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How Your Reaction to Stress Can Help You Find Your Enneagram Type

You’ve probably seen memes about the Enneagram on social media or heard some celebrity mention it. Even though I became interested in the subject a couple of years ago, I’ve hesitated to write about it since I certainly am no expert and it can come across like the latest pop culture fad. In fact, it’s taken me some time to work through it enough to even broach writing about the topic! Read on if you’re curious and want to learn more about finding your Enneagram type or if you’re also an Enneagram fan. 

I first heard of the Enneagram of personality back in 2018, probably from an Instagram post. It sounded vague and strange, and perhaps even a little bit…extreme. (I mean, what is it? A zodiac sign? Some weird cult?) The people who were into it seemed way into it, and no-thank-you-very-much. So I didn’t think too much about it and moved on with my life. 

When I interviewed Kellie Artis of the Milspo Gurus on my podcast, Milspouse Matters, I knew part of her work involved the Enneagram, but I didn’t know much about the topic and figured it would be a small part of our conversation. But in our discussion about helping military spouses find their inner strength to handle stresses and challenges, she asked a question. And though it wasn’t directed at me, it stopped me in my tracks:

“Who were you before life told you who you had to be?”

Wow. My thoughts swirled around that question for days.

How had my mindset towards life changed since I was young? Or had it? Was I really an extroverted giver, like I’d been led to believe I was for many years?

Military life, volunteering, a history of giving up my own plans, and a life of raising children certainly seemed to verify that. But was it who I really was at my core, or more of a learned behavior in response to the environment I found myself?

Why did I make the decisions and move through life in certain ways? Why did I double and triple check locked doors? (And did other people do that?) Why was community so very important to me? Why did I think telling my kids, “Be safe!” when they left the house might somehow magically protect them? And why, if a relationship got too, well… gooey, did I retreat and wrap myself in solitude? Was I actually an introvert? Who knew. 

Suddenly, I was very interested in this whole Enneagram thing.

Learning About the Enneagram

After talking to Kellie (and later, her Milspo Gurus partner, Claire Wood), I devoured every Enneagram resource I could find. For months. But let me backtrack.

enneagram types from Your Enneagram Coach
An overview of the Enneagram types. Image from Your Enneagram Coach.

I’ve always been interested in psychology and the details of personality, and have sat through my share of personality tests and workshops through decades of military spouse conferences and workshops.

I knew I was a ‘Blue’ in True Colors, and a Myers Briggs ENFJ or INFJ–depending on my mood when I took the test. I felt like I had a pretty good handle on my strengths and weaknesses as I headed into my late 40s (and now 50s!). After all, I’ve been a mom, a mother-in-law, and I’m now a Gigi (grandma). I’m in my second career. While of course there are challenges, I love my life. I don’t feel the need to “find myself.”

Do I?

woman looking out window with laptop
Photo by simonapilolla/iStock/Getty Images

Another hurdle in my learning was wanting to be sure the Enneagram jived with my Christian faith. If it didn’t, all bets were off. But come to find out, though it’s not overtly a Christian framework, many of the teachers of the Enneagram are also Christian and support using the Enneagram to lead a more charitable and loving life, which is a good thing.

So back to what I learned. First off, most people associated with the Enneagram will tell you that you can’t find out which type you are (there are 9 types) by taking a quick test. They say the Enneagram is meant to be studied, digested, and then see which description rings most true to you. BUT…if you’ve looked through the types and still can’t figure out which one describes you best, here’s one test you might try: the statistically validated Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales (WEPPS —there’s a small fee) and you also might want to take a look at this synopsis of all nine Enneagram types. (Note: these are just resources I recommend. I have no affilitaion with nor get any sort of compensation for linking to/recommending them.)

hands reaching with heart
Image from Canva

Why does it matter?

For me, understanding your Enneagram number, and perhaps even knowing the types of the people you’re close to, paves the way for insight into why we make the decisions we do, why others are reacting the way they do, and paves a road for understanding towards each other. And that is another good thing. 

From the Enneagram Institute:

The Enneagram (Ennea=9, Gram=Diagram) is simply a map (GPS) for self-discovery and personal growth based on 9 basic personality types. The Enneagram accurately and clearly describes why you think, feel and behave in particular ways based upon your core fears and core desires.

The power of the Enneagram is in its ability to harness and transform self-limiting behaviors into life-enhancing personal empowerment. The gift of the Enneagram is that through self-discovery, one can create and sustain meaningful and lasting relationships with others, God and themselves.

I was initially drawn to Types 2 and 6 as my type, and I would go back and forth between them until quite recently, as they are both “others-oriented” (if you’re interested, there’s more on how I determined my type in a minute). One of the first books I read on the topic was The Road Back to You, written by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron. Both of these authors also host podcasts about the Enneagram. If you’re looking for an understandable overview of the Enneagram overall and then each type, I’d start with that.

It was also around this time I discovered the Sleeping at Last podcast. In these episodes, musician Ryan O’Neal goes through an overview of each type and plays the song he’s composed for that type. He then dissects and explains the song’s Enneagram type, with expert input from teacher Chris Huertz. (All resources mentioned will be in a list at the end of this post.)

