Using the Enneagram for Effective Caregiving
The real act of discovery is not in finding new lands,
but in seeing with new eyes.
When I was a kid, one of my role models was Horton the elephant from Dr. Seuss. His phrase, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant—an elephant’s faithful, one-hundred percent!” became my childhood mantra. It was important to me to be dependable and to speak intentionally, and it still is. Since then, these values (or traits) and others have guided my life, but they haven't always been enough.
Each of us knows the character traits that make us strong and help us to thrive. What are your best loved character traits? Which ones have gotten you through tough times? Which ones have made your relationships work? Especially in the early stages of caregiving, these character traits will help you.
But, increasingly, caregiving will stretch you. If you have been a verbal person, you may need to hone your listening skills. If you have been a habitual giver, you may need to develop boundaries. If you have been a problem solver, you may be called on to accept life as it is.
The Enneagram, a powerful and flexible personality typing system, can serve as a useful tool for revealing how you can grow in order to do the caregiving to which you are committed. The following table gives you a glimpse of how the system might be used. With further study, it can help you not only to navigate caregiving, but also to manage your relationships with family and professionals. To learn the richness and depth of the Enneagram, visit
Below is a simplistic list of the nine personality types of the Enneagram. Next to each is the “growth point,” or the characteristics that such a person might want to strengthen.
THE NINE ENNEAGRAM TYPES & OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
Type 1 - The Perfectionist, or The Judge
Knows what is correct and right. Sees in black and white.
Grows by knowing what they want, instead of what would be right.
Type 2 - The Giver
Central focus is on giving to others. Can feel they deserve something in return.
Grows by discovering what they themselves want, and by being alone.
Type 3 - The Showman or Achiever
Conscious of image, action and performance.
Grows by seeing themselves separate from image and achievement.
Type 4 - The Tragic Romantic
Loves the drama of life, but can look too much for what is missing.
Grows by appreciating and feeling satisfied, knowing what they have is enough.
Type 5 - The Student or Observer
Loves to learn about a variety of subjects, but self-sufficiency can cause isolation.
Grows by entering the realm of their feelings, joining mind and emotion.
Type 6 - Problem Solver or Skeptic
Fear causes a preoccupation w/ safety and trust issues, the need to nail down loose ends of life.
Grows by developing faith and the courage to be their own authority.
Type 7 - Playful Optimist
Playfully imaginative, looks for the pleasures of life, but can seem self-indulgent.
Grows by staying instead of leaving, dealing with their pain, developing emotional depth.
Type 8 - The Boss or Challenger
Wields authority, fights passionately for justice, can enjoy a good arguement.
Grows by learning to wait, listening to the other’s perspective, questioning their ideas.
Type 9 - Peacemaker
Instinctively understands others, but can lose connection with self.
Grows by clarifying the self, by maintaining boundaries for self in the face of conflict.