I can safely assume there are three types of people reading this article right now:
1. The person who has no idea what this weird word is and thinks the cover picture looks a little cultish.
2. The person who's heard about the Enneagram and written it off as some kooky Meyers-Briggs-style pop culture fad.
3. The person who knows everything about the Enneagram and wants to see if I get this article right.
Well, all three of you are welcome here! My point in writing this is not (just) to convert more Enneagram enthusiasts, but to give a basic idea of what it is used for and why it might be valuable. At the very least, read this article so you'll know what's going on when that one friend says you're being "such a Two!"
The Enneagram was introduced to me through a series of casual conversations last school year. The first thing that peaked my interest was how vague people were when I asked them what it was; there seemed to be no simple way to describe it. I now understand that vagueness.
The Ennegram is kind of a personality typology, but also a spiritual tool, but maybe more of an interpersonal relationship guide, but with a strong emphasis on internal motivation... Basically, it's really complex. Don't let that scare you off though! The complexity of the Enneagram is like the complexity of a good song: you can choose to enjoy it as one simplified piece of art, or you can break it down and examine all the parts. The Enneagram is, in some ways, what you make it.
Some of you are just waiting to figure out what the heck that weird pentagon-looking symbol was, and what I even mean when I keep saying "Enneagram," so I won't keep you waiting: "Enneagram" means, essentially, "drawing of nine." The image you saw at the top of this article was what the Enneagram looks like on paper: a circle with lines connecting and moving between nine points. In a way, this image summarizes the entire meaning of the Enneagram as a typology system: there are nine essential bases, and each person identifies most closely with one of these. However, these types are all connected to each other, and there is significant overlap between them.
The nine types are determined primarily by a) core motivation/desire, b) core fear and c) core sin/vice (although not everyone emphasizes this last part). The purpose of the Enneagram, then, is to accurately see yourself, shortcomings and all, and understand what growth looks like specific to you.
I hope that answered some questions you had, but let me explain some more about the nine types. You can read all about them here. Unlike most personality typing systems, your Enneagram type can't be determined simply by a multiple choice test. While those can be helpful in narrowing down the options (and there's a decent test available here), what really matters is whether the description of the type feels accurate to you when you read it.
The important thing about determining a type is not about matching your behavior to a type, but matching your motivation to a type. For example, many types of people want to achieve good grades, but one person may be most motivated by how smart they look with an A, while another may be most motivated to avoid the criticism they may receive for getting a C. The goal of identifying your type is identifying why you do things, not what you do.
The last thing I will say about the specifics of the Enneagram goes back to what I said about complexity. While finding your type and reading about it is super interesting, that is just skimming the top of what the Enneagram can offer. There are all sorts of fun concepts (wings, instinctual variants, growth and regression paths) that can be explored after you've learned the basics. But those aren't necessary to get value out of the Enneagram.
What really matters is this: the Enneagram provides excellent and meaningful language for things you may have been struggling with your whole life. There's so much value in putting words to unspoken feelings and having the "aha" moment about why certain things make you feel anxious or angry. A lot of pressure and tension can build up when we can't find words for our feelings, and the Enneagram is a great tool for breaking down the walls we put up around painful feelings and thoughts.
Before I knew about the Enneagram, I would feel confused, almost guilty, about how unambitious I was. I never understood why I was so different around different people, and had such a hard time identifying my own needs or opinions. Then, I discovered my type through the Enneagram (I'm a Nine, if you're wondering), and was able to hear someone else explain and make sense of my feelings. I was able to accept my inner compulsion towards peace, and appreciate the deep empathy that made me accommodate my behavior to fit well with others. I even found it helpful to admit how much laziness (the core sin of Nines) affected my life, preventing me from changing a bad habit or pursuing exciting opportunities. Understanding myself through the Enneagram helped me to know what kind of encouragement would help me, and how to challenge myself in a meaningful way.
Not everyone is attracted to the Enneagram, and that is okay. It's just a tool, and like any tool it has limited usefulness. But if you want to learn more about it, here are some good resources for you:
Integrative 9 - this is a commercial site, but it has great information on the subtypes
The Road Back to You - with excellent Christian emphasis, this duo has resources on the Enneagram, as well as a wonderful podcast with guests talking about their types and what the Enneagram does for them. They also have a book that I've heard good things about.
"The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective" by Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert
"The Complete Enneagram" by Beatrice Chesnut