I’ve had a lot of people ask me over the years why I spend so much time talking, thinking and reading about the Enneagram personality test. I know it seems intimidating at first, or you might think it must be overly simplistic if it can fit every person into 9 boxes. But the truth is that the Enneagram is one of the best tools I’ve ever found for understanding myself and knowing my friends and family better. In short: if you love people, you’ll love the Enneagram.
When you start reading descriptions of the nine Enneagram types, you’ll quickly start to recognize your own friends in the words. “Sacrificial to a fault,” or “can find common ground with anyone” or “needs plenty of alone time to study and read.” We all know people in our lives that fit these descriptions. People can be so hard to understand sometimes, even (and sometimes especially) the ones you’re close to, and the Enneagram is there to help you bridge those gaps. I know that my Mediator (or Type 9) friends are more likely to repress their opinions and feelings so I make sure to create space for them to feel heard. I know not to take it personally when my Observer (Type 5) friends need time, space and quiet to recharge. And I know to take it easy on my Perfectionist (Type 1) friends for wanting certain things “just so.” I also know that, as a Type 6 or Loyalist, I’m more likely to overthink, anticipate negative outcomes, or worry about the intentions of those close to me, and now that I know those things about myself it’s become increasingly easier to not let those instincts dominate my life.
How the Enneagram Informs Relationships
At its root, the Enneagram is for understanding the different needs and perspectives that make people who they are. I use the Enneagram every day to improve communication and strengthen relationships by looking at how it informs peoples’ needs, insecurities, and potential sources of conflict. Every Enneagram type has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s so illuminating to be aware of both.
Read below to learn more about the 9 Enneagram types and how to have the best relationship with each one.
Type 1: The Perfectionist
Type 1s are born knowing there is a right way to do everything and, as luck would have it, their way is the right one every time. Type 1s tend to have a lot of rules, and prefer to see the world in shades of black and white. Their strong moral core combined with this uncompromising approach to life might cause friction with types who are more ambiguous or nebulous, and the confusion is mutual. If you’ve ever met someone who has an organizer for their organizers, that person is a Type 1.
Overall, Type 1s need order, cleanliness and for everything to be right. Because their understanding of “right” is so absolute, it can stress them out if they’re anywhere near someone doing something wrong. When you’re in a Type 1’s space, you need to respect that everything is in a certain place for a reason, and follow any rules or boundaries they set up carefully because they’re important. Whether it’s a shoes off rule or a certain system for deciding who gets to pick the movie, any system that a Type 1 has constructed is important for them to maintain their version of order.
Every type on the Enneagram has a central need, and because of this they also each have their own unspoken fears. For Type 1s, this fear is that they’ll never be good enough. You might think they have high expectations for others, but those are nothing compared to the expectations they have for themselves. The fatal flaw with pursuing perfection all the time is that you might trick yourself into thinking you can attain it, making each failure or shortcoming sting even more.
If you love a Type 1, be aware of their inner critic. If they sound disappointed in the outcome of a project or pursuit, it’s important to affirm the effort and let them know their value exists regardless of their achievements. Make sure your critiques are loving and solution-oriented so they don’t feed the common Type 1 perception that failure makes them unworthy of love.
Potential Sources of Conflict
Because Type 1s can be uncompromising, it’s easy to drift into disagreements over even minor things. You might notice they always put the remotes back in the same spot, or correct your method of cleaning even if yours feels adequate to you. If these things aren’t particularly important to you, I’d suggest just letting the 1 do what they feel is right, but don’t be afraid to voice how you feel. Type 1s want to be good at relationships the same way they want to be good at everything else, so calmly approaching them with a problem and asking them to solve it with you will usually yield good results.
Type 2: The Helper
Enneagram type 2s are interesting for a lot of reasons. You could describe them as the kindest, most selfless type in the Enneagram, and in a way you’d be right. Type 2s have an almost supernatural ability to read the people around them, identifying their needs and accommodating them in ways that might go completely unnoticed. 2s are the ones that will volunteer to drive your cousin’s girlfriend’s roommate to the airport at 6am, insisting the entire time that it’s no big deal. In some ways, 2s thrive on connection more than any other type; they value relationships above everything else, but this emphasis can also put them in some tight spots if it’s not handled healthily.
