We all know that different people have different personality types. But how many different types are there? What are they? And how do personality differences impact our relationships?
According to the most useful system I have encountered — it’s called the “Enneagram” — there are nine basic personality types. We all have some of each type within us. But we mostly tend to identify with one to three of these types.
I have found this system highly useful when working with couples in my intensive retreats. As preparatory work for their retreat, I ask partners to discover the top three types they identify with. I have a little test to help them. This helps partners learn things about themselves and each other even before they get to a retreat. It also helps me get to know them more quickly as individuals — and what their problematic relationship dynamics are likely to be — and have that head start as we start working together.
In my book Relationship Tools for Positive Change, I cover each type in more depth — and give you tools and methods to work with problematic relationship dynamics that occur between different types. Each couple is a unique combination of two specific personality types. In working with couples in my retreats, knowing how to work with each type — how they think, how they communicate, and what they need — is essential.
Below, I will briefly examine the nine types in the Enneagram system of personality profiling, and the expected problems each type will have in love and relationships. I will also describe how each type can personally grow to overcome any of their self-limiting beliefs.
As you read through these different types, you may get a sense of where you fit or you may not clearly see it. The Enneagram is a richly complex system. And we each have a little of all types.
1. The Perfectionist
A Perfectionist is concerned with being good, correcting error, doing what one should, and getting things right. They have an active inner voice that guides them to do the right thing.
But this inner voice is critical and overbearing, and it tends to produce inner tension, guilt, and worry. In its wake, pleasure gets dampened. Personal needs are not recognized or voiced. A sense of deprivation can result.
The focus on what is “good” and “right” gets put out into relationships. The strong sense of “it should be this way” voiced by the Perfectionist — in the interest of what seems right — makes it look like there’s only one way of doing things, their way.
The other person generally does not like this, and may end up feeling like they are walking on egg-shells. In their “rightness” the Perfectionist seems to be superior, while the other person feels picked apart, rejected, hurt, inferior.
There is a tendency to be overly black and white about things. This creates stress and a sense of trying to be in control. It also reduces happiness. People in relationship with a Perfectionist often wish things could just be more relaxed and easy. They yearn for a more flexible approach to things.
Personal growth for a Perfectionist is to internally ask the question: “Would I rather be right — or happy?” It will help to see and question what seem to be rigid rules. Learn to accept mistakes. Recognize that there are different ways of doing things besides the one “right” way. Two great virtues for a Perfectionist to develop are patience and compassion. True serenity is gained by accepting things as they are, even what appear to be “imperfections.”
2. The Giver
A Giver is focused on fulfilling other peoples’ needs. They believe they’ll get love and connection in this way. They usually give too much. But they seldom ask for what they want or need.
So they get back too little — since others do not have a Giver’s “psychic” ability to see needs. Eventually they break into anger, or just as easily, tears. They, and their partners, get overwhelmed by these emotional outbreaks.
A Giver puts so much energy into gaining connection by giving, that other people see this as too much, out of balance, possibly even manipulative. So others retreat — as the Giver pursues them. Under these conditions, a Giver can be viewed as overly needy or too dependent.
Most relationships encounter discrepancies between one partner wanting to be closer, and the other wanting space. The Giver usually suffers the lack of connection in this classic “connection vs. space” dance. This leaves them particularly vulnerable to feeling rejected and the pain of loss. Their pursuit of connection often will push the other person to need even more space. This polarization process results in both partners suffering.
Personal growth for a Giver is to scale back their strong drive for giving — and reduce their dependency on connecting. Know that love does not depend on altering oneself to fit the needs of others. A Giver will grow if they practice setting boundaries and saying “no.” By spending time alone, they learn to better sense their own needs — and how to fulfill these needs, themselves. A Giver also grows as they begin to directly ask others for what they want.
3. The Performer
A Performer is concerned with work and getting the job done. They are driven by the need to succeed. In essence, they believe that love and acceptance is based upon what they do, on their performance, image, achievements and success.
With their high drive to get the job done, a Performer puts feelings aside — theirs as well as the feelings of other people. This becomes a problem in relationships.
For the Performer, accomplishments are seen to be the measure of a person’s worth. This leaves them very dependent on external approval and recognition, based on how well they succeed in accomplishing things.
