What Is the Enneagram?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on July 11, 2024
8 min read

The concept of personality typology — a system of classifying human personality according to a general type — has long been fascinating and studied. 

There are various personality typologies today, although some professionals  still aren't convinced of their validity because none have a truly scientific method. Nonetheless, tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are commonly used by businesses, universities, and other organizations for personality evaluations. Similarly, the Five-Factor Model (also known as The Big Five) is a widely accepted personality theory in psychological circles.

But while the above theories are relatively new developments in the social sciences, an older system of personality typology — the Enneagram — has stood the test of time by producing results comparable in validity to the Big Five and MBTI.

Here, we’ll look at the Enneagram and its history, how it works, and what, if anything, it can tell you about your personality.

The Enneagram is a system of typology that classifies human personality into nine basic types.

The word "enneagram" has Greek roots and refers to a nine-pointed symbol consisting of three shapes: an outer circle with a triangle and hexagon inside. As a personality theory, the Enneagram describes the nine primary strategies we all use to relate and react to the world. Each of these personality strategies also has basic fears, basic desires, and generally predictable patterns of behavior.

According to the Enneagram theory, each person develops one of nine predominate personality strategies (or types) by adulthood, which helps them navigate their external environment. The corresponding fears and desires related to each type are examined to understand the underlying motivations behind someone’s behavior.

But this doesn’t mean the Enneagram puts all personalities into one of nine categories. Instead, it claims that personality is interconnected and multidimensional. Over time, every person will show the characteristics of each Enneagram type. Still, the Enneagram test first determines a person’s "core" type, which never changes. It then works to identify the range of behaviors associated with it, providing insight into someone’s personality.

The Enneagram has roots in Sufism, a branch of mysticism in Islam. But despite its spiritual origins, the Enneagram is not a religious symbol nor associated with any modern religion.

Russian philosopher Gurdjieff first brought the Enneagram to the West in the early 1900s, but it was Chilean psychiatrist Oscar Ichazo who distilled the concepts for Western scholars in the 1950s by drawing parallels between the Enneagram and Pythagorean mathematics.

American psychiatrists Claudio Naranjo and John Lilly introduced the Enneagram in the U.S. in the 1970s, with Naranjo writing extensively about the applications of the theory.

Today, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, religious organizations, and businesses use the Enneagram as another tool to better understand personality.

Using the Enneagram is relatively simple, though there are some points to keep in mind. 

In some cases, participants are asked to read over the nine personality types and perform a self-assessment as to which they predominantly belong. In other cases, administrators may opt to use a test, such as the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI), to determine a person’s core personality type.

Enneagram wings

Once you’ve found your place on the Enneagram, the two adjacent strategies next to yours, known as "wings," also influence overall personality. Typically, people are influenced more by one wing than the other, though the traits from both may emerge in different circumstances. The combination of your dominant type (and motivations) and how it relates to your "wings" is what ultimately paints a picture of your personality.

It’s important to reiterate that the purpose of the Enneagram is not to pigeonhole each personality into one type. Thus, taking the Enneagram test doesn’t necessarily label personality but provides tools and insights to help people better understand themselves and each other.


Here are the nine Enneagram personality types:

Enneagram 1

The perfectionist. Also known as the paragon or reformer, people of this type are generally conscientious, organized, principled, and orderly. They are concerned with morality, the desire to improve themselves, are detail-oriented, and struggle with the voice of their "inner critic." These qualities can often make perfectionists appear critical or judgmental toward themselves and others.

The perfectionist’s basic fear is being corrupt, and their basic desire is to have integrity and do good.

Enneagram 2

The helper. Helpers are empathetic, warm, kind, understanding, and compassionate. They are comforting and optimistic and are easily flattered. Helpers struggle with always giving to others, sometimes forgetting to see that their needs are met.

The helper’s basic fear is being unwanted or unworthy, and their basic desire to be loved. 

Enneagram 3

The achiever. Also known as the performer, people with this core personality type regularly feel the pressure to remain busy and productive. Attributes of efficiency, determination, and ambition are fundamental traits of achievers. They're competitive, image-conscious, energetic, charming, and goal-oriented. Achievers also struggle with internal vulnerability.

The achiever’s basic fear is disappointing others, and their basic desire is to be valued and accepted. 

Enneagram 4

The individualist. Individualists consider themselves unique and tend to be sensitive, introspective, and reserved. They're emotionally honest, obsessed with authenticity, and tend to be creative, artistic, moody, and self-absorbed. 

The individualist’s basic fear is having no identity or personal significance, and their basic desire is to find meaning in their inner experiences. 

Enneagram 5

The investigator. Also known as the observer, investigators are curious, perceptive, and interested in learning. Investigators are analytical, cerebral, private, and contemplative. They tend to isolate themselves, resulting in struggles with social interactions.

