Even from a very young age, my son David (now 11) has been dramatic, empathetic, and entertaining. “He’d make a great preacher, like his dad!” people would tell us after meeting him or seeing him perform on stage in a play without any stage fright. (He doesn’t even get the concept of stage fright—”It’s just people watching me act. What’s the big deal, Mom?”)
But as he’s gotten older, we’ve noticed the flip side to some of these positive attributes. He’s dramatic, which is great for the stage, but harder when you hear, “This is the worst day ever!” at least once a week. He’s empathetic and can sense the moods of others really well, but he also can absorb those emotions and make them his own. If he’s around a loud or aggressive kid, he tends to be louder and more aggressive. And he’s entertaining, but he wants to please other people to the point he can care too much about what they think about him.
All his attributes, good and bad, have shown themselves very clearly since we moved from Pennsylvania (the only place he remembers living) to a suburb of Houston, TX. We wanted to make this transition as smooth as possible for him and for us. Thankfully, God brought us to a church that uses the enneagram personality typing in their counseling and leadership development.
Learning our son’s enneagram type has been a huge blessing to our family over the last couple years, and I’m sure it could help you know your son better and encourage him grow in Christlikeness.
The enneagram is a set of nine personality types (the word enneagram comes from the Greek word for nine). Each type has a number and a one-word description. Each type also has a sin it struggles with the most. Unlike the Myers-Briggs or other personality typing tools, the enneagram examines what is happening in your head and heart, not just the characteristics you show to others. It’s the why behind all you do.
Here are the 9 types and their commonly known descriptions:
- Type 1 is the perfectionist (core sin: anger, “Nothing lives up to my expectations. Not even myself”).
- Type 2 is the helper (core sin: pride, “I know what’s best for others and they need my help”).
- Type 3 is the performer (core sin: deceit, “I sense who others expect me to be and become that person”).
- Type 4 is the romantic (core sin: envy, “I want to be unique because others have what I’ll never have”).
- Type 5 is the investigator (core sin: greed, “If I learn all I can, I can be independent and not have to rely on others who may let me down”).
- Type 6 is the loyalist (core sin: fear, “The world is a scary place and I need something or someone (besides God) to help me survive”).
- Type 7 is the enthusiast (core sin: gluttony, “I try to ignore what’s hard and focus on what brings me happiness, but it’s never enough”).
- Type 8 is the challenger (core sin: lust, “I don’t want to be controlled by anyone else, so I try to control my environment and those around me”).
- Type 9 is the peacemaker (core sin: sloth, “In order to keep the peace, I’ll go with the flow. I don’t want to do more than necessary in any situation”).
It’s not as easy to determine your number as it generally is to determine other personality types, like Myers-Briggs. Online quizzes may help narrow it down, but it really takes talking to people who know you well about what you learn from that quiz and getting their feedback. (This paid version quiz has a good reputation.) And because learning your type tells you not only the good about yourself, but also the bad you try to hide, it can be a tough process to go through without someone to talk about it with.
So how did I figure out my son’s number?
First, I read a lot about the types. I have been reading about the enneagram for about three years. First I just focused on knowing my type and how I relate to the world (I’m type 1, the perfectionist, also known as the reformer. We walk into a room and ask ourselves, “What needs to change and how can I fix it?” A helpful outlook since I’m an editor!) Then I learned more about the other types and the traits they exhibit. There are resources at the end of the post to get you started as well!
Second, I accepted how hard it is to type others, especially children. We just don’t know what’s going on in their heads. No one has a type until we hit a point in development when life goes really wrong and we develop coping skills to help life make sense again. So it may be impossible to figure out your five-year-old’s type, but when he’s twelve, you can make a good guess. Also, if you mis-type your son, I don’t really think that’s a big deal. You are giving him tools to overcome the sin he’s struggling with most at this point in development, and that’s helpful no matter what type he is when he’s an adult.
Third, I studied David. I could hear him say, “This is the worst day ever!” but did I know why? Was it an unmet expectation? Was it feedback he heard from the director of his play? Was it because his basketball team went 0-6 this season? Or when he talked about what he didn’t get for Christmas more than what he did get, what was the motivation for that? I wanted to get deeper than the behavior—I wanted to know the motivation.
In The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, they have a section for each number that says “What it’s like to be a [insert number here].” Here’s part of what it says about type 4s
- I never really felt like I belonged.
- Melancholy is comfortable for me.
- I’m not like everyone else … phew.
- People say I’m too intense and my feelings overwhelm them.
- I’m either an artist or highly creative.
As I read each one, I knew it described David. But what really convinced me was learning that the sin 4s deal with at their core is envy. “Fours believe they alone have a tragic flaw, so when they compare themselves to others (which is all the time), they feel inferior.” Wow! They are constantly looking for what’s missing in their lives, their relationships, and in their environments.
How has it helped me parent him better and encourage him to grow in Christlikeness?
The most helpful part of the enneagram is it gives you tools to become healthier. It says “You struggle with envy, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as it is for you right now.” When we read about the enneagram from a Christian perspective, we remember the Holy Spirit helps us fight against our core sin. He brings light and healing to the places of ourselves we try to ignore and hide.
So David and I end our days by discussing the blessings we received from God and praise Him for those blessings. We encourage his creative talents, but we help him see that his worth comes from God, not from how people react to him or his performances. We help him know it’s fine to feel lots of emotions, but our feelings don’t always tell us the truth.
Psalm 139:14 says, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it” (NLT). We can praise Him for the diversity He exhibits in creation and know that our differences bring glory to Him, especially when we use the personality He gave us to better love Him and love others!
What questions do you have about the enneagram? I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments!
Resources: (includes affiliate links)
- The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
- Your Enneagram Coach with Beth McCord (Follow her on Instagram at @enneagram_coach. She uses your number type to help you draw closer to Christ and rest in your relationship with Him!)
- The Enneagram of Parenting: The 9 Types of Children and How to Raise Them Successfully by Elizabeth Wagele (not from a Christian world-view, but helpful)