It might sound cliché, but a Type 2’s number one need is just to be needed. They work overtime to create space for themselves in the lives of those around them, filling and sometimes even fostering needs where they find them. Type 2s worry more than other types about their place in others’ lives; their focus on connection makes it hard for them to see their own value apart from their relationships.
Deep down, a Type 2 has a fear that if nobody needed them, then nobody would want them around. This is what drives them to (sometimes insane) lengths to prove to others how valuable they can be. 2s use reciprocation as a measuring stick, sometimes on an extremely minute level, to help them make sense of their place in the world, which is why it’s so important to treat them as they treat others: with kindness and attentiveness.
Potential Sources of Conflict
Because 2s are so good at anticipating needs, they can make it very hard to reciprocate. “I don’t want to be a burden,” is a common Type 2 catchphrase; they worry that taking instead of giving will exhaust those around them. Ironically, often reciprocation is the exact thing 2s are looking for, even if they can’t let themselves admit it. If you find your Type 2 sulking after a milestone that they insisted they didn’t want to make a big deal out of, it’s likely they secretly did, very much, want to make a big deal out of it and just couldn’t communicate it for fear of rejection. The easiest way to avoid these conflict sand traps is by making it clear that your love won’t vanish the second your Type 2 needs help or can’t provide a service to you. Making a 2 feel safe that they’re valued no matter what should always be a priority; make it clear that speaking their needs is both important and helpful to you as a friend or partner.
Type 3: The Achiever
The definition of a social chameleon, Type 3s like to read their surroundings and figure out the best way to shine. 3s are driven by success and achievement, but this can take so many forms. Type 3s turn up different facets of their personalities to become the embodiment of success wherever they find themselves. In professional settings, this makes them driven ladder climbers and excellent networkers who dominate their goals. In social settings you’ll often find the 3 at the center of the action, absolutely sparkling as they share the perfect anecdote or offer a well-timed quip. 3s are often one of the most goal-oriented types, always pursuing personal betterment and evolution with a laser focus.
Because 3s tend to define success by what others think it is, they can often lose track of their inner needs and desires in favor of the perceptions of those around them. It’s easy for a 3 to get so caught up in projecting different versions of themselves that they forget their truest form, or start to think it’s unimportant. A 3’s drive to both appear and be successful can overshadow every other one of their other needs and can make them avoid vulnerability or owning up to mistakes or missteps.
Enneagram Type 3s are often focused on output and appearances and it can be easy for them to think that they’re only as good as their last success. This type can have workaholic tendencies and can have a hard time making space for anything that doesn’t fit into their 5 year plan. This can lead them to neglect relationships or self care, especially when it comes to resting and relaxation.
Potential Sources of Conflict
Because 3s are naturals at editing themselves to suit their surroundings, this tendency can also show up in conflict. A 3 might be averse to apologizing because it forces them to admit they made a mistake, something that goes against everything they work for. They don’t like to linger in uncomfortable conflict, especially if it’s the result of a mistake they made; they would rather “edit” the record so that this mistake never happened. Getting a 3 to sit down and own up to their part in an argument can be a tall order. One way to soften a 3’s editing reflex is to start a conversation with positive affirmations and reminders of things they’re good at before addressing your problem.
Type 4: The Romantic
If you have a friend who always says they feel they’re destined to be famous (or to die young), then congratulations: you know a Type 4. 4s define themselves by their uniqueness and individuality; more than any other type a 4 believes they are set apart in some way from everyone else on earth. This pursuit of individuality shows up all over a Type 4’s life: they tend to be very creative in their free time, pick up eclectic hobbies, listen to bands nobody’s ever heard of, and put thought and care into every wardrobe decision. 4s also tend to be extremely connected to their inner emotions; they generally have no problem getting deep or vulnerable and expect their openness to be matched by their partners and loved ones.
Type 4s need to feel special and unique, and they also want to feel affirmed in that individuality. They feel the need to define themselves and their personal style in everything they do, separating themselves from the rest of the world with every choice they make. Type 4s work overtime to make sure every moment sparkles with joy or is at least cinematically tragic; they are allergic to appearing ordinary or being forced to experience the mundane.
