Over the years I have done hundreds of Enneagram typing interviews, and one thing that stands out to me is that when people find their type, they seem to relax. It is like they find the key that fits, and the door swings open. This is a beautiful moment, and one of my favorite parts of the typing process. And one question that I sometimes get asked after a person “finds” their Enneagram type is:
“How did I get it wrong before? Am I really that unself-aware?”
The answer is no, people who mistype or feel confused are often self-aware, but they fall prey to certain mistakes. Without assistance, mistyping is common.
One of the most clear examples of this happened in an advanced Enneagram training I attended in the UK. All the participants had a solid foundation in the Enneagram including a British woman in her sixties. As we were divided into groups, she placed herself in the Type 8 Leader/Challenger group. Throughout the training, we participated in several exercises where groups of each Enneagram type shared their thought patterns with the audience.
During these exercises, it seemed more and more evident that this woman didn’t share the thought patterns of the other type 8s. Her answers were different, and she was more controlled, rigid, precise, and correcting than the other Type 8 panelists. She seemed more focused on efficiency rather than power. Eventually, she too started to notice the discrepancies and asked for a typing interview.
I was her interviewer and as we moved through the questions, it was clear she wasn’t thinking like Type 8s think. Her habit of attention wasn’t on power, protection, and vulnerability. She was more interested in efficiency, correctness and being “right.” At the end, she realized she was in fact a Type 1. She visibly relaxed when she realized her Perfectionist Type 1ness.
When we eventually had the conversation of how she had misunderstood that she was a Type 8 for so many years, she explained that she identified strongly with anger and with a need to control. She had never focused on the source of anger (Type 1=incorrectness versus Type 8=vulnerability) or the source of the need to control (Type 8=power versus Type 1= efficiency). She was quite thrilled with her new found knowledge and said she couldn’t wait to get home to tell her husband, a Type 9 Peacemaker. It was a nice ending to a long misunderstanding she had with herself about herself.
From the many Enneagram typing interviews I’ve conducted, I have noticed trends as it relates to mistyping, and below I offer the three most common reasons I see people mistyping themselves.
One: You over identify with a single trait.
The Enneagram is helpful in that it offers a personality profile for each of the nine types (and in fact, for each of the 27 subtype variations). These profiles show trends in personal characteristics and describe behavioral patterns. However, the habit of attention is always at the base of an Enneagram type. Far more important than “what” someone does is “why” they do it.
For example, you will read that Type 7 Enthusiasts have a fixation around planning. This is true and if you are someone who likes to plan, you might imagine yourself a Type 7. However, the real question is “why do you enjoy planning?” Type 7s enjoy imagining a better future. As a Type 7, I love to plan because it makes me feel like I will be happy at some point on the horizon. Type 7s get a great deal of pleasure from this process and for us, planning is a source of fun.
Type 1s also love to plan but they aren’t doing it for pleasure as much as because they love the efficiency of doing it. They like to know that all the details have been addressed, all variables closed off, and that the plan is perfectly orchestrated and ready to go. They are much more focused on getting the details right and much less focused on imagining fun. As you can see, if you settle in on one characteristic at the expense of the overall profile, you may mistype yourself.
Two: The labels misguide you.
To try to make the Enneagram easier to grasp, the Enneagram community has assigned different labels to each of the nine habits of attention. The Type 1 is called the Perfectionist, the Type 2 is called the Helper or Giver, and so on. Because the Enneagram is taught by many teachers, some use different labels but the goal is always to condense the personality profile into a single word that expresses the type.
While this is done to make the system clearer, it sometimes has the opposite effect and causes more confusion. For example, Type 4 is sometimes labeled the Romantic or the Artist. I’ve known people who assumed they must not be a Type 4 because they felt they weren’t creative or overly romantic. While usually called the Investigator or Observer, the Type 5 is sometimes called the Specialist, and I’ve known Type 5s who didn’t think it could be their type since they didn’t specialize in anything. If you focus too much on the label, you may mistype yourself.
Three: You reject a specific personality trait.
To be an Enneagram type, you are “most of the things, most of the time.” This also means there are likely a few traits within your type that may not resonate with you. This can be because you truly don’t have that trait or because you aren’t ready to own it. Both options are valid, but this rejection can lead to confusion.
I interviewed a Type 8 who didn’t relate to anger and so when he read about the Type 8 relationship with anger, he assumed that could not be him. But because everything else seemed to fit, we dug a bit further and the person eventually realized he was a Social Type 8, with a more muted relationship to anger.
I’ve interviewed a woman who was not comfortable claiming her Type 4 habit of attention after she read in an Enneagram book that said sometimes “Type 4s put themselves in the victim role.” This was a trigger for her due to past emotional wounding by her family members in which they told her “you always cry victim.” She rejected the idea she could be a Type 4 for many months until she eventually came to terms with it. Each journey is unique, and each person has the right to go at their own pace.
Rejecting an Enneagram type as your own because you see one trait that doesn’t fit may lead to mistyping. The system is complex and it is important to remember, to be an Enneagram type you are “most of the things, most of the time.”
Enneagram mistyping is not a reflection of flaws in the system as much as it is an acknowledgment of everyone’s personal process and journey. I always say “the Enneagram is useful as far as it is useful to you.” Typing correctly is tremendously beneficial because suddenly, you have a context for your own behavior. Mistyping also holds some benefits because it helps to show you where you might reject or misunderstand part of yourself. The goal is always growth and all paths lead to the same place: compassion for yourself and others.
Wondering if you’ve mistyped yourself? Schedule an online Enneagram typing interview with me here.