By Christopher L. Heuertz

The Enneagram’s nine types offer us roadmaps detailing how we got lost or disconnected from our soul’s purpose for being. They also show how we stay lost, and each type’s specific set of addictive patterns that keep us lost. This cycle of patterns eventually forms our personality structure. Grasping our Enneagram type can be a start to understanding who we are, yet it’s far from the whole of who we are.

Simply put, the Enneagram offers nine mirrors for self-reflection. These nine mirrors, if we choose to gaze into them directly, can help us shake loose of our illusions that get us lost from home in the first place.

The nine mirrors are nine types, of which we are dominant in one:

  • Type One: strives for principled excellence as moral duty.
  • Type Two: strives for lavish love through self-sacrifice.
  • Type Three: strives for appreciative recognition through curated successes.
  • Type Four: strives for the discovery of identity for faithful authenticity.
  • Type Five: strives for decisive clarity through thoughtful conclusions.
  • Types Six: strives for steady constancy through confident loyalty.
  • Type Seven: strives for imaginative freedom for inspirational independence.
  • Type Eight: strives for impassioned intensity for unfettered autonomy.
  • Type Nine: strives for harmonious peacefulness as congruent repose.

Though there are quite a few helpful handles for each of the types, I prefer to refer to the nine types by their numbers, specifically suggesting that someone is “dominant in type Two” instead of calling Twos “Givers” or “Helpers,” or referring to those “dominant in type Nine” rather than calling Nines “Peacemakers” or “Mediators.” Sometimes I’m concerned that the names assigned to each of the types describe their social functions or roles without getting to the reasons behind type. So even though they are handy, the familiar names for each type can also be unhelpful, limiting caricatures.

As a teaching device, the different names assigned to each type can be a helpful rhetorical method for remembering them. This can get complicated, however, because there are as many different labels for each of the nine types as there are Enneagram schools of thought. The most commonly used are borrowed from Don Riso and Russ Hudson’s Enneagram Institute and Helen Palmer’s Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition (I also like Kathleen Hurley and Theodore Dobson’s contributions to the naming of the types). Below are the labels from Enneagram Institute:

  • Type One: The Reformer
  • Type Two: The Helper
  • Type Three: The Achiever/Status Seeker
  • Type Four: The Individualist/Artist
  • Type Five: The Investigator/Thinker
  • Type Six: The Loyalist
  • Type Seven: The Enthusiast/Generalist
  • Type Eight: The Challenger/Leader
  • Type Nine: The Peacemaker

Sometimes, easier than appealing to the names to describe the chief characteristic of the types, people find that working around a circle based on fundamental needs is a better way to self-type as well as remember the types.

The Enneagram Types Described by Need

I first learned the Enneagram by aligning a distinguishing need with each of the numbers. These needs emerged from the evolution of Father Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert’s groundbreaking work on the Enneagram.

From both Discovering the Enneagram and The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective I learned the nine types not by name but by these needs:

  • Type One: The Need to Be Perfect
  • Type Two: The Need to Be Needed
  • Type Three: The Need to Succeed
  • Type Four: The Need to Be Special (or Unique)
  • Type Five: The Need to Perceive (or Understand)
  • Type Six: The Need to Be Sure/Certain (or Secure)
  • Type Seven: The Need to Avoid Pain
  • Type Eight: The Need to Be Against
  • Type Nine: The Need to Avoid

Whether names or needs, these quick reference handles merely keep us at the surface of the possibilities of the Enneagram. Simply describing nine personality profiles or nine sets of charming imperfections and endearing habits limits us from telling ourselves the truth about what the Enneagram spotlights.

The Enneagram Types as Holy Ideas

Another approach to understanding the nine types involves the exploration of the purest features of each type—the Enneagram’s Holy Ideas and Virtues.

In his renderings of the Enneagram, Oscar Ichazo (the man who interpreted and brought forward the Enneagram in its modern form) proposed an Enneagram of Holy Ideas and an Enneagram of Virtues. Simply put, the Holy Idea of each type is the mental clarity of the True Self that emerges when the mind is at rest, while the Virtue of each type is the emotional objectivity of the True Self that comes forward in a heart at peace. Much like the nine Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1–12 or the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22–23, the evidence of wholeness is manifested through our peace of mind and heart revealed in our Holy Idea and Virtue. Together, our Holy Idea and Virtue express who we were always created to be.

The Holy Ideas of the Enneagram epitomize the lucidity of a mind integrated with one’s heart and body, evidenced in the consolidation of mindfulness and self-realization.

The traditional Holy Ideas as developed by Ichazo are as follows:

  • Type One: Perfection
  • Type Two: Will, Freedom
  • Type Three: Harmony, Hope
  • Type Four: Origin
  • Type Five: Transparency
  • Type Six: Strength, Faith
  • Type Seven: Wisdom
  • Type Eight: Truth
  • Type Nine: Love

For example, when type Ones disentangle themselves from their idealized drive for perfectionism, they realize that everything is already just as it should be; as Father Richard (a type One himself) says, “Everything belongs”—the good, the bad, and the ugly. In this case, perfectionism is no longer a cruel master but a gentle guide back to grounded presence, perfect peace, holy perfection.

The Enneagram Types as Virtues

If the Holy Ideas of the Enneagram display the fruit of a mind at peace, then the Virtues of the Enneagram draw attention to the by-products of a heart at rest, a heart that is centered and present. The Virtues of the Enneagram are the unexpected fecundity that surprises us when we are aligned with what is good, true, and beautiful within our identity. The Virtues illuminate for us the very best of what our hearts were created for, what each of us uniquely contributes to the kind of peace-filled world we all desire to live in. The traditional Virtues of each type are as follows:

  • Type One: Serenity
  • Type Two: Humility
  • Type Three: Truthfulness, Authenticity
  • Type Four: Equanimity, Emotional Balance
  • Type Five: Detachment
  • Type Six: Courage
  • Type Seven: Sobriety
  • Type Eight: Innocence
  • Type Nine: Action

Returning to type One, when the mind is set at ease that God’s perfection is enough, then the heart rests in serenity, unbothered by what seems to be imperfect. The peace-filled heart of the One is no longer driven by its inner compulsions to fix everything, but instead savors what is.

Being able to caricature nine kinds of people might be an interesting dinner party trick, but it only reinforces the reductionism of categorizing individuals, which in the end dehumanizes everyone. The Enneagram offers much more under the surface. Its various facets—the names and needs, the Holy Ideas and Virtues—give us practical handles to better identify and understand our type. By digging deeper into the why behind each type we start to unravel the mystery of our True Self and essential nature. This is the real substance we aim for.


Adapted from The Enneagram of belonging: A Compassionate Journey of Self-Acceptance and The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, both by Christopher L. Heuertz.

Learn more about the Enneagram by reading What Is the Enneagram?