Because Type 4s are so in touch with their emotions, don’t shy away from negative feelings and define themselves by their separation from others, it’s easy for them to get wrapped in melancholy or loneliness. They feel things very deeply and can rankle at anyone who tries to discount their reactions as “over the top.” 4s spend a lot of time daydreaming and idealizing; this is a trait that can be very charming but can also keep them from being present to enjoy the things that are right in front of them.
Potential Sources of Conflict
Because 4s tend to stay in touch with their emotions, conflicts can quickly turn dramatic or melancholic without much prodding. Most 4s have an underlying sense that they’re separate from everyone else, so it’s easy for them to believe that a small disagreement today will lead to a huge, irresolvable conflict someday in the future. 4s can have a strong fear of abandonment and they carry their deepest emotions close to the surface, meaning that even a minor disagreement might unlock some powerful feelings for them. A Type 4 is predisposed to feeling misunderstood, so it’s important to make sure they feel heard and acknowledged in any conflict.
Type 5: The Observer
Every time I’m asked to describe a Type 5, I always have to fight the temptation to start with “Picture a mad scientist, comfortably running experiments alone in his immaculately kept lab surrounded by stacks and stacks of books.” I know not everyone hears “mad scientist” and thinks it’s a compliment, but that’s how I mean it. 5s know how to build an inner sanctum unlike any other, and not just physically. You’ll know a 5 by their tendency to stockpile knowledge they find useful, important, or even just interesting.
5s are built a bit differently than other types; they’re the most introverted type on the Enneagram, requiring tons of alone time and space to themselves to thrive. This, combined with a tendency to distance themselves from strangers, can give Type 5s a reputation for being cold or antisocial. However, both of these characteristics come from a central need that 5s have to conserve and hold onto their resources. 5s base a lot of security in the resources they amass; whether it’s time, energy or knowledge, 5s guard what they have with a ferocity. Because of this, they’re more likely to hesitate when they’re asked to give their time or energy away, worrying about the potential drain to their reserves.
Whether a 5 realizes it or not, their tendency to hoard stems from an instinct for self preservation and a fear of being caught unprepared. This is also what can keep them from trust or vulnerability. 5s are as protective of their hearts as they are of their physical spaces and are careful about who they allow in. A 5’s trust is valuable; it usually takes a long time to earn, but being allowed into a Type 5’s inner circle is always a gift.
Potential Sources of Conflict
Because 5s are so internally oriented and preservation-minded, they can be hard to understand or communicate with at first. 5s are likely to believe they have everything they need on their own and have no problem shutting the world out if it starts presenting problems or inconveniences. A 5’s first line of defense in a conflict is often to simply close themselves off and freeze others out, circling the wagons until they can arrive at their own conclusions. A 5 might not be particularly in touch with their emotions, preferring knowledge and logic, so it’s always important to approach them calmly and reasonably. Appearing defensive or emotional might make them feel attacked because emotionally charged situations can be very taxing on their reserves.
Type 6: The Loyalist
As a 6, I often think about how well the type’s two names, The Loyalist and The Skeptic, explain the type’s priorities. We 6s value our relationships highly, putting a lot of effort into our connections to people they’ve chosen to trust. Trust is a big deal to 6s because our other main identifier is being reserved, cautious and sometimes downright suspicious about the world around them.
It’s definitely true that Type 6 is known for overthinking and over-anticipating danger, whether it’s double-checking the locks or planning an entire conversation in advance. We tend to be more reactionary, and have an instinct for self-preservation that can keep us distant from people we don’t know very well. But here’s the strength of The Loyalist: we don’t just crave security and stability, we create those things for the people around us as well. We tend to check in with the people in our lives; we desire community so we tend to create communities. The hyper-awareness that can make us reactionary also means we’re always noticing the little things around us and remembering details about others. If you have a friend who lives far away but always manages to check in when you’ve had a major achievement or experienced a hardship, you probably have a 6 in your life.
