The Best Way To Use The Enneagram

When it comes to personality tests, I love them. I love figuring out what makes people tick, why they do the things they do. This, of course, comes more from deep listening and the stories that thread a person’s life together than it does a tidy combination of letters and numbers produced after taking a quiz. 

Still, personality tests can add value and can help lead to deeper understanding by giving clues as to what questions can be asked to better reveal the stories that shaped us. 

They can also bring to the surface areas of our character which may need to change. It’s a myth that people can’t change, and it’s a myth that was busted by neuroscience. 

The truth in Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time” rests more in its call to discernment and becoming a good judge of character so that we’re able to effectively spot wolves in sheep's clothing than it does as a mantra to never allow for the possibility of someone becoming a better person.

Can people change? Yes. I believe in redemption, and I believe that redemption does not play out as a magical switch that turns someone into a new person overnight, but rather through neuroplasticity, which is, in very simplistic terms, the brain's ability to rewire itself, which can allow us to make healthier choices.

As for personality tests, Myers-Briggs can be helpful, but shouldn’t be taken as canon (especially since it is not scientifically valid). The Enneagram can be helpful (of which the Riso-Hudson model (RHETI) is considered scientifically valid and reliable, the others aren’t), and is best used as a tool for self-awareness, not a means to put someone in a box – including yourself. 

Change begins with self-awareness. As for how to become more self-aware, personality tests can be a great place to start. One way to use these tools to increase self-awareness is to consider the questions in the quiz portion rather than racing through to the results. Often, considering the questions themselves can lead to lightbulb moments:

Oh! I am like that!
Ugh. I am like that. 

If you don’t like something that a personality test brings to light, you have the ability to change it.

A personality test doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be a decent human who cares about the well-being of other people. It doesn’t give you license to hurt others under the excuse, “That’s just the way I am, my Enneagram says so.”

Personality tests are simply tools and can be extremely useful. They are not your identity. They may describe aspects of yourself, but they are not who you are, at your core. They do not add or subtract value to your worth as a human being. You are already valuable and worthy, regardless of whatever combination of letters and numbers the Enneagram gives you. 

Originally published June 2017