlieb, and more.


Podcasts

Another resource I’ve found helpful in my Enneagram journey includes The Road Back To You podcast by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Morgan Cron and the Typology podcast, also by Ian Morgan Cron. I especially like these because the shows include the host interviewing people who identify with each number. Hearing other people talk about their core fears, motivations, and inner wiring was immensely helpful in discovering my own number. I also recommend The Enneagram episode on The Liturgists podcast for a comprehensive overview of all nine numbers.


Articles

Aside from the articles Heuertz recommends, I also love these two for practical tips about building healthy habits in the new year based on your Enneagram type: 

Music & Art

And finally, the album and podcast by Sleeping At Last, as well as the album artwork by Elicia Edijanto have all been healing balms on my days of disintegration. I’d advocate these as compulsory for self-care during this journey.


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Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.