We know to go to the doctor when we’re sick. But there’s a reason that part of staying healthy includes going in for a more thorough checkup even when we think nothing is wrong. It’s this pause for deeper analysis that can show us symptoms we might have overlooked or expose problems we didn’t even know to look for.
Like an annual doctor’s visit, the Enneagram offers metrics for levels of health—helping us uncover symptoms that may point to a larger problem and offering guidance for a path to improved well-being.
This health isn’t related to cholesterol levels, but rather an all-encompassing investigation into our emotional and mental condition. Ashton Whitmoyer-Ober, MA, a psychologist and Enneagram coach who authored The Enneagram for Relationships and is the co-host of the podcast Say Enneathing, explains that using the Enneagram to talk about health is individual to each person. “It’s asking, ‘How do we live into who we were created to be?’ and ‘How do we become the best version of ourselves?’” she says.
Maintaining optimal health is no easy feat, which is why most people idle in survival mode. “It’s really hard to be a healthy version of your type,” Whitmoyer-Ober says. “The expectations of who we think we need to be versus who we actually are and the limitations that people put on us to act a certain way—we think people will love us or accept us more if we hide parts of ourselves.”
The Enneagram can challenge us to the point of discomfort, but the alternative means denying who we really are. Is your well-being declining and inflicting harm on those around you? Or are you simply surviving but want to develop into a person who thrives even under stress?
Take the Enneagram checkup below to reveal symptoms you might be ignoring and to discover tangible ways to improve your health and the way you interact with the world around you.
New to the Enneagram? This article is Part 2 in our Enneagram series. Click here to read Part 1 and identify your type.
Type One – The Perfectionist
Righteous, responsible, disciplined
Declining: When a One is unhealthy, nothing is ever good enough. Perfection is the unwavering goal and it is expected of every person, system and project they mingle with. Their judgement is swift and their need to be right is paramount, even if they don’t win.
Surviving: Mistakes are still an unacceptable failure for an average One, but they don’t consume them. Their need for improvement in the world around them is channeled into an energy to fix things, whether it be fighting against injustice or making sure others follow the rules.
Thriving: A healthy One recognizes that their way may not be the best or only way. They appreciate people who function differently than they do and can accept and appreciate their imperfect environment while remaining morally heroic.
Concerning Symptom: Harsh criticism of others
Prescription for better health: Listen without offering solutions
Type Two – The Helper
Supportive, nurturing, relational
Declining: An unhealthy Two has nothing left in the tank for themselves. They give until it hurts and then give some more in the hopes that their recipient will love them or reciprocate. They don’t know how to say “no” and live in resentment over all that they do for others.
Surviving: People pleasing, loving and warm, an average Two appears healthy because of how endearing they are to those around them. In reality, their good intentions are grounded in a desperate attempt to gain the approval of others.
Thriving: Giving and philanthropy come from a place of selflessness when a Two is healthy. They set firm boundaries for what they are willing to share or give and humbly acknowledge when they need a break.
Concerning Symptom: Exhaustion
Prescription for better health: Practice saying “no”
Type Three – The Achiever
Ambitious, motivated, hardworking
Declining: When success is on the line, an unhealthy Three will do whatever it takes to avoid failure, even if that means stepping on others to get ahead or cutting corners to get there quicker. Their competitive streak runs deep and they must avoid losing at all costs.
Surviving: Image is everything for an average Three, so performance is a high priority. They are able to ground their goals and achievements in reality, but struggle to separate their worth from their success.
Thriving: Achievements are still a challenging thrill, but trophies are not the name of the game for a healthy Three. They are ambitious go-getters who help carry teams across the finish line and show care for others by doing.
Concerning Symptom: Comparing yourself to others
Prescription for better health: Play without keeping score
Type Four – The Individualist
Unique, sensitive, innovative
Declining: An unhealthy Four spends a tremendous amount of time wallowing in their self-assigned shame. Their emotions crash into them as they recall all the ways they are deficient, and their relationships suffer from this manipulative pity party.
Surviving: Average Fours are fanatical about authenticity and tend to distinguish themselves from the crowd through inventive or odd ways. This self-exploration is usually an attempt to get noticed or be admired, but the outside world may describe them as moody, melodramatic or chaotic—critiques an average Four will take personally.
Thriving: Emotions are still rampant for a healthy Four but they are comfortable feeling them without embellishing or acting on them. They are exquisitely creative and driven, and have learned how to stay true to their individuality without the complexities of guilt and shame.
Concerning Symptom: Playing the victim
Prescription for better health: Acknowledge beauty in the ordinary
Type Five – The Thinker
Reserved, informed, private
Declining: An unhealthy Five lives with a scarcity mindset, isolating themselves from even those closest to them in an effort to conserve their perceived limited amounts of energy and brainpower. This protective barrier can lead them to shut themselves off from others and emit a cynical, judgmental attitude.
