By Anna Moseley Gissing

What's Your Number? Growing Through the Enneagram

Hi, my name is Anna, and I am a perfectionist. Nothing is really ever as good as it should be, and the ideal beckons. I struggle with all-or-nothing thinking. That means my house is a disaster zone even though I wish it were spotless — if it can’t be perfect, it might as well be awful. I struggle with work boundaries because nothing is ever quite finished. When does any writing become as good as it could be?

Do you recognize these patterns in yourself? If so, you might be a One on the Enneagram.

If you’re new to the Enneagram, Ian Morgan Cron’s and Suzanne Stabile’s new book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, is an excellent place to start. In Cron’s words, “The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system [that] helps people better understand themselves and others.” The word “Enneagram” refers to the figure that organizes the nine personality types around common traits. Each number representing a personality type has a name to help you remember it: perfectionist, helper, performer, and so on.

The history of the Enneagram is a bit contested, but Cron and Stabile describe what we know about it, calling the tool not “infallible or inerrant,” but “useful” if “imprecise.”

The first couple of chapters introduce the Enneagram and the types, explaining the relationships between the types in times of stress and in times of health. Each type tends toward a “deadly sin” — mine is anger. If this all sounds a bit confusing, I urge you to pick up the book. It is well-written, and it develops basic ideas about the Enneagram in enough detail to understand but not so much as to overwhelm.

After this brief introduction to the Enneagram, the authors spend the bulk of the book describing the types themselves. If you’re new to the Enneagram, you’ll learn about the types for the first time: their passions, patterns, and motivations. Even if you’re familiar with the Enneagram, it’s a great refresher to read through each type.

If the idea that everyone fits into one of nine personality types seems limiting, it’s important to note that the Enneagram has a wide range within each type. Even though I’m a One, that doesn’t mean I’m just like all other Ones.

I love personality tests, tools, and the like. I’m the one who can’t resist those Facebook quizzes that assign you a Hogwarts character or someone from The Lord of the Rings based on your personality. I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs, and I know my five signature strengths.

When I first heard about the Enneagram about ten years ago, some colleagues were talking about one another in terms of their types. Diving in myself, I took a test, which revealed my type: Perfectionist. No surprise there.

As I learned more about the Enneagram, reading a book, then several articles, and then subscribing to the daily “EnneaThought” emails, I was struck by two things: 1) This type nails me. It seems freakishly accurate. And 2) What now? How do I go from being pegged to being healthy?

The Road Back to You is helpful if you too are stuck like I was. Each chapter about a single type is sandwiched between two lists — What It’s Like To Be a One (or another type) and Ten Paths to Transformation. These two pages of each chapter are worth the price of the book. Not only will the lists about what each type experiences help you discern your own type (if you don’t know it), but they will help you understand what other people experience as well. The benefits of this kind of understanding are valuable, not just for spiritual growth or a healthy marriage, but for friendships and work teams as well.

I tend to assume that everyone experiences life like I do, even though I know that can’t be true. Yet it’s hard to imagine that other people aren’t that bothered by typos in emails (how could that be?). Learning how my husband sees the world helps me love him better and communicate with him more effectively. When he seems to be guarding his time and energy, that’s not just him checking out and wanting to ignore me. That’s part of being a Five in a highly-relational job.

My favorite aspect of the book is this list of “next steps” called “Paths to Transformation.” As a One, I recognize that I’m a perfectionist and am always striving to get closer to the ideal. But how do I live as a “healthier perfectionist”? How can I grow towards a better version of myself? Seems like an oddly One-ish type question. Nonetheless, when I stalled out on my Enneagram journey, it was because I couldn’t figure out what to do besides notice when I was angry and resentful and wish I were more perfect.

I’m really thankful that The Road Back to You provides some concrete ideas for growing on my Enneagram journey. I’ll resist trying to enact all ten of them today, but these two were especially convicting:

Resist the urge to give other people to-do lists or to redo their tasks if you think they haven’t met your standards.

On the face of it, this one seems like a no-brainer. Who wants another to-do list? Not me. But I realize I am often giving others tasks to do — colleagues, kids, husband, friends — or correcting them if they don’t do something my way. Ouch.

If you find yourself procrastinating, think about the reason why. Are you reluctant to get going on a task or project because you’re afraid you won’t be able to accomplish it perfectly?

Yes. Indeed I am procrastinating on this very review, for this very reason. If I put my review out there and name my perfectionism, will you expect it to be better than it is?

As you can see, I still have a long way to go on this journey toward health and wholeness. Why don’t you join me by picking up The Road Back to You?


To purchase your copy of The Road Back to You, head to InterVarsity Press or Amazon. You might also enjoy listening to Ian and Suzanne's podcast.

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About the Author

With degrees in political science, French, theological studies, and New Testament, Anna is a learner at heart. She’s ministered in both local churches and on university campuses, most recently with InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries in North Carolina. A member of the Redbud Writers Guild, Anna loves speaking and writing, and her work has been published in Not Alone and Let Us Keep The Feast. She is married to Jeff, a Presbyterian pastor, and together they are raising two young children. Find her on twitter at @amgissing.

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