How Well Do You Know Your Dad? A Father’s Day Challenge
We set aside a special day to honor one of our most important relationships, but how well do we actually know our dads? Whether the key influence in your life is your biological father, grandfather, adoptive father, mentor, or coach—today, we’re highlighting a personality test that can help us to understand ourselves and to better appreciate the men who shaped our lives.
Unlike the Myers-Briggs test, which charts sometimes-shifting personality traits, the Enneagram was designed to define a fundamental personality type that stays constant through your life. That type may sometimes be expressed in healthier ways or unhealthier ways, but the type itself is consistent to you. So, who are you?
A very ancient backstory…
The roots of the enneagram can be traced back to the ancient world, when mystics and philosophers were trying to articulate human beings’ defining faults and virtues. (But mostly faults, because they weren’t a very optimistic lot.) Aristotle argued that every positive quality is balanced by at least two negatives, because every virtue is a fault unless expressed in moderation (courage is a virtue, but too much courage is foolhardiness, and too little courage is cowardice). For him, the great aim was to achieve the “golden mean” in all things. The Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus compiled a list of eight core temptations, which Pope Gregory the Great refined into the list of Seven Deadly Sins. The core human faults became a matter of serious consideration and ongoing debate.
For the most part, the early writers assumed that everyone is subject to all of the temptations, but the thought gradually emerged that each person may have one particularly defining fault/temptation. So, in the fourteenth century, Dante condemned specific evildoers to one of nine rings of hell, where they suffer punishment appropriate to their worst sin. For example, murderers, war-mongers, plunderers, and tyrants are condemned to the seventh ring of hell, which is comprised of a giant river of boiling blood; if an evildoer tries to escape from the river, centaurs shoot the miscreant with arrows until he falls back in. (Dante’s logic is that the violent will forever drown in the blood of their victims.)
On the whole, ancient philosophy was a cheery sort of subject…
And then, the twentieth century…
The list of defining faults shifted around for a while, and was sometimes correlated to a list of virtues, but there were a few core traits that kept coming to the surface. And, so, in the late 1960s, South American psychologists Óscar Ichazo (from Bolivia) and Claudio Naranjo (from Chile) combined spiritual traditions with modern psychology to theorize that, in early childhood, each person fixes his or her core ego identity around one of nine essential vices or “passions”: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, sloth, fear, or lying. In essence, their goal was to help people understand and mitigate these damaging behavior patterns.
But the positive psychology movement eventually got their hands on the theory, and in the 1980s, they decided that each person was attracted, not just to a fault, but to a spectrum of behavior (which can be bad or good), and that there were patterns within the patterns. Their goal became to help people understand their own needs and motivations more deeply, and to help people better accommodate for the needs and motivations of others. If you’ve ever wondered why some people are forever solving puzzles while others are pursuing adventures, or why some people have a very strong sense of right and wrong but others look for all the shades of gray…read on!
The Modern Enneagram
The modern enneagram is defined by nine personality types, which are grouped into three triads: Intuition/Gut (Types 8, 9, 1), Emotion/Heart (Types 2, 3, 4), and Cognition/Head (Types 5, 6, 7).
To give you a very brief overview:
Type 1: The Perfectionist
Motivated by doing the right thing: rational, principled, orderly, and self-righteous
(Defining fault: wrath)
Ones tend to see the world in black and white, because they always want to do the right thing in the right way. In their best incarnation, they’re Captain America types, who fight for justice at great personal cost. In their worst incarnations, they’re more like the Spanish Inquisitors, burning people at the stake “for their own good.” When things aren’t “right,” ones become angry and want to intervene.
Type 2: The Helper
Motivated by the need to be loved: caring, generous, possessive, and manipulative
(Defining fault: pride)
Twos are focused very strongly on the emotions of the people around them, because they always want to feel needed. In their best incarnations, they are outstanding nurturers and caregivers, who positively invest in the lives of others. In their worst incarnations, they can completely lose sight of their own needs, or they can become highly manipulative: contriving problems that they can solve, and sabotaging anyone else who might threaten their status. When a two sees a need, they instinctively try to figure out how that need could be met.
Type 3: The Achiever
Motivated by the need to feel valued: adaptable, ambitious, image-oriented, hostile
(Defining fault: lying)
Threes intently pursue affirmation through personal excellence. They seek out situations where the requirements are clear so that they can accomplish every specification and be recognized for their success. In their best incarnations, they are outstanding performers (sometimes literally, as many actors fall into this category). In their worst incarnations, they so desperately want to seem like winners that they will lie to themselves and others about their accomplishments. If a three knows that there is a standard (in fashion, business, or life), they will always want to meet it.
Type 4: The Artist
Motivated by emotion: intuitive, individualistic, self-absorbed, depressive
(Defining fault: envy)
Fours are fascinated by the full spectrum of human emotions—positive and negative. In their best incarnations, they are so in tune with complex emotional patterns that they can help other people comprehend and articulate their own emotions (they make outstanding counselors, poets, composers, and musicians). In their worst incarnations, they so badly envy other people’s emotional stability that they deliberately seek out or provoke extreme emotional conflict. Fours are often highly imaginative, and they are excellent at playing to people’s emotional strengths and weaknesses.
