When You’re Wrong About Your Enneagram Number (And I Was)

Everything that happens, happens of necessity.

Arthur Schopenhauer

The Enneagram journey has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life, right up there with marriage, parenthood, and (good) therapy. I have been sharing about the Enneagram on this site for a while now, I even created a downloadable pdf called, “Nail Down Your Enneagram Type.” After a year’s worth of research and soul-searching, you’d think I would have felt pretty confident about knowing my own Enneagram Type. Frighteningly, I was confident that I knew my Type- most of the time. Sure, I had doubts that would come and go, but I stood-by my assessment: I was a Four with a *strong* Three wing.

Now, this is incredibly humbling to admit (I’m a therapist, I’m supposed to be superhumanly self-aware, you know) but I was wrong. I’m going to tell you that this experience was nothing short of a full-blown identity crisis. But first, let me tell you how I got there because maybe something can be learned from this.

Themes That Didn’t Fit

For each Enneagram Type there are common themes that you will hear repeated again and again. These are phrases or words that seem to resonate deeply with everyone within that archetype. One of the phrases that I often hear for Type Four is this sense of always being on the outside looking in. Admittedly, this is a phenomenon that I just don’t connect with. I do, however, resonate with this: if everyone knew who I really was, they’d know I don’t belong here. Both are sharing feelings of not belonging yet one is saying “I’m an Outsider,” the other is saying, “I’m an Imposter.”

It always bothered me that I didn’t resonate with this experience as other Fours did. I thought that maybe it was because I was the “countertype” of Four which is the Self-Preservation Four. I thought that maybe it was because I had a strong Three wing. With all of the nuances that are available for each type, it can be easy to rationalize anything that doesn’t seem to fit within the “typical” caricature. Still, I decided to keep an open mind…

Characteristics are Not What Makes Personality

The other reason why I confused myself with a Type Four, is that I have some of the typical characteristics of a Four. I care deeply about aesthetics, I’m obsessed with music (on vinyl in particular), I write poetry, I like to wear black, and I let me tell you, I think about death a LOT. I have also experienced bouts of clinical depression throughout my life. I’ve made a career out of deep conversations and feeling feelings. Yet, these are not the things that truly make a Four a Four. What makes a Four a Four is the underlying motivation and fear that drives their behavior. This is what makes any of us fall within a Type. Here is my interpretation of the basic desires behind each Type:

Here’s what I realized: I’m not particularly fixated on being unique or irreplaceable (Type 4). I want to be impressive and needed- in a unique way. All of these fall within The Heart Types; 2, 3, 4. To be honest, I also resonated with being infallible or perfect (Type 1) and with being competent (Type 5). Most of us will resonate with multiple drives. It’s the one that wins out that matters. So how do we tease this out?

The Importance of Instinctual Variants (aka Subtypes)

Now anyone could read the above list and think, “I want to be all of those things!” And truly, we each have some of all nine Types within us. Our Tpye is just what we “lead” with. When I was feeling stuck, Yoga Therapist and Enneagram coach, Abi Robins suggested that I start by looking at general definitions of the Three Instinctual Variants. Your subtype will flavor the way your Type manifests. They are as follows from The Enneagram at Work:

  • Self-Preservation- Governs our needs for material supplies and security, including food, shelter, warmth, and family relations.
  • Sexual/One-to-One- Governs our sexuality, our intimate relationships and close friendships, and the vitality of the life force within our bodies.
  • Social- Governs our needs for belonging and membership within the larger group and community.

All of us connect with each of these drives but there is one that will outweigh the others. When I took a historical look at my life, I can see there have been many times when I chose to prioritize intimate relationships over material security and community belonging. This means that my primary Instinctual Drive is One-to-One.

Now Look at the Variants of Each Type

With my Instinctual Variant, One to One, in mind I let that flavor each of the above Types I seemed to connect with. It looked something like this:

  • Type One: To be in charge of perfecting my partner.
  • Type Two: To be indispensable in my intimate relationships.
  • Type Three: To be impressive as the image of what an ideal partner should be.
  • Type Four: To be irreplaceable, my partner’s “soul mate.”
  • Type Five: To be competent by obtaining an ideal partner who is trustworthy.

Again, looking historically at my life, I have persistent themes of trying to be an ideal image of what a woman partner should be in a heterosexual relationship. I was able to rule out all of the other Types for various reasons although with Type Four, I still felt some connection. I was between Type Three and Type Four.

What is Your Stance?

If you’re still struggling with your Type at this point, I get it! This was a long process for me. It is so worth it though, so don’t give up!

Another way to help tease-out your Type is to look at the Three Stances:

  • Withdrawing– We struggle to engage through action. (Numbers 9, 5, 4)
  • Compliant– We struggle with independent thinking. (Numbers 1, 2, 6)
  • Aggressive– We struggle to connect to our own feelings or those of others. (Numbers 3, 7, 8)

I was able to rule out the Withdrawing and Compliant stances as I have never had a problem with: 1) Having an opinion, 2) Sharing it, or 3) Drive. Consequently, my Number is within the Aggressive Stance which meant that between 3 and 4, I was most likely a Three.

Try it On With an Open Heart

Realizing I was probably actually a Three was really hard for me. Above, I mentioned that I was embarrassed that I wasn’t as self-aware as I thought I was. Being a therapist, this felt like a failure. I never thought of myself as someone who was afraid of failure but then I realized how many times I had tried to keep relationships from failing. I also don’t like engaging in activities that I don’t think I’ll be good at! Ha!

The problem with Type Three is that I didn’t naturally resonate with wanting to look “successful.” While reading through more literature though, I came-upon the word “impressive.” Threes want to be impressive. This 100% resonated with me. I don’t always like being seen as the “winner” because people seem to not like the elite. Being impressive, however, meant that I could be down-to-earth, friendly, but still impress my “audience” in ways specific to their ideals.

This leads me to the next major connection I have with Threes. I can be a Chameleon. I can easily connect with people because I can pull from myself only the parts that they will like and identify with. Threes can edit their personality. Fours don’t really do this. Fours are ok with being unique and different. I only liked being unique if it would be impressive in some way.

Mistyping is Not Failure

I’ve admitted that I was embarrassed to have mistyped for so long. However, now I can truly look back on my, “Year as a Four,” and see the importance of that season. There are some very key aspects of my personality that are still influenced by my Four Wing, even though I lead mostly with Type Three. The parts of me that are more Four than Three, got the attention they deserved. For so long my Threeness has taken the spotlight (as you can imagine) and my Fourness was something only expressed in solitude or close relationships.

The Enneagram is meant to be a spiritual journey. This means that no matter where your path takes you, something can be learned from it.

In Summary: These Three Steps May Help You Find Your Type

  1. Start by finding your Subtype: Social, One-to-One, or Self-Preservation.
  2. Now consider what Stance you may have. Aggressive, Compliant, or Withdrawn.
  3. Look at the Types through the lens of your Subtype.

Here is an updated pdf to help you along your way:

Jaclyn-Snyder-Considerations-for-Finding-Your-Enneagram-Number-

I hope you find this helpful! Please share your Enneagram journey with us! Did you mistype? If so, what did you mistype as and what do you know yourself to be now?

Thanks for being a part of this community,

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