Surviving: Emotional detachment is common for an average Five because they rely so heavily on logic. Their intellectual dexterity leads them to constantly work through social situations in their mind, but this can also lead them to disengage if they sense they might be inept or appear uninformed.
Thriving: Instead of shutting down, a healthy Five turns to observation when they find themselves needing to conserve energy. With their wide range of knowledge, they welcome new perspectives and comfortably participate with others.
Concerning Symptom: Hoarding emotional or physical resources
Prescription for better health: Splurge by investing in a conversation
Type Six – The Guardian
Loyal, witty, prepared
Declining: No place is safe for an unhealthy Six. Since they feel they can’t trust others or themselves, their paranoia leads them to put an unhealthy amount of confidence in whatever authority figure helps calm their fears, even if that authority is undeserving.
Surviving: Security and safety is an average Six’s highest priority, so they spend a tremendous amount of energy planning for the worst-case scenarios that play out in their minds. They present themselves as organized problem-solvers, when in reality they are using preparation to manage their own angst.
Thriving: “Everything will be all right” is the saying of a healthy Six. While they still value security, their diligent productivity is now focused on contributing toward the common good. They are honest and reliable, and their natural acuity for discerning trustworthiness makes them an excellent judge of character.
Concerning Symptom: Constant suspicion of others
Prescription for better health: Meditation
Type Seven – The Enthusiast
Adventurous, spontaneous, optimistic
Declining: Sitting still is too painful for an unhealthy Seven, so they eagerly escape the quiet of their own thoughts by bouncing from one exhilarating activity to the next. They have a sense of inadequacy and believe their environment is lacking, which leaves them hungry for instant gratification and prone to reckless behavior or even addiction.
Surviving: The average Seven might keep the group entertained with their lively demeanor, but this is only to mask glimmers of insecurity and sadness with fun. Popularity is their calling card, and yet committing to any one person or group is arduous for their emotional muscles.
Thriving: A healthy Seven can rest in awe of all the feelings life has to offer, including pain and grief. They no longer seek constant distraction, and can appreciate contentment in what they have already found, instead of turning to something or someone new.
Concerning Symptom: Ghosting family or long-time friends
Prescription for better health: Be present even when it hurts
Type Eight – The Boss
Bold, dominant, tough
Declining: An unhealthy Eight who has been wronged will almost certainly exact revenge and leave destruction in their wake. If they feel controlled, they will unleash their insensitive, divisive and potentially violent side.
Surviving: Although they still maintain their independence and have little tolerance for weakness, the average Eight channels their aggression into a “leader of the pack” mentality and becomes protective of the underdog. They are willing to fight for what’s right, but demand that their followers live by a “my way or the highway” philosophy.
Thriving: The assertive and bold nature of a healthy Eight makes them incomparable leaders who use their courage in heroic ways. They are still the most powerful presence in the room, but they have learned to temper their gusto to allow for collaboration and team input.
Concerning Symptom: Never losing an argument
Prescription for better health: Apologize often and sincerely
Type Nine – The Peacemaker
Easygoing, harmonious, amiable
Declining: It’s likely an unhealthy Nine would rather bury their head in the sand than speak their mind. Because conflict is so difficult, they choose to disassociate themselves from the situation and become numb to their own desires, which can lead to toxic coping mechanisms and unbridled passive aggression.
Surviving: An average Nine appears affable because they tend to go along with whatever the group decides and are the friend who says “You pick” when choosing a restaurant. They are willing to stand up for their opinions where it concerns others and can be quite stubborn, but still deny their own passions.
Thriving: Mediation is the gift of a healthy Nine. Able to consider all sides, including their own, they are influential negotiators and can arbitrate difficult situations with skill. They are unafraid to own their opinions and are a steady, calm presence for those around them.
Concerning Symptom: Mimicking others’ opinions
Prescription for better health: Choose the restaurant
Everyone has learned misbehaviors and coping mechanisms that hold them back, but when the status quo is already paying the bills, it can be difficult to want to put in the emotional exertion that change requires. “I think people get comfortable when things are working for them, so they don’t feel like they need to achieve anything higher,” Whitmoyer-Ober says. “I have people who come to me thinking they are healthy—because we’re human and like to think the best of ourselves—but through challenging conversations realize they have a lot of work to do.”
Sustained well-being is a process, but one that can greatly benefit our families, office cultures and communities. What the Enneagram offers to that process is clarity. Like a mirror, it reflects back to us the power we could ignite if we would lean into our most authentic selves, and the potential pitfalls and hazards that await us if we settle for survival mode and ultimately reject who we truly are and what we bring to the world.
“I tell my clients to think about their life right now, and to consider what their life would like look in a year from now or in five years from now if they were to do nothing,” Whitmoyer-Ober says. “A lot of times, people are not OK with being in the exact same spot.”
Photo by @chalejoelthis/Twenty20.com