The beauty of the Enneagram is that it’s a flexible, fluid and varied tool. However, this level of mobility in a personality matrix can look a little overwhelming and confusing at first, even when just looking into your own number.
I’ve had a few conversations with people recently chatting through their different ‘possible’ numbers and working out together where they identify the most. We always manage to get somewhere when we move the conversation away from stereotypical behaviours, and toward the core of someone’s mentality.
It’s very important to note as well that online tests are NOT the ‘be all and end all’ of the Enneagram. It’s best discovered through conversation and really digging into the motivations behind each number.
Everyone’s a bit of everything – we all can be perfectionist, or helpful, or quiet and thoughts at times. I’m a firm believer in the fluidity of human nature and not using these tools to put yourself (or someone else) in a ‘box’. However, it can be useful to look at preference and what your instinctive or base responses might be. Even if you learned to adapt them as you’ve matured from life experiences.
If you’re struggling to know where to start, here’s the elements that I find are most useful to begin with:
1. Think about what you were like pre-21
Thankfully as we go through life, our experiences help us to mature emotionally, mentally and socially. This means that you might have a few less edges than you did as a teenager. However, thinking about what your behaviour was like in younger years can be a helpful indicator of your innate responses and behaviours, even if you’ve now learnt to adapt and soften them.
2. Focus on core desires & fears
Ultimately, this is the bit that matters. The behavioural characteristics we apply to each number are often useful and many people can relate to them. But this won’t necessarily be the case for everyone. There’s a lot of crossover with some outward behaviours.
For example, 2s and 6s focus on loving their people well and 3s and 8s are often ambitious and natural leaders. This is why when you first encounter the Enneagram ‘mistyping’ can easily occur.
My first response when someone says, “I don’t know if I’m a 9 or a 2!” (another very common one) is to focus on the core desires and fears. Each number is motivated by different wants, needs and avoidance of particular fears.
3. Look into stress and security states
The second thing I draw people’s attention to when they’re trying to find their number, is the moves to stress and security states. As I explained in part one of this part one of this Enneaseries, the lines on the Enneagram diagram indicate where each number moves in stress and security (follow the lines).
When you get stressed, you may notice that you start behaving in a way that goes against your natural behaviours. More often than not, we fall into stress unexpectedly and with little control over our reactions. That’s when we start exhibiting the characteristics listed below. These all represent the ‘low’ side of the number you move to.
For example, when a 2 is stressed, they move to the low side of 8 which can often seem like they’re just out for a fight! Whether it’s on behalf of someone else (most common with a 2) or someone has wronged them – 2s start to fight back and get angry about the situation causing them stress.
However – moving to your stress number does not always have to be a bad, uncontrollable move. Suzanne Stabile teaches that you can choose to intuitively choose the high side of your stress number.
This would look like that stressed 2 choosing to adopt positive 8 behaviours. 2s can tap into that anger, without totally losing it. They can start to say ‘no’ and put healthy boundaries in place.
All this to say, we can’t survive without moving to our stress numbers. They give us access to something that we usually lack.
How we handle ourselves when we get there is the thing that matters.
Movements to the security state happens when you feel at your best. We start adopting the behaviours of our security number when we’re comfortable in relationships, environments, or confident in what we have to offer.
Usually we step into the high side of the security number, as well as the high side of our own number.
Being aware of your security state can be really empowering. For me as an 8 who’s always been told my type is just tough, heartless and lacking in empathy (ouch, I know) – it was so freeing to learn about my move to 2. The characteristics in our core number don’t reflect the full version of us. As an 8, I’m at my best when I’m hosting, loving people, calling out the best in them. And you better believe I’ll fight to the death to protect people against injustice.
This ‘fight to the death’ (8) ‘to protect and love people’ (2) is the perfect combination of the unstoppable positives of those two numbers.
The same is true for all other numbers. We move to a space that we might not always function in, but when we do, we’re the best versions of ourselves.
So now what?
Well, there’s a lot more to the Enneagram than above but these are great places to start. I’ll continue to unpack in more detail the different ‘triads’ of numbers who, despite not sharing a line on the Enneagram, have other similarities such as orientation to time or being feeling, thought or gut orientated.
For now, I’d recommend exploring the above points and reading around your stress and security numbers to see if anything resonates with you.
As always, here’s my advice for next steps:
- Take a test
While this can be a great place to start, I’d always recommend reading around the numbers and exploring which resonates best with you. Oftentimes the tests are a bit limited and if you took it on a stressful day, or a super happy day you could come out as your stress or security numbers etc.
- Read about the different numbers
I’d recommend The Enneagram Institute and Crystal Knows
- Chat to someone who understands the Enneagram, or knows you well
My Instagram DMs are always open for an Enneagram chat!
- Read books!
I could not recommend The Road Back To You more. While it is closely linked to Christianity and has a few areas written from a spiritual perspective, even if you’re not interested in the faith side of things it’s got some excellent and clear guidance on the Enneagram.
- Stay tuned for my upcoming blogs about understanding the depths of the Enneagram