Type 5: The Thinker
Motivated by knowledge: perceptive, original, provocative, eccentric
(Defining fault: greed)
Fives love acquiring knowledge, solving puzzles, and achieving mastery in their field of choice. In their best incarnations, they are often scholars and researchers, deeply dedicated to the pursuit of new discoveries. In their worst incarnations, they value knowledge over everything, including relationships and ethics—the classic mad scientist who conducts horrifying experiments. Fives are almost always internally focused, and they appreciate having private time and space to pursue their own thoughts.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Motivated by community: engaging, responsible, defensive, anxious
(Defining fault: fear)
Sixes are natural networkers, and their deepest fear is the prospect of being cast out of the community. In their best incarnations, they are outstanding managers who help people play to their strengths for the good of the team. In their worst incarnations, they value the system over the individual and enforce arbitrary or counterproductive rules to the letter. Sixes always consider group dynamics before taking action, and they feel most secure around supportive people that they trust.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Motivated by pleasure: enthusiastic, accomplished, excessive, manic
(Defining fault: gluttony)
Sevens are clever and enthusiastic, and they are always looking for something new to admire or enjoy. In their best incarnations, they are often innovators and performers, charming and inspiring individuals who encourage others to make unlikely connections and find joy in the moment. In their worst incarnations, they find it easy to drown in excesses, fleeing from any thought of discomfort. Sevens are always up for an adventure and love the process of discovery.
Type 8: The Leader
Motivated by sheer force of will: self-confident, decisive, dominating, combative
(Defining fault: lust)
Eights always know what they want, and they are willing to reshape the world to get it. In their best incarnations, they are powerful leaders who build enduring institutions and fiercely protect the people in their care. In their worst incarnations, they can become destructively narcissistic, carelessly destroying other people in pursuit of their own success. For eights, the concept of “lust” may be literal or metaphorical—but what they want, they want intensely. Eights are always very strong personalities, and they tend to seek out positions of authority.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Motivated by the need to achieve peace: receptive, optimistic, complacent, disengaged
(Defining fault: sloth)
Nines value tradition, stability, and comfort; they’re intuitively empathetic. In their best incarnation, they are natural diplomats, who will have the clarity of thought to identify the core of a conflict and the conviction to resolve it in a way that benefits as many people as possible. In their worst incarnations, they will passively pretend that conflicts don’t exist and ignore any evidence to the contrary, even when people around them are suffering. Nines tend to be open-minded and accepting; they like to consider all of the possible angles before taking action. (And they’re the least likely to want to be defined as a “type,” because they’re so open-minded that they’ll relate to elements of all of the personality types.)
Do any of those sound like you? Do any of them sound like your dad? Figuring out the pattern can help you to come to terms with your own potential strengths and weakness, and it can help you to better appreciate your dad’s strengths and forgive (or accommodate for) some of his weaknesses.
FYI: Most enneagram experts agree that each personality type will also have an adjacent sub-type or “wing.” For example, if you’re a 7, you’d be either a 7:6 or a 7:8. If you’re a 4, you’d be either a 4:3 or a 4:5. If you read the sub-type descriptions carefully, you’ll generally find that one sounds much more “true” to you.
If you want to take the full-length Enneagram personality test for free, check out this website: https://enneaapp.com/find-your-type/ (It takes about 15 minutes.)
If you’d rather pay a fee and take the test from the actual Enneagram Institute, check out this website: https://tests.enneagraminstitute.com
Either way, the test is much most interesting if you get other people to take it at the same time and compare results. Once you have your primary personality type, you can look up more of the details about each type here: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-descriptions.
But if you’re in a rush, you know yourself pretty well, and you think that you can figure it out on your own, consider the following scenarios (broken down by personality type):
If you dad were seriously ill, what would you prefer to do?:
- Look up all of the symptoms on WebMD. Make sure that he has the right hydration and the right medications. Check in to make sure that he’s taking everything on the proper schedule.
- Put together a homemade care package. Come over to see how he’s doing and to make sure that all his needs are being met.
- Buy his medicines. Make sure that the house is clean and that he has soup. Make sure that his employer is informed of his illness. Make sure that his responsibilities have all been deferred or delegated.
- Write a song about how terrible it feels to be sick. Play the song for him. Play the song for others, until they all share in the experience of how terrible it feels to be really sick.
- Research his illness. Write a paper about the incidence of illness in his demographic and geographical area. Note your dad in the acknowledgements when it’s published.
- Put together a collection at the office, so that everyone can sympathize, sign a card, and contribute toward his medical expenses.
- Come over, entertain him, tease him, buy/cook him an especially enticing dish, and make him laugh until he forgets how miserable he’s feeling.
- Initiate a hostile takeover of a pharmaceutical company. Send an exploratory team to the jungle in pursuit of new pharmacological breakthroughs.
- Spend a lot of time just hanging out with him while he’s down. Make sure that he doesn’t feel alone. Sit next to him while you watch a favorite movie or share family memories.
Or, in a different scenario. If war breaks out, you might enlist primarily because:
- …it’s the right thing to do.
- …someone you care about enlisted, and you have to watch his/her back.
- …you’re not a coward, you’re a winner. And you’re going to prove it.
- …it’s the most intense experience in the world.
- …someone has to build the bridges and field-test the new equipment.
- …everyone you care about is at risk.
- …it’s an incredible adventure.
- …you want to take over the world.
- …we can’t come home until the conflict is resolved.
The trick is to remember that there isn’t a “best” type, but there are good strategies for playing to each type’s strengths and weaknesses.
What does your best look like?