When I meet people who may have their Enneagram type identified incorrectly, there are subtle and not so subtle clues they give off that indicate what they think their type is may not be accurate. Here are a few things I’ve noticed:
Clue # 1
The person has some of the characteristics of the type they think they are, but absolutely no other more significant qualities.
In these cases, the person often relates to some of the more superficial qualities of a type – for example, thinking they are a Two and people-oriented – but not the core issues of Two such as intuitively reading other people easily or taking pride in helping and/or advising others or events in which they are involved work out effectively.
Clue # 2
The behavioral characteristics of the person do not align with the type they think they are.
As an example, the person is not good at and doesn’t like details or hands-on work, yet they think they are a type One. Ones thrive on details, are diligent about them, and become very adept at checking off their lists of things done right. No detail is really too small for them. Another example would be a person who thinks they are an Eight, but is literally easy to move – that is, not at all grounded – and is more timid than asserting and more cerebral than instinctual.
Here, however, it is important for us not to be too limited or stereotypical in our thinking. For example, a man who teaches the Enneagram recently told me I couldn’t be a Two because I speak directly and Twos, in his view, never speak directly. I had to explain to him that I have had years of training as a Gestalt therapist, where we are trained thoroughly in the art of direct speaking. Moreover, I assured him, that I had spent even more years as a T-Group trainer with NTL, helping groups of strangers learn how to express their real feelings in real-time and their thoughts in direct language. I am sure, even now, this trainer has a one-dimensional view of type; a person who talks directly cannot be a Two, no matter what!
They are either tentative when they say what their type is or, the opposite; they state their type with such certainty that they give the message that it is not OK to even question them.
By tentative, I mean that the person states their type, but does so with a questioning tone. Or, the person might say that someone told them that they were that type, but has little else to say. The contrasting idea is someone who is so 100% certain of their type, they don’t even want, under any conditions, to explore other possibilities. For most people, defining their type accurately comes from a great deal of introspection and self-reflection and though they may be fairly certain of their type, they are willing to discuss it or explore it as long as the person with whom they are talking is also exploratory and open-minded.
The sole determiner of their type was a test and the individual has done little reflection on its accuracy. If this is combined with some of the above clues that raise questions about the type, it is likely they need to consider other types.
More and more, people are coming to programs already knowing something about the system or having taken an online test. While this is a good signal as to their interest, it can be more difficult to get them to engage in genuine exploratory work related to their type.
Clue # 5
They don’t have any direct understanding of some of the core psychological elements of the type they think they are, even when these are fully explained to them.
The best example is how they relate to and understand the primary defense mechanism that goes with the type they think they are: reaction formation (1); repression (2); identification (3); introjection (4); compartmentalization (5); projection (6); rationalization-reframing (7); denial (8); and narcotization (9). In my “Coaching with the Enneagram” certificate program, I review each of these defense mechanisms and ask the participants, by type group, to give concrete examples of their particular defense mechanism. It is a great litmus test because if people have their type wrong, it is near impossible to come up with a compelling example. I’ve seen many people who thought they were 7s not be able to give an effective example of reframing. Often, but not always, they are 6s with 7 wings. I’ve also seen some who say they are 6s not be adept at projection; almost always, the examples 6s give are hilarious.
When people who have mistyped themselves “find their home” on the Enneagram, they usually relax (and look really relaxed), act more spontaneously, and find that their patterns (emotional, mental and behavioral) suddenly make perfect sense and fit together or are more aligned. To observe this in another is a beautiful thing. But it can take time, patience, and exploration on the part of the person and the teacher who is guiding them.