It’s a beautiful series that I highly recommend. The Type 2 song resonated in certain ways, but I literally wept when I heard the Type 6 song. Then got mad. (This should have been a clue–can you guess yet what I am?)

The talks of how type 6 can be driven by fear and anxiety annoyed me. I have lived my adult life facing down all the challenges that military spouse life has thrown at me: moves, deployments, sickness, loss…all the things. I don’t think of myself as a fearful person. If only it were so simple. 

What Your Reaction to Stress Can Tell You About Your Enneagram Type

woman looking out over water
Image from Canva

2020 was an absolute crap fest. The pandemic hit, and enough said about that, because you lived it, too. The world as we knew it seemed so far away.

But in the months before the world shut down, my 41-year-old brother was diagnosed with an aggressive, devastating cancer. In five short months, it robbed him of his life. My other siblings and I visited him for his 42nd birthday in January 2020, and he died 3 weeks later. I type those words and I still can’t believe it.

After his memorial, my sister and older brother and I commented to each other that it seemed crazy that the world could just go on like nothing had happened. Shouldn’t it stop spinning? Our brother was gone. Shouldn’t everything come to a halt? And just like that, a couple of weeks later, it all did. We left his memorial, and the next week flights stopped and schools were cancelled and shopping and going out were a thing of the past as we all hunkered down with this new normal of quarantine.

Since I already worked from home, the stay-at-home orders didn’t affect my daily life much. The quarantine spared me having to go to normal places like church, to meet up with friends and pretend that everything was fine when it just was not. (Our society doesn’t grieve well, but that’s a topic for another day).

I didn’t sleep well for months. I had a rough time shutting my brain down when I laid down at night, thinking of all the what ifs. Worrying about my parents, having to bury a son. Worrying about my brother’s wife and kids, as they negotiated this new normal that will never be normal again. Sad for all of us. Wishing I had done some things better, of course.

couple leaning against each other
Image from Canva

But… on a practical level, we were not out of toilet paper. Or antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer or soap. We were all a little worried about my health and what would happen if I did get COVID, since I have asthma. But the easy fix for that was that I didn’t really go out much other than to walk or run outdoors, and I did get through having COVID later that year just fine. My family made me stay home while they handled grocery pickups and other errands. And for weeks, I wrapped myself in a little cocoon of work, and tried to sleep and exercise…and there was some relief in those very basic tasks of living. I could just be. I didn’t have to pretend. And honestly, I didn’t miss anyone. I was good. 

And then it hit me. If I was actually a type 2 on the Enneagram, the type called by names such as The Helper, it would be killing me to not to be near “my people” or not be able to help someone out. And I was not dissolving. I actually coped with the quarantine relatively well. Because the worst had already happened. I had lost one of the best people in my life, and we were in a pandemic—but somehow that second, global event didn’t phase me like you’d think it would. Somehow I was prepared for that. We’ve been through natural disasters as a military family many times, and I’ve played out scenarios in my head like this long before now. 

Which all sounds a bit crazy. And I realized…I really do view life through the lens of a Type 6, known by many names, such as the Loyalist, the Guardian, the Skeptic, the one that plays out worst case everything well before it happens, the type that’s known for their sarcastic, sometimes dark humor, a type that craves community—but don’t get too weird about it—and loads more. Types 2 and 6 are frequently confused. The Enneagram Institute listed below has a very good page about common type misidentifications, and this was one that helped me greatly.

If you’re also curious about how your reaction to stress and the ways you cope play out in the world of the Enneagram, take a look at How the Enneagram Works.

The way you naturally react to stress and hard times might give you a clue to what your Enneagram type is, if you haven’t been able to figure it out yet.

people in different colored coats
Image from Canva

The Enneagram Isn’t Really About Behavior

It’s not about pigeon-holing ourselves or others into a certain way of behaving. In fact, it’s not really about outward behavior at all. It’s more about understanding why we react the way we do, and using that knowledge to become better, healthier people. That’s what it means to me, anyway. For me, finding the Enneagram has been life-changing and helps explain so much about my initial reactions to circumstances and people, whether good or bad. It helps me realize I’m not that nuts, after all. It’s just the way I’m wired. It allows me to recognize how I respond in a given situation, and to attempt to do better when I need to and lean into my strengths and recognize where I need to shore up my weaknesses.

The Enneagram was never meant to be an excuse for bad behavior or a club to wield against others.

But it can certainly be a wonderful tool in your arsenal for healthier relationships and better self-care. Seeing how I reacted instinctively to stress and grief suddenly made things crystal clear to me as far as figuring out my type. Have you had a similar experience?

While this is my clumsy and inexpert attempt at explaining my own journey through the Enneagram, I suspect I’ll have more to add to this topic later as I discover more resources. If you’re interested (and still reading!), here are a few sites, books, and podcasts I recommend.

I hope some of these resources will help you if you’re looking for more information about finding your own Enneagram type. I’d love to hear your experience and any Enneagram resources you love.

Blessings to you in your journey!  

Originally written 2020. Updated 2023.

How your reaction to stress can help determine your enneagram type


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Hi, I'm Jen!

As a military spouse of three decades and now the mom of an active duty son, my hope is to support you in your own military life. You’ll find help for your military marriage, deployments, PCS moves, and more!

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