In relationship, others may sense they are not cared for, especially because their feelings are ignored by the Performer. The whole realm of emotional contact will seem to be missing. People want to know what a Performer feels. But there is discomfort around the arena of emotions, so a Performer will avoid this vital area of human interchange. Their partners end up feeling a lack of connection. As a Performer gets stuck in to-do lists and workaholism, their emotional absence will become the critical issue.
Personal growth for a Performer is to know and honor their feelings, and to freely discuss feelings with others. They grow with the realization they are a human beings, not human “doings.” They also need to become the source of their own acceptance and appreciation, rather than depending on external recognition. It is vital for a Performer to slow down and smell the roses — to feel good while doing nothing — and appreciate the importance of emotion in life and love.
4. The Romantic
A Romantic is an idealist who longs for a special sense of connection in the world. They are often disappointed by life. They feel something important is missing. They tend to be dissatisfied or angry with ordinary, daily life.
They yearn for that special something believed to be ultimately fulfilling. Relationships are concerned with a search for the special and unique. Romantics suffer from a “grass is always greener” syndrome. They are attracted by distance and non-availability.
But once things settle down, they get bored or start to see what is missing or not good enough in the other person. Hence, they have trouble committing. Lasting happiness is elusive. A Romantic perennially longs for a depth and intensity of emotional connection.
Yet it always seems missing, and their partner fails to match their idealized yearnings. They feel special, different, but at times they also feel like a misfit. They seem to generate dramatic crises, easily feeling rejected, abandoned, jealous, or envious.
They can become subject to having huge emotional swings. People have difficulty coping with their intense drama. Others can also feel rejected, as being seen as not good enough.
Personal growth for a Romantic is to see what is positive in life in the moment, rather than seeing what is missing. Learn to enjoy being in the “here and now.” Find things to appreciate in ordinary everyday experiences. Growth occurs as a Romantic maintains a consistent course of action, despite intense mood swings. They need to slow down and delay their emotional reactions. Additionally, helping others is good for a Romantic, offering a way to become less self-absorbed.
5. The Observer
An Observer tends to think the world demands too much, and gives too little. They focus on protecting themselves from intrusions or demands made on them by others. They value privacy. They need significant amounts of time alone.
Observers will tend to be detached and will easily withdraw from others. Emotional states overwhelm an Observer — both their own feelings and those of other people. Hence they will isolate from their feelings and try to avoid the feelings of the people around them.
They retreat to the domain of the mind and intellect. Others find this void of emotional connection a kind of rejection, a sign their feelings don’t matter.
The detached stance of an Observer can leave them feeling isolated. Lots of alone time may also bring with it the pain of feeling lonely. They may then long for connection. Yet at the same time, an Observer feels inadequate when it comes to connecting and dealing with real emotional interchange in relationships.
In the dance of “connection vs. space” they tend to need lots of space and can feel trapped. Others perceive them as unavailable, aloof, and try to get them to open up and talk about their feelings. It’s easy to mistake an Observer’s need for privacy as a form of rejection. Their retreat into the intellect can easily be seen as being superior.
Personal growth for an Observer is to become comfortable with feelings. Start sensing what you feel. And reveal this to others, in real time, as soon as you feel it. When you feel like withdrawing, move closer. Participate in life more, engage in conversation and discuss personal things about yourself.
6. The Loyal Skeptic
A Loyal Skeptic is concerned with finding certainty or security. Their sense of being safe is challenged by a world that appears to be dangerous. This may take them in one of two directions — towards fear or against it.
They may either fear the world, or to deny there is anything to fear. They may then believe you must avoid and escape perceived danger. Or they may believe you must face and fight it.
A Loyal Skeptic will tend to be vigilant. They also tend to have many doubts, and can be highly ambivalent. They can easily misread or mistrust others. There can be difficulties with authority figures — either in the form of excess loyalty and obedience, or rebellion and opposition.
Danger can be seen everywhere. This can result in anxiety and fear — and increased vigilance. The Loyal Skeptic may focus excessively on negative future outcomes, the downside and what could go wrong. Trying to protect themselves from imagined disasters, they will end up acting in ways that create self-fulfilling prophecies.
Others may feel a sense of being scrutinized, pursued or accused — often erroneously. People can be pushed away by the excessive vigilance and attempt to control them. Others resent that the Loyal Skeptic is projecting negative things onto them, and they yearn for a more relaxed state.
Personal growth for a Loyal Skeptic is to learn to embrace uncertainty. Begin to focus on the positive aspects of life, the positive qualities in other people. The ability to trust will be helped by internally asking the question “What if what I think I see here is not real?” — and then doing calm, respectful reality-testing with others.
7. The Epicure
An Epicure is sensitive to how the world is limiting. They are frustrated with this, and try to keep as many options available as possible, to avoid limits or pain. They are the ultimate pleasure seekers.
Epicures continually focus on pleasurable activities, and enjoy imagining all the many fascinating possibilities that could exist in the future. This becomes a major source of distraction, a diversion from deeper purposes and commitments.
An Epicure is a master at reframing negatives as positives. There is always a silver lining to every cloud. They are driven to focus on the lining, and avoid the cloud altogether. Trying to keep feeling happy, and trying to escape limits or pain, will actually lead to real losses in life. This will especially be true in relationships, and this will cause real pain.
In the “connection vs. space” dance in relationships, an Epicure will usually be the one who feels trapped and will need more space. They will usually have problems with committing to a relationship.
Others will react to an Epicure’s avoidance of negative feelings. They may feel rejected or come to believe an Epicure really doesn’t care about them. In trying to avoid or escape pain, an Epicure will fail to learn the deeper lessons that pain teaches us, and they will repeat the same mistakes.
Personal growth for an Epicure is to realize what the hunger for options and escape of pain actually costs. Accept limits. Learn to stay with one thing and overcome the feeling of being trapped and needing to escape. Embrace the here and now, whether painful or pleasurable, stimulating or boring.
8. The Protector
A Protector tends to see the world as a hard place, where one has to be powerful or forceful. It’s all about being protected and respected. Underlying this, a sense of innocence has been lost because the world appears harsh and unjust.
This results in a great concern with being in control of a situation. This can result in conflicts, struggles over power, and the Protector easily erupts into anger.
There are many different reactions to a Protector. Some people counter their force by fighting back. Many others simply withdraw or avoid them. The Protector then feels unmet or disrespected, resulting in more anger and struggle.
A Protector has the internal mandate to deny any fear or vulnerability. They tend towards excess and impulsive action. While most people would say “ready, aim, fire” — they will say “ready, fire, and who needs to aim?” Hence, they readily leap before they look, and overdo things. This can result in being exhausted, and rejected.
People often feel intimidated or intruded upon by a Protector. They are pushed away by the sense that, according to the Protector, “It’s my way, or the highway.” In their relationships, others feel a lack of the qualities of being soft, tender and sensitive — which in their need to deny vulnerability, a Protector hides from themselves.
Personal growth for a Protector is to be more aware of their intense drive and energy, and to better manage their impulses. They grow as they realize true strength is in the ability to be receptive and open to others — and as they recover a natural sense of innocence, and acceptance of being vulnerable.
9. The Mediator
A Mediator tends to “go along to get along.” They put their needs and opinions on hold, and will blend into or merge with what other people want. In this way, they try to gain love, acceptance and a sense of belonging.
Mediators often suffer from losing themselves in the more assertive agendas of others. They will rarely look inside themselves to see what they want. Hence they will seldom voice to others what they feel or need.
A Mediator will too quickly agree to things or go along with others’ agendas, yet later end up resenting it, or resisting it. This makes other people angry. And anger presents a serious problem for a Mediator. They avoid feeling it. They avoid conflict. Instead, they numb out or fuzz out.
In relationship, others have problems with a Mediator not expressing feelings or needs — and with their difficulty in making timely decisions. People want the Mediator to say what they feel, and to more quickly say what they want.
A Mediator is overly focused on comfort. The excessive need for comfort means they avoid all possible conflict. They do not say what they want, because others might reject them, or it may lead to conflict. This leaves them unaware or non-assertive about their personal needs and agendas.
Personal growth for a Mediator is to know that they are important. They need to know what they feel and want — and they need to voice it to others. They need to learn to be more comfortable with conflict. Set better personal boundaries, even learn to say “no.” — as this helps a Mediator better express their authentic self, and “show up” more in a relationship.