It’s 11:00pm on a Sunday and you can’t relax. You crawl into bed, pull the covers up to your chest and start replaying all the conversations and text message exchanges you’ve had in the last week, or ahem, year. You become fidgety as you think of something you wish you’d said differently, or maybe you wish you hadn’t said anything at all. You’re frustrated and angry at yourself and you reach for your phone to consult Google for advice and commiseration. You start with questions such as:

“Why do I always second guess myself?”

“Why does conflict give me anxiety?”

“Why is it so hard for me to say NO to people?”

Before Google can confirm that you’re a social outcast whose life would be better served as a recluse on some remote commune, you’ve stumbled onto Buzzfeed and begun taking personality quizzes. An hour into your research you’ve learned that your energy aura is orange, your canine spirit animal is a Saint Bernard and if you were a character on the cast of Friends, you’d be Rachel. Super helpful. Thanks, Google.

But, of course, this scenario is purely hypothetical.

Ok, not really. I did this. But after I fell into the rabbit hole of Buzzfeed quizzes, I started to wonder why those silly quizzes exist in the first place, or better yet, why are they so popular? Why do we spend so much time trying to learn about ourselves? Are we looking for affirmation and validation about who we are? Do we need to understand what makes us unique and different? Or are we really looking for ways in which we are alike?

Maybe we’re trying to figure out how we fit in and belong.

Between career assessments, teambuilding workshops and my interest in self-development, I’ve taken just about every major personality test there is…The DiSC, The Big Five, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Buzzfeed’s Which Avenger Will You Marry?…With MBTI being the most popular, I bet at least half of the people reading this could tell me their MBTI type.

For example, I’m an INFJ. I’ve always enjoyed reading about INFJs because it helps to me feel understood and accepted, and it even gives me a sense of comfort knowing that other INFJs may experience the world the same way I do. I know it’s not exactly scientific and that people are dynamic and complex and change over time, but the MBTI offers a fairly accurate description of my strengths and weaknesses.

What the MBTI and Buzzfeed quizzes do not do is help me answer questions like the ones I posed above. Sure, they’re fun and useful for many reasons (like prolonging insomnia) but I’m still left with my original inquiries:

“Why do I always second guess myself?”

“Why does conflict give me anxiety?”

“Why is it so hard for me to say NO to people?”

A few months ago I was sitting at the KPCC office chatting with one of our therapists, Will Messer. Will and I have been friends for years so when he asked me how things were going, I opened up about some personal problems I was facing and complained about my anxiety and inability to say NO when I needed to. I wanted to know why I had these tendencies and what I could do to take better care of myself. During that conversation, Will asked me if I’d heard of the Enneagram. He said it might be a useful tool in helping me understand some of my perceived flaws.

The Ennea- what?

Later that evening, I read everything I could find online about the Enneagram.

“The word Enneagram derives from two Greek words “ennea” (nine) and “gram” (drawing or figure) and refers to the nine points on the Enneagram diagram. The Enneagram symbol describes nine distinct but interrelated personality types. It shows nine ways of seeing and experiencing the world as well as the relationships between personality and psychological development.  It explains underlying motivations, as well as strengths and weaknesses in navigating life and relating to others. 

Understanding the Enneagram increases emotional and social intelligence, two of the most important predictors of success and happiness. It is a great aid in self-understanding and seeing our habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. As we become more aware through self-observation, we are better able to make empowering conscious choices.”

Two paragraphs in and I was hooked.

I read that some people can determine their number within minutes. For others, it’s a much longer process and that was true for me. It took me a couple of months to figure out my type. I had to dig down deep.

Since November, I’ve learned about the history of the Enneagram, taken several online tests and studied the nine types in detail. I’ve subscribed to the Typology podcast so that I could listen to other people’s experience with the Enneagram and I’ve read several books on the topic. My KPCC colleagues and I even participated in a weekly Enneagram staff meeting study which turned out to be a wonderful team building tool.

Today I can confidently say that I am an Enneagram Type 9 with a 1 wing and a social variant. Maybe that sounds a little too cryptic. In short, I’m a peacekeeper. Think doves, peace signs and pizza (I tend to make people feel comfortable). I prefer calm and relaxation and I don’t like telling people NO because it may disappoint them and therefore disrupt the peace – mine and/or theirs. Miss Congeniality, if you will. I make a great mediator because I’m really good at seeing others’ points of view. What that also means is that I sometimes fall asleep to my own needs because I am so attuned to everyone else’s. It’s quite exhausting really.

What I like about being a Nine:

  • Being able to relax and have fun
  • Being nonjudgmental and accepting
  • My ability to help people and let them be comfortable in my presence
  • My heightened sense of awareness of what’s going on around me
  • My ability to see things from many different perspectives and offer that insight to others
  • Being able to enjoy my own company and feeling self-reliant

What’s hard about being a Nine:

  • Caring so much about someone’s feelings that saying NO is paralyzing
  • Being judged or misunderstood for being placid or indecisive
  • Not feeling like I matter and worrying what others think of me
  • Not realizing when someone is taking advantage of me
  • Being critical and second guessing myself
  • My tendency to procrastinate when I feel overwhelmed

It’s true. Sometimes I procrastinate (don’t tell my boss), especially when it comes to personal endeavors.  It may take me a very long time to do something that is challenging for me…such as ending a relationship, switching jobs, or going back to school. I get stuck because I don’t want to make the wrong decision so I just do laundry, organize my pantry or go for a run instead. But once I get started, I can be unstoppable. Hey there inertia.

Can anyone relate to this? If so, you may be a Nine. Call me and we’ll go sit in a field and meditate together. Actually, you won’t call because Nines don’t want to bother or inconvenience others so we just wait until someone calls us. 🙂

I won’t explain all the numbers here as I can best speak to my own, but I will say this:

There is no good or bad type. I think what I like most about the Enneagram is that it shows you some really beautiful ways in which each type can contribute to the world, but it also reveals the dark underbellies of our personalities with brutal honesty. It can smack us right it the face. The Enneagram gives language and brings awareness to some of our deep-rooted motivations and behaviors. It floats some of these shadowy, hidden things to the surface and once you’re armed with that kind of knowledge, it’s much easier to identify patterns and make adjustments for what you could be doing better.

If you were to ask me the difference between MBTI and the Enneagram, I would say that MBTI tells us WHAT we do and the Enneagram gives us more insight into WHY we do it. Both are useful, but as a far as being a tool for self-knowledge and growth, I’m team Enneagram.

The process of determining my type has helped with my self-awareness and given me a whole new lens through which to see myself and those around me. It’s equipped me with another resource to achieve emotional freedom and taught me ways I can move toward health and integration. I really can’t say enough good things about it.

Now I will step off my soapbox.

I realize personality typing isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram, here is a good place to start. You can also check out our Facebook page for upcoming Enneagram workshops.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with this:

“To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.”   – Flannery O’Connor

Enjoy the journey.

Erin Stroup has been the Development Director at KPCC Counseling since 2014. She’s the author of the First World Problems blog and a Beyond Addiction Support Group leader.