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Can a Personality Test Really Explain Who You Are?

A team-building exercise prompted me to take a personality test to determine which of nine types I am. But can one test tell the whole story?

The personality test says I’m a 6. That’s not a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. I figure if it were on that kind of scale, I might not score that high. So at least there’s that.

This particular personality test is the Enneagram test. I’ll turn to Wikipedia for a basic working definition of what that is:

Enneagram (from the Greek words ἐννέα [ennéa, meaning “nine”] and γράμμα [grámma, meaning something “written” or “drawn”]), is a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types

Does that mean that of all of the billions of people on earth, there are really only nine types? Well, yes and no. In addition to identifying which of nine type you are, it also specifies a “wing,” meaning that you may be a 6 with elements of the next-closest number. You might be a 6 with some tendencies of a 5, a 6 with some tendencies of a 7, or a balanced (or “pure”) 6 with no “wing.”

If each personality type has three possibilities when you factor in the wings, that produces 27 options.

But still, does that mean that every person on earth can be adequately typed to one of 27 possibilities?

Not quite. When I read up on what my personality type suggests about me, I find that there are healthy and unhealthy levels of my personality. Brace yourself: there are nine degrees of “healthiness” for each personality type. The first three are “healthy,” the next three are “average” and the next three are “unhealthy,” defined by the attitudes and traits you display.

If you multiply 27 by 9, that gives you a total of 243.

But it still seems hard to believe that out of 7.7 billion people on earth, there are only 243 types of personalities out there.

What’s a 6 anyway?

In a nutshell, it means that I’m the “committed, security-oriented type.” Since I’m a 6, I’m “engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious.”

Well, I guess I can’t argue all that much with most of that.

The Enneagram Institute tells me that as a 6, I want to have security, to feel supported by others, to have certitude and reassurance, to test the attitudes of others toward them, and to fight against anxiety and insecurity.

Don’t we all? I suppose there are plenty of people who don’t particularly care about what others think. I might suggest that there are too many who don’t give a damn.

I’m supposed to be “hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy” and an “excellent troubleshooter.” Guilty.

I’m also capable of being “defensive, evasive, and anxious—running on stress while complaining about it,” while also being “cautious and indecisive, but also reactive, defiant and rebellious.” I don’t see myself as particularly defiant or rebellious, actually.

Apparently, I’m in good company. Other Type 6s include Mark Twain, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, George H.W. Bush, Princess Diana, Prince Harry, Bruce Springsteen, U2’s Bono, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, David Letterman, Ellen Degeneres, Andy Rooney, and Katie Couric.

I do wonder, however, how they determined how all of those people were actually a 6. The nine-type test goes back only to the 1950s, and I’m pretty sure Mark Twain (and others I didn’t include) were long gone by then.

The keyword associated with a 6 is “loyalist.” Well, I’m definitely guilty there. I’m loyal to brands and I’m loyal to close friends. But it takes me a while to fully trust someone well enough to let them “in,” given my desire for security and my natural suspicion.

To complicate matters, I’m apparently a 6 with a 5-wing, written as “6w5.” That means I’m a 6 with tendencies of the type-5, the “investigator.”

But when you combine a 6 with elements of a 5, you’re now “the defender.”

It’s very interesting to know all of this.

At the proverbial end of the day, however, I still think there’s no way to pinpoint a specific individual based on a broad-brush look. That’s not to say that it’s not potentially beneficial to consider those traits and how they apply. It’s certainly not to say that knowing what potential strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve yourself wouldn’t be a good thing.

But even when a lot of the traits seem to match to one degree or another, each person is still unique in their own ways.

A friend of mine, who apparently was just asked to take a similar test, complained that at best, a personality test only provides a “caricature.”

I have to agree with that.

I’ve taken other tests like this in the past. I’ve never found one that I truly felt was “dead on.”

I suspect I probably never will…because there’d need to be a lot more possible outcomes.

Have you ever taken a personality test that you felt really matched you perfectly?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.