The investigator’s basic fear is being useless or helpless, and their basic desire is to be competent and capable.

Enneagram 6

The loyalist. Also known as the guardian, loyalists are concerned with safety, planning, and problem-solving. They like clearly-defined roles and are responsible, cautious, and protective, which can lead to feelings of suspicion, paranoia, anxiety, and fear. 

The loyalist’s basic fear is to be without security, and their basic desire to have it. 

Enneagram 7

The enthusiast. The enthusiast, or dilettante, is characterized by spontaneity, a sense of adventure, enthusiasm, and excitement. They care about freedom and can often be  "the life of the party." Enthusiasts struggle with commitment and can be compulsive. 

The enthusiast’s basic fear is to be confined or in pain, and their basic desire is to be happy or satisfied. 

Enneagram 8

The challenger. The challenger or controller is powerful and assertive, often making effective leaders. They are tough and independent, capable of making hard decisions, and are concerned with justice. Although they regularly come to the aid of others, challengers can also be perceived as overbearing and controlling. 

The challenger’s basic fear is to be controlled by another, and their basic desire is to be in control. 

Enneagram 9

The peacemaker. Peacemakers are easygoing, down-to-earth, open-minded, and always looking to avoid conflict. They care about harmony, boundaries, and comfort and are seen as likable and dependent. They sometimes struggle with voicing their opinions, leading to passive-aggressive behavior. 

The peacemaker’s basic fear is to be disconnected and lost, and their basic desire is peace and stability.

Due to a lack of research, the Enneagram isn’t used in evidence-based psychology as many professionals prefer the likes of the MBTI, which is based on the theories of renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Still, many consider the Enneagram a personality indicator equal to the rest, with results consistently comparable to other tests. While personality tests like the MBTI may indicate a person’s type, the Enneagram is more concerned with the personality’s defense system and means of coping with external factors. 

A recent surge in the popularity of the Enneagram has also seen its application in therapeutic settings. Studies indicate understanding the Enneagram can help with personal and spiritual growth, ego-development, and enhancing family therapy.

If you want to find out your personality type according to the Enneagram, various websites offer a free Enneagram test online. It takes about 15 minutes to complete. 

You can also do the RHETI with the Enneagram Institute, the official website of the Enneagram, for a nominal fee. The institute also offers training workshops and additional resources for those interested in learning about the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is a system that groups human personality into nine basic types. While it’s not a medical tool, understanding your typology might help you gain insights into your actions, feelings, motivations, stress management, or interactions with others. 

Many people use the Enneagram for personal or spiritual growth, relationship improvement, or to boost performance at work, school, or business  

There is growing interest in applying the Enneagram to the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Researchers have found mixed results on the reliability and benefits of Enneagram typologies in different settings.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the Enneagram:

What is the most accurate Enneagram test?  

There are several tests available, but researchers often use the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI). The full version of the test includes 144 paired questions with 32 different measures. The Essential Enneagram Test, created by Stanford University researchers, also claims to be highly accurate and backed by science.  

Are there free Enneagram tests?

There are many online websites that allow you to take a shortened version of the Enneagram for free, but you may have to give them information like your email address or other personal info to be able to take the test.

What is the rarest personality type Enneagram?

Researchers don’t know much about the distribution of Enneagram types within the population. Without larger studies, it’s hard to know for sure which type is the rarest.

How do you determine your Enneagram?

Read summaries of the different Enneagram types to see which one matches your personality style, or you can take a test. Some online assessments are free, but you’ll need to pay for others, including the full version of the RHETI on The Enneagram Institute website.  

Is Enneagram or MBTI more accurate?

Researchers have found that the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and Big Five models provide similar predictive information about personality or behavior traits and motivations.

Which Enneagram is most likely to be rich?  

There’s no way to predict which Enneagram type will become wealthy, and there’s no reason to believe you’re less likely to achieve financial success if you fit into one type over another. But the following types are often associated with leadership or goal-oriented personality traits: Type 1 (The Perfectionist); Type 3 (The Achiever); Type 8 (The Challenger).

Which Enneagram is the strongest?

The Enneagram doesn’t measure physical strength. But some researchers have found evidence that Types 2 and 3 ( The Helper and The Achiever) seem to be most likely to focus on personal health goals and adopt active lifestyle habits. Another study found that Type 7 (The Enthusiast) may handle psychosocial stress the best -- they tend to be optimistic, curious, and psychologically flexible. There's not much research on the topic.

Which Enneagram is hardest to identify?

According to The Enneagram Institute, Type 9 (The Peacemaker) may be the most difficult to figure out because this type doesn’t have a strong sense of self. But there aren’t large studies about which Enneagram type is the hardest to identify.