The MBTI and Enneagram: My Life as an ESTJ and Type 8
I’ve been a little obsessed with personality tests as of late. At first, I was hooked on the Myers Briggs personality test, searching the Internet for all the information I could get on my type (ESTJ). But around a week ago, I stumbled upon the Enneagram, and it has fundamentally changed the way I view myself. I will get into my specific personality types in a bit, but first, let me provide a little background on these tests, explain why I am so intrigued by these personality tests, and point out some of the potential downsides to them.
History of the MBTI and Enneagram
The Myers-Briggs Indicator (MBTI) was originally created by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1920’s, based upon Carl Jung’s theory that humans experience the world using four basic psychological functions: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking; and that one of these functions is dominant for each person. In total, the MBTI sorts people into 16 psychological types, which each type consisting of four type preferences.
The first preference distinguishes between extraversion (outward-turning) and introversion (inward-turning), abbreviated “E” and “I.” Extraverted people tend to recharge and get energy from spending time with other people, whereas introverted people tend to do so from spending time alone.
The second preference is for either sensation or intuition, or the information-gathering function, abbreviated “S” and “N.” People who are sensing types trust information that is tangible and concrete (facts and details), and distrust "gut feelings.” People who are intuition types tend to trust information that are based on principles and theories.
The third preference is for either thinking or feeling, or the decision-making function, abbreviated “T” and “F.” Thinking types prefer to make decisions based on reason and logic, while feeling types prefer to make decisions by associating and empathizing with the situation.
The fourth and final preference is the lifestyle preference, either judging (“J”) or perceiving (“P”). Judging types prefer the judging function (thinking or feeling), while perceiving types prefer the perceiving function (sensing or intuition).
The Myers-Briggs Indicator is different from the Enneagram of Personality, which is a model of the human psyche as a typology of nine personality types. Its origins are murkier—with some historians tracing it to Evagrius Ponticus, a Christian mystic from 4th century Alexandria. Later, G.I. Gurdijeff created the enneagram figure—which is still used today, and Oscar Ichazo created the contemporary Enneagram of Personality. Ichazo defined each type in terms of an ego fixation, along with a holy idea, basic fear, basic desire, temptation, vice/passion, and virtue (I will give an example of my type later). Each of the nine types arises from one of three centers of intelligence: the Head, the Heart, and the Gut (Instinct). While everyone possesses attributes of all nine types, each individual has a basic personality type. Everyone is also, to some extent, modified by one of the two types adjacent to their type on the circumference (connected by the lines on the diagram). Each type also consists of nine stages of development, divided into unhealthy, average, and healthy levels. Throughout their lives, individuals will evolve on this continuum.
How are MBTI and Enneagram Different?
If you’re wondering with the difference between the MBTI-Indicator and Enneagram, here are two key differences between the two:
The Enneagram stresses the nurture aspect of an individual’s personality, whereas the MBTI assumes an inborn personality type, not affected by childhood experiences.
Both systems describe healthy versions of the different types, but the Enneagram specifically points out the core vice (e.g. “envy,” “lust”) that contributes to the dysfunction of each type.
Why I love personality tests, and you should too.
I believe every person instinctually wishes to understand him or herself better. Growing up, I was always at a loss for words to describe myself—my drives, passions, and interests. I was always preoccupied with how others saw me, rather than taking the time to understand my unique nature. I was also prone to comparison and envy, as I always saw the good in others but never in myself. It wasn’t until after years of painful interpersonal conflicts, self-doubts, and growing in faith that I began to see myself as a unique person with specific attributes, talents, purpose, and calling on my life that differentiate me from everyone else. One way that I have been able to understand myself better has been through these personality tests. While I am not claiming that they are infallible and to be religiously followed (I will get into their pitfalls later), I do believe they are valuable tools for us to better understand ourselves—our personalities, tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth.
As believers, we know ourselves to be uniquely created beings, made in God’s image. God’s creativity is reflected in our uniqueness—no two humans are alike. Furthermore, we know ourselves to have been created with a purpose, to fulfill a calling that we have been specifically gifted to accomplish. By taking these tests, we are able to discern and appreciate the ways in which we have been wired by God for specific tasks, and also recognize the areas in our life that need to be worked on.
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)
Life as an ESTJ and Type 8
With all of that being said, I want to share what I’ve learned about myself through my “types.”
According to the MBTI, I am an “ESTJ,” otherwise known as “The Executive.” According to 16personalities, ESTJ’s are “representatives of tradition and order, utilizing their understanding of what is right, wrong and socially acceptable to bring families and communities together.” ESTJ is the fifth most common type in the population, the second most common among men, making up 9% of the population, 11% of all men, and 6% of all women. They tend to take on leadership positions, and are strong believers in law and authority (fun fact: many of America’s presidents have been ESTJ’s).
