The Enneagram Helps Me Understand My Family (Part 1)


Have you ever wished that your family was different?

Scratch that. Have you ever thought, “If only my family members all thought and acted like I do, things would be so much BETTER! SO much EASIER!”

People are fascinating, complex creatures. Our deep complexity makes us so interesting, but it also makes us confusing (or frustrating) to others! None of us think the same, operate the same, feel the same, or act the same as everyone else. Additionally, we all have hidden motives behind our words and actions. Nowhere do these differences get highlighted more than within the inner workings of a family.

A few years ago, I learned about the Enneagram, which is a model of personality that is based on nine basic human motives. Though I am no Enneagram expert, I’d like to tell you about how the Enneagram helps me understand my family. My hope is that you’ll see yourself and a few of your loved ones reflected here as well.

As philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”

I have found that the study of the Enneagram has enlarged my heart for my family members. I hope it does the same for you!

What Is the Enneagram?

Called To Write’s website has a helpful image that sums up the Enneagram’s model quite nicely. The Enneagram posits that there are nine basic personality types. Our “type” is the main lens through which we view and react to the world.

If you’d like to know your type, I recommend taking the RHETI test from The Enneagram Institute. Though your Enneagram type certainly does not encapsulate all that you are, it will help you understand yourself better. Also, I found that when I was able to see my default reactions and perceptions, I felt empowered to override them when necessary. It’s also helped me identify areas in which I can grow. You may just find your superpower, as ABQ Mom’s Vanessa did!

Every type is needed and every type is valuable!

Type One: The Reformer

Think: Moana.

Reformers seek “rightness” above all. They seek to do, think, and be right in all areas of life. Reformers see the world’s imperfections and seek to right them. They deeply care about improving themselves, their families, their communities, and the world at large.

Here is my father-in-law (in black) attending a graduation in Bolivia for a young woman whom he sponsored and mentored.

My father-in-law is a reformer. He retired in 2019 but is busier now than he ever was when he was “working.” Why? Now he is heading up or on the board or volunteering with a great number of organizations that operate to essentially make the world a better place. He is passionate about people and making things right.

I used to worry that I could never live up to his standards of what a wife, mom, and general good person might be. However, I’ve come to realize that while he holds very high standards for himself, he has the greatest depth of grace and understanding for others’ imperfections. He is so aware of areas in which he believes he falls short and has a loud inner critic. He is eager to help others silence their inner critic, cancel their faults with grace, and help them feel the freedom to be a flawed human.

Type ones need to hear: “You are good!”

Type Two: The Helper

Think: Anna (Frozen)

Helpers seek to be loved and appreciated above all. Not surprisingly, they love and appreciate others exceedingly well. Helpers are sincere, genuine, and . . . you guessed it, amazingly helpful.

Barb and Andy

My mom and mother-in-law are both twos, which is amazing. They never hesitate to drop everything to help us out. Both have come to our rescue countless times over the years. They are both excellent listeners and generous in every way. We’ve said hundreds of times, “We don’t know what we would EVER do without them!”

While learning about the Enneagram, I’ve come to find out that twos are sometimes fearful that the rest of us only want them around for what they do for us. Also, they may fear that the people they love will abandon them when they don’t need them anymore. Knowing this, I try to consciously love my moms without “strings attached.” Inviting them out to lunch or over for dinner just because, sending flowers just to say “I love you,” or going the extra mile on birthdays are a few ways I try to love and appreciate these wonderful women.

Type twos need to hear: “You are wanted!”

Type Three: The Achiever

Think: Lightning McQueen

Achievers are just that. They are success-driven, ambitious, and inspiring. You may have a type three on your hands if you have a child who seeks attention in big ways, easily charms others, and loves to smash expectations!

When his coach tells him to do 8 pull-ups, Ajay does 10.

I believe my youngest son may be a type three. He tends to compare himself to others to determine how he’s measuring up. He excels in school, has a multitude of friends, and pushes himself to smash goals others make for him. Because he is image-conscious, he is often greatly tempted to be deceitful. So, we try to be intentional about sending him the message that he is accepted and loved for who he is, not for what he accomplishes.

Type threes need to hear: “You are loved!”

Type Four: The Artist/Individualist

Think: Alice in Wonderland

Much like diamonds, type fours are rare and wonderful. They are deep thinkers and feelers. They seek, above all, to be different, to stand out, and to be totally unique. So much of the beautiful poetry, music, and visual art we have in the world was created by Enneagram fours!

Em Hair
Em Frog
Em Joker
Em and Petie

This is Emery, my niece. Isn’t she amazingly unique? This girl has courage, strength, and compassion for DAYS. I mean . . . do you know any other little girls who would choose to be The Joker for Halloween? How about literally anyone at all who raises moth babies in their bedroom? And that Pomeranian in the picture? He hates all humans, and yet allows Em to hold him like that. I think he knows she is a safe person to be real with. She truly loves with her whole heart.

The Artists/Individualists among us can sometimes be misunderstood. Their attempts to express themselves in distinct ways can strike us as attention-seeking behavior. However, they abhor the idea of fitting in and being ordinary. They want to make truly unique contributions to the world. And deep down, they fear that they’re missing something they’ll never find. Em has shown me the beauty of standing out, no matter what reaction one gets from the “in” crowd.

Type Fours Need To Hear: “You are one of a kind!”

Check out Part Two to learn more about Enneagram types 5-9!

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here