Above all else Type 6 wants to feel safe and secure. You can see this need show up in every sphere of our lives, from our small but deep circles of friends to our regular calls to loved ones to a strong precedent of asking a thousand questions before going somewhere new for the first time. I have not yet met a Type 6 that doesn’t hate surprises, or, at least, being told that there’s going to be a surprise and given no other information. 6s tend to react poorly to changes when they’re sprung on us unexpectedly and might need more time to adjust to new information than other types.
At the deepest level, a Type 6 believes that they can prevent anything bad from ever happening if only they try hard enough. When you see a Type 6 triple-checking that the oven is off or avoiding products with parabens or checking in on a friend who’s going through a hard time, it’s because they know that if they didn’t, something terrible would happen. On a minor level, a 6’s tendency to anticipate can be useful or even convenient: they’re usually the ones to think to call a restaurant to make sure it’s open on Mondays before you get in the car, or move a glass of water from a precarious position before it’s knocked over. However, if this thinking goes unchecked, it can make a 6 feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders and they can start freezing (or consulting everyone they know) when asked to make even the smallest decision.
Potential Sources of Conflict
If you’re close to a Type 6, it won’t be long before you encounter some of their “foibles;” circling back to make sure the cat was in or a burner is off or the car wasn’t too far from the curb is bound to feel tedious sometimes. As a 6, I’ve learned that the most productive way to treat these impulses is by greeting them with gratitude, receiving the information, and letting it go. Yes, the car might be parked a bit far from the curb, thank you, but it probably won’t be the end of the world. It’s a careful line to walk, but being supportive and loving while also being gently inquisitive about the feelings behind the fears can be a helpful way to approach a 6 when they seem stressed out.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Enneagram Type 7s are some of the most fun people to be around, because having fun is one of their top missions in life. Type 7s spend their time chasing joy, fun, happiness, adventure… pretty much any sensation on the positive side of the spectrum. While this means there’s never a dull moment while they’re around, this love for the fun parts of life can also translate to an aversion for anything negative or serious. 7s desire freedom above anything else, which can make them hesitant to take on any longterm commitments or obligations.
A Type 7 feels their happiest when they feel their most free, untethered by complications or situations that keep them bogged down. This means many 7s rankle at responsibility and might have a lifelong aversion to a 9-to-5 career path, but on a deeper level they just want to be able to choose the life they want, every day. This type tends to always have a new passion or project to chase, and feels the happiest when they’re in the “Honeymoon phase” with one of these projects, before their interest wanes and their attention is captured by something new.
Type 7s might seem like they’re chasing positives, but that’s only half the story. Instead they might often be fleeing negatives. 7s have a fear of experiencing pain or letdowns; they don’t let themselves process anything bad, instead opting to jump ahead to the next emotional high. Type 7s also tend to have a fear of missing out on anything which can keep them from being present. The way that potential adventures look in a 7’s mind almost always outshines their current reality, meaning they can find themselves in a cycle of disappointment followed by chasing the next new thing.
Potential Sources of Conflict
It can be extremely hard to get a 7 to sit through a conversation about a miscommunication, disagreement, or violated boundary because they simply would prefer not to deal. Because they’re so easily bored and always on the move, they might test their partners’ ability to improvise, demanding flexibility and spontaneity to a fault. They see reality as more changeable than other types, meaning that there’s very little they hold sacred or even take seriously.
Type 8: The Challenger
I have a vivid memory of sitting on a bench outside my college dorm while one of my friends took the Enneagram test. He laughed when he came across a certain question: “Life is a battle, and I intend to win it. That’s me!” he said. If I had known the Enneagram as well then as I do now, I could have just told him to stop taking the quiz because that sentence was the most Type 8 statement you could ever hope to hear. Type 8s see life through the lens of momentum, or conflict. “No pain, no gain” was definitely coined by an 8. There’s no need to put on kid gloves when you’re dealing with an 8, and you should prepare some thick skin of your own: 8s love to spar, see arguments as a form of play and tend not to take things personally. Their tendency to steer into conflict might attract them to playing the devil’s advocate, but it also makes them champions for others. Type 8s have a strong streak for justice, and they’re more than prepared to level their strength against any bully they encounter.
Enneagram Type 8 Needs
Above all, Type 8s need to appear strong to others. They feel their best when they’re able to present a unified front to the outside world without any flaws or falters. This means 8s can shy away from vulnerability, weakness, or admitting insecurity. They’re big on “faking it till you make it,” and can have a hard time admitting that they need help or don’t understand something.
As much as 8s will show up to champion for others, they also have a strong fear of being controlled or manipulated. This hatred of being controlled combined with their tendency to shoot from the hip can put an 8’s loved ones unwittingly in their crosshairs. An 8 will see no problem “firing back” if they perceive an attempt to control them even if this wasn’t the other person’s intention. When you’re bringing something to an 8’s attention, it’s important to emphasize that you’re not trying to change them, just show them how their actions make you feel.
Potential Sources of Conflict
Enneagram 8s don’t have the negative perception of conflict that most people do; because of this, it’s easy for them to hurt some feelings without even realizing it. 8s tend to be the loudest voices in the room; it doesn’t always occur to them that this means they’re speaking over someone else. 8s pride themselves on being direct and honest when they have a problem with someone, and they expect others to do the same. 8s won’t do a lot of work to figure out if someone’s being passive aggressive; they assume if you have an issue with them, you’ll approach them directly.
Type 9: The Mediator
Type 9s have the same chameleon-like tendencies that Type 3s have, with one major difference. While 3s observe others to find the best way to stand out, all 9s will always try to find common ground. Deeply empathic, easy-going and understanding, 9s will often find themselves being asked to lend neutral advice or mediate a conflict. Type 9s are peacekeepers above all else and will do whatever it takes to maintain harmony in their relationships and social circles, even if it costs them greatly.
Enneagram Type 9 Needs
There’s a quote I heard once about Type 9s: that they feel more like environments than people. While I see what it means, this quote always breaks my heart when I think about the 9s in my own life. At their core, a 9 just wants to keep the peace; they’re extremely talented at finding common ground with others and making people feel safe and heard. To accomplish this often involves grinding down, blurring out or obscuring any part of their identity that could invite conflict from others. While this helps them get along with people, it can mean that almost nobody really knows them, and sometimes this even includes themselves. Because 9s are so used to shifting their personalities to fit the people they’re interacting with, they can sometimes lose track of large parts of themselves or even believe those parts aren’t important. Type 9s crave peace above all, and if this means becoming as vague as possible then many 9s see it as a fair trade.
Because 9s are so good at finding common ground with everyone, sometimes it can feel like everyone has a claim on them. Because of this, 9s either end up forgetting parts of themselves or are fiercely defensive of their core identities. A 9 might rankle at someone who tries to get past the layer they share with the outside world because it can feel like they’ve already given so much and want to protect what they have left. On the other hand, a 9 might genuinely not know themselves very well because they’re so used to being whatever others need them to be and can be left believing their own identity isn’t that important.
Potential Sources of Conflict
A 9’s fear of conflict can prevent them from setting boundaries, which can be dangerous. For 9s, accommodation is second nature and it can be easy to hurt a 9 or drain their energy without ever realizing it. If a 9 has a problem with you, you might not ever know until it’s too late. They might equivocate about a hurt or need, leaving enough room to deny everything if it looks like it’ll lead to disruption. Being proactive with 9s is always key if you’re close to one. Repeatedly asking about their needs, boundaries and desires is a good way to help them start identifying these things, and creating a safe, stable space for them to share will help them learn to stop hiding their true feelings. It takes a lot of energy to be a Peacekeeper, so it’s always helpful to ask a 9 before you unload a problem or a frustration on them. They may seem fine to you, but underneath they could be getting drained.
Each number on the Enneagram has a wealth of depth: wants, needs, fears, and quirks that you could spend a lifetime learning about. The truest lesson of the Enneagram is that we all have different drives, perspectives and inner worlds, but that doesn’t mean we can’t understand where someone else is coming from. I hope this Enneagram relationship guide has helped you learn something new about someone close to you or even about yourself; empathy and self-awareness are two of the most important skills a person can have.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram, click here for our roundup of the best Enneagram books for newcomers and experts alike.