Their strengths include:
direct and honest
loyal, patient, and reliable
enjoy creating order
Their weaknesses include:
inflexible and stubborn
uncomfortable with unconventional situations
too focused on social status
difficult to relax
difficulty expressing emotion
According to the Enneagram test, my top three types are: Types 8, 1, and 3. Type 1 is “The Perfectionist,” and Type 3 is “The Performer.” For the purposes of this post, I will only be focusing in on Type 8, my dominant type. Type 8, or “The Challenger,” is known to be the powerful, dominating type: self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational (according to the Enneagram Institute). In general, Eights are “challengers” because they enjoy taking on challenges and giving others opportunities to challenge themselves. They have enormous willpower and vitality, and use their energy to change their environments. At best they are protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive. At worst, they are ego-centric and domineering.
Their basic fear is: being harmed or controlled by others. Their basic desire is: to protect themselves (to be in control of their own life and destiny). Because their core fear is being controlled, they aim to become strong and powerful (often pursuing positions of power) as a way to protect themselves.Their main defense mechanism, on the other hand, is denial—denying their vulnerability in order to maintain the self-image of being strong.
When I first read the ESTJ description, I thought to myself, “this is so me.” I have always been drawn to leadership positions, but never understood why. I have also always been straightforward and blunt, a characteristic that has gotten me a lot of flak in the past. Perhaps the most accurate trait of the ESTJ for me is “difficulty expressing emotion.” Because ESTJ’s are so focused on doing things according to concrete facts, we tend to forget about others’s emotions. This has been something I’ve struggled with my entire life, and has been pointed out to me by many of my closest family and friends. Understanding myself as an ESTJ has helped me to embrace my unique strengths: my ability to be direct and honest when necessary, being dedicated to every task at hand, being loyal and reliable to those around me, and organizing everything perfectly. The MBTI has also helped me to articulate some of my inherent challenges, which include: being overly blunt and at times, judgmental—sometimes hurting others’ feelings unintentionally; and having trouble expressing emotion and showing empathy to others, which can sometimes come across as being emotionless (when I really do experience emotions but am just better at hiding them than others).
Similar to the ESTJ description, the Type 8 description also resonated with me deeply. For one, I am definitely someone who wishes to control all aspects of my life. I have been told that I am “strong” in that I am headstrong and independent, and have enormous willpower. I also thrive in challenges, and constantly seek new opportunities to challenge myself to become better. However, these traits can also be bad in that I can be intimidating and controlling to those around me, and at times come across as egocentric. I am also very much an Eight in that I over-value positions of power, and feel that the only way I can influence the world is by attaining power. Eights also struggle with being emotionally vulnerable, as they fear being controlled by others. As I mentioned previously, being emotional is something I struggle with, but I am gradually learning to be more vulnerable with others, especially those close to me.
In general, here are some of the few takeaways from my personality types:
Firstly, I realize that a lot of these qualities are stereotypically masculine, but I have learned to embrace these qualities as a woman and will not attempt to suppress or deny my personality traits because of societal expectations.
I need to learn how to responsibly speak in a straightforward manner, and be wary of hurting or intimidating others with my bluntness.
I should not idolize positions of power, and should check my motivations for desiring power, realizing that God calls us leaders to be servants.
Most importantly, I need to be more emotionally expressive and empathetic to others, especially my loved ones, so as to not be misunderstood. I must learn to be vulnerable at the right times and to not put my guard up so much.
Some Potential Pitfalls of the MBTI and Enneagram
While these tests are illuminating, they must be taken with a grain of salt—as all tests are fallible and have their weaknesses. Some have criticized the MBTI for being stereotypes and not describing individuals, putting people in a box. Critics have also said that the MBTI is wrong in assuming that traits are inborn and inflexible. Critics of the Enneagram have called it a “pseudoscience,” or not scientifically valid/reliable—without any real basis of authority. Check out this article in the Gospel Coalition for a more comprehensive description of the Enneagram’s potential failings.
Aside from these flaws, I believe that everyone should also be careful to not label themselves in these rigid categories and resist needed change. For example, when I get in trouble for being straightforward and blunt, I should not say, “Oh, I’m an ESTJ and Type 8, that’s just how I am.” Rather, I should strive to be more careful in how I speak. The same goes for other double-edged characteristics. Furthermore, I must also remind myself to not place myself in a categorical box. These types only go so far in describing our personalities, but can never truly present the bigger (and infinitely more complex) picture of ourselves. We are far more unique than we realize.
I am definitely still an advocate for tests like the MBTI and Enneagram, as they have been valuable tools for me to understand myself better—my strengths and weaknesses, and to verbalize my view of the world better to those around me. However, I would advise that we not take the results of these tests too seriously, and weigh them against what we really know about ourselves. If you haven’t taken your tests yet, you can do so here: