The Enneagram is the popular personality test these days. And like most other personality tests promising to giving you insight into yourself, it taps into people’s favorite topic–themselves. I believe personality tests are a valuable tool for self-discovery. I’ve read a few books on the Enneagram and have personally used the Enneagram as a self-diagnostic tool and a tool to help others. I did this for a while until I started to notice some problems that kept emerging with its use. Then, when I discovered its roots, I stopped engaging with the Enneagram altogether.
Problem #1: The Enneagram is rooted in occult theory, occult practice, and Gnostic theology. If you aren’t convinced of this, I recommend this well researched article written by a Catholic priest from Loyola University of Chicago. Self-discovery tools rooted in the occult, like the Enneagram, can be very dangerous. They can end up being a dressed up version of a horoscope. Once someone is convinced they are a particular number on the Enneagram, their whole world gets viewed through that lens (like one’s horoscope). Then self-fulfilling prophecies and confirmation bias abound.
Problem #2: While some personality tests can give insight into human nature, the Enneagram has no science behind it. So at best, the insight we gain about human nature is observational. The Myers-Briggs gives us 16 types, the Enneagram gives us 9 types. Why nine? What study revealed nine? When the complexity of human nature emerges and people don’t really fully fit their number, wings are introduced. Then when a number and a wing feels too constraining, more subsets are introduced. This goes on and on and on with an endless list of subsets, basically nullifying the distinction of the original number. (Anyone who has tried the Enneagram has experienced this phenomenon.)
Problem #3: Even if a personality test can give some limited insight into human nature, it can’t tell you who you were created to be in Christ. You are not your old self. As a follower of Jesus, you are a new creation. You’ve been give a new nature. You’ve been reborn with the Spirit of the Living God dwelling within you. Before Christ, you may have tended toward sin, but in Christ your new nature tends toward holiness. The Holy Spirit is the only One who has been assigned the task of guiding you into truth.
Problem #4: Self-discovery does not set you free! This is the Gnostic idea that if we just gain more mystical insight and knowledge then we can transcend into a higher level of being. This Gnostic idea was rejected by the early church and is found deeply embedded in all things New Age, self-help and occult. It is at the very root of the Enneagram. Again, I can’t stress this enough, our identity is not a number; it’s not a type. It’s not found in a personality test. Our identity is who Jesus says we are. We are in Christ and He is in us. Our freedom is found in Him alone. He speaks to us about who we really are in Christ, and the Holy Spirit then empowers us to live that new identity.
Problem #5: Misdiagnosis of others and wrong self-diagnosis abounds with the Enneagram. Have you ever had someone tell you, “Oh, you are definitely this number!” and they were completely off? Or have you ever had someone tell you what Enneagram number they are and you knew they were way off? This is rampant with the Enneagram, probably because there is no science backing it. It is 100% observational, and people see what they want to see. What happens when the doctor gets the diagnosis wrong? The treatment will be wrong. If the diagnostic process of the Enneagram is so often incorrect, the subsequent matching response will also be wrong. This just leads to more confusion and less freedom.
I could keep listing problems with the Enneagram, but I’m sure I’ve already offended those who value its insight. I’ll conclude then with this. If you have valued the Enneagram, then I just encourage you not to put too much of yourself into it. Treat it like one personality test among many. Or better still, treat it the way you would a fortune cookie or a horoscope. But please, do not invest your life in this thing. Learn about its roots in the occult before you continue with it. And after learning about its roots, if you still want to use it as a tool, go for it. But please do so with a measure of caution.